Abulafia, Todros ben Joseph Ha-Levi
ABULAFIA, TODROS BEN JOSEPH HA-LEVI
ABULAFIA, TODROS BEN JOSEPH HA-LEVI (c. 1220–1298), Spanish rabbi and kabbalist. Rabbi Todros ben Joseph ha-Levi was born in Burgos, Spain, and died in Toledo. The Abulafia family was famous and respected in Spain. His uncle, Rabbi Meir ha-Levi *Abulafia, was the "exilarch" of Spanish Jewry and widely known for his war against the Rambam (*Maimonides) and his writings. Todros, who lived during the reign of Fernando iii and Alphonso X, owed his great prominence to his wisdom and wealth, and like his uncle became the head of Castilian Jewry.
The sources portray Todros, on the one hand, as a public figure and a national-religious leader, a person of wide horizons, well versed in halakhic and midrashic literature and an occasional poet. On the other hand, he is also seen as an experienced courtier who found his way to the hearts of the king and queen. He is thought to be one of the first kabbalists in Spain, and one can learn from his writings how the basic concepts of the Kabbalah were formed. Above all, he was a model to his generation of modesty and purity. His life symbolized the absolute negation of his generation's penchant for the ways of the knight and the promiscuity of the king's court.
He spent his youth in Burgos. There he became friendly with Rabbi Moses ben Simeon, who was the disciple of the brother rabbis Jacob and Isaac of Soraya, and it would seem that Todros heard from his friend some of what Rabbi Moses had learned from Kabbalah teachers.
During his days in Toledo, Todros rose to a lofty position. King Alfonso X welcomed him to his court and made him one of his retinue on his voyage to France in 1275. Todros stayed with the queen in Perpignan, where he met the poet Abraham Badrashi (Bedersi). The meeting produced an exchange of rhymed letters and messages. (Some of the poems were published in the book Segulot Melakhim, Amsterdam, 1768; others are in manuscript form, British Museum add 27,168 930; Vienna manuscript 111).
In Toledo, Todros began his period of creativity. He wrote on halakhic and moral issues related to life and the affairs of his day. He did his utmost to free Jews who had been arrested on the king's orders (1281). At the same time he reacted furiously to serious violations of religious commandments and morality in Jewish society, threatening with imprisonment and excommunication those who would break the laws. (His sermon on changing evil ways is incorporated in his book Zikkaron Li-Yehudah, 1846). Apart from his public activity, the kabbalistic writings of Todros reveal him as a mystic, a kabbalist who preserves traditions and ideas and attempts, by fusing the various schools of Kabbalah (Gerona Kabbalah and Castilian Kabbalah), to bridge the gaps between the kabbalists of his day. His first book, Sha'ar ha-Razim (edition of M. Kushnir Oron, Jerusalem, 1989) is a kabbalistic interpretation of verse 19 of Psalms. In this book one perceives the hesitancy of the author, who is afraid of divulging secrets. The book was written as a letter replying to his friend Rabbi Moses of Burgos. In fact, the book may be viewed as an interpretative work, a kind of summing-up of the various traditions in Kabbalah as known by Todros, who attempts to fuse them through his interpretation
His second book, Oẓar ha-Kavod (Warsaw, 1879), written late in his life, is an interpretation of talmudic legends. As in Sha'ar ha-Razim, in this book too the author's personality shines through. He gathers together different traditions and fuses them through the style of his writing, fusing mainly the writings of the Ḥasidei Ashkenaz, the letters of the Ḥug ha-Iyyun, and the Ismaili-Gnostic tradition with the traditions of the Gerona and the Castilian kabbalists. In both books one finds echoes of the concepts, themes, and ideas of the secret teachings that a generation later became the foundations of Kabbalah. Todros is thus important as a preserver of traditions who passed them on to the next generation. Thanks to his writings, it is often possible to understand the secrets hinted at in the writings of his teachers, the Castillian kabbalists, as well the mystical tradition in Spain and its crystallization during its early generations. (In addition to these two books, he may have written an interpretation of Chapter 1 of Ezekiel, which is mentioned in the writings of kabbalists but has not been found.)
Todros belongs to that circle of kabbalists called by Gershom *Scholem "the Gnostic kabbalists." Rabbi Todros emphasizes in his writings the uniqueness of that circle and its method in the wide frame of Kabbalah and kabbalists of his day.
Todros was considered a uniquely exemplary figure, who may have served, as Y. Libbes believes (Keiẓad Nitḥabber Sefer ha-Zohar), as a model for the depiction of Rabbi *Simeon Bar Yokhai in Sefer ha-Zohar. References to him may be found in the poems of Todros ben Judah (the kabbalist's nephew) and in the writings of Isaac ben Latif, Abraham Badrashi, and Isaac Albalag (in his book Tikkun ha-De'ot, p. 101).
His son Joseph was a friend of the kabbalist *Moses de Leon, who was thought to be the author of Sefer ha-Zohar, an attribution rejected by present-day scholars, who see him as just one its authors. Joseph received from de Leon copies of parts of Sefer ha-Zohar.
[Michal Oron (2nd ed.)]
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