Hakham’s Yosef Faur Thinking

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The idea that most fundamentally guided Hakham Faur’s conceptual contributions is that reality is a text that “means,” God is its Writer, and humankind is capable of reading. The alternative, conceiving of reality as a static ontological dimension that “is,” of God as an the unintelligent and absolutely predictable prime mover (or “Mother Nature”) and mankind as if in a quest for the ultimate truth, is actually the more prevalent worldview. From Plato to Hegel, from Christianity to Islam, from Aristotle to modern physicists (quantum physicists excepted), and from Nachmanides to Rabbi Kook, what they all have in common is th belief that there is an ultimate truth somewhere in the ether. That it is mankind’s challenge to discover it. And that those who discover it have the right and responsibility to enforce it. By any means at their disposal. Hakham Faur believed that this approach inevitably leads to a pyramidical society–to a hierarchy where the one on the top gets to dictate to all those who are lower what the truth is. Where any conflicting views are resolved in favor of he whose sword is sharpest. A society where the one with authority gets to dictate reality, in the third person.

Hakham Faur believed that the quintessential trait of human beings is the ability to interact through symbols: a first person encodes some idea in the form of a symbol, and submits such symbol to the second person so that this second person “decodes” this symbol by generating another idea in this second person’s mind. Once an idea is encoded into a symbol, the first person no longer controls it, and it is the second person who is tasked with generating meaning on it. Of reading it. If the operating systems in the respective brains of the first and second persons are sufficiently aligned, then this exchange of symbols and mutual generation of meaning results in a dynamic dialogue. Uncoerced, and capable of resulting in more than one “truth.” If these commonalities don’t exist (say, if the first and second person don’t agree on the universe of things that can be signified by the color “pink”), then communication is impossible. These processes are at the basis of human language.

Representing a quantum jump in human development, suggested Hakham Faur, was the People of Israel. Instead of claiming that they had discovered the ultimate theological truth (or Natural Laws), the People of Israel claimed to have been privy to a dialogue with God. A God who could read and write. A God who could communicate. A God who could never be discovered–absolutely unknowable–but who communicated in symbols, symbols that could be read by mankind. The relationship between the God of Israel and the People of Israel was not coercive. The Torah was not dictated in the third person by a magic deity sitting atop a pyramidic hierarchy. It was offered in a dialogue, first to second person, where the People of Israel was free to accept or reject it; where agreeing to engage in this dialogue also meant that the second person, the People of Israel, had the right and responsibility to generate meaning on the symbols uttered by God. Hakham Faur dedicated a good portion of his vast writings to show that this was indeed the way the Rabbinic Sages understood the Torah: the Prophets, Philo, Josephus, the Tannaim, the Amoraim, the Geonim and their heirs in Andalusia (most notably Maimonides), all favored the dynamic world of language, metaphors and analogies, rather than absolute idealism, magic or hyper-literalism. Hakham Faur termed this approach: Alphabetic Judaism. He maintained that the society resulting from such a system would be the pinnacle of political evolution: a horizontal society where the governing principle is dialogue and where equality is a function of subservience to an agreed-upon law. The Hebrew King, the priests, the prophets, the rich and the poor, and even God Almighty, all are seen in Jewish tradition as being equally bound to the Covenant: the result of an uncoerced dialogue between God and the People of Israel.

Four of the nine books Hakham Faur got to publish (I understand he left several manuscripts in various states of completion that have yet to be put in print) can be said to form a series exploring semiotics and Judaism.

The first, Golden Doves with Silver Dots, explores the similarities between how post-structuralists and Rabbinic Sages approach language. It served as the basis for his subsequent works touching upon semiotics and Alphabetic Judaism. It argued that reading, in contrast to discovering, is the preferred mode of Jewish epistemology.

Second, In the Shadow of History, shows the incompatibility between the Christian and Hebrew traditions, and what inner reasons were underwriting the strong and irreconcilable animus of Christian Spain towards the Conversos. The book argues that XV century Christian Spain was an example of a vertical and persecuting society, which needs an “other” as part of its own identity. This book also gave him the opportunity to revive the memory of long-forgotten contributions by Conversos and the Sepharadic communities from which they came and which some Conversos ultimately ended up returning to. This books may have come to show some of the less pleasant aspects of a society that favors absolutism over semiotics.

Thrdly, Homo Mysticus is according to many of Hakham Faur’s students his most profound contribution. A guide to Maimonides’s own Guide to the Perplexed, Homo Mysticus explores pre-Kabbala Jewish mysticism. Rather than discovering God’s true essence (which Rabbinic Jewish tradition maintains cannot possibly be known by man), the Jewish mysticism of Maimonides consisted on distilling one’s perceptual abilities to a point where God’s speech can be processed with as little noise as possible. Whatever “word” God utters (be it a galaxy, a flower, a single cell, or a passage in Scripture) is not nearly as important as the level at which the perceptual experience is taking place, or to what extent the person perceiving such divine utterance is subsequently transformed. Just like whether a message is written in green- or blue-colored fonts is of little consequence when the exercise is reading. God cannot be known, period. But it might take us a lifetime to internalize this, and to train ourselves to avoid tainting our perception of God’s message to us by way of noisily projecting our imagination onto Him. Homo Mysticus illustrates the maximum level the individual can attain by processing reality as an exercise semiotics.

Fourthly, with The Horizontal Society, Hakham Faur synthesized many of his past ideas and presented a holistic description of what he maintained was the People of Israel. An alphabetic society that finds equality under the Sinaitic Covenant. That what makes the People of Israel special and unique is not as much the content, but rather the context, of their political, legal, historical and mystical dimensions. What Homo Mysticus suggests on the potential of the individual, Horizontal Society does with respect to the national. Horizontal Society explains what the People of Israel is designed to be, where we excel and where we have failed.