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Abulafia, Abraham

(284 words)

Author(s): Dan, Joseph
[German Version] (1240, Saragossa – 1291, Italy). Abulafia, one of the most important mystics among the medieval Kabbalists, created a highly individual form of mystic contemplation, based on a mystical interpretation of language. Leaving Spain, he journeyed through many lands until reaching Akko in 1260; he lived and taught in Sicily, Greece, and Italy. G. …

Israeli, Isaac ben Solomon

(136 words)

Author(s): Dan, Joseph
[German Version] (c. 855, Egypt – c. 955, Kairouan, Tunisia) earned his living as court physician in Kairouan. He is known as one of the founders of Jewish religious philosophy in the Middle Ages and was in contact with Saadia Gaon, the most influential philosopher of that age. His philosophical works, written in Arabic, had meaningful influence. They were also widely distributed in Europe (also among non-Jews) in their Hebrew and Latin translations. His Sefer ha-Gevulim ( Book of Definitions, trans. into Lat. by Gerard of Cremona) introduced the neo-Platonic concept of th…

Jacob Isaac of Lublin

(204 words)

Author(s): Dan, Joseph
[German Version] (ha-Choseh, “The Seer”) (1745–1815, Lublin) is regarded as the father of Hasidism in Poland and Galicia and is one of the leading representatives of the third Hasidic generation. The epithet “The Seer” was given to him as he was believed to have miraculous visionary powers. His most important teachers were Rabbi Dov Baer of Mezhirech, the spiritual heir of Baʾal Shem Tov, and Rabbi Elimelech of Lizhensk, from whom he distanced himself after a number of years of wandering, when he …

Karo, Joseph ben Ephraim

(208 words)

Author(s): Dan, Joseph
[German Version] (1488, Toledo or Portugal – 1575, Safed). Karo was the greatest Jewish legal scholar of the modern period; his legal works are still considered normative. During or shortly before the expulsion of the Jews in 1492, his family left Spain and settled in Turkey. In 1536 he moved to Zefat, then a center of Kabbalistic circles (Kabbalah: II). His most important work is the Bet Yosef [House of Joseph], a commentary on the entire halakhic tradition (Halakhah), which provided the basis for the condensed version, the Shulchan ʿarukh [Prepared table], which even today remains…

Exempla,

(314 words)

Author(s): Dan, Joseph
[German Version] a literary genre, which became frequent in Hebrew ethical literature in the Middle Ages and modern times, deriving its roots from midrashic literature (Midrash) and which may have been influenced by comparable literary devices in Christian medieval literature. An early medieval example of the use of exempla was the anthology Midrash Aseret ha-Dibrot (“Expounding the Ten Commandments”), which originated probably in Babylonia in the 7th and 8th centuries. This work contains examples of …

Kalonymus

(192 words)

Author(s): Dan, Joseph
[German Version] Kalonymus, one of the most prominent Jewish families into which important personalities were born between the 9th and 13th centuries. Their descendants exerted great influence on Jewish culture in Italy, Germany, and the Provence. Originally perhaps from southern Italy, the earliest mention of this family occurs in the Chronicle of Achimaaz (11th cent.). According to widespread tradition, part of the family was brought to Mainz from Italy by Charlemagne and rose to become the leading family of the Rhineland from the 9th century o…

Jacob Joseph of Polonnoye

(208 words)

Author(s): Dan, Joseph
[German Version] (died c. 1782, Polonnoye, Ukraine) was a Hasidic theologian (Hasidism), ¶ preacher and rabbi. He was a prominent disciple of the founder of the movement, Rabbi Israel Besht (Baʾal Shem Tov). Jacob served as a rabbi in Shargorod, in the Ukrainian area of Podolia, from which he was expelled in 1748. Late in his life he became the rabbi of Polonnoye. Jacob was never a leader of a Hasidic community, but he wrote the first Hasidic book to be published: Toledot Yaʾakov Yosef. (The titles of his books are based on biblical phrases which include his name, here Gen 37:2…

Delmedigo, Elijah Cretensis ben Moses Abba

(176 words)

Author(s): Dan, Joseph
[German Version] (1460, Candia, Crete – 1497, Candia, Crete). A rationalist philosopher, who influenced Renaissance culture by his translations into Latin of numerous works by Averroes, including his commentary on Plato's Republic and his questions relating to Aristotle's Logic. Delmedigo was the head of the talmudic academy in Padua, and later joined the circle of Platonist humanists in Florence. He was one of the teachers of G. Pico della Mirandola and travelled several times from Crete to Italy. His best-known philosophical work is Bechinat ha-Dat (“Examination of Religion,”…

Shir ha-Yihhud

(173 words)

Author(s): Dan, Joseph
[German Version] (“The Poem of Divine Unity”) is a long theological poem which was written by an unknown Jewish scholar in the 12th century. It became one of the main expressions of the new conception of the divine world in this culture. The Shir ha-Yihhud expresses a radical transcendental conception of God the Creator, and at the same time insists on his immanence in all realms of creation. One of its sources was an early Hebrew translation (11th cent.) of the 10th-century rationalistic work, “Emunot we-De’ot” by Saadia Gaon. The poem h…

Ibn Daud, Abraham

(291 words)

Author(s): Dan, Joseph
[German Version] (ben David; acronym Rabad I; c. 1110, Córdoba – 1180, Toledo), historian, philosopher, and scholar. Ibn Daud was one of the leading personalities of the Jewish community in 12th-century Spain. He acquired an extensive knowledge of philosophy, medicine, and astronomy in his native town of Córdoba, and was also familiar with the Qurʾān and the New Testament. His main historical work, Sefer ha-Kabbalah (ET: The Book of Tradition, 1967), was on the one hand a polemical tractate against the Karaites, who rejected rabbinic tradition; Ibn Daud according…

