Ḥayon, Nehemiah Ḥiyya ben Moses

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ḤAYON, NEHEMIAH ḤIYYA BEN MOSES (c. 1655–c. 1730), kabbalist with Shabbatean tendencies. Because of the bitter dispute which centered around Ḥayon, the information about his life is full of contradictions and must be sifted critically. His ancestors came from Sarajevo, Bosnia. From there, his father moved to Ereẓ Israel after spending several years in Egypt where, according to his own testimony, Ḥayon was born. As a child, he was taken to Jerusalem, grew up in Shechem (Nablus) and in Jerusalem, and studied under Ḥayyim Abulafia. At the age of 18 he returned to Sarajevo with his father and married there. His enemies claimed that from that time on he was known for his adventures. He traveled widely throughout the Balkans and spent several years in Belgrade until its occupation by Austria in 1688. He may have joined his father as an emissary to Italy for the ransoming of captives from Belgrade. According to the testimony of Judah Brieli, Ḥayon was in Leghorn in 1691. Later he served for a short time in the rabbinate of Skoplje (Üsküb), Macedonia, at the recommendation of one of the great rabbis of Salonika.

He returned to Ereẓ Israel c. 1695 and lived for several years in Shechem (Nablus). After his first wife's death, Ḥayon married the daughter of one of the scholars of Safed. Ḥayon was well versed in exoteric and esoteric lore. From his youth, he was attracted to Kabbalah and he knew the Shabbatean groups intimately. His kabbalistic doctrine evades the issue of Shabbetai Ẓevi's messianic claims, but is based on principles common to Shabbateanism. When Ḥayon received the pamphlet Raza de-Meheimanuta ("The Mystery of the True Faith"), attributed to Shabbetai ẓevi by his sectarians, he claimed that he himself wrote it and that it was revealed to him by Elijah or by the angel *Metatron. Changing its name to Meheimanuta de-Khula he began to write a detailed commentary. In the meanwhile, he lived briefly in Rosetta, Egypt, and from that time he became known as one who engaged in practical Kabbalah. When he returned to Jerusalem (c. 1702–05), hostility developed between him and R. Abraham Yiẓḥaki who for several years leveled many accusations against Ḥayon (but never directly accused him of Shabbateanism). Later, he returned to Safed and from there he went to Smyrna, apparently intending to publish his long commentary to Meheimanuta de-Khula and to find supporters for a yeshivah, which he wished to establish in Jerusalem. On his return to Jerusalem, the rabbis began to harass him and he was forced to leave Ereẓ Israel. He went to Italy via Egypt (1710–11). According to the testimony of Joseph *Ergas, in Leghorn, Ḥayon disclosed to him his belief in Shabbetai Ẓevi. In 1711, in Venice, he published his small book Raza de-Yiḥuda on the meaning of the verse on the unity of God, Shema Yisrael, as an abridgment of his larger work to which he added, in the meantime, a second commentary. The rabbis of Venice gave approbations to this booklet without understanding its intent. The book did not arouse controversy. Later, Ḥayon moved to Prague where he was received with great honor in scholarly circles and gained approval for Oz le-Elohim, his main work, and Divrei Neḥemyah, a book of sermons. David Oppenheim approbated Divrei Neḥemyah and Ḥayon altered the approbation to include the kabbalistic Oz le-Elohim as well. R. Naphtali Cohen, who at first befriended Ḥayon, kept him at a distance after a rumor got about that connected him with the *Doenmeh in Salonika. Ḥayon traveled via Moravia and Silesia to Berlin where, in 1713, supported by the wealthy members of the community, he succeeded in publishing Oz le-Elohim. It was daring of Ḥayon to publish a text which in many manuscripts was circulated then as a work of Shabbetai Ẓevi. With great acumen, he tried to prove in his two commentaries that this doctrine was firmly based in the classical texts of the Kabbalah. In some passages, he criticized the works of *Nathan of Gaza and Abraham Miguel *Cardozo, in spite of his doctrine being basically close to Cardozo's. Ḥayon's innovations were a new formulation of the principles of the beginning of Emanation and the difference between the First Cause which he calls "Nishmata de-Kol Ḥayyei" ("Soul of All Living Beings") and the *Ein-Sof ("The Infinite Being"). What the kabbalists call Ein-Sof is in his opinion only the extension of the Essence (of God) or the Shoresh ha-Ne'lam ("the Hidden Root," i.e., God), but paradoxically enough this Essence is finite and it possesses a definite structure, *Shi'ur Komah ("Measure of the Body of God"). Ḥayon thought that Isaac Luria's doctrine of Ẓimẓum ("withdrawal") must be understood literally and not allegorically. His doctrine of the three superior parẓufim ("aspects of God"), attika kaddisha, malka kaddisha, and Shekhinah, differs from the theories of other Shabbateans only in details and in terminology. His book may by defined as a strange mixture of basically Shabbatean theology and exegetical acumen by which he read the new theses into the *Zohar and the Lurianic writings. He prefaced his book with a long essay in which he argued, apparently hinting at the unorthodox sources of his thought, that it is lawful to learn Kabbalah from everyone, not only from those who conform to traditional Orthodox criteria. Divrei Neḥemyah contained a long sermon in which it was possible to see an indirect defense of the apostasy of the Doenmeh sect in Salonika, but which could also be interpreted as criticism of them. In June 1713 Ḥayon left Berlin for Amsterdam. Apparently he knew of the hidden Shabbatean tendency of Solomon *Ayllon, rabbi of the Sephardi congregation. Indeed, Ḥayon received the patronage of Ayllon, his bet din, and the parnasim of the community. However, a bitter and complex struggle developed between the supporters of Ḥayon and those of Ẓevi *Ashkenazi, the rabbi of the Ashkenazi community, and of Moses *Ḥagiz who knew of Ḥayon's early quarrels in Ereẓ Israel and recognized the Shabbatean "heresy" in his opinions, when they investigated his book. In this controversy, relevant factors (the true views of Ḥayon and his Shabbateanism) and personal factors (the arrogant behavior of Ẓevi Ashkenazi, personal antagonisms) are mingled. Essentially, the accusers of Ḥayon were right but from a formal and procedural point of view the Sephardi bet din was right. The quarrel aroused strong emotions, at first in Amsterdam, in the summer and the winter of 1713, and it swiftly spread to other countries. Naphtali Cohen apologized for his previous approval of Ḥayon and excommunicated him. So did Italian rabbis to whom both sides turned for support. The leaders were Judah Brieli of Mantua and Samson Morpurgo of Ancona. Most of the participants in the controversy had not actually seen the books of Ḥayon and depended only on the letters from both sides. The major pamphlets against Ḥayon are: Le-Einei Kol Yisrael (the judicial decision of Ẓevi Ashkenazi and letters from him and from Naphtali Cohen; Amsterdam, 1713); Edut le-Yisrael (ibid., 1714); works by Moses Ḥagiz including Milhamah la-Adonai ve-Ḥerev la-Adonai, also including the letters of many Italian rabbis (Amsterdam, 1714); Shever Poshe'im (London, 1714); Iggeret ha-Kena'ot (Berlin, 1714); Tokḥahat Megullah ve-ha-Ẓad Naḥash by Joseph Ergas (London, 1715); and Esh Dat by David Nieto (London, 1715). This book and several leaflets also appeared in Spanish. The bet din of the Sephardim published in Hebrew and in Spanish Kosht Imrei Emet (Amsterdam, 1713; in Spanish, Manifesto). Ḥayon answered his critics in several books and pamphlets in which he defended his views but denied that they contain any Shabbatean doctrine. They include Ha-Ẓad Ẓevi Ashkenazi; (Amsterdam, 1714); Moda'a Rabba (1714, including his biography); Shalhevet Yah (against Ergas), also including the pamphlets Pitkah min Shemaya, Ketovet Ka'aka, and Iggeret Shevukin (1714). His polemics against Ergas' Ha-Ẓad Naḥash, called Naḥash Neḥoshet, is found in Ḥayon's handwriting (Oxford, Ms. 1900). Because of the controversy he had aroused, Ḥayon did not succeed in publishing his second comprehensive work on Kabbalah, Sefer Ta'aẓumot. A complete manuscript of the work is preserved in the library of the bet din, formerly that of the bet ha-midrash, in London (62).

