Goldstein-Goren International Center for Jewish Thought
E-Lectures Glossary

Glossary Index

Terms and Concepts
Conservative Judaism, Halakhah - Jewish Law, Haskalah, Jewish Denominations, Kabbalah, Kosher, Kosher Food, Midrash, Mishnah, Orthodox Judaism, Rabbi, Chief Rabbi, Reconstructionist Judaism, Reform Judaism, Responsa, Talmud, Wissenschaft des Judentums (The scientific investigation of Judaism),

Rabbi Shlomo Alkavetz, Rabbi Joseph Angelit, Rabbi Moshe ben Mordechai Basola, Rabbi Israel Ba'al Shem Tov (BeShT), Rabbi Moshe ben Yaakov Cordovero, Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, Rabbi Solomon Freehof, Rabbi Meir Ibn Gabai, Rabbi Avraham Galanti, R. Judah Ha-Levi, Rabbi Moshe Isserles, Chief Rabbi of Great Britain Immanuel Jakobovits Rabbi Joseph Karo, Rabbi Isaac Luria Ben Shelomo (Ha'ARI) Maimonides (Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon), Rabbi Issac Mor Hayyim, Rabbi Menahem Recanati, Isaac Ben Solomon Sahula, Rabbi Israel Sarug (or Saruk), Rabbi Shem tov ibn-Shem Tov, Rabbi Shim'on ibn-Lavi, Rabbi Shim'on bar-Yokhai, Baruch (Benedict)Spinoza, Rabbi Joseph Ibn Tabul, Rabbi Hayyim ben Joseph Vital,

Guide for the Perplexed, Ethics, The Kuzari, Megaleh Temirin, Shivhei ha-Besht, Shulhan Arukh, Theological-Political Treatise, The Zohar,

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

If you are having trouble viewing our lectures through our main page, feel free to access them directly:
When the Rabbis Meet the Doctors :How Medical Halakhah is Made, by Daniel J. Lasker
Zohar Hermeneutics, by Boaz Huss
Interpreting the Kuzari, by Haim Kreisel

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Yehuda ha-Levi

JUDAH HALEVI (born in Spain before 1075 – died 1141 Israel?) was a rabbi, philosopher and Hebrew poet.
Halevi was born either in Toledo or Tudela, apparently to a wealthy and learned family and received a comprehensive education in both Hebrew and Arabic, apparently under Moslem rule.  At an early age he traveled to Andalusia where his poetic talents where recognized and where he befriended the renown poet Moshe ibn Ezra and other great poets of Granada, Seville, and Saragossa. With the Almoravides conquest of Moslem Spain (after 1090), when the situation of the Jews there became more tenuous, Halevi left Granada and took to traveling.  During the next twenty years Halevi passed through many different communities and was in contact with a wide range of people, such as rabbi Joseph ibn Migash, in Lucena, or the vizier Meir ibn Kamhiel in Seville. In 1108 his patron at the time, Solomon ibn Ferrizuel -- a Jewish nobleman in the court of the king in Toledo -- was murdered.  Judging by the poem of eulogy that Halevi wrote after the incident, it seem that his patron's status had given him a sense of security that was now shattered. Halevi left Toledo shortly after (before the death of Alfonso VI, 1109) and continued his travels.
Halevi had contact with Jewish communities in North Africa, Egypt and Narbonne and as his poems attest was friendly with many famous Jews of his time. Perhaps most well known was his friendship with the renowned scholar Rabbi Abraham ibn Ezra.  Both wandered through the various cities of Muslim Spain, and at least once traveled together to North Africa. Ibn Ezra quotes Halevi numerous times in his biblical commentary on matters of philosophy, grammar and exegesis and Halevi likewise mentions ibn Ezra. Tradition has it that the two were related: According to Abraham Zacuto, in his Sefer ha-Yuhasin, they were cousins, and Abrabanel in his commentary on the Torah says ibn Ezra married Halevi's daughter. From a letter found in the Cairo Genizah, however, it seems that in fact it was ibn Ezra's son, Yitzchak, was married to Halevi's daughter.
Towards the end of his life, shortly after he finished his only philosophical book – the Kuzari -- Halevi decided to 'ascend' to the land of Israel. He arrived in Egypt in 1140, where he was welcome by the Jewish community, and he spent several months there. Legend has it that when Halevi finally made it to Jerusalem, and bent down to kiss it's stones while reciting his elegy 'Tziyon halo tishali', an Arab horseman trampled him to death. In the past scholars have judged this legend to be completely baseless, and have asserted that Halevi never left Egypt. Recent publications from the Cairo Genizah however, show that he did board a boat at Alexandria, and it seems likely that he did indeed make it to the land of Israel before his death. 
"About 800 poems written by Judah Halevi are known, covering all the subjects commonly found in Spanish Hebrew poetry as well as the forms and artistic patterns of secular and religious poetry." Close to half of Halevi's poetry is Piyyutim (liturgical poems for the various festivals of the year). In accordance with the piyut tradition, these include national themes – such as God's relationship with his people, the redemption from Egypt and the future redemption –while they also express personal religious feelings – such as man's reverence for God, his dread of sin, and the desperate struggle against his carnal nature. A number of poems (approximately 35) that Halevi is particularly known for - his 'shirei Tziyon' (songs of Zion) - deal with the yearning for Zion, a theme that was not so common his day. Most of his secular poems deal with eulogy and friendship; of these the great majority are addressed to his famous contemporaries – poets, philosophers, religious scholars, noblemen and philanthropists, while in some the recipient remains unnamed. Lastly, Halevi's love poems number about 80 and are similar in content and form to the love poems found in his day both in Arabic and in Hebrew.
Halevi's poetry constitutes his most important biographical source: it tells of his journeys in Spain and in other countries, of his relations with his contemporaries, of his position in society, and of his spiritual development. His poetry was widespread in manuscript from an early period and was known outside Spain during his own lifetime. His piyyutim were used in the liturgy over the generations, and some are used to this day – according to Ashkenazi tradition, for instance, his 'Tzion Halo Tishali' is recited on the 9th of Av. Some of Halevi's poetry was put to music in modern day Israel. 
["Judah Halevi", Encyclopedia Judaica]

The Kuzari

The Kuzari, or by its full title: The Book of Argument and Proof in Defense of the Despised Faith, is a philosophical-theological work by Rabbi Yehudah ha-Levi (c. 1075 – 1041).
Purpose and Literary Framework
In one of his letters, Halevi wrote that he began writing the Kuzari in order to address certain questions posed by the Karrites. But in the final draft of the book, compleated some twenty years later -- just before his departure for the land of Israel – it seems Halevi is more concerned with defending the 'despised Faith' against Aristotelian philosophy, Christianity and Islam than against Karaism. The work is called the Kuzri after the king of the Khazars whose conversion to Judaism provides the literary framework of the work. After being told by an angel in a dream that, while his intentions were acceptable to God, his actions were not, the king, in an effort to discover how he should lead his life, invites first an Aristotelian philosopher, and then representatives of Islam, Christianity, and Judaism, to discuss with his their respective beliefs. This literary framework enables Halevi to compare the teachings of Judaism with those of Aristotelianism, Islam, and Christianity, in an effort to prove the superiority of Judaism.

The work is divided into five parts. In the first part the philosopher, the Christian, and the Muslim expound their views. The king is with the philosopher, and when he realizes that Christianity and Islam are both based on Judaism, he calls in a Jewish scholar. The following four parts are devoted mainly to the dialogue between the king and the Jew. In the second part the king questions the Jewish scholar concerning the attributes of God. The scholar, however, is more concerned with the experience of God. Gained through prophecy than with the theoretical knowledge of God. Thus, he directs the discussion to the circumstances in which prophecy arose, and to the particular qualities of the people of Israel, of Erez [the Land of] Israel, the Temple, and the Hebrew language.   The third part deals with the details of the worship of God in Judaism. The scholar explains that worship in Judaism consists in fulfilling the biblical commandments, which originated in divine revelation, and which cannot be interpreted or applied except by means of the authoritative tradition. This last point leads to a detailed argument against Karaism. In the fourth part the scholar discusses the names of God, distinguishing between Elohim and Adonai, the former being a general term denoting the god whois known through philosophical reasoning, the latter, a proper name, denoting the God of Israel who is known only through revelation and prophecy. He explains prophecy as the experience of being in the presence of God or the Shekhinah (an intermediary being between God and man) an experience brought about by the special "inner sense" of the prophet. He goes on to discuss the uniqueness of the people of Israel, in that they alone possess the faculty o the prophecy, the "inner sense" wich enables the to approach the divine presence. Halevi in order to show that all science originated with the Jews, and that the Jewish people from its inception did not lack any human perfection, concludes this chapter with a summary of, and a commentary on, Sefer ha-Yetzirah ("The Book of the Creation"), which he regarded as a major scientific work, and which he attributed, as did others at the time, to Abraham the Patriarch. In the fifth and final part of the book he takes up the polemic with the philosopher whom he did not properly challenge in the first part. The Jewish scholar, in an ironic vein, presents his pupil with a sketch of the Aristotelian philosophy of his day, at the same time exposing its weaknesses. While halevi seems better acquainted with the doctrines of Aristotelianism than were his predecessors, it would be wrong to assume that he studied Aristotle's works directly. It has been shown, for example, that his exposition of Aristotelian psychology is based on a work by Avicenna (S. Landauer, in ZDMG, 29 (1875), 335-418). Halevi's criticism of Aristotelianism is highly reminiscent of al-Ghazali's criticism of philosophy in the incoherence of the Philosophers (Tahafut al-Falasfia). Halevi also presents his pupil with an outline of the arguments of the kalalm, of which he does not approve any more than he does of Aristotelianism. Though he considers these arguments useful for polemics he believes they have no great intrinsic value.

Central Ideas
Halevi's teachings are based on the concept of immediate religious experience and its superiority over deductive reasoning. However, he does not negate the value of metaphysical speculation, recognizing that, in the absence of direct experience, it is the only way of learning the truth. Halevi regards Aristotle's system as the finest achievement of the human intellect. Even Aristotle conceded that deductive reasoning cannot refute experience, while the prophets based their teachings on the special experience contained in revelation, Aristotle's conclusions are valid only in regard to mathematics and logic, but have no validity in regard to divine law. Thus, in contrast to the philosopher, who defines the prophet as on e who has attained the highest degree of perfection in conjunction with the perfection of the imaginative faculty, Halevi defines the prophet as one who, by means of the external senses, apprehends physical reality. The prophet, because he experiences directly the presence of God, can become much closer to God than the philosopher who has an indirect theoretical knowledge of Him. The mission of the prophet is not to instruct men in eternal truths, but to teach them the deeds whose performance leads to the experience of God's presence. This is indeed the purpose of the Torah, Judaism being the only religion, which seeks to instruct men in correct and righteous actions, rather than speculative truths. The prophetic faculty is a faculty beyond ordinary human reason, and constitutes a generic distinction between the prophet and the ordinary man, parallel to the distinction between man and animals. This faculty is hereditary and unique to the people of Israel. It is only through the intermediacy of Israel that the other nations can approach God, just as it is only through the intermediacy of the prophets that the people of Israel can come close to Him. This is the cornerstone of Halevi's doctrine of particularity of the people of Israel.
In his polemic against Christianity and Islam, Halevi contends that a prophetic religion, possessing the evidence of the prophectic experience, has no need to authenticate itself by means of proof. What Halevi objects to in Christianity and Islam is not the irrationality of their doctrines, but the fact that they cannot base their doctrines on an unequivocal historical revelation such as the one granted to Israel at Sinai, when 600,000 people were granted the experience of prophecy, and found with a certitude what the intellect cannot attain, that God spoke to man and commanded him to observe the laws of the Torah. Christianity and Islam must, therefore, have recourse to the historical tradition of Judaism. Halevi recognizes the presence of authentic Jewish elements in Christianity and Islam, and the vital role that these religions play in history. However insofar as they have diverged from the Torah and sought to supplant it they are falsehoods which can neither be substantiated by the tradition of Israel, nor claim authentic historical validity for their own traditions. Halevi in his view of history attempts to explain the paradox of a "chosen people" suffering exile and oppression, and to show that in spite of the suffering of the Jewish people, Judaism is the relition par excellence. The function of history is to bring creation to completion in the acceptance of the true worship of God on the part of all mankind. This is a gradual process.
Ha-Inyan ha-Elohi ("the divine influence", a technical term used by Halevi in a variety of senses, including that of an intermediary between mand and God) is initially known to only a few individuals (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob), then to and entire family (the children of Jacob), and then to an entire nation (the people of Israel), who will eventually make it known to mankind as a whole. This history of the people of Israel at this stage represents the true history of mankind. This is demonstrated by the fact that only in the history of the people of Israel is divine providence directly manifest, both in times of unnatural success and in times of unnatural suffering. The successes and failures of other nations can be explained in natural terms, without the manifestation of divine providence. When the other nations recognize the divine influence they too will become part of the true history. This, evidently, is the meaning of the suffering of Israel in exile. Israel is like a seed, which appears to be rotting in the ground, but is in reality preparing for life and growth. Thus, unusual suffering is not evidence of the inferiority of the Jewish faith, but of its superiority. The suffering of Israel is the public sanctification of the name of God, and its purpose swill be understood at the time of deliverance. It must be noted that Halevi did not believe in a deterministic historical development. Deliverance will only come about when God-'s commandments are performed by men who willingly submit to divine authority.

