Jagel, Abraham

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JAGEL, ABRAHAM (16th century), ethical writer. He was the author of Gei Ḥizzayon, a narrative and ethical work written in 1587, the first part of which was printed in Alexandria in 1880. Copies of Gei Ḥizzayon, either in manuscript or in printed form, are very rare; the complete work exists in manuscript form in the British Museum. The author has been identified with Abraham b. Ḥananiah *Jagel, but according to the data available this is not conclusive; from a passage at the beginning of Gei Ḥizzayon, it seems that his father's name was Jacob and not Ḥananiah. Should this interpretation be correct, then this Abraham Jagel is not the same as the one who wrote Lekaḥ Tov. The form and structure of Gei Ḥizzayon was influenced by the tradition started by Dante and followed by a number of Italian Hebrew writers. The author describes a visit to the heavenly regions guided by the spirit of his dead father. The main theme of the work is ethical: Jagel uses various literary forms to try to guide his reader toward the right moral way of life. His philosophy, deeply influenced by Renaissance concepts including a belief in astrology and predestination, at the same time posits the premise that man's actions can be motivated by ethical and religious choice, and are not only determined by fate.

Besides its direct ethical teaching, the work is a composite of three distinct literary forms:

(1) It is an autobiography in the form of narration to his father in which he tells him of his life after the latter's death. Told in prison, where he was incarcerated because of financial troubles, Jagel describes the place in detail. Gei Ḥizzayon is the first autobiography in Hebrew literature of an ordinary man who relates his troubles without attaching any historical, literary, or religious importance to the events in his life. The story is told sporadically and in short spurts during the first half of the work.

(2) The author uses the novella form to relate the lives of the dead for moralistic purposes. During their sojourn in the heavenly regions, Jagel and his father meet many spirits, both good and evil, who tell them the story of their lives. These prose narratives clearly belong to the Italian novella genre of the time which Jagel adapted in the form of moralistic Jewish fables. He thus introduced some of the earliest Renaissance novellae into Hebrew literature.

(3) The vision as aesthetic vehicle forms an important part of the second half of the work. Jagel, not a kabbalist in the full sense of the word, was nevertheless familiar with kabbalistic ideas. The visions described are influenced by kabbalistic concepts, though the aesthetic aspect of the vision is stressed more than the kabbalistic theological element. The influence of Dante and his followers is most pronounced in this literary aspect of Gei Ḥizzayon.


M. Steinschneider, in: hb, 4 (1861), 122 no. 74; C. Roth, The Jews in the Renaissance (1959); Gei Ḥizzayon (1887), preface by A.B. Mani.

[Joseph Dan]