Luzzatto, Moses Ḥayyim
Luzzatto, Moses Ḥayyim
LUZZATTO, MOSES ḤAYYIM
LUZZATTO, MOSES ḤAYYIM (Heb. acronym RaMḤaL ; 1707–1746), kabbalist, writer of ethical works, rhetorician, logician, and Hebrew poet; leader of a group of religious thinkers who were mainly interested in the problems of redemption and messianism and probably tried to use their mystical knowledge to hasten the era of redemption. Luzzatto was born in Padua, *Italy, into one of the most important, oldest, and most respectable families in Italian Jewry (see *Luzzatto family). Regarded as a genius from childhood, he knew Bible, Talmud, Midrash, halakhic literature, and classical languages and literature thoroughly. He also had an extensive knowledge of contemporary Italian culture. Luzzatto had a good scientific education, but his chief interest in Western culture was in literature. His main teachers were Isaac *Cantarini, who taught him poetry and secular sciences, and Isaiah Bassan, who taught him mainly *Kabbalah and became his friend and protector. Luzzatto's achievements, personality, and great knowledge of mysticism made him a leader of a group of young men in Padua, many of whom came there to study at the city's famous university and thus represented the more open and aware element among young Jews in Italy and in Eastern Europe. The group was formed originally for collective study, but eventually a more active line was adopted.
Probably the most important event in Luzzatto's personal life occurred in 1727. While he was immersed in kabbalistic speculations, he suddenly heard a divine voice, which he believed to be that of a *maggid (i.e., a divine power inclined to reveal heavenly secrets to human beings). From that moment, the Maggid spoke to Luzzatto frequently and he noted these revelations, which comprised his kabbalistic writings for a few years. Most of them have not survived; only a few are known and have been published. Luzzatto used the maggid's revelations in his teachings to the members of the group around him, which by then had become a secret group dealing in messianic speculations and activity. One of the members of this group, Jekuthiel *Gordon, described in some letters the activities and character of the group. One of these letters fell into the hands of Moses *Ḥagiz, who believed it to be a description of a typical Shabbatean heretical group. Ḥagiz addressed the rabbis of *Venice, warning them of the danger he believed this activity signified, and the rabbis turned to Isaiah Bassan, Luzzatto's teacher, who tried to defend his beloved pupil. A vehement controversy followed, in which many of the leading rabbis of Italy took part, and numerous personal attacks were made on Luzzatto. It was believed that only a perfect scholar and kabbalist could receive a revelation from a maggid, and many thought that the young, unmarried Luzzatto did not measure up to that standard. According to a later testimony, a search was made at his home, and evidence of dealings in magic was uncovered. After a long struggle, Luzzatto yielded (1730) and agreed to give his kabbalistic writings to Bassan for safekeeping, to refrain from writing the maggid's revelations (at least while out of the Holy Land), and from teaching Kabbalah.
This compromise did not resolve the conflict. In 1731 Luzzatto married. The continuing controversy in Italy forced him to leave for Amsterdam in 1735. While breaking his journey in Frankfurt, he asked for the protection of Jacob ha-Kohen. The latter, instead of helping him, used threats to make Luzzatto sign a statement denouncing the maggid's revelations and his kabbalistic teachings as false (the rabbis of Venice had meanwhile announced that these writings should be burned). Luzzatto's writings were handed over to Jacob ha-Kohen, who probably burned some of them and hid the rest. Settling in Amsterdam, where he was left in peace, Luzzatto wrote on many subjects, but he did not openly teach Kabbalah. In 1743 he went to Ereẓ Israel, probably in order to escape from the prohibition on teaching Kabbalah. He lived a short time in Acre and died there, with his family, in a plague.
Luzzatto's Messianic Doctrine
When Luzzatto formulated his messianic doctrine, the circle around him began actively to seek messianic redemption. The first "code" of the group, which has survived (signed by the members in 1731), includes ten laws, dealing with the methods of study, the relationship between the members and Luzzatto, and a declaration of the group's aim: "That this study [or speculation] will not be regarded as a private tikkun of the members nor will it be atonement for personal sins, but its only kavvanah will be wholly dedicated to the tikkun of the holy Shekhinah and all of Israel." Seven members had signed this "code," including Jekuthiel Gordon. Other members joined later, among them Luzzatto's brother and Moses David *Valle, who became one of the group's leaders. He was the writer of the group, author of a voluminous commentary on the Bible, which is extant in a few manuscripts. The members of this group believed that the process of redemption had already begun, and that it was going to reach its culmination in a few years. Their saintly way of life and kabbalistic speculations were intended to facilitate this process. Moreover, they were sure that they, personally, had an important part to play in the process.
