Ergas, Joseph ben Emanuel

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ERGAS, JOSEPH BEN EMANUEL (1685–1730), rabbi, kabbalist, and author of books on halakhic and kabbalistic matters. Ergas, who was of Marrano descent, was born in Leghorn. The headdress of a knight engraved on his tomb in Leghorn perhaps indicates descent from a noble Spanish family. Samuel of Fez was his teacher of halakhah and *Benjamin ha-Kohen Vitale of Reggio taught him Kabbalah. As a young man, he traveled throughout Italy and preached public sermons, urging repentance. For a while he stayed in Pisa where he founded a yeshivah, Neveh Shalom. Later, he was appointed rabbi in Leghorn, and remained there until his death. Ergas became famous for his pamphlet Tokhaḥat Megullah, the polemic against the Shabbatean Nehemiah *Hayon, and an addition to it called Ha-Ẓad Naḥash (London, 1715). His kabbalistic works include Shomer Emunim (Amsterdam, 1736), in which he explains the principles of the Kabbalah in the form of a dialogue between Shaltiel, who believes only in the revealed Torah, and Jehoiada, the victor in this argument, who believes also in the esoteric aspect of the Torah; Shomer Emunim includes Mevo Petaḥim, an appendix to the former, a selection from *Luria's doctrine, and an introduction to the Kabbalah, and Minḥat Yosef, an ethical-religious anthology and the rules for the study of the kabbalistic doctrines. A selection of his responsa was published by his disciple Malachi Ha-Kohen as Divrei Yosef (Leghorn, 1742). The publisher's introduction mentions several piyyutim written by Ergas. Ergas was an enthusiastic believer in the importance and sanctity of the Kabbalah in general and of the *Zohar in particular, despite his view that marginal annotations had been introduced into the proper text of the Zohar. He opposed philosophy, which he considered alien to Judaism and an invention of heretics. He opposed *Maimonides' explanations of the stories of the Creation and the visions of Ezekiel in the spirit of Aristotle's natural philosophy. Ergas' style is distinguished by its clarity.

Ergas' Kabbalah evinces affinities with that of Moses Ḥayyim *Luzzatto, and tension over this issue developed between the two kabbalists.


Joseph ben Emanuel Ergas, Shomer Emunim, ed. by S.A. Horodezky (repr. 1927), introd. add. bibliography: R. Goetschel, "La justification de la kabbale dans le 'Shômer Emûnîm' of Joseph Ergas (1685–1730)," in: U. Haxen, H. Trautner-Kromann, and K.L. Goldschmidt Salamon (eds.), Jewish Studies in a New Europe; Proceedings of the Fifth Congress of Jewish Studies in Copenhagen (1994), 269–81.

[Azriel Shochat]