Originaly written in Judao-Arabic the Kuzari was translated into Hebrew by Judah ibn Tibbon in the 12th century, and first printed in Fano in 1506. It has been reissued many times. A critical edition of the arabic and Herew text was published by H. Hirschfeld in 1887. An edition of the Hebrew text, prepared by A. Zifroni, appeared in 1960. The Kuzari was translated into English (H. Hirschfeld, 1905; reprinted with an introduction by H. Slonimsky, 1964; abridged version with introduction by I Heinemann, 1947), Latin, Spanish, German, French and Italian.
The Kuzari is a popular work, which exercised a great influence on Judaism through history. It was particularly influential in kabbalistic circles in the 13th century, and among the anti-Aristotelians in the 14th an 15th centuries. In more recent times it had a marked influence on Hasidism. Some philosophers of the 19th and 20th centureis, such as Sameul David Luzzatto, Franz Rosenzweig, and Abraham Isaac Kook, saw in the Kuzari the most faithful description of the particular qualities of the Jewish religion.

["Judah Halevi", Encyclopedia Judaica]

Baruch (Benedict) De Spinoza

Baruch Spinoza was born in Amsterdam in 1632. His father had escaped from Portugal and settled in the Spanish-Portuguese Jewish community of Amsterdam, where he was a successful merchant. Spinoza studied at the community's school – probably under Manasseh Ben Israel and Saul Levi Morteira (the latter was to excommunicate him some years later) -- and was recognized as an outstanding student. In 1652, against his father's wishes, Spinoza took up lens grinding. His father, who had remarried, died two years later, and Spinoza took his stepsister to court for the inheritance. Though he won the legal battle that ensued, he handed virtually everything over to his sister, and continued working as a lens grinder. 
Scholars have argued whether Spinoza was influenced by an ex-Jesuit Latin teacher, Van den Enden, or if the views he came to hold stemmed form internal developments in the Jewish community of Amsterdam. What is clear, however, is that in 1656 Spinoza, doctor Juan de Pardo and schoolteacher Daniel de Ribera, were noted as holding heretical views: They questioned whether the Torah was given to Moses, whether it holds that God is incorporeal, whether the Adam was the first man and if the soul is immortal. On 27 July 1656, a few days after Pardo withdrew his heretical views, a rabbinic pronouncement singed by Morteira and others excommunicated Spinoza from the Jewish community. 
It is not completely clear what Spinoza did during the next few years, however in 1658-1659, a report to the Spanish Inquisition places him with Pardo in Amsterdam. According to the report they deny the Law of Moses, the immortality of the soul and believe that God only exists philosophically. It seems the Jewish community still held some sway with Spinoza during this period, since he wrote an apology for his views (in Spanish). Though the work was lost, it evidently became the basis for his Tractus Thologico-Politicus. In 1660 The Amsterdam Synagogue officially petitioned the municipal authorities to denounce Spinoza as a "menace to all piety and morals" and the year after Spinoza left Amsterdam. 
For the next three years he lived in Rijnsburg where he was in touch with a group of liberal Protestants, and wrote the only work he published in his lifetime under his own name: Principles of the Philosophy of Rene Decartes. In 1664 he moved to Voorburg, a suburb of The Hague and in 1670 he moved once again, this time to The Hague itself. It was in this year that his Tractatus theologico-politicus appeared anonymouslyHis argument for religious freedom and his political thought caused uproar, and he was constantly being accused of being an atheist. The (Calvinist) Church Council of Amsterdam denounced the work as "forged in Hell by a renegade Jew and the Devil, and issued with the knowledge of Mynheer Jan de Witt." De Witt, who had supported Spinoza with a small pension, was killed two years later, during the French invasion of Holland, by an angry mob that blamed him for the catastrophe. Spinoza prevented the publication of a Dutch addition of the Tractuts and in 1671, sent a lengthy letter in his defense to the Jewish leader Orobio de Castro.
Spinoza turned down both money and prestige for his intellectual freedom. In 1673 he declined the chair of philosophy at Heidelberg, because he was unwilling to promise he would not disturb established religion. He likewise decided not to dedicate a work to Louis XIV, even thought he thought he would get a pension for such a dedication. In 1674 he showed his friends the completed manuscript of his major work -- Ethics, but he was not able to get it published. He lived out his last few years writing and discussing philosophy with friends, such as Leibnitz, without joining any sect or church nor trying to convert anyone to his opinions. He died in 1677 from consumption -- possibly caused by his work – lens grinding.

Theological-Political Treatise

In 1665, with the first draft of the Ethics nearly complete, Benedict De Spinoza set it aside to work on his Tractatus Theologico-Politicus (Theological-Political Treatise), a defense of the freedom of thought and expression, published in 1670. Here his own philosophical views come to expression more clearly than in the earlier work, although there is some doubt whether he is completely open about his own views. The early chapters of the work deal with traditional theological topics: prophecy, divine law, miracles, and the principles of scriptural interpretation. Spinoza is highly critical of Old Testament theology, rejecting as anthropomorphic even such fundamental . prophetic teachings as the doctrine that God is a lawgiver, which he finds incompatible with God's omnipotence. He is largely silent about the New Testament, though the few things he does say about it have contributed to the suspicions about his candor. His own conception of God identifies God with the fundamental scientific laws of nature, which explain all phenomena occurring in nature. This excludes any possibility of miracles (where a miracle is understood as a divine interference with the natural order of things).
An important contribution of this work is its theory of scriptural interpretation. To understand the Bible, Spinoza argues, we must approach it as we would any other text, without presupposing as a principle of interpretation that what it says must be true; we must know the grammar, vocabulary and stylistic peculiarities of the language in which it was written; we must organize its teachings on various topics, and note passages which seem inconsistent or obscure; we must know the circumstances under which each book was written, how it was transmitted to us, and how it became part of the canon. If we examine the Bible according to these principles, he contends, we will conclude that it is the work of many human authors, who had very different and imperfect ideas about God, and were often writing many centuries after the events they described (relying on documents now lost); that it has been transmitted to us in a very corrupted form; and that often we simply have no idea of what it means. So we should take it as a guide only with respect to its most fundamental moral teachings, disregarding its theology and any principles of conduct which it does not teach repeatedly. We should learn from the Bible to practice justice and love our neighbors as ourselves. Nothing else matters. No one else in the seventeenth century wrote so boldly. This aspect of Spinoza's teaching exercised a strong influence on the eighteenth-century Enlightenment.
In its political portions, the Theological-Political Treatise shows strongly the influence of Hobbes, though Spinoza often reaches unHobbesian conclusions. He starts by imagining a state of nature, a condition in which people live without any civil authority. He contends that people's competitiveness and liability to irrational emotions would make this a condition of radical insecurity, poverty, misery and ignorance, so in their own interest people would have to form a government to restrain their behaviour, accepting a limitation on their natural freedom for the sake of the benefits they can expect from life in an organized society. Since Spinoza rejects the notion of a prescriptive natural law, which would impose constraints on what people could justly do, theoretically the rights of this government would be absolute. But because Spinoza holds that natural right is coextensive with power, and because the power of government depends ultimately on the voluntary cooperation of the people, in practice the rights of government would be limited. A tyrannical government which oppresses its subjects necessarily destroys its own power, and thereby its right. Spinoza concludes by arguing that to preserve itself and its power, government must allow extensive liberty. Perhaps the most striking difference from Hobbes is that Spinoza defends democracy as the most natural and stable form of government.
Spinoza intended the Theological-Political Treatise partly as support for the tolerant, republican policies of the DeWitt government, which faced strong opposition from the Calvinist clergy and monarchists supporting the Prince of Orange. But part of his intent was probably to defend his break with Judaism, and part, no doubt, was to prepare readers for the more systematic and rigorous presentation of his ideas which he intended to make in the Ethics. His biblical criticism tends to undermine confidence in revelation, making room for an argument which appeals only to human reason. He also hoped to explain in a somewhat more popular way his austere, impersonal conception of God. But the uproar which greeted the Treatise made it impossible to publish the Ethics in his lifetime.

Shivhei ha-Beshet

Shivhei ha-Besht (Praises of the Ba'al Shem Tov) is a collection of legends and stories about Rabbi Israel ben Eliezer Ba'al Shem Tov. First published in 1815, some 50 years after the Besht's death, the book includes over 200 stories about the Besht's life.
The stories tell of the adventures of the Besht's elderly, barren parents, and how his birth was a miraculous reward for their good deeds. After his parents past away when he was still a child, the community sent him to study with the local melamed, but he would often find his way to the woods and meadows instead and so the community gave up on supporting his study. Eventually he got a job escorting children to their classes. One story tells how wile he was singing the sweet melodies he always sang on the way to school, the devil, possessing a magician and transforming into a wild animal, came amidst the children, and how the Besht defeated him. Another story reveals that a certain Rabbi Adam sent the Besht special secret (mystical) writings. But until long after his marriage, the stories go on to tell, the Besht did not reveal his greatness and pretended he was a simpleton. For a time, we are told, he became the guard of the beit midrash, and he used to study all night when everyone thought he was asleep. Later he moved to Brody, where he worked as a Shohet, and a settler of disputes and through this last occupation he met the father of his second wife, Hana (little is said about his first wife who died shortly after their marrige). The father, who was a great Rabbi, came to settle a dispute with the aid of the Besht. When he recognized the Besht's greatness he promised to give him his daughter in marriage. But the father died before the Besht could come to collect her in Kitov. Hanah and her brother Rabbi Gershon of Kitov respected their father's wishes and the couple was married, but Rabbi Gershon, thinking the Besht was an unlearned simpleton, could not understand how his father had committed to such a marriage and wanted as little to do with the Besht as possible. Besht and his wife lived in the Carpathian Mountains for seven years. Only when the Besht was thirty seven did he reveal his true nature. Then he established himself as a spiritual leader in Meziboz. The book relates many other tales of the Besht, his teachings, and wonders, and also about his interactions with his students and others who he came into contact.
Shivhei ha-Besht has been a source for the study of the history and thought of Hasidism in general and that of its founder - the Besht - in particular, for as long as Hasidism has been studied. Scholars have never taken the stories in Shivhei ha-Besht as historical fact, but they have assumed that some of the more plausible details do indeed reflect the reality of the first generation of Hasidism, and its founder. Recently, however, this assumption has been called into question. Scholars have pointed out that Shivhei ha-Besht must be treated as a hagiography (sacred biography). According to some, this means that it can only be used to corroborate facts known from other sources. Another point made by scholars is that the collectors of the stories and the editors of the book had their own agenda. Fifty some odd years after the Besht's death, they were intent on portraying the Besht as hero. Even thought there is no reason to believe that anyone was interested in recording the Besht's family history before his birth or during his early childhood, a hero must have a miraculous birth story and a wondrous childhood; At the time Shivhei ha-Besht was compiled and published, Hsidim were in a bitter battle with the mitnagdim, and one could imagine they would want to think of themselves as continuing the battle their master. Besht and Hasidism.


The Ethics -- or by its full Latin title: Ethica More Geometrico Demonstrate (Ethics Demonstrated in Geometric Order) -- is Spinoza's major philosophical work, in which he meant to prove his Pantheistic view of God and show its practical implications. Completed in 1674, only three years before his death, opposition to his views both in Holland and in the rest of Europe, made it impossible for him to publish. The Ethics only appeared after his death, in 1677, – together with several other works he had written.
The Ethics, is divided into five books:
    1. Concerning God
    2. The Nature and Origin of the Human Mind
    3. The Nature and Origin of the Emotions
    4. Human Bondage, or the Strength of the Emotions
    5. The Power of the Understanding, or Human Freedom
Perhaps the most striking quality of the book is that it is modeled after Euclid's geometry. Each part of the book begins with a number of definitions and axioms and from them a series of thermos are deduced.    For example the first book starts with the following list of definitions:
    1. By that which is self-caused, I mean that of which the essence involves existence, or that of which the nature is only conceivable as existent.
    2. A thing is called finite after its kind, when it can be limited by another thing of the same nature; for instance, a body is called finite because we always conceive another greater body. So, also, a thought is limited by another thought, but a body is not limited by thought, nor a thought by body.
    3. By substance, I mean that which is in itself, and is conceived through itself: in other words, that of which a conception can be formed independently of any other conception.
    4. By attribute, I mean that which the intellect perceives as constituting the essence of substance.
    5. By mode, I mean the modifications of substance, or that which exists in, and is conceived through, something other than itself.
    6. By God, I mean a being absolutely infinite -- that is, a substance consisting in infinite attributes, of which each expresses eternal and infinite essentiality. ...
    7. That thing is called free, which exists solely by the necessity of its own nature, and of which the action is determined by itself alone. On the other hand, that thing is necessary, or rather constrained, which is determined by something external to itself to a fixed and definite method of existence or action.
    8. By eternity, I mean existence itself, in so far as it is conceived necessarily to follow solely from the definition of that which is eternal.
In the remainder of Part I of the Ethics, Spinoza derives various properties of God. He summarizes these properties in the opening paragraph of the Appendix to Part I:
Appendix. In the foregoing I have explained the nature and properties of God. I have shown that (1) he necessarily exists, (2) that he is one, (3) that he is, and acts solely by the necessity of his own nature, (4) that he is the free cause of all things, and how he is so, (5) that all things are in God, and so depend on him, that without him they could neither exist nor be conceived, and (6) that all things are predetermined by God, not through his free will or absolute fiat, but from the very nature of God or infinite power.

