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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 not enjoy good health and suffered mood swings, yet he preached a life of joy in the worship of God. He had conflicts and controversies with almost all other Hasidic leaders. When his son died at a very young age in 1805, the loss intensified his belief in his messianic mission (Messiah). He expressed this in stories and pseudo-folktales (Hasidic tales) which are the autobiog…

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 attributed to various talmudic sages, and is written in imitation of the classical midrashic norms. It is the first work to present the divine powers as a system of superimposed layers, ten in number, often depicted as an inverted tree. Exegesis of the names and shapes of the alphabet, but also the origin and nature of evil, Satan, and Samael are equally central themes as is the process of creation. Its kabbalistic character…

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 ideol…

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 wrote several kabbalistic treatises (Kabbalah). Though recognized as a supreme legal authority, he did not hold any office for most of his life. In 1772 he signed the first of a series of excommunication declarations against the Hasidic movement, declaring them to be sinners, heretics, and forbidding any religious or social contact with them. He repeated this decision several times in the subsequent …

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), compl…

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] …

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,

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 f…

Nagid

(299 words)

Author(s): Dan, Joseph
[German Version] (Heb. נָגִיד, pl. nagidim) is the Hebrew title of the head of the Jewish communi…

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 of the Besht”) relate that Baal Shem Tov spent his first 36 years living in forests, occasionally doing menial jobs or working as a teacher in small towns. In 1736 he began to preach and to spread his teaching, and became known as a healer and magician (hence his title: the master of the good divine name that gives …

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 …

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 implicat…

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…

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…

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 abi…

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. Scholem characterized his work as “ecstatic” or “prophetic” Kabbalah, and Abulafia occasionally described himself as a prophet. He rejected the Kabbalistic symbols of the ten divine attributes, the Sefirot, and devel…

Lubavich, Hasidic Movement

(285 words)

Author(s): Dan, Joseph
[German Version] Lubavich is a small town in Russia, near Smolensk, which became the common designation of the Hasidic movement (Hasidism), ¶ Habad, founded at the end of the 18th century. Seven generations of the Schneursohn family were the spiritual leaders of the people of Lubavich. Rabbi Shneur Salman von Liadi is still today revered as the founder and leader of Habad Hasidism. After his death his disciples elected his son, Rabbi Dov Baer (1773–1827) to lead them. Baer's son, M.M. Schneerson, became known by his nickname Zemach Zedek and established Habad as a major, powerful force in Hasidism and Judaism,. He was followed by his son, Hayim Shneur Salman (1814–1880). After his death there was a generation of schism and turmoil until Rabbi Shalom Dov Baer (1860–1920) took over the leadership. His son was Rabbi Yosef Yitzhak (1880–1950), who moved the center of the movement to Brooklyn, New York, after the Holocaust,. He was followed by his son-in-law, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneursohn (1902–1994), who turned Habad into a vast international order, establishing schools and academies in almost every country in which Jews lived. In the 1980s many of his disciples cherished the belief that he was the Messiah, the seventh and last leader of the Habad dynasty (Messiah/Messianism). This turned in the 1990s into the greatest Jewish messianic movement in the last two centuries. Many of Mendel Schneursohn's follow…

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 (

Vidas, Eliyahu ben Moses de

(184 words)

Author(s): Dan, Joseph
[German Version] (c. 1525, Safed – c. 1586, Hebron), prominent kabbalist in 16th-century Safed, a disciple of M. Cordovero. His main work is Reshit Chokhma (“The Beginning of Wisdom”), which is the most influential expression of kabbalistic ethics (Kabbalah). The book is comprised of five extensive discussions concerning the love of God, the fear of God, repentance, humili…

Tosafot/Tosafists

(482 words)

Author(s): Dan, Joseph
[German Version] Tosafot (lit. additions) is a literary format of commentaries and discussions of sections of the Talmud; Baaley ha-Tosafot (authors of tosafot, tosafists) is the name given to the school of talmudic scholars who developed this format, especially in northern France and western Germany between the 11th and 13th centuries. In the printed editions of the Talmud, the tosafot are printed opposite to the classical commentary on the Talmud by Rashi, on the two sides of the talmudic texts.…

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 …

Eleazar ben Judah of Worms

(163 words)

Author(s): Dan, Joseph
[German Version] (c. 1165, Mainz – 1230, Worms), halakhist, poet, and writer of esoteric, mystical, and ethical works, and the central figure in the literature of the Kalonymus circle of the Hasidic Ashkenazi (Hasidism). Eleazar ben Judah left Mainz following the persecution of the Jews there in 1188, and settled in Worms. He was the main disciple of Rabbi Judah ben Samuel (Yehuda he-Chasid) of Regensburg. Eleazar wrote a halakhic (Halakhah) work, Sefer ha-Rokeah, which deals with questions of ethics. Among his most important works are the …

