Rabbi Joseph Albo's Concept of Free Choice in his Philosophic Exegesis
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Contrary to the consensus of modern scholars who consider Joseph Albo to be an unoriginal philosopher who merely synthesized the views of his predecessors, philosophical originality can, in fact, be uncovered in his exegetical homilies in Sefer ha-'Iqqarim. Characteristic of fifteenth-century Jewish philosophy, Albo's use of the philosophical sermon allows him to convey his doctrine in a popular manner, as he illustrates his philosophical notions through accessible and creative exegetical interpretations. Albo's originality emerges most forcefully in his biblical interpretation which focuses on the concept of free choice, an issue that was highly debated in the medieval world, and had particular significance during a period of religious coercion. Biblical narratives previously interpreted as challenging human free choice, such as the Binding of Isaac, the Hardening of Pharaoh's Heart, the Book of Job and God's Choice of Israel, are innovatively interpreted by Albo to preserve human freedom. Albo once again highlights the value of free choice, which he describes as "the essence of our Torah," in his sole surviving halakhic responsum, further illustrating the importance of freedom within his worldview.