The writings of Moses David Valle seem to hint that Valle saw himself as the Messiah, son of David. Jekuthiel assumed the role of Serayah of the tribe of Dan, who was to be the commander of Israel's army in the messianic era. Other messianic roles were distributed among the other members. Luzzatto's own role becomes clear from a unique document preserved in his own handwriting – his commentary on his own ketubbah, which he wrote at the time of his marriage. This document proves that Luzzatto understood his marriage to signify a mystical event in the heavenly worlds, the union between Moses and Zipporah (which happened to be the name of his wife), who represent the elements of masculinity and femininity in the divine realm. The earthly marriage ceremony he understood as only a symbol of the redemption of the Shekhinah and her union with her divine husband. It is evident, therefore, that Luzzatto saw himself as a reincarnation of Moses, the man who rescued his people from the exile in Egypt and would redeem them from this last galut as well.
Luzzatto's opponents understood the messianic nature of his circle, and were afraid of the Shabbatean overtones which such activity might contain. The problem of whether Luzzatto's ideas and activities can be called "Shabbatean" or not is unsolved. Luzzatto himself admitted to being influenced by the writings of *Shabbetai Ẓevi's "prophet," *Nathan of Gaza. However, he maintained that the good element in them should be separated from the heretical context. In some of Luzzatto's kabbalistic ideas, elements of Shabbatean influence can be found, for he maintained that the Messiah must descend to the realm of Satan, the Shabbatean explanation for their Messiah's conversion. However, Luzzatto insisted that this should not involve the Messiah's earthly body; it should be a spiritual experience only, involving no sin. Luzzatto was also moderately inclined toward the Shabbatean idea that a sin might serve a holy purpose, but he always made radical changes in the Shabbatean ideas which avoided their heretical and antinomian nature.
His Treatises on Logic
A messianic figure, a man who conversed with the maggid, Luzzatto was also well versed in logic, an art traditionally seen as the high road to philosophy or its favored instrument (organon). Logic was for him the centerpiece, the indispensable tool to mold the spirit and to search for truth. While the forest grows wild, knowledge acquired through logic is like a "fair garden with well-defined alleys and well-drawn groves." Circa 1740, while residing in Amsterdam, Luzzatto penned two treatises, Sefer ha-Higgayon ("Treatise on Logic") and Derekh Tevunot ("The Way of Reason"). The first is a real primer on logic. Luzzatto does not specifically quote his sources and merely states that he found them in earlier works written in other languages than Hebrew. It seems that he knew very well the logical works of Aristotle, the Millot ha-Higgayon of Maimonides, and the corpus of medieval Hebrew logic (Joseph Kaspi, Gersonides, Moses Narboni). The influence of some Renaissance logicians, such as French Humanist Pierre de la Ramée (Petrus Ramus, 1515–1572), can also be perceived.
Following the Aristotelian formula, in his treatises Luzzatto deals successively with the three modes of reasoning: "Categories," or "Logical Terms," propositions, and syllogisms. He also postulates two methodological rules: order (seder) or gradation (hadragah), and distinction – havḥanah, both rules being complementary. Luzzatto uses a vocabulary very similar to that of Descartes in his Rules for the direction of the mind: whoever follows order can "keep himself on the straight path without straying" (Ways of Reasons, p. 4). The words "order" and "gradation" have the same meaning in his terminology. To respect order is to proceed gradually, while following the internal hierarchy of reality. Therefore, one must follow the gradation rule, which entails giving priority to general principles (kelalim), to species and kinds, to specific details (peratim), to individuals. To illustrate this rule, Luzzatto takes the classical example of the tree. Since, according to the logical order, principles come before details, the roots (shorashim) of the tree come before the branches (anafim). Instead of floundering amidst a flurry of details, instead of trying to embrace the infinite diversity of beings and things, the mind must strive to perceive the relatively small number of principles involved. The rule of distinction is the ability to seize what is specific to each being and to each thing, together with the link uniting each and every one of them. In order to differentiate properly, it is necessary to follow gradation, the hierarchical order, by discerning the place and the status of each of the elements of reality: whether it is a principle and a root or a detail and a branch.
Derekh Tevunot, the second work, is a handbook of talmudic logic in which Luzzatto reviews the reasoning processes used by the Sages. He sees logic as the one and only propaedeutic system to study Talmud, this "vast ocean set before us, whose arguments are mighty waves, whose laws roll forth rising to the heavens and plunging to the depths." Structurewise, Derekh Tevunot is identical to Sefer ha-Higgayon. Here again are the three parts of logic – categories, propositions, syllogisms – as well as the notions of gradation and distinction. What makes this work unique is the way Luzzatto uses these reasoning processes to unwind the tangle of talmudic discussions (mahlokot) and to identify clearly halakhot and other legal principles.
