Beginning in the Middle Ages, many philosophically inclined Judaic thinkers felt pressured by the force of objective circumstances to reopen the question of finding an intellectually more satisfying solution to the dilemma posed by the classical rabbinic position on divine omniscience and human freedom. For one thing, the widespread revival of classical Greek philosophy and other learning had also made significant inroads into Jewish intellectual life, posing new challenges to traditional teachings. Renewed confidence or, perhaps more to the point, renewed faith in the absolutely rational ordering of the universe once again inspired a call for a logically acceptable solution to the problem of reconciling the apparently contradictory premises of Rabbi Akiba’s paradox.
Moreover, there was also an increasingly pressing need, at least in part a result of the desultory impact of feudalism on European social and economic life, to deal effectively with a growing popular belief in predestination. The belief that one’s destiny was predetermined by forces beyond an individual’s control evidently helped many people to come to terms with their personal, social, and economic disabilities, the prospective amelioration of which seemed rather hopeless under the prevailing circumstances. It was consoling to consider oneself a victim of implacable external forces. However, one serious and quite unintended consequence of the acceptance of the popular belief in predestination was a growing tendency to challenge the traditional rabbinic teachings regarding man’s moral autonomy, as well as other important aspects of Judaic faith and practice. After all, so the argument goes, if one’s fate is deemed to be predetermined, exhortations about moral accountability are not likely to be considered particularly compelling.