Isaac ben Samuel of Acre

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ISAAC BEN SAMUEL OF ACRE (late 13th–mid-14th century), kabbalist. In his youth Isaac of Acre studied in the yeshivah of Solomon Petit in Acre and he quotes Petit's story in which Aristotle is ridiculed by the wife of Alexander the Great. In 1291 Isaac left Acre for Italy, traveling from there to Spain (where he apparently arrived in 1305). There he met numerous kabbalists and he quotes many of their writings. Of great importance was his meeting with *Moses b. Shem Tov de Leon, whom he questioned concerning the *Zohar – asking whether it had been written by *Simeon b. Yoḥai or whether it was Moses de Leon's own work. Even after the death of Moses de Leon, Isaac continued his investigations, which he described in Divrei ha-Yamim (see below). Isaac was close to the circle of Solomon b. Abraham *Adret, but his knowledge of Adret's kabbalistic writings was vague and his testimony should be treated with great reservation. At least three statements which he attributes to Adret were made by *Ezra and *Azriel of Gerona.

Four of Isaac's works have been preserved:

(1) Me'irat Einayim, a major commentary on Naḥmanides' mysticism, incorporating a large collection of writings from the Gerona circle and other groups which are not part of his explications of Naḥmanides. Isaac criticizes commentators who discovered ideas in Naḥmanides' writings which were far from the intention of the author – yet he himself deliberately does the same. Me'irat Einayim contains references to books and personalities otherwise unknown. Many copies of the work are in existence. Considerable use was made of it by the kabbalists of the 15th and 16th centuries and it has also been an important source for scholars of the 19th and 20th centuries.

(2) Oẓar Ḥayyim, a kind of mystical diary of visions and revelations; not an intimate diary, but one written with the object of describing revelations to the reader. Dealing with the ẓerufim ("combinations") which he considers essential for prophecy, he sets store on visions, thoughts, and automatic utterances. Most of his revelations came while he was in a state of trance, and many things were revealed through his dreams. Isaac was especially interested in outlining the way to attain prophecy, a subject he had already treated at length in Me'irat Einayim. He notes three states in the ladder of ascent leading to the Holy Spirit:

(a) devotion, which means the performance of two actions, one visual. In his mind's eye man sees the letters of yhwh "as if they were written before him in a book," while at the same time he concentrates his thoughts on the aspect of the Divinity, called by the kabbalists *Ein-Sof ("the infinite"); (b) indifference, i.e., acquiesence in any occurrence in earthly life, except that which is concerned with the Divinity. Only a man who has reached this level of indifference, who is insensitive to the honor or scorn with which men regard him, is able to reach the state in which his soul becomes one with the Divinity; (c) solitude – a complete emptying of the mind of any matter which is not divine. The central focus of Isaac's prophetic ideal is individual spirituality. He applies sayings from the realm of national redemption to the realm of the redemption of the soul, and considers that the public mission of the prophet hampers his intimate contact with the Divinity. The work remains almost in entirety in Ms. 775 of the Guenzburg Collection, Moscow. Selections from it are in Leket Shoshannim (Neubauer, Cat, no. 1911). Many extracts are found in various manuscripts (Sassoon Ms. 919, Adler Ms. 1589, et al.).

(3) A commentary on the Sefer*Yeẓirah (ch. 1 only), published by G. *Scholem (ks, vol. 31, 1955/56).

(4) A shortened free translation of the Arabic commentary of Judah b. Nissim ibn Malka on *Pirkei deRabbi Eliezer. Isaac's comments occupy the main place in the work, which is to be found in Sassoon manuscript 919b.

There is evidence that other works by Isaac also existed, the most important being Sefer ha-Yamim, as it is called in Sefer ha-Yuḥasin which quotes the large section concerning the composition of the Zohar. No other author who quotes from Sefer ha-Yamim is known, but there is no doubt that such a book did exist, since Isaac himself refers to it in his Oẓar Ḥayyim, where he calls it Sefer Divrei ha-Yamim. Sachs' description of manuscript 775 in the Guenzburg collection led to the belief that this was Sefer ha-Yamim, but apparently this is not so. There are no means of knowing from which works the author of Reshit Ḥokhmah took the four quotations which he cites in the name of Isaac of Acre. Similarly the nature of the mystical book mentioned in Novelot Ḥokhmah by Joseph Solomon *Delmedigo of Candia is not known. David Azulai writes that he saw treatises of Isaac of Acre, according to which he was visited by angels who revealed to him secrets and acts of practical Kabbalah. It is possible that the reference was to the treatises of Oẓar Ḥayyim, but this is not certain.


Graetz-Rabbinowitz, index; A. Jellinek, Beitraege zur Geschichte der Kabbala (1852), 72 (Ger. pt.); vi (Heb. pt.); G. Scholem, in: ks, 2 (1926), 102–3; 31 (1955/56), 379–96; idem, in: Tarbiz, 3 (1931/32), 59–61; idem, Ursprung und Anfaenge der Kabbala (1962), index; idem, in: Madda'ei ha-Yahadut, 1 (1920), 17ff.; E. Gottlieb, Fourth World Congress of Jewish Studies, 2 (1969), 327–34; idem, Ha-Kabbalah be-Khitvei R. Baḥya b. Asher (1970), index; G. Vajda, in: rej, 115 (1956), 27–71.

[Efraim Gottlieb]

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Isaac ben Samuel of Acre

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