Ẓevi Ashkenazi and Moses Ḥagiz were forced to leave Amsterdam. However, the intervention of the rabbis of Smyrna and Constantinople, who excommunicated Ḥayon and condemned his works in 1714, decided the struggle against Ḥayon, whose supporters advised him to return to Turkey in order to obtain the annulment of the excommunication. Ḥayon returned and attempted to achieve this but he succeeded only partially. In his old age, he went back to Europe where in the pamphlet Ha-Kolot Yeḥdalun (1725) he published some documents in his favor. His journey was unsuccessful because Moses Ḥagiz again came out against him in the booklet Leḥishat Saraf (Hanau, 1726) where he threw suspicion on several of the documents, or on the circumstances under which they were signed. Most of the communities did not allow him access and even Ayllon refused to receive him in Amsterdam. Ḥayon wandered to North Africa and apparently died there before 1730. According to Ḥagiz, his son converted to Catholicism in order to take revenge on his father's persecutors and was active in Italy.


Graetz, Hist, 5 (1949), 215–31; D. Kahana (Kogan), Toledot ha-Mekubbalim, Shabbeta'im, ve-ha-Ḥasidim (1913), 123–7; Kauffmann, in: Ha-Ḥoker, 2 (1894), 11–15; Scholem, in: Zion, 3 (1929), 172–9; Sonne, in: Kobez al jad, 2 (1937), 157–96; Herling, in: Amanah, 1 (1939), 259–74; idem, in: ks, 15 (1939), 130–5; Kahana, in: Sinai, 21 (1947), 328–34; A. Freimann (ed.), Inyanei Shabbetai Ẓevi (1912), 117–38; Friedmann, in: Sefunot, 10 (1966) 489–618; Levi, in: ri, 8 (1911), 169–85; 9 (1912), 5–29.

[Gershom Scholem]

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Ḥayon, Nehemiah Ḥiyya ben Moses

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