Alshekh, Moses

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ALSHEKH, MOSES (d. after 1593), rabbi and Bible commentator, born in Adrianople. He studied in Salonika under Joseph *Taitaẓak and Joseph *Caro, and then emigrated to Ereẓ Israel, settling in Safed, where he gained prominence as an halakhic authority, a teacher in two talmudic academies, and a preacher. He was active in communal affairs and was a member of the rabbinical court of Joseph Caro, who conferred upon him the full *ordination which had been reintroduced by R. Jacob *Berab. In turn, in 1590, Alshekh ordained Ḥayyim Vital, who was his disciple in halakhah. His major field of interest was halakhah but, acceding to requests to preach on Sabbaths, in the course of preparing his sermons he occupied himself also with Bible exegesis. He also engaged in the study of the Kabbalah, from which he derived the fundamentals of his religious philosophy. According to one tradition, Isaac *Luria sought to dissuade him from pursuing kabbalistic studies.

About 1590 Alshekh visited the Jewish communities of Syria and Turkey, and perhaps also of Persia, in the interests of Safed Jewry. He also sent an appeal on behalf of the Safed community to Italy and other countries. The last information about him was from Damascus. He participated there in a rabbinical court session in the spring of 1593. He died soon after at a venerable age.

Alshekh reworked his sermons into commentaries to most of the books of the Bible. Several of these commentaries appeared during his lifetime: Ḥavaẓẓelet ha-Sharon (Constantinople, 1563; Venice, 1591) on Daniel; Shoshannat ha-Amakim (Venice, 1591) on the Song of Songs; Rav Peninim (ibid., 1592) on Proverbs; and Torat Moshe (Constantinople, c. 1593) on Genesis. Alshekh's commentary on the Book of Psalms under the title of Tappuḥei Zahav appeared in Constantinople in 1597–98. This edition was criticized by Alshekh's son Ḥayyim in the introduction to his own edition of his father's commentary on the Psalms. Ḥayyim Alshekh averted that the manuscript of Tappuḥei Zahav had been stolen from him and represented a first draft only of his father's commentary.

Between 1600 and 1607, Ḥayyim Alshekh reissued in Venice some of the commentaries published by his father and printed those which had remained in manuscript. They were Torat Moshe on the whole of the Pentateuch, Einei Moshe on Ruth, Devarim Neḥumim on Lamentations, Devarim Tovim on Ecclesiastes, Masat Moshe on Esther (all 1601); Ḥelkat Meḥokkek on Job (1603) and Marot ha-Ẓove'ot on the early and Later Prophets, with the exception of Ezekiel (1603–07); and Romemot El on the Psalms (1605).

Alshekh's exegetical approach was to present numerous questions that were followed by answers that delved into the syntactic, thematic, and linguistic unity of the biblical text. Alshekh's spiritual world consisted of rabbinic aggadah with kabbalistic elaborations. Nevertheless, he was keenly attuned to the stylistic nuances of the biblical text. Alshekh assumed that the biblical characters conducted their affairs using rigorous logic and deliberate thinking. In addition, the Bible had to be viewed as a faithful record of the thoughts, actions, and speeches of the biblical characters.

Alshekh's commentaries, which are permeated with religious, ethical, and philosophical ideas supported by ample quotations from talmudic and midrashic sources, became very popular and have often been reprinted. Some of the commentaries appeared also in abbreviated versions. Ḥayyim Alshekh also published his father's responsa (Venice, 1605). Alshekh was the author of a dirge on the "exile of the Shekhinah," which became part of *Tikkun Haẓot. Never published and subsequently lost were She'arim, a book of a religious-philosophical nature; a commentary on Genesis Rabbah; and a talmudical work. The commentaries on Avot and on the Passover Haggadah printed under the name of Alshekh are not original works but compilations from his commentaries on the Bible.


Rosaries, Togarmah, 3 (1938), 276 ff.; S. Shalem, Rabbi Moshe Alshekh (Heb., 1966), incl. bibl. by N. Ben-Menahem; A. Yaari, Ha-Defus ha Ivri be-Kushta (1967), nos. 165, 232, 329. add. bibliography: K. Bland in: The Bible in the Sixteenth Century (1990) 5–67; A. van der Heide, in: Jewish Studies in a New Europe (1998), 365–71.

[Tovia Preschel /

David Derovan (2nd ed.)]