Ḥayyim ben Abraham Ha-Kohen

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ḤAYYIM BEN ABRAHAM HA-KOHEN (c. 1585–1655), kabbalist, born in Aleppo. His ancestors went to Ereẓ Israel after the expulsion from Spain (1492) and later settled in Aleppo. Ḥayyim was the disciple of Ḥayyim *Vital during his last years in Damascus, and he left an interesting story about his growing attachment to the study of Kabbalah under his teacher. Later, he was one of the rabbis of Aleppo. Ḥayyim wrote numerous works in the course of a 20-year period, which are listed in the introduction to his book Torat Ḥakham. During a long sea voyage, which he undertook in order to bring these manuscripts to print, the ship was attacked by pirates off Malta. He saved himself by jumping into the sea near the coast, but all his manuscripts were lost. He states that he decided to write them again. Around 1650 he set out again for Constantinople where he stayed two to three years. The first part of his book Mekor Ḥayyim, a detailed kabbalistic commentary on the rules of the Shulḥan Arukh, was published here. At the end of 1652 he was in Smyrna; later he went to Venice and returned through Zante to Aleppo. Through the mediation of Samuel *Aboab of Verona he had published in Venice the large volume of sermons, Torat Ḥakham (1654), with the kabbalist Moses *Zacuto acting as proofreader. Another part of Mekor Ḥayyim, called Tur Bareket, was published by the brothers Raphael and Abraham b. Danan in Amsterdam in 1654. In the same year Ḥayyim set out again for Italy where he published two additional parts, Tur Piteda and Tur Yahalom (Leghorn, 1655). He died in Leghorn during the publication of his last book which thus remained incomplete, and only single sections have survived as pamphlets. All his commentaries on the Shulḥan Arukh have been published in two volumes (1878). In Leghorn, he introduced Nathan *Hannover to Isaac *Luria's Kabbalah. Hannover included in his Sha'arei Ẓiyyon a lament by Ḥayyim for the Tikkun Ḥaẓot (midnight prayer), Kol be-Ramah Nishma, which has since become part of every edition of this midnight liturgy. Among his commentaries on the Five Scrolls, only Ateret Zahav on Esther, explained both according to the literal meaning (peshat) and the Kabbalah, in the author's handwriting (Jerusalem, jnul, Ms. 8° 1581), and Torat Ḥesed on Ruth, have been preserved. The last, however, was published by the kabbalist David Lida as his own, under the title Migdal David (Amsterdam, 1680). This plagiarism was known in kabbalist circles even before it was made public by Ḥ.J.D. *Azulai in Shem ha-Gedolim. In his books Ḥayyim quotes only portions from throughout the *Zohar, and sometimes also the sayings of his teacher Vital, but most of his presentation is not based on other sources "and all his words are as if written from Sinai" (Nathan Hannover, introduction to Sha'arei Ẓiyyon). A prayer book with kabbalistic meditations by Ḥayyim is extant in several manuscripts (two at the Ben-Zvi Institute in Jerusalem). Ḥayyim "was very careful not to write amulets," and was also opposed to those who spent too much time in prayer, wasting thus the whole day upon mystical meditations. Among kabbalists he was considered more of a theoretical scholar than a practical mystic.


Michael, Or, no. 844; M. Benayahu in: Sinai, 34 (1953), 162–64, 194–7; idem, Sefer Toledot ha-Ari (1967), index.

[Gershom Scholem]

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Ḥayyim ben Abraham Ha-Kohen

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