Azulai, Abraham ben Mordecai

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AZULAI, ABRAHAM BEN MORDECAI (c. 1570–1643), kabbalist. Azulai, who was born in Fez, first mastered the study of the Talmud and philosophic literature and then Kabbalah. He did not agree with the interpretations of the Zohar which his teachers provided, and he did not really enter this subject until he obtained Moses *Cordovero's Pardes Rimmonim. Thereafter, he was preoccupied with the question of the relation between Kabbalah and philosophy, until he forsook philosophy and dedicated himself entirely to Kabbalah. He decided to go to the center of kabbalism in Ereẓ Israel, but did not realize his wish until after he had lost all his wealth during the anti-Jewish persecutions in Morocco (1610–13). He drifted between Hebron, Jerusalem, and Gaza during the epidemic of 1619, and finally settled in Hebron where kabbalists from Safed had congregated and where he found all the books of Cordovero and the majority of Isaac *Luria's works in Ḥayyim *Vital's version. R. Eliezer b. Arḥa became his friend there.

Azulai's numerous writings were not published during his lifetime. Those books he had written while still in Fez, were lost at sea. He wrote three treatises on the Zohar: (1) Or ha-Levanah ("The Light of the Moon"), annotations and textual corrections based sometimes on conjecture and sometimes on early manuscripts (1899); (2) Or ha-Ḥammah ("The Light of the Sun"), a complete commentary on the Zohar (completed 1619 and published 1896–98), based mainly on Cordovero's book and also on Luria's commentary, and on a commentary on the Zohar by Ḥayyim Vital written before he knew Luria, and marginal notes on the Zohar by an unknown author. Azulai abbreviated Cordovero's phraseology; occasionally he quoted statements by Cordovero and added his own interpretations. The result is a comprehensive and important commentary to the Zohar; (3) Or ha-Ganuz ("The Hidden Light"), an explanation of the profound expressions in the Zohar, which was never published. To these three works he gave the all-inclusive title Kiryat Arba, alluding to the four above-mentioned commentators and the city of Hebron. In 1622, Azulai abridged R. Abraham *Galante's (Cordovero's disciple) commentary on the Zohar, Yare'aḥ Yakar, under the title Zoharei Ḥammah (Gen., 1655; Ex., 1882). His book Ḥesed le-Avraham (Amsterdam, 1685) is devoted to a thorough analysis of the principles of the Kabbalah in the spirit of Cordovero with his own and Luria's additions, as well as to a refutation of the arguments of the philosophers.

Azulai adhered to Lurianic kabbalism and believed that it superseded Cordovero's system. He reedited the Lurianic Sefer ha-Kavvanot ("The Book of Intentions") and wrote two books based on it: Kenaf Renanim and Ma'aseh Ḥoshev (1621/2; in Mss.). He also wrote a commentary on the Bible in a somewhat mystical style, entitled Ba'alei Berit Avraham (1873), and a commentary on the Mishnah, Ahavah be-Ta'anugim, in manuscripts. The part on Avot was printed in Jerusalem, 1910.


G. Scholem, Kitvei Yad ba-Kabbalah (1930), 144; M. Benayahu (ed.), Aggadot Zacut (1955), 151–2; M. Benayahu, Rabbi Ḥ.J.D. Azulai, (Heb, 1959), 275–7.