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Zohar, Sefer

(471 words)

Author(s): Dan, Joseph
[German Version] The Zohar is the most important book of the Kabbalah (II) and one of the most profound works of mysticism (III, 2.b.) in the Middle Ages. It joined the Bible and the Talmud as the three most sacred works of Judaism. According to G. Scholem it was written mainly by Rabbi Moses ben Shem Tov de Leon in northern Spain between 1270 and 1291; according to Isaiah Tishby it was written in the year de Leon died in 1305. Since 1280 de Leon was distributing sections of the Zohar, claiming th…

Adam Kadmon

(140 words)

Author(s): Dan, Joseph
[German Version] (Qadmon; אדם קדמון, lit. primordial man). In 13th-century Kabbalah and later as well, Adam Kadmon articulated in anthropomorphic terminology the idea of the highest, concealed nature of the totality of divine powers, namely, of the plḗroma (Gk. πλήρωμα ). The antithetical concept is that of shiʾur qoma in Hekhalot mysticism (with which it belongs together in the Kabbalah). In the Zohar and in the Lurianic myth of the late 16th century, in which it represents the first emanation …

Luzzatto, Moshe Hayyim

(315 words)

Author(s): Dan, Joseph
[German Version] (1707, Padua – May 6, 1747, Akko) is regarded as one of the most influential figures in Jewish culture in early modern times. His poems and plays, written in the fashionable Italian allegorical manner of the time, placed him in the position of the first writer of modern Hebrew literature. With a small group of adherents Luzzatto established a mystical-messianic sect (Messiah/Messianism). He claimed that a maggid appeared to him in 1727, transmitting secrets, directing his actions, and instructing him in the composition of the new Zohar , the mysti…

Hasidic Tales

(276 words)

Author(s): Dan, Joseph
[German Version] The use of narrative literature in the presentation of Hasidism occurred mainly more than a century after the beginning of the movement. It peaked in the period between 1863 and 1914 when many scores of collections of Hasidic tales were published in Hebrew and Yiddish, mainly in Poland. In the ealier period of Hasidism, only two narrative works were published, both in 1815: Shivchey ha-Besht [In praise of the Besht], a hagiographic biography of the founder of the movement, Israel Baʾal Shem Tov (acronym Besht; this collection became paradigmat…

Cordovero, Moses

(182 words)

Author(s): Dan, Joseph
[German Version] (1522, Zefad [Safed]? – 1570, Zefad), the greatest Kabbalist in Zefad before I. Luria. His family, whose origin was in Córdoba, was exiled from Spain in 1492. Cordovero was a disciple of ¶ Rabbi Joseph Karo and Shlomo Alkabetz. His main work, an extensive commentary on the Zohar with the title Or Yaqar ( Precious Light) was first published in the last decades (printed in Jerusalem, 1961ff., 22 vols.). His best known work is Pardes Rimmonim ( A Garden of Pomegranates), a systematic presentation of Cordovero's interpretation of the classical Kabbalah. An…

Maggid

(409 words)

Author(s): Dan, Joseph
[German Version] is the general Hebrew word for “speaker.” In religious terminology, it has two different meanings: I. In the meaning of preacher, maggid refers to one of the most important cultural institutions of modern Judaism (II; III). It refers to a religious elite that is second in authority to the official rabbinate (Rabbis: II, 2). Although large congregations always employed preachers in permanent positions, most maggidim wandered from one congregation to another, staying in each place for weeks or months. …

Temurah

(215 words)

Author(s): Dan, Joseph
[German Version] is a Hebrew midrashic technique (Midrash) in which any letter in a biblical verse can be substituted by another one, in order to reveal new layers of meaning in the divine language of the Scriptures. Its origin is biblical: Jeremiah twice calls the city of Babylon (Heb. “Bavel”) “Sheshach” (Jer 25:26; 51:41). This was achieved by the temurah technique called ETBSh, in which the 22 letters of the alphabet are written in one column from beginning to end, and from end to the beginning in the parallel column. Thus the first letter א (aleph) is substituted by (ת (tav), the last le…

