Jacob ben Jacob Ha-Kohen

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JACOB BEN JACOB HA-KOHEN (mid-13th century), Spanish kabbalist. Jacob was born in Soria and lived for some time in Segovia. He wandered among the Jewish communities in Spain and Provence, looking for remnants of earlier kabbalistic writings and traditions preserved by individual kabbalists. He made a prolonged stay in Provence with his younger brother *Isaac b. Jacob ha-Kohen and died in Béziers (c. 1270–80). Jacob adopted pietist ways and was strongly influenced by the mysticism of the *Ḥasidei Ashkenaz, accepting their methods in the application of numerology. He was also in contact with the last members of the kabbalist circle of the Sefer ha-Iyyun ("Book of Speculations"). Jacob claims to have been granted many revelations in the form of visions. These, he explains, were all associated with the function of *Metatron as the first creation and with details of the mysteries relating to this figure and its connection with the secrets of the Torah and mitzvot. Jacob draws a distinction between his revelation-inspired and other writings; to the latter belongs his collection of commentaries inspired by *Eleazar of Worms and material on Gnostic traditions. Jacob's principal pupil was *Moses b. Solomon b. Simeon of Burgos. Jacob was one of the main pillars of the renascent Gnostic trend in kabbalah (ha-ma'amikim). Neither he nor his brother was an ordained rabbi.

Jacob's works are (1) a commentary on the forms of the letters of the alphabet written in Provence around 1270 (Madda'ei ha-Yahadut, 2 (1927), 201–12); (2) a commentary on Sefer *Yeẓirah now lost, though the first part may have been preserved in a Florence manuscript (Plut. ii, Ms. 53, pp. 33–42). Abraham *Abulafia studied it and praised it as "kabbalistic"; (3) a commentary on Merkevet Yeẓezkel (Ezekiel's vision of the throne-chariot), incorporated anonymously in a number of manuscripts (e.g., Florence ii, 412), parts of which were published by G. Scholem in Kitvei Yad be-Kabbalah bi-Yrushalayim (1930), 208–13. Jacob's authorship is attested by his pupil Moses of Burgos who cites a number of passages in his master's name. The commentary blends Spanish kabbalism and pietist traditions and is partly based on Eleazar of Worms' Sodei Rezaya; (4) Sefer ha-Orah ("Book of Illumination"), a large collection of all the secrets revealed to Jacob through his visions, including speculative passages – such as the "Perush Yedi'at ha-Bore" ("Explanation of the Knowledge of the Creator"), explanations of the Divine Names and the alphabets in Sefer Yeẓirah, an explanation of certain mitzvot (ẓiẓit, tefillin, blowing the shofar, the red heifer) linking these precepts with the mysteries relating to Metatron, explanations of certain prayers and cosmological exegesis (Sod ha-Levanah, "Secret of the Moon"). The lengthy preface to Sefer ha-Orah is preserved in a Milan manuscript (Ambrosiana 62), which (together with Vat. 428, Vienna 258, and Schocken, Kab. 14) incorporates a large portion of this material. Three of these mysteries appearing in a Paris manuscript have been published in Madda'ei ha-Yahadut (2 (1927), 240–3). Collections of the traditions dealing with the powers of the aḤilut (*emanation) and their names and with *demonology are to be found in the writings of Jacob's brother and of his pupil Moses.

Jacob's visionary mysteries are most obscure since he veils the meaning of his words, using numerical (gematriot) and other combinations (ẓerufim). Their Kabbalah is entirely different from the theory of the Sefirot customarily followed by Jacob's contemporaries. The vision-inspired passages show that, long before Abraham *Abulafia, individual kabbalists had independently initiated a theosophical kabbalistic doctrine, in addition to providing a link with the Ḥasidei Ashkenaz, the kabbalists of Provence, and the exponents of later forms of "prophetic Kabbalah." Sefer ha-Orah was still known in the 14th century (by the name of Sha'arei Orah) to *Isaac b. Samuel of Acre whose Sefer Oẓar ha-Ḥayyim (Ms. Guenzburg 775) names *Naḥmanides, Jacob ha-Kohen, Joseph Gikatilla of Segovia, and the author of the *Zohar as the four leading kabbalists in Spain. Joseph Gikatilla in his Ginnat Egoz incorporates mysteries from Sefer ha-Orah without mentioning their source.


G. Scholem, Madda'ei ha-Yahadut, 2 (1927), 163–243; idem, in: ks, 11 (1934/35), 188–9; idem, in: Tarbiz, 3 (1932), 258–86, 4 (1933), 122–45.

[Gershom Scholem]