Azulai, Ḥayyim Joseph David

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AZULAI, ḤAYYIM JOSEPH DAVID (known by his Hebrew acronym Ḥida, Ḥayyim Yoseph David Azulai ; 1724–1806), halakhist, kabbalist, emissary, and bibliographer. Azulai was born in Jerusalem; he was descended on his father's side from a prominent family of rabbis and kabbalists from Spain while his mother was a daughter of Joseph Bialer who had gone to Ereẓ Israel with *Judah Ḥasid in 1770. He studied under some of the outstanding Jewish scholars of his age including Jonah *Navon, Isaac ha-Kohen *Rapoport, and Ḥayyim ibn *Attar. Azulai attained early eminence in Jewish studies and was regarded by the Jewry of the Ottoman Empire and of Italy as the leading scholar of his generation. He was highly esteemed, too, by the Jews of Germany, especially after the publication of his works.

Possessed of great intellectual powers and many-faceted talents, he combined a religious and mystical ardor with an insatiable intellectual curiosity. Added to these were critical ability, a facile pen, and a boundless capacity for work. He spent most of his active years traveling abroad as an emissary of the communities of Ereẓ Israel for the collection of funds for the upkeep of the academies and scholars. Between 1753 and 1758 he visited Italy, Germany, Holland, France, and England as shali'aḥ of the Hebron Yeshivah. During these travels he refused the call to become ḥakham of the Sephardim in Amsterdam. On his return to Jerusalem, where he remained for some seven years, he served as dayyan and engaged in communal activities. He also became a member of Shalom *Sharabi's esoteric group of kabbalists, Ahavat Shalom. He left Ereẓ Israel again in 1764, having been delegated to travel to Constantinople to intercede on behalf of the scholars in their disputes with the communal leaders, but learning en route that the communal leaders had triumphed in the dispute and of the consequent futility of his proceeding on his mission, he remained in Cairo where he served briefly as rabbi. Azulai returned in 1769 and settled in Hebron where he was held in high esteem. In 1772 he again went abroad as the emissary of Hebron, this time devoting most of his efforts to Italy where, on his earlier visit, he had gained many admirers. Having sent a large sum of money to Hebron which relieved the financial difficulties of its community, he ended his mission in 1778 in Leghorn, where he spent the rest of his life.

During his highly successful missions, Azulai earned a great reputation for his involvement in communal activities. Once, when he was taken to the court of Versailles, he attracted royal attention through his striking appearance. At Leghorn, for his annual discourse, the streets were crowded with admirers who wished to catch a glimpse of his person. Azulai devoted himself, however, also to writing, study, and research. He exchanged views with Jewish as well as non-Jewish scholars and investigated scholarly literature. Everywhere he went he visited libraries, both private and public, and noted down their rarities, both in early printed books and also in manuscripts, almost as Moritz *Steinschneider, the father of Jewish scientific bibliography, was to do in the following century.

In his literary diary Maʿagal Tov (Good Path) which covers the years 1753–78, with some later jottings (full ed. by A. Freimann, 1921–34), he entered every idea and novel thought in the field of Jewish scholarship, history, and folklore which occurred to him on his travels. This diary is an invaluable source of information regarding not only his own experiences but also the circumstances, personalities, and bibliographical treasures of the places which Azulai visited, in particular in Italy, Holland, and France. From this diary he later drew the material for his numerous works on a variety of subjects to which he devoted the latter part of his life. His chief claims to fame as a halakhist rest on his glosses to the Shulḥan Arukh, contained in his Birkei Yosef (1774), Maḥazik Berakhah (1785), and Shiyyurei Berakhah (1771–76), which complemented Ḥayyim *Benveniste's Keneset ha-Gedolah with citations from later halakhic works and from numerous manuscripts. In his books Va'ad la-Ḥakhamim (1796) and Shem ha-Gedolim (1, 1774; 2, 1786; scholarly ed., 1853), Azulai followed in the footsteps of Shabbetai *Bass, adding 1,300 bibliographical references to the approximately 2,200 already contained in the Siftei Yeshenim.

Azulai seems to have been the first Hebrew writer to be interested in collecting Jewish folk-stories in a systematic way. In his Zikhron Ma'asiyyot ve-Nissim he listed hundreds of these; in most cases he wrote down only a detail or two, to identify them, whereas less famous stories were given in greater detail or in full.

Many stories were related of the wonders and miracles Azulai performed. Pilgrimages were made to his tomb at Leghorn until, some 150 years after his death, in 1960, his remains were reinterred in Jerusalem.


Toaff, in: L. Jung (ed.), Guardians of Our Heritage (1958), 155–64; M. Benayahu, R. Ḥayyim Yosef David Azulai (1959); idem (ed.), Sefer ha-Ḥida (1959); idem, Ha-Ḥida (1960); ks, 35 (1959–60), 285–9, nos. 1612, 1616; Yaari, Sheluḥei.

[Moshe Shraga Samet]