Azikri, Eleazar ben Moses

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AZIKRI, ELEAZAR BEN MOSES

AZIKRI, ELEAZAR BEN MOSES (sometimes mispronounced Azkari ; 1533–1600), kabbalist, talmudist, preacher, and poet. He was born in Ereẓ Israel and studied under Joseph Sagis and Moses *Cordovero in Safed. In 1596 he was ordained by Jacob *Berabii. His mystical diary, which has survived in his own handwriting (New York, j.t.s.a., Ms. Adler 74; published in M. Pachter's From Safed's Hidden Treasures, Jerusalem, 1994, pp. 121–186), contains meditations, revelations, and dreams, jotted down in the course of mystical experience, in a brief and obscure manner, lacking all order and unity. It covers the period from 1564 until close to his death, and reveals the inner world of an ecstatic kabbalist, whose sole aim was repentance (teshuvah), self-purification, spiritual ascent, and communion (devekut) with God. In 1571 he divided his day: one-third to be devoted to writing, and two-thirds – to a quiet, if peculiar, meditation. During this time he would not even study, but would sit in awed silence, without moving, his phylacteries on him and his eyes incessantly "focused upon God." During the following years in which he continued to practice asceticism and spiritual solitude while adhering to this behavior, he advanced in the stages of devekut. At the same time he was very active as the founder and spiritual leader of two groups (ḥavurot) of mystics and ascetics, called "ḥaverim makshivim" ("the hearkening companions") and "sukkat shalom" ("The tabernacle of peace"). In 1575 he drew up a "deed of association" with the members of (apparently) the first group for the purpose of spiritual partnership and cooperation. The partners undertook "not to relinquish the Law of God," to refrain from all worldly activity, commerce, and work, and to devote all their time to the study of the Torah and the worship of God. In another deed which they (or perhaps the members of the second group) drew up in 1588, the following rules are specified: unity of the group, love of people, not to judge anyone and to respect everyone; to accept the law of the Torah without reservations, to study it with fervor and to study the Mishnah; to constantly concentrate their thoughts on God and the *Shekhinah and to pray with zeal and awe. The members of both groups did not accept any public function and did not officiate as rabbis. They appeared in public only in order to exhort the people to repent. This was also Azikri's main, if not sole, purpose in his public activity which culminated in the authorship of his ethical-kabbalistic treatise Sefer Ḥaredim (Venice, 1601). This classic of ethical-kabbalistic literature, the composition of which was completed by Azikri in 1588, actually reflects the ethos and worldview of the two groups over which he presided. Thus it includes four of Azikri's poems which were recited by the members of the groups as love poems to God; the best known is the poem "Yedid Nefesh" ("Faithful friend"), called by him "prayer for union and the desire of love." This piyyut was accepted in all Jewish communities and is printed in the prayer book (Eng. tr. in jqr, 9 (1896/97), 290). Furthermore, the most important and influential part of Sefer Ḥaredim, the section called Divrei Kibbushin, is actually a compilation of chapters from Milei De-Shemaya, originally composed by Azikri as a collection of ethical-kabbalistic directives and rules of conduct toward God and fellow men for his personal use and the use of his companions in the two groups. In writing Sefer Ḥaredim Azikri probably saw the completion of his public activity and from 1578 until his death he retreated more and more into his seclusion and solitude with God. He only thought of means by which he would entrust to God his spirit and soul, and apparently in 1589 he drew up a "deed of association" with God, in the form of a legal document, the witnesses being Heaven and Earth. In it he totally subdued himself to God. In 1601 he died childless after a lifelong yearning for children (his two sons apparently died as young children at the beginning of 1573 or a little before that).

Azikri wrote:

(1) Comments on the Jerusalem Talmud; his commentary on tractate Berakhot was first printed together with the Zhitomir Jerusalem Talmud (1860); and since then in all editions (Bodleian Library, Ms. Mich. 199), and the commentary on Beẓah (New York, 1967) was completed in 1577.

(2) Commentary on the Babylonian Talmud. This was not printed, and only preliminary notes on certain subjects have survived. His comments on the tractate Nedarim, Peri Megadim, are in manuscript (Ms. Adler 74, fols. 28–58).

(3) A homiletic commentary on the Pentateuch (ibid.).

(4) Commentary on Lamentations (published under the title Kol Bokhim (Venice, 1589).

(5) A commentary, Ahasuerus Scroll, passages from which are found at the beginning of Ms. Adler 74.

(6) Milei de-Shemaya (ibid.; published and edited with introduction and notes by M. Pachter, Tel Aviv, 1991).

(7) Sefer Ḥaredim (Venice, 1601). This book had a wide circulation and was printed in over 27 editions. It was also abridged, and a commentary was added to it.

(8) Responsa (in responsa of Moses di Trani, 1 (1768), no. 235; Responsa of Joseph di Trani, 1 (1768), no. 17).

bibliography:

S. Lieberman, in: Sefer ha-Yovel… A. Marx (1950), 304–13; M. Benayahu, in: Sefer Yovel… Y. Baer (1961), 262; J. Franzos (ed.), Talmud Yerushalmi, Beẓah, with commentary by R. Eleazar Azikri (1967), introd.; M. Pachter (ed.), Milei de-Shemaya (1991), intro.

[Mordechai Pachter (2nd ed.)]