This summery sounds deceptively similar to traditional Jewish, Moslem and Christian philosophers of the middle ages. Spinoza, however, did not make the traditional distinction between God and Nature. Spinoza's fundamental insight in Book One is that Nature is an indivisible, uncaused, substantial whole -- in fact, it is the only substantial whole. Outside of Nature, there is nothing, and everything that exists is a part of Nature and is brought into being by Nature with a deterministic necessity. This unified, unique, productive, necessary being is just what is meant by 'God'. Because of the necessity inherent in Nature, there is no teleology in the universe. Nature does not act for any ends, and things do not exist for any set purposes. There are no "final causes" (to use the common Aristotelian phrase). God does not "do" things for the sake of anything else. The order of things just follows from God's essences with an inviolable determinism. All talk of God's purposes, intentions, goals, preferences or aims is just an anthropomorphizing fiction.

In book two Spinoza turns to the nature and origin of the human being. Like every other particular thing in nature, according to Spinoza, human beings are a 'mode' of two attributes of God: extension – the physical world or what allows the physical world to exist -- and thought. Since extension and thought are two different essences there can be no connection between them, idea's are caused by ideas and bodies are caused by bodies, and so it would seem that the there is no way of translating matter into thought. But since both essences are actually expressing one and the same thing – God – they are parallel.   Human beings are, therefore, specific modes of God's attributes and their knowledge comes from knowing Him.
Sense experience alone could never provide the information conveyed by an adequate idea. The senses perceive things only as they appear from a given perspective at a given moment in time. An adequate idea, on the other hand, presents it in its "eternal" aspects -- sub specie aeternitatis, as Spinoza puts it -- without any relation to time, by showing how a thing follows necessarily from one or another of God's attributes. "It is of the nature of Reason to regard things as necessary and not as contingent. And Reason perceives this necessity of things truly, i.e., as it is in itself. But this necessity of things is the very necessity of God's eternal nature. Therefore, it is of the nature of Reason to regard things under this species of eternity". The third kind of knowledge – after random knowledge of the senses and adequate knowledge of reason – intuition, takes what is known by Reason and grasps it in a single act of the mind.
The ramifications of Spinoza's views are far reaching. Spinoza's aim in Parts Three and Four is, as he says in his Preface to Part Three, to restore the human being and his volitional and emotional life into their proper place in nature. Our affects -- our love, anger, hate, envy, pride, jealousy, etc. -- "follow from the same necessity and force of nature as the other singular things". But we do have some measure of control over some of our affects. When something happens in us the cause of which lies outside of our nature, then we are passive and being acted upon. On the other hand, when the cause of an event lies in our own nature -- more particularly, our knowledge or adequate ideas -- then it is a case of the mind acting. 
The upshot is a fairly pathetic picture of a life mired in the passions and pursuing and fleeing the changeable and fleeting objects that occasion them: "We are driven about in many ways by external causes, and . . . like waves on the sea, driven by contrary winds, we toss about, not knowing our outcome and fate" (IIIp59s). The title for Part Four of the Ethics reveals with perfect clarity Spinoza's evaluation of such a life for a human being: "On Human Bondage, or the Powers of the Affects (or the Strength of the Emotions)". He explains that human beings "lack of power to moderate and restrain the affects I call Bondage. For the man who is subject to affects is under the control, not of himself, but of fortune, in whose power he so greatly is that often, though he sees the better for himself, he is still forced to follow the worse". It is, he says, a kind of "sickness of the mind" to suffer too much love for a thing "that is liable to many variations and that we can never fully possess."

The path to restraining and moderating the affects is through virtue. Spinoza is a psychological and ethical egoist. All beings naturally seek their own advantage -- to preserve their own being -- and it is right for them do so. This is what virtue consists in. Since we are thinking beings, endowed with intelligence and reason, what is to our greatest advantage is knowledge. Our virtue, therefore, consists in the pursuit of knowledge and understanding, of adequate ideas. The best kind of knowledge is a purely intellectual intuition of the essences of things. But this is just to say that, ultimately, we strive for a knowledge of God.
What, in the end, replaces the passionate love for ephemeral "goods" is an intellectual love for an eternal, immutable good that we can fully and stably possess, God. The third kind of knowledge generates a love for its object, and in this love consists not joy, a passion, but blessedness itself. Taking his cue from Maimonides, Spinoza argues that the mind's intellectual love of God is our understanding of the universe, our virtue, our happiness, our well-being and our "salvation". It is also our freedom and autonomy, as we approach the condition wherein what happens to us follows from our nature (as a determinate and determined mode of one of God's attributes) alone and not as a result of the ways external things affect us.

Wissenschaft des Judentums

Wissenschaft des Judentums (The scientific investigation of Judaism) refers to a movement of the 19th century Europe that sought critical investigation of Jewish literature and culture. At the time, the academic Christian world generally ignored Jewish tradition considering it unworthy of study. Jews from traditional backgrounds, who became familiar with scientific methods of research – such as Leopold Zunz Abraham Gieger and Zechariah Frankel from Germany, Samuel David Lutzzatto form Italy, and Nahman Krohmal and Solomon Judah Rappaport from Galicia -- set out to correct this situation. They used scientific methods of investigation to restore original texts, trace the origin and development of Jewish traditions, placing it in a wider context of world culture. In this manner they tried to place Jewish culture on par with Western European culture and to restore a sense of Jewish pride.

While the movement worked to restore intellectual respectability to Jews, it was also a point of contention amongst the Jews themselves. The historical study of Judaism was not accepted equally by all, and the establishment of the Reform, Conservative and Orthodox denominations was closely linked to the different attitudes toward the scientific study of Judaism. The Wissenschaft des Judentums is considered the foundation for the academic study of Judaism to this day.   


Haskalah - The Jewish enlightenment movement that flourished in Europe between the end of the 18th century and the beginning of the end of the 19th century. From the Hebrew root Sekhel, meaning intellect, the word Haskalah was adopted to describe the movement, and its adherers were known as Maskilim (Maskil in singular).
During the 17th century, most of the Jewish communities in Europe were detached from the trends of their time. With few exceptions (such as Italy Amsterdam and Jews of higher social status), Jews did not come into contact with the culture and philosophy of the Enlightenment. The Jews were socially and legally detached from their surroundings. Jewish education took place at home and at the traditional kheder, where children learned religious studies. The few particularly talented students that continued their studies went to Yishvot to pursue more advanced study of Talmud and become Rabbis. Band by law, in many places, from becoming doctors, lawyers and landowners, most Jews were small peddlers and some were merchants.
The Haskalah movement advocated rationalism and keeping up with the times. Haskalah started in Germany in the 1880's, when Moses Mendelssohn's students decided to put some of his thought into action. The Maskilim aspired to make Jews partake in the general society and culture around them. They established schools where mathematics, science and geography were taught, and not only Talmud. According to the Haskalah Jews had to become a productive part of society, in order for discrimination against them to cease. The Maskilim called upon Jews to learn German and get productive jobs and upon the governments they lived under to grant them emancipation.

Jewish Denominations

Although there have been many varieties of Judaism since its very inception, the term 'denomination' is usually used in reference to the way in which Jew's define themselves today (mainly, though not exclusively in the United States). The term is not generally used to describe Jewish trends before the 19th century, nor is it used concerning the ethnic and cultural differences between Jews of diverse origins. The four largest denominations in the United States today are: Conservative Judaism, Reform Judaism, Orthodox Judaism and Reconstructionist Judaism. The division between the first three denominations -- Orthodox, Reform and Conservative -- stems from the various Jewish responses to the emancipation of the Jews in the 19th century (particularly in Germany.) The fourth denomination – Reconstructionism – was started by Mordechai Kaplan, an influential rabbi who began to go his own way 1920's, while still teaching in the Conservative rabbinical school. Nevertheless, Reconstructionism did not become a full-fledged movement until it took off in the United States in the 1970's. It is worth noting that while these are the four largest denominations, there exist several other smaller denominations (such as Jewish Renewal, Jewish Buddhism, etc.), and that more and more Jews are defining themselves as trans-denominational or non-denominational.

Reform Judaism

The Reform movement began in Germany in the first decade of the 19th century as a response to the emancipation. Though started by lay individuals who felt that the synagogue and its rituals needed modernization, by the 1830's the movement had attracted the backing of many rabbis who were steeped in both tradition and in German academic studies. In a series of conferences between 1844 and 1846, these rabbis – notably Abraham Geiger and Samuel Holdhiem – gathered to define the Reform movement not only in terms of practice by also as in terms of doctrinal belief. They held that humanistic moral values represented the core of Judaism. While such values were held to be divine, much of Jewish tradition and especially Jewish Law, though appropriate for an earlier time, were now considered antiquated and even harmful. Questions were raised as to what dogma should be obligatory and as to whether Jewish Law should be binding at all. Over the course of these conferences, it was decided that the priestly ritual (including Jewish dietary laws) should be abandoned. 
In light of the emancipation, the Jews of the Reform movement did not view themselves as part of a larger Jewish nation, rather as participants in the Jewish religion. After being granted citizenship by their host countries, they no longer felt that it was warranted to pray for the Messiah who would return the Jews to Zion. In their view the emancipation was the beginning of the messianic age – an age of world peace that would allow Jews to become integrated citizens of whatever country they resided in. Instead of praying in Hebrew for the restoration of the Holy Temple, they would pray, speak, and preach in the vernacular of their own country, and the building of their own local temples was a sufficient aspiration. Not surprisingly, they were cool to the Zionist idea when it first came around.
In the middle of the 19th century, when many Jews immigrated to North America from Germany, the Reform movement took root in the United States under the leadership of Rabbi Issac Mayer Wise. A rabbinic program was started in Pennsylvania and its first rabbis were ordained in 1883 at a commencement dinner that was to become known (because of its non-kosher menu) as the "traife banquet." Although there are Reform communities in Europe and Israel, most Reform Jews live in the United States, where Reform Judaism represents the second largest denomination after Conservative Judaism.
In the latter half of the 20th century, The Reform movement issued a number of position statements altering some of its previous views. "[T]he movement has been steadily producing a mitzvah system and an accompanying body of literature, and collective consensus. Nevertheless, it would be a fallacy to suggest that this is necessarily leading toward acceptance of halakhahh as a determinative code for Reform. What can be said is that a substantial, although unmeasured, sector of Reform is taking halakhahh far more seriously than it may have in the past, although even this must be qualified by many instances of early halakhic discussions over such issues as the circumcision of male converts. Today, however, the number of halakhic inquiries and authoritative responses by Solomon Freehof who published hundreds of responsa, and by his successor, Walter Jacob, who has written and compiled many responsa, attest to the unprecedented interest of Reform Jews in learning what the tradition has to say on a multitude of issues."
["Reform Judaism", Encyclopaedia Judaica]

Megaleh Temirin

Megaleh Temirin (Hebrew for Revealer of Secrets) by Joseph Perl, first published in 1819, is an anti-Hasidic satire and, some say, the first Hebrew novel. Perl was himself a Hasid in his youth, but by the age of twenty he had become a Maskil and thought Hasidism was a major obstacle to the modernization of Eastern European Jewry. In 1816 Perl wrote a book in German, Ueber das Wesen der Sekte Chassidim Aus ihren eigenen Schriften gezogen (On the Nature of the Sect of the Hasidim, Drawn from Their Own Writings), in which he tried to demonstrate the absurdity of Hasidic belief and practice. But his criticism was so extreme that the Austrian government censured the book for fear of the Hasidim's reactions. In order to get around the censorship, Perl decided to write a pseudonymous work, the supposed authors of which would be the Hasidim themselves. The result was an epistolary novel published under the name of Ovadya ben Petahya.
The plot of the novel revolved around Perls' actual book: A Hasidic Rabbi, having heard about the book, is so worried about the damage it might cause, he is not satisfied with the censorship placed on it by the Government and orders his followers to find the only existing manuscript and destroy it. The Hasidim will stop at nothing in order to track down the book and through their adventures they are portrayed in a most unflattering (and amusing) light. Fashioned after European books of the time, and written in a language designed to mock the terrible Hassidic Hebrew of the day, the book is, supposedly, a collection of the Hassidim's correspondence, relating their mishaps to each other as they scheme to get hold of the manuscript.

Orthodox Judaism

In the face of the emancipation and the Reform movement, Orthodox Judaism in Germany of the 19th century saw itself as continuing tradition (hence Orthodox), and this has been its defining characteristic in all its varieties ever since. According to the Orthodox movement the Torah is eternal. Since Jewish Law was based upon the divine, there could never be need for reform in what God had commanded. Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, the main spokesman for Orthodox Jewry in Germany, did not reject modernity altogether. He himself wrote and preached in German, and had secular subjects taught in his school, but he held that these practices were in no way contrary to Jewish Law and tradition. 
Today Orthodoxy is the third largest Jewish denomination in the United States. There are Orthodox communities all over the world and in Israel Orthodoxy is the by far the largest religious denomination (Orthodox in Israel is usually known simply as dati – religious). 

