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Cabala

(842 words)

Author(s): Dan, Joseph
1. Term Cabala (also spelled cabbala, cabbalah, kabala, kabbala, and kabbalah) means “tradition”—more specifically, “esoteric, mystical tradition.” It is the common name for the most important school of Jewish mysticism, which flourished from the late 12th century to the 19th, mainly in Christian Europe and the Middle East. The early cabalists in medieval Europe relied on ancient Jewish (Judaism) mystical traditions known as Hekhalot (heavenly palaces) and Merkabah (chariot) mysticism and on the traditions of the ancient cosmological work Sefer Yetzirah (Book of creation). T…

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…

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, and with complicated questions of law as …

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…

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 (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 …

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 Discoverer”) dealing with creation and cosmology with a strong …

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 human soul in Hebrew; Iggeret ha-Vikuach (ET: cf. Falaque…

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…

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…

Hasidism

(1,178 words)

Author(s): Dan, Joseph
[German Version] I. Modern Hasidism – II. Ashkenazi Hasidism I. Modern Hasidism Hasidism is the largest and most important Orthodox Jewish religious movement of the modern period. Founded in southern Russian by Rabbi Israel Baʾal ¶ Shem Tov (acronym Besht) in the middle of the 18th century, it spread throughout Europe in the 19th century. Today its strongholds are in the great cities on the East Coast of the USA and in Israel. Before the Holocaust, the movement had several million members; today it numbers several hundred thousand,…

Azriel of Girona

(186 words)

Author(s): Dan, Joseph
[German Version] (1160–1238) was a significant writer of the first generation of Kabbalists in Girona. He probably was a disciple of Isaac, and with Rabbi Ezra he founded a new center in Catalonia. Many of his ideas influenced the Zohar and hence the Kabbalah as a whole. He wrote a commentary on the traditional prayers, in which he identifies the hidden divine power within every word and letter; a commentary on the Haggadah, which was a major step in presenting a hidden kabbalistic meaning in talmudic sayings; a commentary on the ancient Sefer Yetzirah and many other treatises. He combi…

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…

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 …

Shneur/Schneerson

(527 words)

Author(s): Dan, Joseph
[German Version] I. ben Baruch of Liadi (1745–1813, Piena, Bezirk Koisk),founder of the Hasidic community of Habad (Lubavich, Hasidic movement, Hasidism). Schneur was a disciple of the great Maggid rabbi Dov Baer of Mezhirech. His two closest colleagues, Menachem Mendel of Vitepsk and Abraham of Kalisk, immigrated to Zefat in 1777, and he took it upon himself to lead the community in southern Russia. His influence grew, and thousands flocked to his court. He tried to seek a resolution of the conflict b…

Moses of Narbonne

(162 words)

Author(s): Dan, Joseph
[German Version] (c. 1300, Perpignan, France – 1363, Soria, Spain) was one of the great Jewish philoso-¶ phers of the 14th century. He was a physician by profession and wandered between several cities in Provence and Spain. His best-known and most influential work is his commentary on Moses Maimonides's More Nevukhim (publ. 1852 in Vienna). He was a radical interpreter of Maimonides, and loyal, more than almost all other Jewish rationalists, to the teachings of Averroes. He did not hesitate to assert a common truth underlying Judaism, Christian…

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…

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 …
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