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Judaism came to philosophy relatively late. While both religion and philosophy occupy themselves with the ultimate questions, religion starts with faith while philosophy starts with human knowledge. Starting in the Greek or Hellenistic period, many Jews came under the influence of Greek philosophy. Jewish scholars such as Philo began what became a centuries-long tradition of utilizing the philosophical thinking of such Greek philosophers as Aristotle and Plato to prove or disprove the validity of Jewish belief as embodied in the Bible. This kind of philosophical speculation and disputation was driven by the rivalry between Judaism and the two new monotheistic religions, Christianity and Islam. Under Islamic rule, Jews gave rise to philosophers like Maimonides and Yehudah Ha-Levi. The former incorporated Aristotelian thought into his teachings of Judaism, while the latter strongly rejected the validity of Islam and Christianity on philosophical grounds, affirming the exclusive validity of Judaism.

In our time, religious philosophers like Buber, Rosenzweig, and Heschel have espoused contemporary European philosophies such as existentialism to prove the validity and explore the message of Judaism.

Additionally, Jews contributed great philosophers after the Renaissance, the greatest being Spinoza, one of the world’s most original and most important thinkers. More recent examples are the French philosophers Bergson and Derida.

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