Elijah ben Solomon Abraham Ha-Kohen of Smyrna

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ELIJAH BEN SOLOMON ABRAHAM HA-KOHEN OF SMYRNA (d. 1729), one of the outstanding preachers of his time. Born in Smyrna, Elijah spent most of his life there as a preacher, dayyan, and rabbi. Elijah came from a family of rabbis and writers; his grandfather, R. Michael ha-Kohen, wrote exegetical works on the Torah, and his uncle, R. Isaac ha-Kohen, was also a writer. His father, Abraham Solomon ha-Kohen, one of the rabbis of Smyrna, is known for his involvement in the rescue of Jews who had been taken captive. It would seem that he was also a scholar, as Elijah often quotes him.

Elijah was a prolific writer; about 30 of his works are extant, some in print, others in manuscript; his lost works are known only from references to them in his own writings. The following are among his extant works:

(1) Shevet Musar (Constantinople, 1712, and many subsequent editions), one of the most popular Hebrew works in the fields of ethics and homiletics, also translated into Yiddish. This work consists of 52 sermons, corresponding to the weekly Torah portions and to the numerical value of his Hebrew name, "Eliyahu."

(2) Me'il Ẓedakah (Smyrna, 1731), an ethical work dealing with the question of charity.

(3) Midrash ha-Ittamari (Constantinople, 1695; Salonica, 1725), a homiletical work consisting of sermons on various subjects, many of them ethical (e.g., charity and repentance). Because of this work, Elijah became known in Hebrew literature as Elijah ha-Kohen ha-Ittamari.

(4) Midrash Talpiyyot, novellae on various subjects, collected, according to the author, from the 300 books listed in the preface. Only the first half of this work, arranged in alphabetical order, was printed (Smyrna, 1736).

(5) Minḥat Eliyahu (Salonika, 1824), 33 sermons, or chapters on ethical subjects.

The rest of his works includes several other ethical-homiletical collections, commentaries on Psalms, on other parts of the Bible, on Pirkei Avot, the 613 commandments, prayers, rabbinical sayings related to the various Torah portions, and on the aggadot of the Jerusalem Talmud. In addition, Elijah wrote several responsa, some to questions sent from far away. It is possible that he also dabbled in magic; many legends, which can be found in Ladino folktales, were related about him.

The teaching of ethical behavior, however, was Elijah's main purpose. He made extensive use of the vast ethical literature of the Middle Ages, both early and late – from Sefer Ḥasidim to the Shenei Luḥot ha-Berit, by Isaiah ha-Levi Horowitz. In the sermons, ethical writings, and exegetical works, he also used kabbalistic literature, in which he was well versed. Later writers of homiletics and ethics, the author of the famous Ḥemdat Yamim, for example, made use of his works.

Social problems are a basic concern in his thought. The social and economic gap between rich and poor disturbed him, and some of his sermons are devoted to the question of theodicy: Elijah dwells at length upon the heavenly rewards of the poor and the just after death while vividly describing the horrible punishment awaiting the wicked. His preaching displays a strongly negative attitude toward the benefits derived from this world, and his listeners are asked to renounce all its joys, even purposely to take suffering and hardship upon themselves.

A considerable portion of Elijah's sermons deals with messianic subjects. G. Scholem – through the aid of historical documents and theological analysis of some of Elijah's works – proved that in fact he was a Shabbatean, although not one of the extremists. He probably adhered to its theology as expounded by Abraham *Cardoso. It is possible that late in his life Elijah became detached from this movement, but he did not delete the Shabbatean portions from his earlier works.


Steinschneider, Cat Bod, 932; Michael, Or, 188–90; M. Wunderbar, in: Literaturblatt des Orients, 37 (1847), 579; A. Jellinek (ed.), Beit ha-Midrash, 1 (19382), 16; Rosanes, Togarmah, 6 (1945), 291; Zinberg, Sifrut, 5 (1960), 196–200; S. Werses, in: Yavneh, 2 (1940), 156–73; G. Scholem, in: Sefer ha-Yovel Alexander Marx (1950), 451–70.