Conservative Judaism

During the conventions held between 1844-46 in Germany, concerning the necessary reform in Judaism, one of those who voiced a more conservative opinion was rabbi Zecharia Frankel. According to Frankel there was no need for radical reform, rather a 'positive historical' approach was necessary: Although it was obvious that Judaism, including the law, had developed historically and was not God's very word to Moses at Mt. Sinai, a positive stance had to be taken toward the tradition. The will of God manifested itself through his people who preserved tradition throughout history, even while changing it. There was thus a middle ground between Orthodoxy and Reform. The tradition had to be adjusted to modern age, but there was no need for a brake with Halakhahh, the small changes that the people of Israel required would be expressed in the development of Halakhahh as had always been the case.

Toward the end of the 19th century, the Conservative movement was established in the United States as a response to the growing Reform movement. Rabbi Solomon Shechter (1847-1915), became the president of the movement's rabbinical school, the Jewish Theological Seminary, in 1899. The movement gained many adherers during the first half of the 20th century, as new waves of Orthodox emigrants from Eastern Europe settled in America. 

Today, there are Conservative communities both in Europe and in Israel (where they are known as the Mesorati movement, i.e. the traditional movement, avoiding the connotations connected with the Conservative movement), but the majority of Conservative Jews live in the United States where they are the larges Jewish denomination.

Reconstructionist Judaism

The Reconstructionist denomination of Judaism is an outgrowth of the thought and activities of rabbi Mordechai Kaplen. In 1922 Kaplen, who taught in the Conservative rabbinical school (the Jewish Theological Seminary), established a synagogue in New York where he tried to reconstruct Judaism in order to make it meaningful to American Jews of the twentieth century. Kaplen rejected the notion of the law being revealed at Mt. Sinai and that of the people of Israel as being chosen by God above all others. He saw 'Judaism as a civilization' – as he called his book published in 1934. Judaism, therefore, encompasses all aspects of life, but is not necessarily better than other civilizations. 
"Kaplan saw no need to start a separate movement to achieve his goals. His goal was to create a unified American Judaism without denominational factionalism. However, it became clear to his followers that, if Kaplan's visions were to be realized, a separate movement was needed. In 1940, the Jewish Reconstructionist Foundation (JRF) was established to support the works that promoted the Reconstructionist program.  In 1954, the SAJ joined with three other synagogues to form to Reconstructionist Federation of Congregations as the synagogue arm of the foundation. The organization grew at a gradual pace throughout the 1960s and 1970s under the leadership of Ira Eisenstein and Rabbi Ludwig Nadelmann. It then doubled in size in the 1980s under the direction of Rabbi David Teutsch.
"In 1968, the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College was founded in Wyncote, Pennsylvania, with Eisenstein as its first president. The decision to found the college can clearly be seen as a move by Eisenstein and other Reconstructionist leaders to officially "found" a fourth alternative in American Jewish life.
"The movement has been in the leadership on Jewish identity issues. It pioneered the adoption of patrilineal descent and warmly welcomes intermarried couples. The College officially announced in 1984 that it would admit qualified students who are open about their gay or lesbian sexual orientation, and this position was subsequently adopted by the Reconstructionist Federation of Congregations and the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association, which was founded in 1974.
"The movement has always been at the forefront of the movement for the equality of women in Judaism. Kaplan's daughter Judith had the first bat mitzvah in America (in 1922), and Kaplan firmly believed that "The Jewish woman must demand the equality due her as a right to which she is fully entitled." One of the first graduates of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College was Sandy Eisenberg Sasso, who achieved rabbinic ordination in 1974."[myjewishlearning]
Today, the movement is the forth largest Jewish denomination in the United States.


Kosher is a Hebrew word literally meaning 'fit' or 'proper'. Used in Hebrew and other Jewish languages to mean 'fit in accordance to Jewish Law', mainly in relation to food – and it is in this last way that it is usually used in English (i.e. food is said to be kosher when it is fit to be eaten according to Jewish Law – see below). It is also used in other contexts of Jewish Law. For instance a person may be said to be kosher if they are of proper Jewish linage or conversion, since they are then 'fit' for Jewish marriage. Kosher has also come to mean legal, trusted (and therefore good), acceptable or proper in a general sense. In English, it is used in this way mainly humorously. 

Kosher Food

Kosher Food – Food that Jews are allowed to eat according to Jewish Law.
According to Jewish law all plants are Kosher, but only certain animals are, and even those must be prepared appropriately. The Bible states that after Noah got out of the arc he was allowed to eat animals except for their blood, evidently implying that before he saved the animal life of the world, it was forbidden to eat animals altogether. Later on, the biblical text gives more detailed instructions on what animals may be eaten: Fish may be eaten if they have fins and scales; Animals that have split hoofs and chew their cud may be eaten – cows, sheep, etc; Insects that have six legs and jump are deemed kosher – e.g. grasshoppers. Birds that may not be eaten are, likewise, listed – mainly birds of prey; All other animals are deemed non-kosher including other insects and seafood. In addition to the prohibition on eating blood, the bible prohibits certain types of fat (helev) and other specific things such as cooking a calf in its mother's milk.
According to the rabbis, animals the Bible considers permissible must be slaughtered and treated in a specific way in order to be kosher. Thus for example, the animal must be slaughtered using a sharp non-serrated knife, by a single slice at the throat; the meat must be salted in a special way in order to insure no blood is left in it etc.   In addition the rabbis interpreted the biblical law about cooking a calf in its mothers milk to mean that milk and meat were not to be eaten together. Although fowl was not considered by all to be included in this biblical prohibition, the rabbis band its mixture with milk as well. 
It is common Orthodox practice to keep separate sets of dishes and cooking ware for meat and milk products, and to wait as many as six hours between eating meat and milk. In some circles it is customary to have separate sinks and even ovens for preparing meat and milk. In the modern age, supervision over the production of kosher food has become institutionalized, and in places heavily populated by observant Jews, kosher certificates have been known to be crucial for the success of a business. 
Keeping kosher has been a symbol of being Jewish at least since the Hellenistic age, and has had obvious social implications. The rabbis band certain non-Jewish products such as wine -- suspected of being used for idol worship -- cheese, oil, and vinegar. On occasion these prohibitions have been explicitly explained as a means of keeping Jews from socializing with non-Jews. It is among other reasons, on these grounds that the Reform movement, in Germany and in the United States, rejected the laws of kashrut altogether in the second half of the 19th century. 
Pigs are a symbol of non-kosher food since they have split hoofs, but do not chew their cud and seafood has also come to symbolize non-kosher food. 

Halakhah - Jewish Law  

"Halakha (halakhah, halacha, halachah) is a Hebrew word, commonly used to refer to the collective corpus of Jewish law, custom and tradition. It comes from the Hebrew root word for "going". A literal translation does not yield the word "law"; rather it translates as "the way to go."
"Halakha is based on the commandments in the Torah (five books of Moses) as viewed through the discussions and debates contained in the classical rabbinic literature, especially the Mishnah and the Talmud. Jews refer to the Torah as The Written Law, and the Mishnah and Talmud as the oral law.
Unlike secular precedent based systems, halakha is a religious system, whose axiom is that Jewish law represents the will of God. Most Orthodox Jews, hold that halakha represents the actual will of God, either directly, or as closely to directly as possible. If the laws in Jewish law codes are not the word of God per se, they are nonetheless derived from the literal word of God in the Torah, using a set of rules also revealed by God to Moses on Mount Sinai, and have been derived with the utmost accuracy and care. In this world view, one's ancestors are closer to the divine revelation and the later Mishnaic and Talmudic rabbis; as such, the corollary is that one must be extremely conservative changing or adapting Jewish law. This view is found in all branches of Orthodox Judaism, and in the right-wing of Conservative Judaism.
"Other religious Jews equally hold that while God is real, for theological reasons they hold that the Torah is not the word of God in a literal sense. However, in this view the Torah is still held as mankind's record of its understanding of God's revelation, and thus still has divine authority. In this view, traditional Jewish law is still seen as binding. Jews who hold by this view generally try to use modern methods of historical study to learn how Jewish law has changed over time, and are more willing to change Jewish law in the present. This view is found within Conservative Judaism, and within the left wing of Orthodoxy. "
[From Wikipedia]
Halakhah is usually used to mean Jewish law - including the law derived from the bible, Talmudic traditions, customs, responsa literature, etc. - and excluding thought, lore and dogma not directly related to practice. The word Halakhah comes form the Hebrew root  δ.μ.λ., meaning 'going' or 'walking', and presumably implies that Jewish law is the way in which one should walk, Gods' way, or perhaps the way of His people. It should be noted, however, that Halakhah is also used sometimes to refer to a certain part of the law – e.g. law handed down by tradition as apposed to law adduced directly from the Bible, or a specific law.

Biblical Law
A central theme in the Pentateuch, the five books of Moses, is that of God commanding people, and particularly the people of Israel, to behave in certain ways. This theme is in fact so central to the Hebrew name for the five books is Torah, (from the Hebrew root δ.ψ.δ. or ι.ψ.δ.) meaning instruction. This comes across in the first chapters of the bible, when God commands Adam and Eve not to eat from the fruit of the tree of knowledge, and in subsequent stories of Genesis, but name 'Torah' is most fitting for the laws God gave Moses. According to the Pentateuch, God instructed His people how to behave in great detail from the time of the Exodus from Egypt, and right up until Moses' death. In a large number of passages, the Torah emphasizes that Moses was conveying the very words of God, and it likewise stresses that at Mt. Sinai He appeared himself in order to instruct them directly.
The biblical law deals with a wide array of topics, including the tabernacle and its rituals and priests, holidays, diet, sexual relations, purity, torts, penalties, and more. It is not, however organized as a single codex of law, but rather as many distinct groups of law, that relate to the biblical story line to varying degrees. As researchers have pointed out, the various laws do not always fit together neatly. It is not uncommon for the various groups of laws to overlap and contradict each other, and it is often the case that stories of the prophets or their prophecies say things that contradict the laws in the Pentateuch. Researchers have likewise noted, that the comparison of biblical laws to those of other ancient near eastern civilizations yields quite a few similarities.  Different parts of the bible, presumably coming from different times, and written by people from different social strata, are not always in complete harmony with one other.

There is no abundance of evidence about how the biblical law was applied over the generations until the end of the second temple period (destroyed 70 CE). It seems that since the Hasmonean period or so, the biblical cannon became an issue and so did the question of what was to be considered binding law. The Pharisees claimed that beyond the written bible, that including most if not all the bible canonized by Judaism today, there was an authoritative oral tradition that was not to be committed to writing. The Samaritans claimed that only the five books of Moses where to be canonized and, worshiping in their temple in Mt. Gerizim, in stead of that in Jerusalem, they certainly did not recognize the Pharisees' oral tradition. While accepting the Pharisee canon, the Seduces probably rejected the Pharisee authority altogether. It is quite plain from the writings of the Qumran sect (whether they are indeed the Eseeans or not), not only that they had different versions of the bible and that they had additional books included in their canon (and perhaps one missing), but that they disagreed on quite a few points of law with the Pharisees and that they did write down their interpretation of the law.    Philo's writing also make it clear that the Jews of the Hellenistic Diaspora also had different traditions than those of the Pharisees. (It would seem that in this regard Jesus' remarks about the law where not far from those made by various Jewish sects - and even by the Pharisees themselves). 
After the destruction of the Temple, the rabbis, who saw themselves as successors of the Pharisees, were those who ended up defining Judaism. It is they who first coined the term Halakhah. They held that together with the written law, God gave Moses an oral law that explained how to interpret and apply the written law. This meant that the law could be viewed as being composed of several different parts: The law written in the bible, the law that stemmed from the interpretation handed down by tradition or according to the rules of interpretation handed down by tradition, and the laws handed down by tradition that were independent of the written word of the bible. In addition the rabbis were authorized to 'put a fence' around the torah -- in other words to institute prohibitions and obligations as they deemed necessary.


The Mishna is the first collection of the Jewish oral legal tradition. Although the Mishnah assumes knowledge of the Jewish bible, it is not arranged according to the order of the Pentateuch (as are the Midrashei Halakhah that deal with much of the same legal tradition, and were composed at about the same time), and references to the bible are rare. Instead, the Mishnah is arranged according to topic. It is divided into six larger portions, called sedarim: 1. Zeraim (seeds) - laws pertaining to agricultural produce; 2. Moed (Holiday) – ritual law of the holidays; 3. Neziqim (torts) - civil law; 4. Nashim (women) – laws of marriage divorce and related rituals; 4. Kodashim (Holy Things) – laws of the sacrifices; And Taharot (Pure Things) - laws of ritual impurity. The sedarim are sub-divided into an average of ten tractates a seder, totaling sixty.
The Mishnah quotes sages that lived as far back as the beginning of the Hellenistic era, and on occasion even attributes laws to biblical figures or to Moses' revelation at mount Sinai, but most of the rabbis that appear in the Mishnah, lived in the first and second centuries C.E. According to tradition, although writing the oral law was prohibited, at around the year 200 C.E. rabbi Judah the Prince felt that if the great many traditions that had been transmitted down through the ages, would not be collected, they would be lost. The Mishnah is thus a compilation of various traditions that had already been transmitted and even edited to a certain extent. 