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 …

Arama, Isaac ben Moses

(225 words)

Author(s): Dan, Joseph
[German Version] (c. 1420 Aragon – 1494), one of the leading thinkers of Spanish Jewry in the 15th century and the author of Aqedat Yitzhaq (The Binding of Isaac), a major, influential, homiletical-philosophical work. Arama taught in several towns and was app…

Cordovero, Moses

(182 words)

Author(s): Dan, Joseph

Sefirot

(211 words)

Author(s): Dan, Joseph
[German Version] (Heb. סְפִרוֹת; sg. sefira). Sefirot is found for the first time in the Sefer Yetzirah: there are “ten and not nine, ten and not eleven,” i.e. the ten “directions” of the cosmos (up, down, beginning, end, north, south, east,west, good, evil), as well as the powers of the divine chariot and the cosmic elements. In the 13th century this term was adopted by the early kabbalists (Kabbalah) to denote the ten personal, dynamic powers which together constitute t…

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…

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 sec…

Alnakawa, Israel

(263 words)

Author(s): Dan, Joseph
[German Version] (died 1391 in Toledo), leader of the Jewish community in Toledo in the 14th century, author of one of the most important ethical/theological works of the period, Menorat ha-Maor (“Candelabrum of Light”). Alnakawa was the son of an important family in Toledo and a disciple of the great halakhists (Halakhah), Rabbi Asher ben Yehiel and his son Jacob. In the preface to his book Alnakawa tells h…

Ben Gurion, David

(248 words)

Author(s): Dan, Joseph
[German Version] …

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 kavo…

Alphabet Mysticism/Letter Mysticism

(1,413 words)

Author(s): Dan, Joseph
[German Version] …

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.) This work appeared in 1780 in Koretz. In 1781 came Ben Porat Yosef (Gen 49:22), in 1782 Zofnat Paʾaneah (Gen 41:45) in Koretz, and finally in 1866 Ketonet Passim (Gen 37:3) in Lemberg. His books abou…

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 …

Rashba

(219 words)

Author(s): Dan, Joseph
[German Version] (Adret Solomon ben Adrat [Rashba is an acronym]; c. 1235, Barcelona – 1310, Barcelona), head of a school of Jewish law and Jewish mysticism in Barcelona, late 13th/early 14th century. A student of the Kabbalistic (Kabbalah) school of Girona, he was leader of a group of kabbalists in Catalonia. Before becoming a rabbi in Barcelona, he was a merchant, and traded with the king of Aragon, among others. More ¶ than 1,000 of his Responsa (7 vols.) have survived; they deal with daily problems and political matters, a…

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 h…

Donnolo, Shabbatai ben Abraham

(197 words)

Author(s): Dan, Joseph
[German Version] (913, Oria, Italy – after 982, Rome?), scientist, physician, and theologian, one of the founders of Hebrew culture in medieval Europe. Donnolo wrote an autobiographical treatise, which was included with his treatise on the microcosmos and macrocosmos (as a commentary on Gen 1:27) and his commentary on Sefer Yetzira , in his Hachmony. We also have several medical treatises written by him; the most important is Sefer ha-Mirqachot (“The Book of Pharmacy”). His work influenced the Ashkenazi Hasidim (Hasidism), who regarded him…

Abrabanel

(544 words)

Author(s): Dan, Joseph
[German Version] 1. Isaac ben Judah

Bar Hiyya, Abraham

(197 words)

Author(s): Dan, Joseph
[German Version] (c. 1065–1136) was the first Jewish rationalistic philosopher and scholar to write in Hebrew. His many trips to Northern Spain and the Provence, where Jews were no longer familiar with Arabic, prompted him to write his treatises in Hebrew. His main philosophical works are Hegyon ha-Nefesh (“The Meditation of the Soul”) dealing with creation of the world, the nature of the soul, and repentance, and Megillat ha-Megalle (“The Scroll of the …

Zaddiq

(311 words)

Author(s): Dan, Joseph
[German Version] The term zaddiq (קידְּצַ/ ṣaddîq; “Righteous”) is in most cases a vague, general title associating with religious devotion and leadership. It indicates social involvement and ethical perfection beyond the strict demands of the Halakhah and prominent position in the religious community. The verse in Pro 10:25 gave this term a cosmic meaning: the zaddiq is the foundation of the universe ( axis mundi). The legends of the 36 zaddiqim who are the justification of the world’s existence developed from this concept. In the Kabbalah, the term was used to indicate the ni…

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 h…
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