Dov Baer of Mezhirech

(169 words)

Author(s): Dan, Joseph
[German Version] (1704 [1710?], Lukazch, Poland – 1773, Anapoli). The main disciple of the founder of the Hasidic movement (Hasidism), Rabbi Israel Ba'al Shem Tov, and the leader of the first Hasidic court which assembled around him in Mezhirech from 1760 to 1772. He was a mystic and a homilist; his court was described by S. Maimon in his autobiography. Several collections of his sermons were assembled by his disciples, the best-known being Maggid Devarav le-Ya'akov ( Speaker to the People of Jacob), printed in Koretz in 1781. His teachings are charact…

Yehiel ben Yekutiel Anav of Rome

(134 words)

Author(s): Dan, Joseph
[German Version] Jewish physician, halakhist, and ethical writer in the second half of the 13th century in Italy. His best-known work is the ethical treatise, Maʾalot ha-Midot (“The ascending ethical qualities”), written c. 1287, one of the most important ethical works of that age. Yehiel bases his teachings on both traditional rabbinic education and rationalistic philosophical ideology which was dominant among Jewish intellectuals at that time. His attitude is moderate and worldly (among the recommended qualities, “weal…

Falaquera, Shem Tov ben Joseph

(230 words)

Author(s): Dan, Joseph
[German Version] (c. 1225–1295) was one of the most productive and popular rationalist philosophers of 13th-century Spanish Judaism (Spain: II, 1). He wrote most of his works in Hebrew and was also active as a translator from Arabic. His most important ¶ works include Sefer ha-Mevaqqesh (ET: cf. Falaquera's Book of the Seeker, 1976), a description in rhyming prose of the search for spiritual truth among the various competing schools and factions; Sefer ha-Nefesh (ET: cf. Torah and Sophia, 1835), one of the earliest treatises on the human soul in Hebrew; Iggeret ha-Vikuach (ET: cf. Falaque…

Ben Israel, Menasseh

(262 words)

Author(s): Dan, Joseph
[German Version] (1604, Madeira – Nov 20, 1657, Middelburg, Netherlands), scholar and leader of the Jewish community of Amsterdam. Ben Israel was one of the first Jewish writers to dedicate a significant part of his literary religious activity to presenting Judaism to non-Jewish European audiences. He played a leading role in the negotiations with O. Cromwell to enable the return of Jews…

Alharizi, Judah

(207 words)

Author(s): Dan, Joseph
[German Version] (1170, Toledo? – 1235), an important Jewish poet, philosopher, and translator in medieval Spain. He spent most of his life traveling through the Provence and, for many years, in the Near East, visiting Jerusalem, Damascus, Baghdad, and other places. Alcharisi translated the narrative poems ( Maqammas) of Al-Hariri from Arabic into Hebrew, and he wrote his best-known work, Tachkemoni (“Enlighten Me”), in a similar style. It is a comprehensive philosophical narrative-poetic work, cons…

Devequt

(205 words)

Author(s): Dan, Joseph
[German Version] (communion) is the Hebrew term for adherence to or communion with God, which was used by Jewish kabbalists (Kabbalah), pietists, and teachers of the modern Hasidic movement (Hasidism) to indicate the maximal proximity to God that can be obtained by a mystic. Often used as an equivalent to the ¶ Latin unio mystica . The term is used for the relation between the divine powers (the sefirot), but mainly for the process of ascension of the human soul. The subject of…

Abrabanel

(544 words)

Author(s): Dan, Joseph
[German Version] 1. Isaac ben Judah (1437, Lisbon – 1508, Venice) was an important Jewish leader, diplomat, exegete and philosopher in the period before and after the expulsion of the Jews from Spain (1492). Abrabanel was from a prominent family who were reputed to stem from the house of David. He was a financial advisor to King Alfonso V of Portugal, although he was forced …

Zimzum

(179 words)

Author(s): Dan, Joseph
[German Version] (“divine contraction”), is one of the most profound and influential terms in Lurianic Kabbalah (II; I. Luria). It denotes the first step leading from the infinity of the eternal Godhead ( En Sof) to the emanation of the divine powers and the earthly world. According to Luria, the zimzum is a negative process: it signifies the contraction of the infinite divine into itself, to create an empty space ( tehiru) into which the divine light can flow and shape the Sefirot. In the original Lurianic myth this was a cathartic process in which potentially evil elements …

Nagara, Israel ben Moses

(185 words)

Author(s): Dan, Joseph
[German Version] (Naǧara; c. 1555, Damascus – c. 1625) is regarded as the great poet of the “golden age” of Jewish culture of the 16th century in Zefat. Following the destruction of the Jewish communities in Spain (1492) this Upper Galilean region, where various kabbalistic schools (Kabbalah) were situated, flourished. Although Nagara is often regarded as a kabbalistic poet, the Kabbalah did not occupy a meaningful place in his work. He served as the rabbi of the Gaza Jewish community for several …

Nachmanides

(339 words)

Author(s): Dan, Joseph
[German Version] (Moses ben Nachman, acronym “Ramban”; 1194, Gerona – 1270, Akko) was a rabbi, physician, preacher, exegete, and a great halakhic authority. In the first half of the 13th century, Nachmanides was the spiritual leader of Spanish Jews ¶ (Judaism: II) and the head of the Kabbalistic school (Kabbalah: II) of Gerona, where Rabbi Ezra and Rabbi Azriel were among his teachers. He was a defender of Judaism in disputations with his Christian contemporaries. His exegetical work on the Pentateuch is a landmark in medieval Jewish culture; it combines traditional mi…
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