The Babylonian Talmud, also known as Gemara – both words derived from the word teaching (in Hebrew and Aramaic) -- is the Babylonian compilation of the rabbis' studies of the Mishnah, between the third and the sixth centuries C.E. Written in a mixture of Babylonian Aramaic and Hebrew, the Talmud includes not only matters of law, but also other Jewish tradition and lore.
Beginning with its redaction, the Mishnah became the focal point of the rabbis' learning. It was studied by heart, and the rabbis of Babylon and Israel explained it, and expounded upon it, in several different ways. They sought to understand its words, its syntax and ideas, and its biblical sources. Ultimately the rabbis came to treat the text of the Mishnah as almost infallible, and required an explanation even for its choice of words and their order. The Talmud includes not only lengthy, in depth discussions of the logic behind the Mishnah's laws, but also attempts to explain its relationship with other oral traditions. The general tendency of of the Talmud is to see the views held by rabbis of different generations and conflicting traditions as harmoniously as possible. 
The Babylonian Talmud only covers thirty-seven out of the sixty tractates of the Mishnah. It seems that in Babylonia two out of the six sedarim of the Mishnah where not accorded full attention. These include the tractates that deal with the laws of agriculture – that were practiced only in the Land of Israel, and those that deal with 'pure things' -- in other words with sacrifices – these too were not practiced in Babylon (or anywhere for that matter, since the destruction of the temple).   
"The distinctive character of the Talmud derives largely from its intricate use of argumentation and debate. Some of these debates were actually conducted by the Amora'im, though most of them are hypothetically reconstructed by the Talmud's redactors ("This is what Rabbi X could have argued...") As in the Mishnah, the Amora'ic Rabbis encouraged multiple opinions and interpretations. Whereas the Mishnah usually limits itself to a brief statement of the conflicting views, the Talmud tries to verify the integrity of the positions of the Tanna'im and the Amora'im. Prooftexts are quoted to corroborate or disprove the respective opinions.
The process of deduction required to derive a conclusion from a prooftext is often logically complex and indirect. Every effort is made to uphold the correctness (i.e., the logical consistency) of the opinions ascribed to the Rabbis, though this often requires forced and unconvincing interpretations of the evidence." [ucalgary]


The word Midrash may refer to: 1) the non legal Jewish tradition in general, 2) a specific story or or other piece of knowledge from that tradition, 3) more narrowly, the act of extracting knowledge from the Torah, or 4) specific books of rabbinic literature that are mainly occupied with that act.
"Midrash is an interpretive act, seeking the answers to religious questions (both practical and theological) by plumbing the meaning of the words of the Torah. (In the Bible, the root d-r-sh is used to mean inquiring into any matter, including occasionally to seek out God's word.) Midrash responds to contemporary problems and crafts new stories, making connections between new Jewish realities and the unchanging biblical text.
"Midrash falls into two categories. When the subject is law and religious practice (halakhah), it is called midrash halakhah. Midrash aggadah, on the other hand, interprets biblical narrative, exploring questions of ethics or theology, or creating homilies and parables based on the text. (Aggadah means"telling"; any midrash which is not halakhic falls into this category.)" [from My Jewish Learning]


A Rabbi is a Jewish religious leader and/or teacher of Judaism. Although technically a scholar and an ordained expert in Jewish law, the Rabbi is expected not only to be able to decide on issues of religious law, but to be a leading figure in the community; a spiritual consultant and guide and perhaps above all a teacher of Judaism. The term rabbi commonly refers to the spiritual leader of a Jewish synagogue. The rabbi may, but is not necessaraly required to conduct prayer services and deliver sermons; He is the person to whom Jews turn for answers to questions about Jewish laws and religious matters. 
The term evidently emerged from the Aramaic word for master, around the first century C.E., when the relationship between the religious teacher and his disciples was likened to that of master apprentice.
According to tradition, before his death, Moses laid his hands on Joshua and in so doing gave him not only the authority to lead the Israelites into the Land of Israel, but also to rule on all matters of Jewish Law. Joshua passed this authority on to his students, and they in turn passed it on to their successors. According to tradition, the term rabbi was originally used to describe people from this line of ordination. The full rabbinic authority, however, was only granted in the land of Israel, and the sages who lived in Babylonia – even when it became the center of Judaism - had only limited power of jurisdiction and where known not as 'Rabbi', but as 'Rav'. (Contrary to common belief, it seems the two terms are from different dialects of Aramaic, and that linguistically there is no difference them). 
By the time of the Geonim (and probably a lot earlier), the line of ordination in Israel had been discontinued as well, and the term rabbi became synonymous for rav. Thus the rabbi of today, like the rav of earlier generations, is not a direct link in the chain of ordination passed down from Moses. According to tradition, a student may not rule on any matter of religious law without his teachers' permission. One who has been tested on certain segments of Jewish law, and has won his 'masters' approval, receives permission to rule on religious matters by being ordained as rabbi. 
Over the generations rabbis have filled various social functions. Rabbis have been political leaders, spiritual leaders, religious judges, civil judges, and of course heads and teachers of rabbinic institutions of study. Today, the rabbi's most common tasks are teaching and providing spiritual leadership and guidance for the community. 
Until recent years only men were ordained as rabbis. During the last century non-Orthodox denominations have begun ordaining woman. The Reform movement has begun ordaining gay and lesbian rabbis, and the Conservative movement has been debating this issue in recent years.

Chief Rabbi

Chief Rabbi is an official position of state, held by the highest rabbinic authority of the land. Originally established by the non-Jewish authorities in order to 'deal' with the Jewish community, the position of chief rabbi not only continues to exist in western states such as England, but was also adopted by the state of Israel. The chief rabbi can be consulted on state matters that concern Jewish religion and may have various official tasks and authority.
In Israel there are two chief rabbis, one Ashkenazic rabbi and one Sephardic rabbi (known as the Rishon le-Zion), who are appointed or reappointed every four years. In addition to being the highest authority on matters of Jewish law that concern the state, the Israeli chief rabbis head the high religious court and the Rabbi's Council, they are responsible for certifying rabbis for special duties (such as city rabbi or rabbinic Judge), and for supervising and certifying kosher food.  Although many religious Jews hold the chief rabbis in high esteem, not all consider them the highest religious authority. Since they hold an official position with the state, many consider their authority limited to matters of state, and some, especially those that do not recognize the state's legitimacy, view them as lacking any religious authority whatsoever.


She'elot u'teshuvot, known also by the acronym 'shut', are the written decisions and rulings given by eminent rabbis, teachers, or heads of academies to questions addressed to them in writing over the ages. While commentaries are devoted solely to the exegesis and hermeneutics of the Bible, the Mishnah, the Talmud, and the other codes or Jewish law, and while the codes themselves and the writings of the casuists contain the rules and regulations for all ordinary incidents of life, the responsa were for the most part practical in nature, concerned with specific new contingencies for which no provision had been made in the codes.
Practical questions regarding Jewish law were always communicated to the academy by a teacher, who transmitted the answer and the decision by word of mouth, but it is doubtful whether any were written until the end of the Tannaitic period, since the custom which then prevailed was that no Halakhot should be written at all. The responsa evidenced in the Talmudic literature, are characterized by pregnant brevity and rigid restriction to their subject-matter. The first works devoted especially to responsa appear in the post-Talmudic period. Many responsa have been lost, but those that are extant number hundreds of thousands, and rabbis continually produce them to this day.
The ruling in the responsa was not a mere "yes" or "no," "permitted" or "forbidden," "right" or "wrong". Much of the responsa began with a lengthy poetic introductory formula stating that the question had been received and considered. The body of the responsa generally included at least a passage from the Talmud in support or proof of the decision and usually several. Scholars who wrote the responsa would try to controvert any possible opposition on the basis of some other Talmudic passage by a refutation of it and a correct exegesis of the section of the Talmud in question. In addition the scholars would site the rulings of previous generations analyzing them and explaining how they supported the ruling, or – less often -- why they were mistaken. Many of the responsa end with a blessing for those who asked the question. Most of the responsa was written in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Arabic. In the older rulings systematic sequence was almost entirely lacking, but the responsa of the new period had as models the "Arba' Turim" of Jacob b. Asher and, after the sixteenth century, the "Shulhan 'Aruk" of Joseph Caro, so that many of the responsa were arranged according to these two works, while among the later scholars this practice became the rule.
The responsa literature was by no means restricted to problems of legalism or ritualism, on occasion it referred to all departments of human life and knowledge, treating of liturgical, theological, philosophical, exegetic, lexicographical, archeological, and historical questions; and they likewise contain abundant material for a study of the conditions of the times in which they were written, and for the culture-history and the commercial relations of the Jews, as well as for a knowledge of the manners and customs then prevailing in Judaism.
During the entire geonic period, the Babylonian schools were the chief centers of Jewish learning, and the Geonim, the heads of these schools, were recognized as the highest authorities in Talmudic matters. Even in the most distant lands the Jews looked upon these academies and their heads as once their ancestors had regarded the high court of the "Bet Din ha-Gadol," which had been reverenced as the one place whence came valid instruction and whence rulings might be drawn. Despite the tremendous difficulties that hampered the irregular communications of the period, the Jews who lived even in most distant countries sent their inquiries concerning religion and law to these high officials in Babylonia. In the latter centuries of the geonic period, from the middle of the tenth to the middle of the eleventh, their supremacy suffered in proportion as the study of the Talmud received fostering care in other lands. The inhabitants of these regions gradually began to submit their doubts to the teachers and heads of the schools of their own countries, and soon, in view of the attendant expense and difficulty, entirely ceased despatching their questions to the seat of the Geonim, so that during this period responsa of eminent rabbis of other lands appeared side by side with geonic rulings.
[Heavily based on Jewish Encyclopedia – see link below]

Shulhan Arukh

The Shulhan Arukh, by Rabbi Joseph Caro, first printed in 1564, together with the comments made by Moses Isserliss, in his "mappa", became the codex of Jewish Law for both Ashkenazim and Sefaradim -- as it still is for Orthodox Judaism to this day. The book is actually a summery of a much longer commentary, named Bet Yoseph, that Caro wrote on Rabbi Yaakov Ben Asher's Arba'ah Turim. Following the order of the Arba'ah Turim, the Shulhan Arukh deals with all of Jewish law that is applicable after the destruction of the temple, and is divided into four parts: A. Orah Hayyim, Path of Life, that deals with worship and ritual observance in the home and synagogue, through the course of the day, the weekly sabbath and the festival cycle.   B. Yoreh De'ah, Teacher of Knowledge, which deals with assorted ritual prohibitions, especially dietary laws and regulations concerning menstrual impurity. C. Even Ha-'Ezer, Rock of Helpmate, which deals with marriage, divorce and other issues in family law.  D. Hoshen Mishpat, Breastplate of Judgment, which deals with the administration and adjudication of civil law. The book came to be viewed as a symbol of Halakhic Judaism and Jewish Legal thinking, and as such was both held in great veneration by traditional Jews, and also came under attack by those who apposed Halakhah and even by anti-Semites.
 ""Bet Yosef" marked Caro as one of the greatest Talmudists of all times. He began the book in 1522 at Adrianople, finished it in 1542 at Safed, and published it in 1550-59. In form it is a commentary upon Jacob b. Asher's "Arba' Turim"; but it is really much more comprehensive, going back to the Talmudim and halakic Midrashim, discussing the pros and cons of the authorities cited by the "Tur," and examining the opinions of the authorities not mentioned by the latter. In addition, Caro included in "Bet Yosef" the immense material of post-Talmudic literature".
"In the introduction to his monumental compilation, Caro clearly states the necessity of and his reasons for undertaking such a work. The expulsion of the Jews from the Pyrenean peninsula and the invention of printing endangered the stability of religious observances on their legal and ritual sides. In Spain and Portugal questions were generally decided by the "customs of the country"; the different districts had their standard authorities to which they appealed in doubtful cases. The most prominent of these were Maimonides, Nahmanides, and Asher b. Jehiel. When the Spanish-Portuguese exiles came to the various communities in the East and West, where usages entirely different from those to which they had been accustomed prevailed, the question naturally arose whether the newcomers, the majority of whom were men of greater learning than the members of the invaded communities, should be ruled by the latter, or vice versa. The increase of printed books, moreover, spread broadcast the products of halakic literature; so that many half-educated persons, finding themselves in possession of legal treatises, felt justified in following any ancient authority at will. Caro undertook his "Bet Yosef" to remedy this evil, quoting and critically examining in his book the opinions of all the authorities then known." Ultimately, "Caro took Alfasi, Maimonides, and Asher b. Jehiel as his standards; accepting as authoritative the opinion of two of the three."
"Immediately upon the appearance of Caro's Bet Yosef, Isserles wrote his Darke Mosheh, a moderately expressed but very severe criticism of Caro's great work. In place of Caro's three standard authorities, Isserles brings forward the ("the later authorities"), together with the Franco-German Tosafists as criteria of opinion ("Darke Mosheh" to Yoreh De'ah, 35). The importance of the Minhag ("prevailing local custom") is also a point of dispute between Caro and Isserles: while the former held fast to original authorities and material reasons, the latter considered the minhag as an object of great importance, and not to be omitted in a codex. This point, especially, induced Isserles to write his glosses to the Shulhan 'Aruhk, that the customs (minhagim) of the Ashkenazim might be recognized, and not be set aside through Caro's reputation."
"Caro wrote the Shulhan 'Aruk for the benefit of those who did not possess the education necessary to understand the "Bet Yosef." The arrangement of this work is the same as that adopted by Jacob b. Asher in his "Arba'ah Turim," but more concise; nor are any authorities given. This book, which for centuries was, and in part still is, "the code" of rabbinical Judaism for all ritual and legal questions that obtained after the destruction of the Temple…The author himself had no very high opinion of the work, remarking that he had written it chiefly for "young students," (Shulhan 'Arukh, Introduction). He never refers to it in his responsa, but always to the "Bet Yosef." The Shulhan 'Aruhk, achieved its reputation and popularity not only against the wishes of the author, but, curiously enough, through the very scholars who attacked it…"
[Compiled mainly from the Jewish Encyclopedia and a few lines from U. Calgary – see links below]


