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Benamozegh, Elijah ben Abraham


BENAMOZEGH, ELIJAH BEN ABRAHAM (1822–1900), Italian rabbi and kabbalist. Benamozegh was born in Livorno (Leghorn) of Moroccan parents. His father died when he was three years old and his Jewish education was seen to by his mother's brother, the kabbalist Judah Coriat. Destined for a commercial career, Benamozegh soon revealed extraordinary intellectual ability and from 1846 could devote himself entirely to study. He served as a preacher at the synagogue of Livorno, as a professor of theology in the rabbinical school of the city, and as a member of the local rabbinical court. He also founded a printing house for Jewish religious books. Benamozegh's intellectual energy was directed mainly to the defense of the Kabbalah, and he may be considered the last important kabbalist in Italy. He considered the Kabbalah as a genuine part of Jewish dogma, paralleling the tradition of the Oral Law. Hostile to Ḥasidism (which he saw as a superstitious degradation of pure Jewish theology), Benamozegh tried to show the affinities between Kabbalah and philosophy (as had a century before another kabbalist from Livorno, Joseph *Ergas), arguing that the former took precedence. Embracing Eastern and Western elements, the will to both unity and to multiplicity, the Kabbalah could moreover represent a solution to the religious crisis of modern Europe. Benamozegh wrote numerous books and articles in Hebrew, Italian, and French. Among his works are (1) Exegesis: Ner le-David (1858), a commentary on Psalms; Em la-Mikra (1862–65), a commentary on the Pentateuch in five volumes incorporating the findings of comparative philology, archaeology, and ancient history, in which the influence of the Italian philosopher G. Vico is particularly prominent. This commentary was condemned by the rabbis of Aleppo and Jerusalem, who attacked it for being too open to "external sciences" and to mythology; (2) Theology: Spinoza et la kabbale (1864), on the possible kabbalistic origins of Spinoza's thought; Teologia dogmatica e apologetica (1877), in which Benamozegh starts to build a comprehensive Jewish theology based on the Kabbalah. Benamozegh saw in Hegel's philosophy the most dangerous enemy of a religious philosophy and considered the thought of the Catholic V. Gioberti a powerful weapon in the fight against "modern pantheism," i.e. German idealism; Israël et l'Humanité (revised and published postumously in 1914 by his Christian disciple Aimé Pallière; Israel ve-ha-Enoshut (1967; Israel and Humanity, 1994), on the universal potential of Judaism. (3) Apologetics: Ta'am le-Shad (1863), a refutation of Samuel David *Luzzatto's Vikku'ah al Ḥokhmat ha-Kabbalah, in which Luzzatto denied the antiquity of the Zohar and the theological interest of Kabbalah; Morale juive et morale chrétienne (1867; Jewish and Christian Ethics, 1873; Bi-Shevilei Musar, 1966), on the superiority of Jewish ethics, which concerns itself with the political sphere while Christian ethics sees ascetism as its supreme value. In the second part of this work, L'origine des dogmes chrétiens, Benamozegh tries to show that Christianity derives from an incorrect interpretation of Kabbalah. (4) History: Storia degli Esseni (1865), a collection of lectures on the *Essenes, seen as the forerunners of the kabbalists.


G. Lattes, Vita e opere di Elia Benamozegh (1901). add bibliography: D. Lattes, "Ani Ma'amin shel Filosof Yehudi: heḤakham Elijah Benamozegh" (1943); Y. Colombo, "Il dibattito tra Luzzatto e Benamozegh intorno alla Kabbalà," in: rmi, 8 (1934), 471–97, 32 (1966), 179–204; M. Idel, "Al ha-Kabbalah eẓel ha-Rav Elijah Benamozegh," in: Peʿamim 74 (1998), 87–96; A. Guetta, Philosophie et Cabbale. Essai sur la pensée d'Elijah Benamozegh. (1998), with bibliography; idem (ed.), Per Elijah Benamozegh (2000); L. Amoroso, Scintille ebraiche (2004), 85–151.

[Alessandro Guetta (2nd ed.)]

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