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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…

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…

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 …
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