Kabbalah (also Qabbala, Cabala, cabbala, cabbalah, kabala, kabalah, kabbala) is the most central trend in Jewish mysticism and is often used to refer to Jewish mysticism in general. The Hebrew word Kabbalah (χαμδ) literaly means 'that which is received' ( i.e. tradition).
Originating in Provance and Northern Spain, the Kabbalah is the medieval mystical tradition whose practitioners attempted to understand, affect, and communicate with the divine. Sefer ha-Bahir, a book of unknown authorship, is the most important early kabbalistic work. This book, written in the form of traditional midrashim - rabbinic dialogues and commentaries on the biblical text - introduces a revised theory of the sefirot, the ten attributes of God first mentioned in Sefer Yetzirah. In kabbalah, God as the Ein-Sof or "the Infinite" - cannot be comprehended by humans. God can only be understood as He reveals himself in the sefirot. The sefirot are dynamic; they interact with each other and can be affected by humans. Indeed, much of the Kabbalah is an attempt to influence and "fix" the sefirot.

The doctrine of the sefirot reached its fullest articulation in the Zohar, a mystical commentary on the Torah. The Zohar interprets the Torah symbolically in an attempt to extract secrets about the divine realm. It is also written in Aramaic and structured like a midrash, and its attribution to the 2nd-century sage Shimon bar Yohai was accepted in most traditional circles. Scholars have refuted this claim categorically and believed the book to be the work of the 13th-century Spanish Jewish mystic Moses de Leon, or as recent scholars have suggested, the work of a group of mystics including Moses de Leon.


Rabbi Israel Ba'al Shem Tov (BeShT)

Rabbi Israel ben Elazar Ba'al Shem Tov (c. 1700-1760; hence referred to by his acronym - Besht) is known as the founder of Hasidism. The Besht himself wrote virtually nothing, and we know about him mainly through the writings of his disciples and from Hasidic tradition. Since tales about the Besht and his teachings (the main collection of tales is Shivhei ha-Besht, collections of his teachings include Keter Shem Tov and Tzavat ha-Rivash) were part of the shaping of Hasidism itself, it is very hard to tell what should actually be attributed to him and what really belongs to later generations or to the realm of myth. It has even been suggested that the Besht never existed. However this was never generally accepted, and was recently disproved conclusively, with the discovery of Polish government records of an Israel Balshem living in Medzibodz.
The Besht lived in city of Medziboz, in the province of Podolia, Southern Poland. Little can be said with certainty about his parents or teachers. He married the sister of Rabbi Gershon of Kitov - a copy of a letter to whom is probably the only written document we have that was actually written by the Besht. At the time, Jewish magical-religious medical men were known by the Hebrew title "Ba'al Shem" - meaning master of the (divine) and as the tales about him confirm, the Besht probably was such a practitioner of magical medicine. However, he must have been particularly charismatic, and his teachings were a lot broader than the average Ba'al Shem (perhaps 'Tov' - good - was added to his title in order to distinguish him from ordinary Ba'alei Shem), since it is around his character that Hasidism took shape.

Rabbi Moshe Feinstein

Moshe Feinstein was born in Uzda, Belorussia in 1895. His father Rabbi David Feinstein was the grandson of Rabbi Abraham, brother of the GRA and author of Beer Hagolah (a list of citations for the Shulkhan Aruch that appear in what is considered the standard addition). He studied with his father and with al local melamed until he was twelve when he went to that yeshiva of rabbi Isser Zalman Meltzer in Slutzk and studied with rabbi Pesach Pruskin. Feinstein was first appointed rabbi at Uzda in 1916 in order to avoid getting drafted, and became rabbi of Lublin 1921. He married Feige Gittel, daughter of the Rabbi Yechiel of Kopolia, and they had three children before they moved to the United States. Once Feinstein arrived in New York (1937) he joined -- and soon became head of -- a rabbinical school (Mesivta Tiferes Yerushalaim).
Rabbi Feinstein, was known throughout the Orthodox Jewish world as a great authority on Jewish Law. He wrote hundreds of responses to questions of Jewish Law, many of them were collected in eight volumes titled Igros Moshe. He also wrote comments to several tractates of the Talmud. He died in 1986.

Rabbi Solomon Freehof

Rabbi Solomon Bennett Freehof was born in London, 1892. and his parents moved to the U.S in 1903, settling in Baltimore. "He graduated from the University of Cincinnati (1914) and a year later was ordained at Hebrew Union College, whose faculty he then joined. After Serving as a chaplain with the American forces in Europe during World War I, Freehof became professor of liturgy at Hebrew Union College. In 1924 he became rabbi of Congregation Kehillath Anshe Maarav in Chicago, and in 1934 he was appointed rabbi of Congregation Rodef Shalom in Pittsburgh. 
Freehof's scholarly endeavors were largely in two fields. The first was Jewish liturgy. In 1930 he was appointed chairman of the Reform Committee on Liturgy of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, whose work led to the publication of the two volume Union Prayer Book (1940-45) and the Union Home Prayer Book (1951), both of which stressed relevance to modern life and the inclusion of contemporary material in the service. His second main interest was the development of Jewish law as displayed in the literature of the responsa and its bearing on modern Jewish practice. He was appointed head of the Responsa Committee of the Central Conference of American Rabbis in 1955. " (Encyclopedia Judaica, Vol.7 p. 121).

Chief Rabbi of Great Britain Immanuel Jakobovits

Rabbi Immanuel Jakobovits was Born in Koenigsberg, Germany - now Kalingrad, Russia – to the Orthodox rabbi of Koenigsberg. He fleeing Nazi Germany he came to London in 1936, with his family, where he enrolled in Yeshiva Etz Chaim and was eventually ordained. In the early 1950's he moved to Ireland where he was appointed Chief Rabbi and married Amelie Munk, herself the daughter of a prominent Rabbi (Elie Munk of Paris).
In 1957 he became the first rabbi of the Fifth Avenue Synagogue, in New York – a synagogue that came to be regarded as one of the foremost Orthodox synagogues in America. In 1967, Rav Jakobovits was appointed Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of Britain and the Commonwealth. In 1981, he was knighted Sir Immanuel by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. 
Rabbi Jakobovits was particularly interested in Medical ethics. His Jewish Medical Ethics was the first book to both review the diverse Jewish views and opinions of medical practice and stress the ethical and universal dimensions embedded in the rulings. He also wrote extensively on the application of traditional Jewish teachings vis-a-vis the importance of self-reliance and personal moral responsibility in the wider modern world. It was this contribution that led Margaret Thatcher in 1987 to recommend that the Queen make him the first Chief Rabbi to be a member of the House of lords. It is of particular interest to this site, that a center for the Study of Jewish Medical Ethics was established under his name at Ben Gurion Medical. Rabbi Jakobovits died in 1999.

Rabbi Moshe Isserles (Rema/Rama)

Rabbi Moshe ben Israel Isserles (1530-1572). Born in Cracow, Isserles was the great grandson of Jehiel Luria, the first Rabbi of Brisk. He studied in Lublin at the Shalom Shachna Yeshiva where he met his first wife, Schachna's daughter. She died young, at the age of 20, and he built the Isserles (later known as the Remu) Synagogue, in her memory. Isserles remarried the sister of Joseph ben Morechai Gershon Ha-Kohen.
Isserles founded a Yeshiva in Cracow. He became a world-renowned scholar, and was approached by many other well-known rabbis for Halachic decisions, including Joseph Caro, Solom Luria and Joseph Katz. One of his most well-known commentaries was the Mappa (the Tablecloth), a commentary on the Shulhan Arukh, written by Joseph Caro. The Shulhan Arukh focuses mainly on Sephardic rite and customs, while the Mappa emphasizes Ashkenazic customs, henceforth expanding the influence of the work to Eastern European Jewry.
Not only was Isserles well versed in Talmud, he also studied Kabbalah and Jewish mystical writings, as well as history, astronomy and Greek philosophy. Isserles is considered one of the forerunners of the Jewish enlightenment.
Isserles died in Cracow and was buried next to his synagogue. Thousands of pilgrims visited his grave annually on Lag b'Omer, until the Second World War.

Rabbi Joseph Karo

Rabbi Joseph ben Ephraim Karo was born in Spain or Portugal in 1488 and after being expelled from Portugal in 1497 (and perhaps from Spain as well in 1492), he moved to Turky. He studied first with his father who died when Joseph was still young, and later with his uncle Issac. 
While in Turkey, he was in contact with several kabbalists, including Shlomo Molcho, Shlomo Alkabetz and Joseph Taitazak.
After a short stay in Egypt he moved to Safed, where he met Rabbi Jacob Berab. Berab was trying to renew the institution of ordination that had been discontinued hundreds of years earlier and he bestowed the honor on Karo. In Safed Karo headed a Yeshiva of some two hundred students and sat at the head of the communal council. 
He is remembered most, however for his code of Jewish Law the 'Shulkhan Aruch'. He died in Safed in 1575.

Maimonides - Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon

Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon (known by his Latin epithet, Maimonides, or in Hebrew by his acronym Rambam) was a rabbi, commentator, physician, philosopher, and political leader, and certainly one of the most influential, if not the most influential Jewish figure of the Middle Ages. He was born in Cordova, Spain, in 1135 or 1138 to a prominent family, his father, Rabbi Maimon, being a learned and respected dayan (judge) of the affluent Cordova community. In 1148, the family fled their home for fear of the Almohades, a radical Moslem faction then invading Spain that offered non-Moslems the choice between conversion and death. The family traveled throughout Christian Spain before finally settling in Fez, Morocco in 1160. It was there that Maimonides first learned medicine and where his father, Maimon, wrote his Iggeret ha-Nechamah (mistakenly attributed to Maimonides), encouraging the Jews that were forced to convert to Islam to retain their Jewish identity. In 1165 the family fled again, this time to the Land of Israel, but living conditions there were extremely poor, and shortly thereafter they settled in Fostat (ancient Cairo), Egypt.
For a while, Maimonides' younger brother, David, who was a merchant, supported him while he studied and wrote. But this arrangement did not last. In 1173, David's ship sank in the Indian Ocean, drowning him and much of the family fortune. Subsequently, Maimonides had to care for his brother's family as well as his own. He began making his living as a doctor.
By the time Maimonides had to stop devoting all his time to his studies, he was already an accomplished scholar. At age seventeen he had already written his Milot Higayon – a treatise summarizing Aristotelian philosophy.   By thirty he had completed his first major work – his Commentary on the Mishnah. This work, offering both close textual analysis of the Mishnah and broader conceptual analysis, is both an excellent introduction to the Talmud, and a summary of the Talmud's legal positions. Within the Commentary are several important introductions, some of which could be considered independent monographs. The general introduction is a doctrinal analysis of the Oral Tradition, focusing on revelation, the transmission of Jewish law and its ongoing interpretation. The introduction to Perek Helek provides a rationalist explanation for the "world to come" (identifying it with the immortality of the soul) and acts as a platform for Maimonides to propound his Thirteen Principles, a dogmatic philosophical creed. The Eight Chapters, Maimonides' commentary to Tractate Avot, reveals his approach to ethics, a variant of Aristotle's golden mean. These introductions are still quite popular today.
Eventually Maimonides became a doctor in the newly established Cairo court of the Fattamide sultan – Saladin, and at the same time the political leader of the Jewish community in Egypt. When Samuel Ibn Tibbon, the translator of his book Guide for the Perplexed, wrote him asking whether he should come visit in order to clarify some matters of translation, Maimonides discouraged him, giving the following description of his daily routine:
Do not expect to be able to confer with me on any scientific subject, for even one hour, either by day or by night, for the following is my daily occupation: I dwell at Misr [Fostat] and the Sultan resides at Kahira [Cairo.] These two places are [about one mile and a half] distant from each other. My duties to the Sultan are very heavy. I am obliged to visit him every day, early in the morning; and when he or any of his children, or any of the inmates of his harem is indisposed, I dare not quit Kahira, but must stay during the greater part of the day in the palace. It also frequently happens that one or two of the royal officers fall sick, and I must attend to their healing. Hence, as a rule, I repair to Kahira very early in the day, and if nothing unusual happens, I do not return to Misr until the afternoon. Then I am almost dying with hunger. I find the antechamber filled with people, Jews and Gentiles, nobles and common people, judges and bailiffs, friends and foes – a mixed multitude, who await the time of my return.
I dismount from my animal, wash my hands, go forth to my patients, and entreat them to bear with me while I partake of some slight refreshment, the only meal I take in the twenty-four hours. Then I attend my patients, write prescriptions for their various ailments. Patients go in and out until nightfall, and sometimes even, I solemnly assure you, until two hours and more in the night. I converse and prescribe for them while lying down from sheer fatigue, and when night falls, I am so exhausted that I can scarcely speak.
Amazingly, while functioning both as harried court doctor and political leader, Maimonides still found time to write some of the most significant works ever written in Jewish history. His Mishneh Torah (also known as ha-Yad ha-Hazakah) is a revolutionary fourteen volume legal codex in which Maimonides reorganized, summarized, and ruled on virtually every topic of Jewish Law. The Mishneh Torah is remarkable for its scope, its brevity, its systematization of laws into logical categories, and for the fact that it is written in Hebrew. (Often, legal conclusions culled from the Talmud are translated literally from Aramaic into Hebrew.) Maimonides proclaimed that in order to learn the requirements of Jewish law, all that was necessary was to read the Bible, and then read his book – it could take the place of the Talmudic literature and the writings of the Geonim (at least as far as the law was concerned). The endeavor was immediately criticized for its presumptuousness, but over the generations it was generally accepted, and to a large extant it was the model for the Shulkhan Aruch – the legal codex written by Rabbi Yoseph Karo that would become accepted as the authoritative codex of Jewish law. 
Commentators began to deal with the Mishneh Torah almost as soon as it was published. Rabbi Avraham ben David (known also as The RAVaD), Maimonides' elder from Provence, wrote extremely critical comments on the work, which, ironically, helped legitimize it, by sparking further criticism and defense of the work. Numerous other commentaries were written, including one by Karo.

