Abraham ben Eliezer Ha-Levi

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ABRAHAM BEN ELIEZER HA-LEVI (called ha-Zaken; c. 1460–after 1528), kabbalist. Born in Spain, Abraham was a pupil of Isaac Gakon (in Toledo?). While still in Spain he wrote several kabbalistic treatises of which his Masoret ha-Hokhmah ("Tradition of Wisdom"), on the principles of the Kabbalah, has been preserved (ks, 2 (1925), 125–30; 7 (1931), 449–56). After the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492, Abraham wandered through Italy, Greece, Turkey, and Egypt until about 1514 when he moved to Jerusalem with the school of the Egyptian nagid, R. Isaac ha-Kohen *Sholal. In Jerusalem, he was one of the most respected scholars of the yeshivah and became widely known through his literary and religious activities. A letter of his from the year 1528 deals with Beta Israel (Koveẓ al Yad, 4 (1888), 24). He presumably died soon afterward; in 1535, R. *David b. Solomon ibn Abi Zimra mentions him as someone long dead.

The expulsion of the Jews from Spain shocked Abraham deeply. His activities as an apocalyptic kabbalist probably date from the time of this national disaster. Like many of his contemporaries, such as Abraham *Zacuto, Isaac *Abrabanel, and others, he believed that the year 1524 would be the beginning of the messianic era, and that the Messiah himself would appear in 1530–31. He devoted himself to elaborating his conviction. He searched for proof in the Bible and the Talmud as well as in kabbalistic literature, and he tried to arouse the Jewish people to prepare for the coming deliverance through penitence. Abraham is one of the best stylists in kabbalistic literature. In 1508 in Greece he wrote the treatise Mashreh Kitrin ("Untier of Knots," 1510), with explanations of the Book of Daniel. This book, like all other works of Abraham, was ably written in the apocalyptic prophetic vein. Later he wrote Ma'amar Perek Ḥelek, an explanation of the talmudic statements on the messianic redemption at the end of the tractate Sanhedrin. In 1517, in Jerusalem, Abraham wrote his extensive commentary on the Nevu'at ha-Yeled ("The Child's Prophecy") in the same vein (still in manuscript). It is unlikely that Abraham was the author of the Nevu'at ha-Yeled itself. His commentary contains an apocalyptic survey of Jewish history, from the fall of the Second Temple to his own day. In 1521 he wrote Iggeret Sod ha-Ge'ullah ("The Epistle of the Mystery of Redemption") in which, following his views, he interpreted the statements of the *Zohar on redemption (also in manuscript). Abraham issued many calls to penitence, in one of which (1525) he expressed himself in detail on the appearance of Martin *Luther. Thus, he prepared the way for the coming activities of Solomon *Molcho. Various other kabbalistic writings of Abraham have been preserved: Ma'amar ha-Yiḥud ("Essay on the Unity of God"); Megillat Amrafel ("Scroll of Amraphel"), published in part in ks, 7 (1930–31), probably identical with his commentary on the Song of Songs; Tiferet Adam ("Glory of Man"); and Livyat Ḥen ("Chaplet of Grace"; the latter two not extant). His instructions (hora'ah) on the recitation of the prayer Makhnisei Raḥamim have been published as have his penitential prayers seeking the intercession of angels (Kerem Ḥemed, 9 (1856), 141 ff.). Abraham is in no way to be linked with the kabbalistic work Gallei Rezayya nor is he the author of the apology of the Kabbalah, Ohel Mo'ed ("Tent of Meeting"). He has often been confused with other scholars of the same name, among them *Abraham b. Eliezer ha-Levi Berukhim.

[Gershom Scholem]

The writings and activity of this kabbalist have drawn substantial attention in scholarship in the last generation. Some of Abraham ha-Levi's kabbalistic views are close to theories found in the circle of kabbalists who produced the literature known as Sefer ha-Meshiv, and he preserved the earliest version of the famous legend about R. *Joseph della Reina's abortive attempt to bring about the advent of the Messiah. It seems that his messianic and magical concerns are also related to the tenor of this vast kabbalistic literature.

[Moshe Idel (2nd ed.)]


Steinschneider, in: Oẓar Neḥmad, 2 (1857), 146–57; G. Scholem, in: ks, 1 (1924/25), 163f.; 2 (1925/26), 101–41, 269–73; 7 (1930/31), 440–56. add. bibliography: A. David, "A Jerusalemite Epistle from the Beginning of the Ottoman Rule in the Land of Israel," in: Chapters in the History of Jerusalem at the Beginning of the Ottoman Period (Heb., 1979); M. Idel, "Inquiries in the Doctrine of Sefer Ha-Meshiv," in: J. Hacker (ed.), Sefunot, 17 (1983), 185–66 (Heb.); idem, "Magic and Kabbalah in the Book of the Responding Entity," in: M. Gruber (ed.), The Solomon Goldman Lectures, 6 (1993), 125–38; I. Robinson, "Two Letters of Abraham ben Eliezer Halevi," in: I. Twersky (ed.), Studies in Medieval Jewish History and Literature (1984), 403–22; G. Scholem, "The Maggid of Rabbi Joseph Taitatchek and the Revelations Attributed to Him," in: Sefunot, 11 (1971–78), 69–112; G. Scholem and M. Bet Arieh, "Abraham ben Eliezer ha-Levi," in: Ma'amar Mesharei Qitrin (1977).

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