While the influence of Islamic philosophy, science, poetry, and linguistics on the Jewish thought of the Middle Ages is well known, less attention has been given to the influence of the less rationalist strains of Islamic thought. The best example of this is Abraham Maimonides—son of the famous rabbi and philosopher and his successor as the leader of Egyptian Jewry—who believed that both the ideas of and practices of the Muslim mystics known as Sufis could be adapted to fit Judaism. Another example, writes Rachel Goldberg, is the Spanish sage and rabbinic judge Baḥya ibn Paquda (ca. 1050-1120), whose work Duties of the Heart remains popular in yeshivas today.
Duties of the Heart is organized into a series of “gates” that lead the reader along a spiritual path at the end of which he will discover, as the tenth gate states, “true love for God may He be exalted.” The structure is analogous to Sufi doctrine, which posits stations whose purpose is to bring the believer gradually to the exact same point. Originally written in Judeo-Arabic, the book uses Islamic and non-Jewish expressions to describe God.
In addition to the Islamic phrases, Ibn Paquda quotes Islamic sources as validation for his own words. For example, he quotes the Egyptian Muslim mystic Dhul-Nun al-Misri (d. 859) in a chapter dedicated to proving God’s presence in the world: “He who knows God best is the most humble in relation to Him.”
The [reason this work has proved more popular than that of Abraham Maimonides] is that, while Abraham Maimonides wrote with the goal of educating his immediate community, Ibn Paquda wrote for a more generalized audience of Jews, regardless of their existing spiritual knowledge or understanding.
More about: Jewish Thought, Jewish-Muslim Relations, Middle Ages, Sufis