Alphabet Mysticism/Letter Mysticism

(1,413 words)

Author(s): Dan, Joseph
[German Version] I. History of Religion – II. Judaism I. History of Religion It is an intriguing fact – and not easy to explain – that the map of the monotheistic or “book” religions largely coincides with the map of the languages that use an Alphabet. The reverence given to Scripture in these religions influenced the attitude of believers toward language and toward letters, its building blocks. Th…

Bahya ben Asher

(187 words)

Author(s): Dan, Joseph
[German Version] (ibn Halava; 2nd half of 13th cent., Spain), a prominent exegete, moral preacher, scholar in ethics, and kabbalist (Kabbalah), who, according to tradition, was a judge and preacher in Saragossa. Bahya wrote an extensive commentary on the Torah (pr. in Naples, 1492) and a widely circulated ethical work, Kad ha-Qemach (“A Bowl of Flour”), which discusses alphabetically-arranged sermons on themes of Jewish morality. Bahya's model was Nachmanides. He…

Nahman ben Simhah of Bratslav

(306 words)

Author(s): Dan, Joseph
[German Version] (1771, Medshibosh, Ukraine – 1811, Uman, Ukraine). Rabbi Nahman ben Simhah was one of the most influential leaders of the Hasidic movement (Hasidism). Although he was the great-grandson of Baʾal Shem Tov, the founder of Hasidism, only a small group of adherents gathered around him. On his pilgrimage to the Land of Israel (1798) he was able to escape Napoleon's siege of Akko aboard a Turkish warship. When he returned to Europe he preached a new doctrine according to ¶ which there is only one true Zaddik, who is the redeemer of all the people of Israel. He did …

Luria, Isaac

(302 words)

Author(s): Dan, Joseph
[German Version] (Acronym: Ha-ARI; 1534, Jerusalem – 1572, Safed) is regarded as the most important Jewish kabbalist (Kabbalah) of modern times, the originator of a revolutionary kabbalistic myth, which is the dominant theology in orthodox Judaism to this day. His father was of European origin (“Ashkenasi”; Judaism). Not long after Luria was born, his family went to Egypt, where Luria was raised and educated. He became a halakhic authority (Halakhah) with great creative abilities and dealt in comm…

Zefad

(195 words)

Author(s): Dan, Joseph
[German Version] (Safed, Sefat; bibl. Heb. תפַצְ/ ṣepat), is a small town in the Upper Galilee in northern Israel which served as a center for Jewish mystics from the 16th century (Land of Israel). Many kabbalists (Kabbalah) assembled in this town, attracted by nearby Meron with the tomb of Rabbi Simeon bar Yohai, the 2nd-century sage to whom the Zohar is attributed. Several main figures lived in Zefad: Rabbi Joseph Karo, the author of Shulhan Arukh, the major book of law in modern Judaism; Rabbi Moshe Alsheikh, the great sermonist; Rabbi Israel Nagara, the great litur…

Abraham ben Azriel

(152 words)

Author(s): Dan, Joseph
[German Version] was one of the major authors belonging to the Kalonymus circle of 13th-century Rhineland esoterics and mystics; he was among the third generation of scholars produced by this school. He came to Speyer from Bohemia to study with Rabbi Judah the Pious (died 1217) and especially with Rabbi Eleazar ben Judah of Worms, whom he referred to as his immediate teacher. He is the author of Arugat ha-bosem (“Bed of Spices”: Song 5:13), completed in 1234, an exhaustive commentary on the piyuttim of the Jewish prayer book. Its encyclopedic compass makes Arugat ha-bosem unique …

Yehuda he-Chasid

(163 words)

