Botarel, Moses ben Isaac

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BOTAREL, MOSES BEN ISAAC (end of 14th–beginning of 15th century), Spanish scholar. After the edicts against Spanish Jewry in 1391, a pseudo-messiah named Moses appeared in Burgos. A letter extravagantly praising this Moses is attributed to Ḥasdai *Crescas; it probably refers to Moses Botarel (A. Jellinek, Beit ha-Midrash, 6 (1877), 141–3). There are extant works containing the adverse reactions of opponents to his messianic pretensions. On the strength of his claims, he circulated letters which he introduced with the phrase "Thus says Moses Botarel, occupying the seat of instruction in signs and wonders." Botarel wrote books and pamphlets in every branch of the Torah, halakhah, Kabbalah, and philosophy. These works included many "quotations" of scholarly works from the geonic period until his day, but most of his quotations were either spurious or copied from sources entirely different from those which he named. His reasons for this form of pseudepigraphy are unclear. Certainly it did not stem from a desire to enhance the status of kabbalism for he treated purely halakhic material in the same way. Botarel lived for a long time in Avignon, and afterward wandered in France and in Spain. He used to boast of his contact with the Christian scholar Maestro Juan of Paris, insinuating that at the request of the latter he had written a number of his books. His vanity about his achievements was limitless and reached pathological proportions. In 1409 he composed a lengthy commentary on the Sefer Yeẓirah, which was printed in its 1562 edition. His commentary was not kabbalistic, but combined an eclectic miscellany of the sayings of others, mainly fabrications, superficial in content, with selections from earlier kabbalistic works here attributed to nonexistent sources. Apart from a pronounced bent toward practical Kabbalah, there is a marked tendency to reconcile Kabbalah with philosophy.

Two other pamphlets on halakhah were published by S. Assaf and J. Sussmann. A treatise of similar type on philosophical matters is found in manuscript (Vatican Ms. 441, fols. 175–9). An essay on the mystical interpretation of vocalization (nekuddot) and related lore is in manuscript in Oxford (Neubauer, Cat, no. 1947). Part of another kabbalistic work of 1407 is in manuscript Musaioff, and a collection of writings on practical Kabbalah (subsequently entitled Ma'yan ha-Ḥokhmah or Ma'gelei Yosher) is in manuscript in the Jewish Theological Seminary, New York.

Many of his kabbalistic remedies are included in collections of writings of practical Kabbalah. The contemporary poet Solomon *Bonafed sharply attacked Botarel's pretensions and falsehoods, and hinted at his literary forgeries (Neubauer, Cat, no. 1984, 4, fol. 66). His fabrications have also misled some scholars who assumed that they were genuine, and utilized them to reconstruct the origins of Kabbalah.


A. Jellinek, Beitraege zur Geschichte der Kabbala, 2 (1852), 1–10, 79; Steinschneider, Cat Bod, nos. 6440–41; Assaf, Tekufat ha-Ge'onim ve-Sifrutah (1955), 323–40; G. Scholem, in: Tarbiz, 32 (1962/63), 260–2; Sussmann, in Koveẓ al Yad, 6 (1966), 269–342; L. Schwager and D. Fraenkel, Catalog (1942), list 35, p. 95; A. Aescoly, Ha-Tenu'ot ha-Meshiḥiyyot be-Yisrael, 1 (1956), 222ff.

[Gershom Scholem]