Maimonides' other great accomplishment was his Guide for the Perplexed. Ostensibly written in the form of letters to his student Yosef Aknin, the Guide comes to explain Jewish tradition in terms of Aristotelian philosophy, thus attempting the reconciliation of religious belief with rationalism.
Maimonides apparently married twice. Of his first wife, who died in Egypt, we know very little. He remarried, and in his older age, a son named Abraham (know by the acronym RAabaM) was born, who would later become a prominent rabbi and political leader of the Jewish community. Although Maimonides died when Abraham was only 17, the son in his writings cites various interpretations and opinions transmitted orally to him by his father. Ironically though, Abraham's thought is predominantly Sufi, a school of religious thought that was foreign to his father.
It is said that when Maimonides died in Egypt in 1204, Jews throughout the world mourned his passing, and a public three-day mourning period was observed in Fostat. Legend has it that his body was brought to Tiberias in the Land of Israel for burial, and to this day, many visit the site thought to be his tomb.

Guide for the Perplexed

The Guide for the Perplexed, Moreh Hanevokhim in Hebrw or Dlalat al-Khaerin in the original Arabic, is Maimonides' great philosophical work. Ostensibly written in the form of letters to his student Yosef Aknin, the Guide comes to explain Jewish tradition in terms of Aristotelian philosophy, thus attempting the reconciliation of religious belief with rationalism.   Moving from topic to topic in a discursive manner (where the train of thought is not always clear), Maimonides touches on the philosophical issues of his day, while showing how the Bible addresses the very same issues. The Guide attained a great degree of prominence, and made an impact outside of the Jewish world of thought as well as within it.
Nevertheless, the Guide's rational explanation of Torah commandments coupled with its allegorical explanation of many Biblical passages angered prominent rabbis, mostly Ashkenazi rabbis who had little knowledge (or need) of Greek philosophy. For them, Judaism was based on revelation, and any attempt to ground the Torah in rational thought was in-and-of-itself a heretical enterprise. A movement began in northern France to ban the study of the Guide, which was met with great venom by the supporters of Maimonides in southern France. The Maimonidean controversy embroiled the Jewish community for some forty years, before matters reached a head in 1232, twenty-eight years after Maimonides' death. In that year, the Dominicans in France expropriated and publicly burned all the copies of the Guide that they could find. After this shocking event, the controversy cooled, but it continued as part of a larger controversy: whether Jews should be allowed to study the sciences and secular subjects or whether they should be restricted to studying only Jewish sources.


  • A manuscript letter with Maimonides' signature.

  • Maimonides' Mishneh Torah – an image page by Eliezer Segal. The page explains the layout of the traditional addition and has an 'navigational aids' for contents, page no. etc.
Bibliography and Texts


Arguably the most important work in Jewish mysticism, the Zohar sets forth a kabbalistic world-view, describing the relationship between the Godhead and the various levels of existence. The Zohar purports to be a record of discussions between the Talmudic Sages, who lived between the second and fifth centuries BCE, in what is supposed to be the Aramaic of their time, under the leadership of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yohai (2nd Century BCE). However, scholars agree that it was really written by Rabbi Moshe De Leon (1250-1305), or by a circle of scholars associated with, him around the turn of the 13th century.
The Book (as it is known in Hebrew: Sefer Ha-zohar i.e. The Book of (the) Radiance, or Glory), is composed of quite a few treatises. The largest treatise, Zohar on the Torah, is arranged as a midrashic commentary to the Pentateuch (mainly covering Genesis through Laviticus) and the other treatises were either inserted into this work or appended to it. Thus the part of the Zohar known as Midrash ha-Ne'elam on the Torah parallels small parts of the Zohar on the Torah, but includes shorter sayings by more Sages without describing any interaction between them. Using a mixture of Hebrew and Aramaic, as apposed to the Aramaic of the Zohar, it deals with only a limited number of kabblistic ideas -- such as creation, the soul, the world to come and the end of the messiah -- while leaving out major topics such as the secrets of the God Head and the Other Side. There are also similar treatises on the scrolls of The Song of Songs, Ruth and known as Midrash ha-Ne'elam on Shir ha-Shirim, Ruth and Eicha.   Sifra de-Zniuta is a short enigmatic treatise that touches upon most of the major central ideas of kabbalah, while concentrating on the Secret of the God-Head. It does not mention any Sages and is not continuous with the parts of the Zohar before or after it (neither at the end of Zohar Teruma, nor according to the Krimona addition, where it is included in Parashat Bereshit).    The Idra Rabba tells of congregating of 'the comrades' in which rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai begins by explaining parts of the Sifera de-Zniuta and each 'comrade' responds in tern, together explaining the secrete of the God-Head using the imagery of the human body. The Idra Zuta describes the last gathering of rabbi Shimon bar Yohai and his disciples. Rabbi Shimon speaks at length, mainly summarizing the ideas expressed in the Idra Rabba, and he passes away in a state of elated spirit while speaking the word 'life'. The Idra Zuta is appended to the end of Zohar Ha'azinu and also tells of Rabbi Shimons death and funeral. 
Tikunei Ha-Zohar and Raya Mehemana were composed slightly after other parts of the zohar, probably by students of rabbi Moshe De Leon. Both books use similar terminology and deal with similar topics; they are also both organized in a less logical and more associative manner than the earlier parts of the Zohar; the setting for both is mainly the heavenly assembly, where rabbi Simon bar Yochai and his disciples meet other-worldly spirits, such as Abraham Isaac and Jacob, Elijah, the Messiah and especially Moses, the trustworthy shepherd.
Tikunei Ha-Zohar was published as a separate book, composed of 'tikunim' that are more or less parallel to chapters in this book. The Hebrew word tikun (pl. tikunim), literally meaning mending or fixing, took on special significance in the Zoharic literature referring to the mending of the world, or worlds. Each tikun begins with the first word of the Bible 'bereshit' (literally, at first) and expounds a few verses from Genisis. includes seventy 'tikunim' and a number of additional ones from a different manuscript. A number of 'tikunim' were also published in the Zohar Hadash. 
Raya Mehemana, is a treatise concerning the reasoning behind the commandments. In the printed additions, it has been inserted into the main body of the Zohar, connected to the sequence of the verses of the bible, but as attested by a few rare manuscripts, this was not its original form. Moses, the Raya Mehmana (i.e. 'loyal' or 'trustworthy' shepherd) who received the commandments, plays a central role in the treatise appearing to the rabbis and explaining the commandments. 

  • -- Don Karr, "Notes on the Zohar in English", Collected Articles on Kabbalah, Vol. 1, pp. 21-28. This article is very useful for the English reader. Besides a short description of the Zohar, It includes references to articles and books where parts of the Zohar are translated, a chart of the different parts of the Zohar and where they can be found in English, and a general annotated English bibliography of the Zohar.

  • -- The entry for Zohar in the Jewish Encyclopedia.

Rabbi Menahem Recanati

Rabbi Menahem ben Benymin Recanati was a Halakhist and Kabbalist, who lived and was active in Italy, in the late 13th century to the early 14th century. Virtually nothing is known of his life, but several of his writings survive, including a number of Kabbalistic works -- Perush al ha-Tora, Perush Ta'amei ha-Mitzvot, Perush ha-Tefillot -- and his halakhic work -- Piskei Halakhot. Mattathias Delacrut and Mordechai jaffe both wrote commentaries on Recanati's Perush al haTorah in the sixteenth century (Jaffe's commentary is titled Beur Levush Even Yekarah). Moshe Idel has shown that it is likely that Recanati also wrote a commentary on a small part of the Zohar. 
Recanati used many different works, and many earlier doctrines have survived only in his writings, but he does not always quote his sources. He often uses Nahmanides, Rabbi Ezra and also made reference to Jacob b. Sheshet Gerondi, Asher b. David, Joseph Gikatilla, and Moshe b. Shem Tov de Leon. He was aware of two books written in his time about the resons for the commandments, one by rabbi Joseph of Shushan (mistakenly attributed to Itzkhak ibn Farkhi) and the other by an unknown author. He also used Keter Shem Tov, by Shem Tov ibn Gaon, Sefer ha-Bahir and the Zohar.
Recanati was known in the Kabbalistic world for maintaining that the Sefirot are not of the essence of God, but rather just coverings and instruments of God. This opinion is expressed at length in his Taamei ha-Mitzvot, and was referred to by many 16th century kabbalists who dealt with the question of the essence of the Sefirot (e.g. Yitzkhak Mor Hayyim, Elhanan Sagi Nahor, Shelomo Alkabetz and Moshe Cordevero), it was also quoted in full by Judah Hayyat in his commentary to Maarekhet ha-Elohut.
[Encyclopedia Judaica vol. 13. p. 1608].

Rabbi Shem tov ibn-Shem Tov

"Rabbi Shem-Tov Ibn Shem-Tov (c. 1380- c. 1440, Spanich kabbalist, and anti-Maimonidean polemicist. A witness to the persecutions and conversion movements of the late 14th- and early 15th century Spain, Shem Tov held Maimonidean Aristotelianism responsible for facilitating apostasy. In his Hebrew work Sefer ha-Emunot [Ferrara, 1556] ( "Book of the Beliefs") he attacks Jewish rationalists from Abraham ibn Ezra through Levi b. Gershom and Isaac Albalag, but especially Maimonides." (Encyclopedia Judaica, vol. 8, p. 1198)
According to Shem Tov, Maimonides thought that the soul was non-substantial; that their is no providence accept through knowledge; that only philosophers can achieve immortality by means of the intellect; that the world has always existed and will never sees to exist; that miracles do not exist; and that the miraculous stories of the Torah were written for the multitudes. Shem Tov did not try to criticize Maimonidies on philosophical grounds, nor did he offer a philosophical alternative to Maimonides' views. Instead, he argued for faith on the basis of faith alone. Shem-Tov didn't have many followers, and even his interpretation of Maimonides was not accepted. Itzchak Alashkar wrote his Hassagot 'Al Mah She-Katab R. Shem-Tob Neged ha-RaMbaM (Ferrara, 1556) against Shem Tov's Sefer ha-Emunot, claiming that Shem Tov attributed to Maimonides a doctrine the latter did not hold. Shem Tov's grandson, Shem-Tov ibn Yoseph Ibn Shem Tov, was a vigorous defender of Maimonides, and his commentary on Maimonides' Guide of the Perplexed appears in most traditional additions. However, certain trends in the academic research on Maimonides parallel Shem-Tov's interpretations quite closely.
Shem-Tov also wrote a book on the Sefirot and a commentary on Avot. He is known in the history of Kabbalah for holding that Keter is not a Sefirah, and that therefore Hokhmah is the first Sefirah and Da'at is a separate Sefirah.

