Ḥalfan, Elijah Menahem

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ḤALFAN, ELIJAH MENAHEM (16th century), Italian physician, rabbi, and kabbalist. Elijah was the son of the astronomer Abba Mari Ḥalfan and grandson of Joseph *Colon. He was one of the Italian rabbis approached to express his view of Henry viii's divorce from Catherine of Aragon, on which he gave an affirmative opinion. He was also a supporter of Solomon *Molcho. Both these facts aroused the opposition of the physician Jacob *Mantino who feared that the close relationship with the English king as well as with the messianic agitation of Molcho would render the pope unfavorably disposed toward the Jews. Ḥalfan wrote responsa (including one in which he favored instructing non-Jews in the Torah; Ms. Kaufmann, no. 156:1 from 1545) and Hebrew poems (several verses are extant in Ms.; Neubauer, Cat, no. 948: 1, 6). In a halakhic decision dated 1550, Elijah's name appears together with that of Meir Katzenellenbogen of Padua among others (Resp. Rema 56). He owned a valuable library in Venice, a catalog of which was published by A.Z. Schwarz (Die Hebraeischen Handschriften der Nationalbibliothek in Wien (1925), 145ff.).

An important epistle has been preserved in Ms. New York, jts 1822, where Halfan describes the history of Kabbalah and the openness to this lore among Christians in the Renaissance. He envisioned this openness as a sign of messianism.


Carmoly, in: Revue Orientale, 2 (1842), 133f.; K. Lieben, Gal Ed (1856), German section, 171 no. 168, Hebrew section, xlv no. 17; Michael, Or, no. 394; Kaufmann, in: jqr, 9 (1896/97), 500–8; idem, in: rej, 27 (1893), 51–58; Vogelstein-Rieger, 2 (1895), 51–53; U. Cassuto, Gli Ebrei a Firenze (1918), 272; A.Z. Aescoly, Ha-Tenu'ot ha-Meshiḥiyyot be-Yisrael (1956), 271–3; Tishby, in: Perakim, 1 (1967–68), 135–7. add. bibliography: M. Idel, "The Magical and Neoplatonic Interpretations of Kabbalah in the Renaissance," in: B.D. Cooperman (ed.), Jewish Thought in the Sixteenth Century (1983), 186–89.

[Umberto (Moses David) Cassuto]