Ḥayyat, Judah ben Jacob

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ḤAYYAT, JUDAH BEN JACOB (c. 1450–c. 1510), kabbalist. Ḥayyat was born in Spain and studied Kabbalah under Samuel ibn Shraga. Around 1482 he addressed basic questions on Kabbalah to Joseph *Alcastil, who answered him at length. After the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492 he suffered many hardships on sea voyages and in North Africa. In 1494 he reached Italy and for several years lived in Mantua where at the request of Joseph *Jabez he wrote in the early 16th century a detailed commentary on Ma'arekhet ha-Elohut, an early kabbalistic work that was widely circulated among contemporary kabbalists in Italy. The commentary, titled Minḥat Yehudah, was published together with the Ma'arekhet in Ferrara in 1558 and in several later editions. It is considered one of the outstanding works of Kabbalah in the generation of the Spanish Expulsion. More than a commentary on the Ma'arekhet it is an independent, systematic work whose intention and major views differ greatly from those in the book which it supposedly intends to expound.

Ḥayyat was a radical representative of the Kabbalah of the *Zohar, in contrast to the Kabbalah of Abraham *Abulafia, which was accepted in Italy, and to the semi-philosophical Kabbalah of Isaac b. Abraham ibn *Latif, which Ḥayyat harshly criticized. He was one of the first to quote at length passages of the Zohar and the Tikkunim and based his kabbalistic theory on their sayings. He had reservations about philosophical commentaries on the Kabbalah which circulated in Italy. He also disputed against the Iggeret Ḥamudot of Elijah of *Genazzano which identified the *Ein Sof ("the Infinite") with the first Sefirah ("emanation"). Concerning the essence of the Sefirot, Ḥayyat mainly concurred with the view of Menahem *Recanati. The process of creation is explained, according to him, by the double movement of expansion and contraction of the divine will. Creation is nothing but a realization into actuality through the divine will of the potential hidden unity of the Ein-Sof. Ḥayyat had a recognizable influence on all 16th–17th century Kabbalah. Even those who falsely wrote under names of earlier authors used his works at length. His supercommentary on Recanati's commentary to the Pentateuch has not been preserved.

[Gershom Scholem]

Ḥayyat was probably acquainted with the Italian Kabbalah as represented by Johanan Alemanno with his penchant for a more philosophical understanding of this lore and for Abraham *Abulafia's Kabbalah. Ḥayyat's book represents a successful attempt to establish the Spanish Kabbalah in a center in which other forms of this lore had been studied.

[Moshe Idel (2nd ed.)]


G. Scholem, in: Tarbiz, 24 (1954/55), 174–206; E. Gottlieb, in: Studies in Mysticism and Religion Presented to G. Scholem (1968), 63–86 (Heb. section). add. bibliography: M. Idel, "Encounters between Spanish and Italian Kabbalists in the Generation of the Expulsion," in: B. Gampel (ed.), Crisis and Creativity in the Sephardic World (1997), 189–222.

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