[Jewish Encyclopedia]

Rabbi Shim'on bar Yokhai

Rabbi Shimon bar Yokhai - Jewish sage of the beginning of the second century CE, from the land of Israel. Bar-Yokhai was a student of Rabbi Akiva, and is mentioned hundreds of times in Rabbinic literature. When a Rabbi by the name of Shimon is mentioned in rabbinic literature, without any further qualification (e.g. name of father), he is assumed to be Rabbi Shimon bar Yokhai. According to a Talmudic tradition (Sanhedrin 86a), the anonymous parts of Midrash Sifrei are the opinion of Bar-Yokhai, and one of the Midrashim is named after him: Mekhiltah Debei Rabbi Shimon Bar-Yokhai.
It seems that like his teacher, Rabbi Akiva, he was an ardent supporter of the Bar Kokhnva revolt. Legend has it that he was very outspoken against the Romans and that as a result had to flee with his son, Rabbi Elazar, to a secluded cave. There, the legend goes on to tell, they lived for thirteen years, studying the Torah and subsisting on water and carob fruit alone.
It is probably on account of this legend that Rabbi Shimon Bar-Yokhai was chosen as the central character of the Zohar (12th century), where he is described as a mystic of the highest degree. His grave was 'identified' by the Kabbalists of Zafed, in the 16th century, on mount Meron, and is frequented by thousands, to this day, on what is considered to be the day of his death - the 33rd day of the Omer.

Rabbi Meir Ibn Gabai

Rabbi Meir ben Ezekiel Ibn Gabbai was a Spanish Kabbalist, born in 1480/1. Not much is known about his life. He evidently lived in Turkey and died after 1543, perhaps in the Land of Israel. He wrote a number of books, including the following: 1. Tola'at Ya'akov written in 1507, deals with prayer; 2. Derekh Emunah written in 1539, essentially a question and answer book regarding the Sefirot, based on Sha'ar ha-Sheol, by Azriel of Gerona; 3. Avodat Hakodesh, written between 1523 and 1531, deals with Kabbalah in general and is divided into four parts -- a. concerning the unity of God; b. concerning the worship of God; c. concerning man's purpose in the universe; d. concerning and the esoteric aspects of the Torah. This last book was widely used for generations. It is the most comprehensive summary of the doctrines of Kabbalah before the Kabbalah of Safed.

[Gershom Sholem's entry in the Encyclopedia Judaica vol. 7, p. 233 and link below]

Rabbi Shlomo Alkavetz

Rabbi Shlomo Alkavetz son of Moshe the Levite was born in Saloniki, around 1505, where grew up and studied with Rabbi Joseph (Taitatzak?). After he was married he decided to move to the Land of Israel and on his way, in Adriopolis, he met Rabbi Joseph Karo. They both settled in Safed witch became the center of kabbalah at the time. Alkavetz married Rabbi Moses Cordevero's sister, and became Cordovero's teacher, bringing him into the world of kabbalah. Later Cordevero became a renown kabbalist in his own right.  Alkavetz wrote several books including "Menot ha-Levi" about the Scroll of Ester, "Ayelet Ahavim" about the Song of Songs, "Shoresh Yishai" about the Scroll of Ruth, and "Berit ha-Levi" about the Haggadah of Pasover. But he is known most for his song "Lecha Dodi", that became part of the liturgy welcoming the Sabbath in Jewish communities virtually all over the world. He died in Safed around 1555-1557.

Rabbi Moshe ben Yaakov Cordovero

Rabbi Moshe ben Yaakov Cordovero, otherwise known by his acronym – ReMaK, is known as the founder of the Cordoverian school of Kabbalah. Born in 1522, Cordovero's place of birth is not known, however judging by his name, his family probably originated from Cordova, Spain. At any event, he lived in Safed, where he studied with Rabbi Yosheph Caro and with Rabbi Moshe Alkavetz. Al-Kabetz married Cordevero's sister, and it was he who brought Cordovero into the world of Kabbalah, and into the circle of Kabbalists who were active in Safed at the time. 
Like Rabbi Yoseph Caro -- who kept a journal of his mystical experiences, called Magid Meisharim – Cordevero too kept a mystical journal, he called Sefer Gerushin. Codovero describes the practice of Alkavtez and his students, who would act out the Galut of the Shekhinah, by expelling themselves from their homes, and staying in the fields and going to the graves of the righteous, where they would experience mystical revelations. Cordovero quickly became an authority on Kabbalah and started a system of his own (see bellow). He became head of the yeshiva of the Portuguese Jews in Safed (perhaps his family, who presumably came from Cordova, lived in Portugal after the expulsion from spain). Among Cordevero's students were R. Eliyahu de-Vidash, R. Abraham Gelanti and R. Hayyim Vital – before he went to study with R. Yitzkhak Luria. Luria himself studied Cordevero's books and considered himself a student of Cordevero to some extent, although he disagreed with him on many points and established a separate school. Cordovero died in Safed (1570).
See Bracha Sack, The Kabbalah of Rabbi Moshe Cordevero, Jerusalem, 1995 [Hebrew].

Rabbi Isaac Luria Ben Shelomo (Ha'ARI)

Rabbi Isaac Luria, know as Ha'ARI ha-Kadosh (HaARI, Hebrew for the lion, stands for ha-Elohi (the Godly) Rabbi Issac, and ha-Kadosh means the holy), was the founder of the Lurianic school of Kabbalah. Born in Jerusalem (1534) to parents of the Ashkenazi descent, Luria moved to Cairo at a young age, due to the death of his father, and grew up in Cairo where his uncle, Mordecai Francis, lived. Being a tax-farmer, his uncle was able to send him to study under the renown Rabbi Betzalel Ashkenazi. Luria was evidently very successful in his studies, and at age fifteen he was married to his cousin. His uncle continued to support him and he devoted himself completely to study. He is said to have spent seven year living as a hermit, visiting his family only on the Sabbath, while studying the Zohar. 
At close to thirty, after a short stay in Jerusalem, Luria settled in Safed. Rabbi Joseph Caro, and Rabbi Moshe Cordovero were already living in Safed at the time, and Luria became a central figure in the most prominent circle of kabbalists anywhere. Luria taught what was to be known as Lurianic Kabbalah for the next eight years, and died at age thirty-eight in Safed (1572), his disciple rabbi Hayyim Vital wrote his teachings in a series of books.

Rabbi Hayyim ben Joseph Vital

Kabbalist; born at Safed in 1543; died at Damascus May 6, 1620. Hayyim Vital's teacher was rabbi Moshe Alshech. It is said that rabbi Joseph Caro also noticed him and that he met Lapidot Ashkenazi in 1557, and was influenced by him thereafter. Vital also studied Kabbalah with Rabbi Moshe Cordevero before he became the student of Rabbi Itzkhak Luria. Vital only studied under Luria, for two years from 1570 until Luria died in 1572, but he became known as his most prominent student. Luria left nothing in writing and Vital took it upon himself to write his teachings.

Rabbi Joseph Ibn Tabul

Rabbi Yoseph Ibn Tabul (of Magreb) was a student of rabbi Yitzkhak Luria. His student rabbi Shimshon Baki, who described him as a wonderful charismatic teacher, relates the little that is known about his life. His writings were never published and the manuscripts were often attributed to rabbi Yitzkhak Luria or to rabbi Hayyim Vital.

Rabbi Avraham Galanti

Rabbi Abraham Galanti was a Cabbalist who was active in the second half of the 16th century. Born to a Jewish family that had fled Spain in 1492, and had settled in Rome, he moved to the Land of Israel as a young man and studied there with Rabbi Moses Cordovero. He wrote several Kabbalistic commentaries: one on Lamentations, called Kinat Setarim (pulished in Kol Bokhim: lamentations for the 9th of Av), one on Chapters of the Fathers, called Zekhut Avot, published in Beit Avot: Four Commentaries on the tractate of avot, and one on the Zohar, entitled Yerah Yakar. In addition, a list of hanagot (costomes or ways of behavior), written by Galanti was published by S. Shechter, Studies in Judaism (Second Series), Philadelphia, 1908, pp. 294-297.

Rabbi Joseph Angelit

Rabbi Joseph Angelit of Spain was a Cabbalist who lived in Saragosa in the first half of the 14th century. (Scholars had originally believed his name was Angelino, and that he was Italian, but this was a scribal error). He authored several books including Sefer Livnat Sapir, Sefer Kupat Rokhlin, a commentary on Sha'arei Orah, Kaf Dalet Yesodot, and he also refers to a commentary on Aggadot and a Sefer Mitzvoth that he wrote, but these are not been found. The date he gives for writing his Livnat Sapir is 1327, and according to Spanish archival material he was present during an arbitration proceedings that took place in Sarragosa in 1335.
Some of his writing is in the style of the Zohar and Yehudah Libes has suggested not only that he himself thought of his writing as contiguous with Zohar Literature, but that bits of his writings have in fact been included in the Zohar.
See: Iris Felix, The Kabbalistic Thought of Rabbi Joseph Angelit, M.A. thesis, 1991.[Hebrew]

Rabbi Issac Mor Hayyim

Rabbi Isaac ben Shemuel Mar-Hayyim was a Kabbalist from Spain who left for the Land of Israel in 1491, a short time before the Spanish expulsion that took place in 1492. This is known, since on his way he sent two epistles from Italy. It has been assumed that he did indeed arrive in Israel since his signature was found on a tax amendment made in Jerusalem in 1508/9, and it has further been assumed that he then moved to Safed -- where, according to a letter to Yaakov Berav, dated 1523/4, he was a judge.
Since the rabbi writing from Italy was described as venerable and aged in 1491, and since there are numerous variations on the name Mor Hayyim (ibn Hayyim, b"r Hayyim, Mo"r Hayyim, M"r Hayyim, Mr Hayyim, m' Hayyim, and even Moreh Hayyim), some scholars have suggested that in fact there were two separate Rabbis, one (the son of Hayyim) who came from Spain and sent the epistles form Italy, and another (whose last name was Mor or Mar Hayyim), who was in touch with Ya'akov Berav. Furthermore some have suggested that the rabbi who was in touch Ya'akov Berav, may never have been in Safed at all, but rather resided in Damascus.

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.

Rabbi Israel Sarug (or Saruk)

Rabbi Israel Sarug (or Saruk) (fl. 1590-1610) was originally Egyptian and seems to have spent some time in Safed before 1593, when he began teaching Kabbalah in Italy. It was Sarug who first began to spread Lurianic Kabbalah outside Rabbi Yitzhack Luria's immediate circle in Safed.   Claiming to be Luria's disciple, Sarug started a whole school of Lurianic Kabbalah, which included such rabbis as Menahem Azariah Fano, Issac Fano and Aaron Berechiah b. Moses of Modena. But as it turns out, Sarug's teachings were actually substantially different than what we know of Lurianic Kabbalah from other sources (primarily the writing of rabbi Hayyim Vital). Sarug obviously had accesses to the Lurianic ideas and writings, but his teachings also included ideas of which classic Lurianic Kabbalah knew nothing. Scholars have debated the question of whether Sarug actually studies with Luria, if so where and if not how he got access to his writings (see below). His teachings were attacked as inauthentic by rabbi Hayyim b. Abraham ha-kohen of Aleppo and others, but to no avail.    It seems unlikely that he is the Israel Saruk that died in Safed in 1602, he most probably died elsewhere between 1608-1615.
His published works include: a. two works under the title Limmudei Atzilut (1897), attributed erroneously to Hayyim Vital– one of these deals with the Saruk's version of Kabbalistic concept of Tzimtzum, (which is quite different from Luria's concept thereof), and the other is a commentary on Sifra de-Tzniuta from the Zohar and a description of the world of Beriah; b. His traditions on transmigrations of souls of certain Talmudic sages, were published under Menahem Azariah Fano's name (Prauge 1688); c. His commentary on three of Luria's hymns for Shabbat was published in Nowy Oleksiniec 1767.

Rabbi Moshe ben Mordechai Basola

Rabbi Moshe ben Mordechai Basola was born in Pesaro, Italy, in 1480, where he served as rabbi; he was of French extraction (as implied the way he singed his name ha-tzarfati, i.e. "the Frenchman"). He supported his student, Immanuel Benevento in publishing the Zohar, while he still lived in Pesaro, and his endorsement appears in the Mantuba addition of the Tikkunei ha-Zohar. In 1521 He went on pilgrimage to the Land of Israel, where he remained for a year and a half. His record of Jerusalem at the time, Shivhei Yerushalaim, ("Praises of Jerusalem"), was published by Yitzkhak ben Tzvi in 1939. On his return to Italy Basola settled in Ancona, where he became rabbi. While he lived in Ancona he fought against the ban put on the city's port by Gracia Nasi to avenge the persecution of Marranos there. The Christian French Kabbalist, Guillaume Postel, was in touch with Basola and wrote highly of him. Basola returned to the Land of Israel and settled in Safed, not long before his death in 1560.
Two other rabbis by the name of Moshe Basola lived in the sixteenth century. One, known as Della Rocca, was Basola's daughter's son. He taught Leon Modena at Ferrara (1582-84) and died in Cyprus. The other may have also been Basola's grandson. Born in Safed, he settled in Italy, and edited Moshe Cordovero's Or Ne-erav and TomerDevora, together with Cordovero's son Gedaliah.

Sahula, Isaac Ben Solomon

Sahula, Isaac Ben Solomon Abi (b. 1244). Sahula lived in Gaudalajara, Castile and was the student of the kabbalist Moshe burgos. He also know rabbi Moshe b. Shem-Tov de Leon who lived in the same town. His Meshal ha-Kadmoni is a large collections of stories and parables that was written in order to dissplace words translated from the Arabic, such as the Voyages of Synbad, and is written in the style of the makkama.

[Encyclopedia Judaica, vol. 8 p. 656-657]