Cordovero, Moses ben Jacob (1522–1570)

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Moses ben Jacob Cordovero, the Jewish legalist and mystic, was the outstanding systematizer of the kabbalah. The place of his birth is not known; his father probably was among the Jews expelled from Cordova, Spain. Cordovero's career centers in Safad, the little town in Palestine that had a period of glory in the sixteenth century. Here, after studying with three distinguished rabbinical teachersJoseph Caro, Jacob Berab, and Moses di Tranihe was ordained at an early age and became one of the leading figures of the community. His kabbalistic studies were begun at the age of twenty, under the direction of his brother-in-law, Solomon Alkabez, and became the major concern of the remainder of his life. Isaac Luria, who was to become the key figure in a new, more theosophic version of kabbalistic teachings, was originally a pupil of Cordovero.

Cordovero wrote at least ten important kabbalistic books, of varying lengths, during his lifetime. From the philosophic point of view, the greatest of these was Pardes Rimmonim (A Garden of pomegranates; first printed at Kraków, 1591). This large book attempted to present a systematic exposition of kabbalistic ideas and to justify them by deductive rational argumentation instead of the usual methods of kabbalistic exegesis. The word Pardes (PRDS ) in the title acrostically represents the four modes of interpretation of Scripture: peshat, literal interpretation; remez, allegorical, or hinting, interpretation; derash, homiletical interpretation; and sod, mystical interpretation. Among the subjects emphasized by Cordovero in his treatment are God's unity, God's will, God's knowledge and thought, God's wisdom and goodness, God's many names, and God's relation to creation; the emanations (sephirot ), both individually and collectively, the reason for there being precisely ten emanations, and the mystery of their multiplicity in unity; the Shekinah; angels; soul; being; prophecy; the relation of correspondence between the upper and lower worlds and the necessity of each to the other; the Law and the commandments; the mysteries of the Law; the secrets of the Hebrew alphabet; man and Israel; righteousness; time; freedom and bondage; the service of God. Cordovero was one of the first writers to stress the idea of zimzum, the voluntary self-shrinkage of God to make room for the material world.

Because of his rational discussion of all these subjects and his successful philosophic justification of them, in terms of his own presuppositions, Cordovero may well be regarded as the climactic figure of the earlier period of kabbalistic speculation. To what extent he was also intrigued by the more practical or "magical" aspects of kabbalah, we cannot tell.

See also Kabbalah.


works by cordovero

The Palm Tree of Deborah. Translated by Louis Jacobs. New York: Hermon Press, 1974.

works on cordovero

Idel, M. Language, Torah, and Hermeneutics in Abraham Abulafia. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1989.

Robinson, Ira. "Moses Cordovero and Kabbalistic Education in the Sixteenth Century." Judaism 39 (1990): 155162.

Robinson, Ira. Moses Cordovero's Introduction to Kabbala. New York: Yeshiva University Press, 1994.

Sack, Bracha. "The Influence of Cordovero on Seventeenth-Century Jewish Thought." In Jewish Thought in the Seventeenth Century, edited by Isadore Twersky and Bernard Septimus. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1987.

Sack, Bracha. "Some Remarks on Rabbi Moses Cordovero's Shemuʾah be-'Inyan ha Gilgul." In Perspectives on Jewish Thought and Mysticism, edited by A. Ivry. E. Wolfson and A. Arkush. Amsterdam: Harwood Academic, 1998.

Scholem, G. On the Mystical Shape of the Godhead: Basic Concepts in the Kabbalah. New York: Schocken, 1991.

Tirosh-Samuelson, H. "Philosophy and Kabbalah." In Cambridge Companion to Medieval Jewish Philosophy, edited by D. Frank and O. Leaman, 218257. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2003.

Wolfson, E. "Jewish Mysticism: A Philosophical Overview." In History of Jewish Philosophy, edited by D. Frank and O. Leaman, 450498. London: Routledge, 1997.

J. L. Blau (1967)

Bibliography updated by Oliver Leaman (2005)