Author(s): Dan, Joseph
[German Version] (“the pious,” Yehuda ben Samuel of Regensburg; c. 1150, Speyer, Germany – 1217, Regensburg, Germany), leader of the school of esotericists and pietists of the Kalonymus family in the Rhineland. He wrote ethical works, especially the Sefer Hasidim (Hasidism, Ashkenazi) and a series of esoteric-mystical ones: Sefer ha-Kavod (“Book of Divine Glory,” ms. Oxford, Bodleiana 1566f.) and a lost six-volume Commentary on the Prayers (the earliest work of this genre known to us). In all three works his positions are radical: his view of the kavod is that of a divine power in…

Azikri, Eleazar

(196 words)

Author(s): Dan, Joseph
[German Version] (1533–1600 Safed), a leader of the spiritual center in Safed, kabbalist, preacher, and ethical teacher and mystic. His best-known work is Sefer Haredim (“The Book of the God-fearing”, printed in Venice in 1600), an ethical treatise dedicated to the elucidation of the commandments and instructions concerning a life of devotion and asceticism. In the introduction, he describes the establishment…

Isaac ha-Cohen

(197 words)

Author(s): Dan, Joseph
[German Version] (of Castile; born in Soria, Spain) was a key figure in an influential group of kabbalists ¶ (Kabbalah) in Castile in the second half of the 13th century. Other important figures were his father, Jacob ha-Cohen, his elder brother, also called Jacob, and his disciple Moshe (ben Solomon ben Simeon) of Burgos. These kabbalists derived their esoteric knowledge mainly from the Gerona kabbalists in the first half of the 13th century, the book Bahir and the teachings of the early kabbalists in the Provence. The works of Isaac, especially his work on the emanation ( Treatise on the …

Urbach, Ephraim Elimelech

(217 words)

Author(s): Dan, Joseph
[German Version] (May 26, 1912, Wloclawec, Poland – Jul 2, 1991, Jerusalem), one of the most influential scholars in Jewish studies in the second half of the 20th century. Urbach studied at Breslau Rabbinical Seminary and the Universities of Breslau (Wrocław) and Rome. He lived in Jerusalem from 1938; he served as professor of Talmud at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem from 1953. In 1974 he was elected president of the Israeli Academy of Arts and Sciences of the World Union of Jewish Studies. In…

Alemano, Yohanan ben Isaac

(230 words)

Author(s): Dan, Joseph
[German Version] (c. 1435, Florence – c. 1504), one of the most important kabbalists, philosophers, and educators in the Jewish community in Italy in the second half of the 15th century. He was an important source of Kabbalah for his contemporary Pico della Mirandola, thus having great influence on the development of the Christian kabbalah of that period. He was raised in Florence, where he spent most of his life, but also lived in Mantua and other cities. Part of his printed work is his commentary on the Song of Songs, Heshek Shlomo (“Solomon's Desire”), published as Sha'ar ha-Heshek (“The …

Gershom Me'or ha-Golah

(145 words)

Author(s): Dan, Joseph
[German Version] (“The Light of the Exiled”; c. 960, Metz – c.1028, Mainz), was the leading rabbinic authority in Germany and northern France at the beginning of the 11th century and the author of numerous talmudic commentaries (Talmud), halakhic decisions (Halakhah), and religious poetry. His name is connected with several takanot, i.e. rabbinic instructions, which are not derived directly from scriptures or tradition, as for example the prohibition of polygamy, though it is not explicitly prohibited in biblical and talmudic sources. Other takanot include the prohibition of …

Isaac ben Abraham

(177 words)

Author(s): Dan, Joseph
[German Version] (the Blind; c. 1160, Posquières, Provence – 1235) was the author of the first non-anonymous kabbalistic work (his Commentary on the Sefer Yetzirah, Kabbalah) and the most prominent kabbalist in the early circle in southern France in the late 12th and early 13th centuries. It is not known whether he was blind from birth or became blind as an adult. His commentary and several other short treatises, for example, On the Secret of the Sacrifices and On the Intentions of Prayer, and the many quotations from his teachings found in the writings of his disciples, reve…
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