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date: 23 October 2019

Arama, Isaac ben Moseslocked

  • Don Harrán

Extract

(b Spain, c1420; d Naples, 1494). Rabbi and philosopher. Following the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492, he settled in Naples. He referred to music under the heading nigun ‘olam (‘cosmic music’) in chapter 12 of his ‘Aqedat Yitsḥaq (‘Binding of Isaac’), a homiletic interpretation of the Pentateuch which survives in a manuscript source (I-Ra Or.58) and in a print from Salonika (now Thessaloníki), dated 1522. Expounding the theme of cosmic order, i.e. harmony, Arama established its existence on lower and higher levels, hence the relationship between the micro- and macrocosm, or music as made and performed by man and music as divine harmony. On both levels, music is governed by scriptural precepts; and he who observes them is in greater harmony with the ‘greater instrument’. Arama saw the laws of music as enfolded in the laws of Torah; the study of Torah thus becomes a form of music-making. Failure to obey the scriptures leads to deficient harmony, or dissonance, which ends in destruction. Torah is powerful only if the soul of the believer is tuned to its ordinances. That the microcosm is subordinate to the macrocosm follows from Arama's general premise that divine truth is superior to human reasoning, i.e. philosophy, and that when the two are in conflict, or ‘out of tune’, philosophy yields to the Holy Writ. It is for man to redress the imbalance, restoring consonance through faith....

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Rome, Biblioteca Angelica