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Bahya ibn Pakudah,

(256 words)

Author(s): Dan, Joseph
[German Version] author of Hovot ha-Levavot (“The Duties of the Heart”), the most popular and influential work of Jewish ethics from the Middle Ages. It was originally written in Arabic and remains to this day a classic of Jewish spirituality. Very little is known about the author. He probably lived in Saragossa and was, besides this work, also the author of several Hebrew religious poems ( piyyutim), of which two were appended to his book. Rabbi Judah ibn Tibbon translated the book into Hebrew around 116…

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 …

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…

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 …

Ethical Literature (Sifrut musar)

(298 words)

Author(s): Dan, Joseph
[German Version] This term is used both by traditional Jewish genre designation and modern scholarship to describe the body of spiritual literature, usually intended for the wide public, which directs Jews in their daily lives. The emphasis, in most cases, is not on the purely practical aspect of ethical conduct (which is codified in the Halakhah), religious law, but in the spiri…

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…

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 …

Taku, Moses ben Hasdai

(178 words)

Author(s): Dan, Joseph
[German Version] (c. 1170–1230). Rabbi Moses Taku (the name probably relates to a town; it may be Dachau, or Tachau in Bohemia), was a prominent Tosafist (Tosafot) who wrote commentaries on some talmudic tractates and legal responsa and is frequently quoted in halakhic literature up to the 15th century. He may have served as a rabbi in Regensburg. ¶ In manuscript Paris H711 there is a copy of a part of Taku’s polemical work, Ketav Tamim ( A Book of Wholesomeness; publ. R. Kircheim, 3 vols., 1860, 54–99). The work is dedicated to an uncompromising attack on the rationalistic…

Anatoli, Jacob ben Abba Mari

(196 words)

Author(s): Dan, Joseph
[German Version] (born c. 1200), a rationalist philosopher from the school of Maimonides, translator, exegete and homilist. He belonged (by marriage) to the family of Ibn Tibbon, the famous school of translators of philosophical works from Arabic to Hebrew in the 12th/13th century. He spent many years as one of the international scholars who congregated in Naples in the court of Frederick I. In his collection of sermons, Malemad ha-Talmidim (“teacher/encourager of students”), he quotes the emperor twice and …

Levi ben Gerson

(314 words)

Author(s): Dan, Joseph
[German Version] (Gersonides; acronym RaLBaG; 1288, Bagnols, Provence – 1344, Perpignan) is one of the most prominent rationalistic philosophers, scientists, and biblical exegetes of medieval Judaism. Born to a famous Provençal family, he lived most of his life in Orange and Avignon. He was known in Europe as Messer Leon de Bagnols or Magister Leo Hebreo de Bonnolis. Several of his treatises were translated into Latin and had an impact on European science, especially astronomy and philosophy. Levi…

Tikkun

(226 words)

Author(s): Dan, Joseph
[German Version] is the most potent, operative term in Lurianic Kabbalah (I. Luria), which expresses the messianic endeavor of believers in the kabbalistic worldview from the 17th century to this day. Its source is in the talmudic term tiqqun ha-ʿolam, deeds that assist in keeping the world functioning correctly. In the Lurianic myth, it represents the third, last phase in the cosmic-historical myth of Luria: the first is the zimzum; the second is the Shevirat ha-kalem (breaking of the vessels), the catastrophe in which the divine plan broke down; and then the tikkun should occur, corr…

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…

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…

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…

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,”…

Leon, Moses ben Shem Tov de

(156 words)

Author(s): Dan, Joseph
[German Version] (1240, Leon – 1305, Arevalo), the greatest Jewish mystic in the Middle Ages and the main author of the book Zohar, the central work of the Kabbalah. De Leon mainly studied Jewish philosophy and the writings of M. Maimonides, but later devoted himself to the teachings of the Gerona circle of kabbalists and the kabbalists of Castile. He wrote the Zohar pseudepigraphically, attributing it to ancient sages; it was composed mainly between 1280 and 1291 and most of it is in an artificial Aramaic which De Leon formulated, though sections were pro…

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…

Bahir, Sefer ha-Bahir

(281 words)

Author(s): Dan, Joseph
[German Version] (“the Book of Brilliance”), also known as the Midrash of Rabbi Nechunia ben ha-Kanah (after the 2nd-cent. sage to whom the first paragraph in the book is attributed). It is the first work of the Kabbalah, and was written anonymously around 1185, probably in the Provence or in northern Spain. It contains around 200 paragraphs, which are attribu…

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…
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