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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 …

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 …

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…

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 …

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…

Eliyahu, Gaon of Vilna

(179 words)

Author(s): Dan, Joseph
[German Version] (Seletz near Horadna, April 1720 – Vilna, April 1797) was the most important halakhic authority (Halakhah) in East European Judaism in the last third of the 18th century, the leader of Lithuanian Jewry, and the leader of the opposition ( mitnaggedim) to the emerging Hasidic movement (Hasidism). He was called “gaon” (“highness,” the title of the leader in a high Rabbinic school), in recognition of his position of leadership in talmudic studies. He wr…

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 …

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 …

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…

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…

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…

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…

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…

Nagid

(299 words)

Author(s): Dan, Joseph
[German Version] (Heb. נָגִיד, pl. nagidim) is the Hebrew title of the head of the Jewish community in an Arabic-speaking country. It followed the Babylonian title “Rosh ha-Gola” (“exilarch”; Resh Galuta) which developed in the early Middle Ages. In Spain, Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco, and the Yemen there arose several dynasties of nagidim. Many Jewish poets, scholars, philosophers and scientists served in this position, and in several cases it became hereditary for three or four generations. The establis…

Baʾal Shem Tov

(337 words)

Author(s): Dan, Joseph
[German Version] (c. 1700, Okop, Ukraine – 1760, Mezibuz, Silesia), acronym: “Besht,” Baal Shem Tov, lit. “Master of the Good Name,” figuratively “Master of White Magic” was actually called Israel ben Eliezer and is considered to be the founder of the modern Jewish religious movement of the “Hasidim” (Hasidism). Hasidic tradition makes him the disciple of the prophet Achiya Ha-Shiloni (1 Kgs 11:29), who was, according to midrashic tradition (Midrash), the teacher of the prophet Elijah. The collection of legends known as Shivkhey ha-Besht (“In Praise…

Abraham Maimuni

(209 words)

Author(s): Dan, Joseph
[German Version] (Abraham ben Moses ben Maimon; 1186, Cairo – 1237, Cairo), son of M. Maimonides, inherited the position of his father as the leader of the Jewish community in Egypt; he extended the philosophical work of his father. When the great controversy over the rationalistic work of Maimonides arose in 1232–1235 in northern Spain and the provinces, Abraham responded with “The War of the Lord” ( Milchamot ha-Shem), an apology for the rationalistic style of writing of his father; he defended vigorously …

Israel of Ruzhin

(186 words)

Author(s): Dan, Joseph
[German Version] (or Ryzhin; surname: Friedmann; 1797, Pogrebyszcze near Kiev – 1850, Sadigora). Israel was one of the leading representatives of the Hasidic movement in the first half of the 19th century. As the grandson of the Maggid Dov Baer of Mezhirech, he assumed a leading role in the Hasidic congregation of Ryzhin as early 20 years old. Although he did not stand out either for his scholarship or for particular expertise, he quickly attained enormous recognition. Israel was implicated in a t…

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…
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