Jews had their first bump into philosophy when Alexander the Great conquered Israel (in the early Tanaic period). Since then, we lived under the Greeks and Romans for a few hundred years. Both of those nations had their philosophers (Romans not so much, but a lot of Greek philosophy continued on through them).

Yet, the first "philosophical" work was the Rasag, who lived a few hundred years after the Amoraim. There are a few debates that are recorded between Rabbis and "Elders of Athens" and Rabbis and Sadducees, but they are mostly Rabbis pushing them off and not a true attempt at learning (and teaching) philosophy.

Why do we not have any of the "philosophy" of the Tanayim/Amoraim? Did they not hold of this study? If not, why did the Rasag and Rambam study it?

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    Perhaps they just presented it in a different way. – Double AA May 31 '13 at 5:56
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    In its presentation, or in the concepts it aims to convey? – Double AA May 31 '13 at 5:58
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    I'm inclined to agree with DoubleAA that it is a shift in the nature of presentation that is being picked up on. As for why the shift took place, we know that in the time of the Rasag that Karaism/Ananism was beginning to gather steam and in his leadership position may have understood it accordingly to be an appropriate time to depart from the traditional methods of communicating ideas in order to mitigate against the threat - עת לעשות לה' הפרו תורתיך. – Deuteronomy May 31 '13 at 6:08
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    What about Philo? Does that not count? – Jason Aug 14 '13 at 18:14

How about jewish hellenistic philosophers like Philo? And a lot of Halacha is influenced by Greek thought, such as the place of women.

Among the Tannaim there were bitter debates whether Greek wisdom should be taught and learned. The Mishnah in Sotah 9:14 bans Greek wisdom. However, this was definitely done because of heavy Greek persecution

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    Philo isn't Jewish philosophy. He's a Jew writing about philosophy. Different thing. – Double AA May 31 '13 at 14:42
  • Why isn't Philo Jewish philosophy? books.google.com/… – wfb May 31 '13 at 16:43
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    Quotes from that link: "It is not established that he knew Hebrew" "His direct contribution to Jewish medieval thought is non-existent" "The Christians were convinced that Philo's philosophy proclaimed Jesus son of God....One can in fact...deduce this from the text". – Double AA Jun 2 '13 at 9:51
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    @DoubleAA - Philo is not a Jewish philosopher!?? Philo was absolutely a Jewish philosopher; the fact that his contribution to later Jewish philosophy was minimal in no way detracts from that. Nor, incidentally, does the fact that he wrote in Greek. Saadiah wrote in Arabic; Ahai wrote in Aramaic. Nobody wrote Hebrew philosophy, which is why Ibn Tibbon had to invent so many words. And Alexandria was, at the time, a major centre of Jewish life. – Shimon bM Jul 1 '13 at 3:21
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    @DoubleAA - He died c.50 CE. How many "traditional" texts could he have interacted with? If a precondition for writing Jewish philosophy is that you show an awareness of the rabbinic literature and that you're not part of the Talmud itself, then the OP's question is tautological. How could there be anybody before the latter geonim? – Shimon bM Jul 1 '13 at 5:55

In a recorded lecture, R' Yaakov Weinberg Zt"l claimed that philosophy in Judaism was always organic. There was never a need for formalized or systematized philosophy when that philosophy was the entirety of the life one grew up with and lived. It was only when it became necessary as a defense of the Rabbinic view, in response to outside influences and sectarian sects which were gaining sway, that R' Saadia presented a formal "response" and defense of the Pharisees, and following in his footsteps, the Rambam.

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    This does not explain why the Sadducees, Boetheans, early Christians and numerous other sects weren't addressed. The Karaism that faced Rasag was nothing new. What was new was his reaction, which prompted this question, and which remains unexplained. – mevaqesh Mar 28 '16 at 15:10
  • @mevaqesh no, what was new was the degree to which it took hold and was gaining sway, as I said in my post. In the times of Rasag, they were nearly a majority. – Y     e     z Mar 29 '16 at 0:28

From what I understand the aggadic material in the talmud may contain coded discussion of philosophic ideas. It would seem that much of this type of information was conveyed orally for generations previously and only put into writing out of necessity. There was a great fear that this material would either upset the ruling non-jewish government and/or would be misunderstood and abused by those not well enough versed so it was written cryptically.

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    I think some sources claiming this would improve this answer. – Double AA May 31 '13 at 15:04
  • @DoubleAA agreed. at the moment i don't have them in front of me. I believe the artscroll says this before the rabbah bar bar chama stories and I think Rabbi Feldman makes this same remark in his introduction to the juggler and the king. But I cannot yet say for sure. – user2110 May 31 '13 at 15:38
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    See הרב צבי אינפלד, חכמה פנימית וחכמה חיצונית: חכמת ישראל וחכמת יוון, part 2 about how Chazal related to Greek ideas, as seen in the aggadah of the questions asked by Alexander to the חכמי דרום (Tamid 32) – wfb May 31 '13 at 16:45

The reason is because only the most important documents were transcribed through history. Many works might have been lost and only those which people bothered copying survived. Some of those are philosophical, most of the early Jewish contributions to philosophy came from Qaraite Jews. Rabbabinic thought placed more emphasis on legislating the tradions of second temple Judea than on philosophy until the 10th century or so.

Qaraite Jews however only had the Tanakh to work with and therefore devoted a great deal of effort to philosphy. Most of the Mutakallimun (Jewish Kalamists) were Qaraite like Ya'aqov Qirqisani, Yehuda Hadassi, Daniel Qumisi, Yefet ben Ali, Yehoshua ben Yehuda, Yosef ben Avraham, et cetera and only Saaida Gaon and Rambam contributed to world philosophy in a major way until Baruch Spinoza. Of course the Ramban and many of the Rishonim deal with philosophy indirectly through commentaries and contemplations on Hashem, prophecy, ethics and other subjects but I mean works that are soley intended to be read as philosophy like Guide for the Perplexed.

It may have been that Qaraite Jews were just more predisposed to philosophy since they originated from the Sadducees (who were accused of being secular philosphical types) and were only preoccupied with preserving the mesorah of the Tanakh in Tiberius (most or all of the Masoretes were Qaraites including Aharon ben Asher and Shlomo ben Buya'a, the Allepo Codex was actually written for the Qaraite synagouge in Jerusalem) and wandering around Israel looking for aviv barley, so they probably had a lot of time on their hands.

The Tanakh has a sort of existential bent to it which probably influenced them. Also a few philosophical works surived from the first temple period like Qoheleth and Iyyov. In addition to Philo another second temple philosophic text is the Sadducean work Ben Sira.

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    -1. Providing sources for your claims would improve this answer. You've made several statements as if they are established fact which are not actually widely accepted as true. – Rish Jul 17 '16 at 22:17

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