E-Lectures Glossary

Rabbi Shim'on ibn-Lavi

Rabbi Shim'on ibn Lavi was a Kabbalist who lived in the city of Fez and then in the city of Tripoli in the second half of the 16th century.
According to a number of traditions ibn-Lavi was born in Spain and left in 1492 with the expulsion of the Jews from Spain, but recently this has been brought into question (see bellow). Ibn-Lavi lived in Fez (Morocco) in the first half of the 16th century until he decided to 'ascend' to the Land of Israel. En route he was taken prisoner, and after being freed, ended up in Tripoli (Libya), in 1548/9. According to one report, when he first came to Tripoli most of the Jewish community didn not even know the Friday evening prayer. In any event, it seems that he felt that his guidance was needed, and he decided to stay in Tripoli. According to Sefer Higid Mordekhai, in 1548/9 ibn-Lavi was the personal physician of Yihya Pasha, the Turkish governor at the time. In his commentary on the Zohar, Sefer Ketem Paz, ibn-Lavi mentions he is writing in Tripoli in 1570/1.
Ibn Lavi also wrote a number of piyyutim (liturgical songs), the most famous of which - Bar Yochai -- is used in prayer in some Jewish communities to this day. He probably also wrote the Seder Tikkun Lel Shavuot Keminhag Yehudy Tripoli (The Kabbalist liturgy for the night of Shavuot according to custom of the Jews of Tripoli). An explanation of the foreign words in the Zohar (Beur Hamilim Hazarot Shebesefer Hazohar) is also said to have been written by him, but it seems plausible that this was written by a master of his, and that he only copied it. In Ketem Paz, ibn-Lavi comes across as an authoritative figure that was involved in polemics both against Christian theology and Jewish philosophy, but other than that, very little historical information can be gleaned from his writings. The only one of his contemporaries that he mentions is the famous piyytan Mandil, Yitzkhak ben Zimrah. To the best of our knowledge, his contemporaries took no notice of his book, presumably because of the Kabbalah of the ARI became so prominent at the time. Sefer Ketem Paz, was printed in Livorno only 1694/5. The book is important, however, as a commentary on the Zohar, especially since it is the only running commentary on the Zohar written without awareness of the Kabbalah of Safed. Avraham Kalfon writes that ibn-Lavi died in 1584/5 and the site held by the Jewish community to be his grave was cause for strife with the Moslem community of Tripoli in the first half of the 20th century.
Recently, researchers have noted that in order to account for the reports about ibn-Lavi being born in Spain before 1492, and dying in 1584/5, one must assume that he lived to a very old age. Furthermore, his name appears in the sources in several variations: some have Shimon ben or ibn (the son of) Lavi, while others simply have Shimon Lavi. These facts have lead researchers to suggest that there where in fact to "Lavi"s - Shim'on Lavi who was expelled from Spain and wrote Bar-Yochai and other piyyutim, and Shim'on ibn-Lavi, author of Ketem Paz and other piyyutim.

This page is part of the glossary of the Goldstein-Goren International Center for Jewish Thought
        Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Israel