Eleazar ben Judah of Worms
Eleazar ben Judah of Worms
ELEAZAR BEN JUDAH OF WORMS
ELEAZAR BEN JUDAH OF WORMS (c. 1165–c. 1230), scholar in the fields of halakhah, theology, and exegesis in medieval Germany. Eleazar was the last major scholar of the Ḥasidei Ashkenaz movement (see *Ḥasidei Ashkenaz). Born in Mainz, he traveled and studied in many of the centers of learning in Germany and northern France. He spent most of his life in Worms. Eleazar was a member of the *Kalonymus family, one of the most important German-Jewish families of that period. His father *Judah b. Kalonymus, one of the leading scholars of his generation, taught his son both halakhah and esoteric theology. *Judah b. Samuel, he-Ḥasid ("the Pious"), the leading figure in the Ḥasidei Ashkenaz movement, to whom Eleazar was related, was, however, his main teacher in the latter field and R. Moses ha-Kohen and R. Eliezer of Metz were his most prominent teachers in halakhah. Eleazar witnessed and suffered personally from the new outburst of persecution of the Jews by the Crusaders at the end of the 12th and the beginning of the 13th century. On a number of occasions in his commentary on the prayers, one of his major works, he noted the events that befell Worms, especially during the persecutions that followed the fall of Jerusalem to Saladin. In one of these persecutions, Eleazar's wife, daughter, and son were murdered, and he was severely injured. Eleazar's wife was very active in the religious and cultural life of her community. It is reported that she led the women in prayer and even gave public lectures to the women on the Sabbath. This tragedy was described by him in detail both in a story and in a poem. His personal loss and the catastrophic situation in the Jewish communities in Germany explain his pessimistic outlook concerning the prospects of German Jewry. He felt that the German Jewry of his time was but a small remnant after the disasters of 1096 and the following years, and that this remnant was continually diminishing. He expressed this feeling in his introduction to the Sefer ha-Hokhmah ("Book of Wisdom"), which was written in 1217 after the death of Judah the Pious. He explained in this introduction that he felt compelled to put his knowledge into writing, since oral tradition was about to die out because of the deteriorating situation in Germany.
His works may be divided into five categories: halakhah, liturgical poetry (piyyutim), theology, ethics, and exegesis. Eleazar's halakhic book Sefer ha-Roke'aḥ (Fano, 1505; reissued several times) followed the tradition of halakhic works of the tosafists of northern France and Germany. The book was intended to educate the common reader in the details of halakhic law. Therefore, the author did not discuss at length exegetical studies of the talmudic passages, but rather explained the law and its talmudic basis. Unlike other halakhic works written by the tosafists, Eleazar also includes recommended minhagim in his work, material which is not strictly halakhic. He drew extensively on the writings of his German predecessors and quoted more than 40 scholars.
Eleazar wrote many piyyutim. However, a reliable record of them has not yet been compiled. Many of his piyyutim were attributed to other writers (also named Eleazar), and some attributed to him were probably written by other writers. His poems, written in the then-current Ashkenazi tradition, express devotion to, and worship of, God. At the same time, they protest to God because of Israel's sufferings, and express hope for Israel's redemption and revenge on her tormentors.
His major theological work was Sodei Razayya ("Secrets of Secrets"). Four parts of this work were printed, although most of what is extant is found only in manuscripts. The first part, a study of the creation (Sod Ma'aseh Bereshit), describes how the earth, stars, elements, etc., were created. Eleazar wrote this part of his work as an exegesis based on the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet. This was in accordance with his belief (derived from Sefer * Yezirah) that the alphabet, the word of God, was the source of existence. Eleazar included in this part ancient material from the Heikhalot and *Merkabah literature especially the Baraita de-Ma'aseh Bereshit and Shi'ur Komah. More than half of this part, the introduction and the letters Alef to Nun, was included in the Sefer*Razi'el (Amsterdam, 1701). The second part of the work, Sod ha-Merkavah ("Secret of the Divine Chariot"), deals with the secrets of the angels, the Holy Throne, the Chariot, the Divine Voice which speaks to the prophets, the Divine Glory revealed to them, and the ways of revelation and prophecy in general. Eleazar made use here of the teachings of *Saadiah Gaon, but also included long quotations from Heikhalot literature. Most of this part was printed by I. Kamelhar as Sodei Razayya (1936). The third and largest part Sefer ha-Shem ("The Book of the Holy Name") contains very little theological discussion; most of it is devoted to a systematic exegesis of the names of God, using all the exegetical and homiletical methods which were used by the Ḥasidim. Eleazar defined three layers in God's manifestation: (a) the Shekhinah or Kavod, which has shape and form so it may be seen by prophets, (b) the Borei, which has a faint shape, hears prayers, and performs miracles and wonders, (c) El Elyon, which has no shape or form. The fourth part is a treatise on psychology, Ḥokhmat ha-Nefesh (Lemberg, 1876). The main problem analyzed is the various ways by which a connection is established between the soul and the divine world. Parts of this work discuss other problems, e.g., the meaning of dreams, the fate of the soul after death, etc. The fifth and last part of the work is a commentary on Sefer Yeẓirah (Przemysl, 1883) and contains detailed instructions for the creation of a *golem. Eleazar wrote one other important theological work, Sefer ha-Ḥokhmah, in which he described the various fields of theological study, as well as the methods used in this study. A major part of this work is concerned with exegesis of Holy Names.
Eleazar's main contribution to Ḥasidei Ashkenaz ethical literature is contained in the first two chapters of Roke'aḥ. In the first he discusses the central values of this Ḥasidism (love and fear of God, prayer, humility, etc.). In the second, he describes in detail the ways of repentance. A discussion of the value of ḥasidic ethics is also found in Eleazar's introduction to Sodei Razayya.
Eleazar wrote many exegetical works, some of which have yet to be printed, and probably quite a few are now lost. His short commentary on the Torah, another on the Passover Haggadah, and a few short commentaries on various piyyutim (e.g., Ha-Adderet ve-ha-Emunah and Ha-Oḥez ba-Yad) are extant. Eleazar's biblical commentaries have recently been published with annotations (Bene-Berak, 1985, 1988, and 2001; Los Angeles, 2004). *Abraham b. Azriel, his pupil who wrote the Arugat ha-Bosem, used his teacher's exegetical works extensively. Eleazar's major work in this field, extant in several manuscripts (Vienna 108, Oxford 1204), is the commentary on the prayers. In this work, he comments on every part of the usual and special prayers. He uses three methods in his commentary: explanation of the content; theological interpretation; and research for its hidden harmony with other parts of sacred literature by use of gematriot. This important work was edited and published by Hershler (2 vols., Jerusalem 1992). Dozens of other short treatises by him or attributed to him are scattered through manuscript libraries, and no exhaustive bibliographical study has yet been made which could describe the vast variety of his work. It seems that not one of Eleazar's pupils was able to continue his work, especially in the field of esoteric theology. His best-known disciples, Abraham b. Azriel and *Isaac of Vienna, dedicated their literary efforts to other fields.
In common with other Ḥasidei Ashkenaz, Eleazar became a legendary hero. According to a 13th-century story, Eleazar used a cloud to travel from place to place, especially when going to far-away circumcision ceremonies. As a pietist, his writings reflect a shift in emphasis away from the social-religious programs of Judah b. Samuel he-Ḥasid to a more personalized, individual pietism. He was regarded as one of the early sages of secret lore, and in later centuries many ideas and works were attributed to him.
I. Kamelhar, Rabbeinu Eleazar mi-Germaiza (1930); Urbach, Tosafot, 321–41; idem (ed.), Arugat ha-Bosem, 4 (1963), 100–16; V. Aptowitzer, Mavo le-Sefer Ravyah (1938), 316–18; Scholem, Mysticism, 80–118; idem, Ursprung und Anfaenge der Kabbala (1962), passim; idem, On the Kabbalah and its Symbolism (1965), 171–93; idem, Von der mystischen Gestalt der Gottheit (1962), 259–65; A. Altmann, in: jjs, 11 (1960), 101–13; J. Dan, in: Zion, 29 (1964), 168–81; idem, in: ks, 41 (1965/66), 533–44. Add. Bibliography: J. Dan, Jewish Mysticism, vol. 2 (1999); A. Kurt, in: Jewish Studies in a New Europe (1994), 462–71; E. Wolfson, in: jqr, 84:1 (1993), 43–77; L. Jacobs, Jewish Mystical Testimonies (1977); D. Abrams, in: Daat, 34 (1934), 61–81; idem, in: Jewish Studies Quarterly, 5 (1998) 329–45; I. Marcus, Piety and Society: The Jewish Pietists of Medieval Germany (1981); idem, in: History of Jewish Spirituality (1986), 356–66; A. Farber-Ginat and D. Abrams, Perushei ha-Merkavah le-Rabbi Eleazar mi-Worms u-le-Rabbi Ya'akov ben Ya'akov ha-Kohen (2004).