The fact that logic, which is a rational method, and Kabbalah are both at the heart of the work of Luzzatto has puzzled many commentators. By focusing only on the rather perfunctory contrast between rationalism and irrationalism, philosophy and mysticism, they often tend to see the link between the two domains as a mere product of proximity. A closer study of the texts helps to correct the conventional picture. It pinpoints many expressions of the close link between "the art of logic" and the "science of the Kabbalah." Luzzatto himself explicitly postulates that link by making logic the necessary preparation for accessing the "science of the divine." Furthermore, the logical rules of gradation and distinction play a central role in the Kabbalah as he sees it, and they are invested there with an ontological significance.
His Kabbalistic Writings
Commentators on Luzzatto's writings in the field of Kabbalah usually divide them in two groups: some are general works describing central kabbalistic ideas and emphasizing the importance of Kabbalah for attaining full religious life; the other writings convey his own original kabbalistic concepts. Most of the latter works were written under the influence of the maggid. In his correspondence, Luzzatto himself differentiates between two elements: the commentaries (perushim) in which he interprets the Zohar and the Lurianic Kabbalah, thereby perpetuating kabbalistic tradition; and the new writings (ḥibburim ḥadashim) in which he expounds his original vision of "divine unity" where he gives it a sense which is both ethical and historiosophical. In fact the elements of commentary and innovation are closely linked in the kabbalistic writings of Luzzatto. Luzzatto's outstanding kabbalistic work is Kelaḥ (= 138) Pitḥei Ḥokhmah, a systematic exposition of the Lurianic Kabbalah. There Luzzatto demonstrates the task which he has undertaken in the history of the Kabbalah: to reveal the internal meaning (nimshal) of the paradigms (meshalim) so numerous in the Lurianic writings, to which they tend to give an anthropomorphic coloring. Luzzatto often quotes from the works of Maimonides; in the same spirit he believes that it will be thus possible to get rid of the main cause of error concerning what is divine: materialization (hagshamah). Rejecting an interpretation which would accept the Lurianic descriptions literally (ki-feshuto) and in a materialistic sense, is for Luzzatto also part of the fight he is leading against Shabbateanism.
Kelaḥ Pitḥei Ḥokhmah is the perfect illustration of the close connection between logic and Kabbalah in the works of Luzzatto. The very structure of that treatise is built on the gradation rule. Each petaḥ – door or chapter – opens with a general principle (kelal), the details or particular aspects of which are then exposed. Before turning to commentary and explaining the themes which are unique to the Lurianic Kabbalah (such as ẓimẓum), Luzzatto innovates by exposing the principle on which his own kabbalistic doctrine is based: divine unity conceived both as the origin and the finality of creation. He uses the distinction rule to delineate with precision the object of Kabbalah, and details what he means by "divine" (Elohut). He thus refines a principle which was already present in the works of his predecessors, such as Menahem Azarya de Fano, while giving a completely novel interpretation of ẓimẓum, the act of contraction or withdrawal of the divine infinity (Ein-Sof) which preceded the emanation of sefirot. To the traditional division between divine essence and divine will Luzzatto adds a new distinction within the will, to stress two aspects: one, infinite (the Ein-Sof) and the other, finite (the Sefirot). Thus is the ẓimẓum assimilated to a movement tending to slant and orient the infinite aspect of the will toward its finite aspect, and hence toward the world and its creatures. This movement, which is achieved within the very core of divine will, is perceived by Luzzatto in an ethical sense, that is, as the wish to do good to another than the self (hatavah). A man of his time, Luzzatto takes this definition of ẓimẓum as a stepping stone for a whole new philosophy of history. He postulates that human history has a meaning beyond the seemingly disorderly course of events, and, in his view, it is moving according to divine direction (hanhagah) toward a finality which is no other but "doing good" (hatavah). He develops a true dialectic process according to which historical proceedings comprise two dimensions, the one being revealed and visible, corresponding to the factual events where evil is manifesting itself in all its power, and the other secret and invisible, consisting in the inescapable progress of mankind toward that ultimate end which is the "perfect good."
(Luzzatto's interpretation, by the way, was widely accepted, and even the early Ḥasidim adopted it.) The introduction to this work, also printed separately, Derekh Eẓ ha-Ḥayyim, explains the religious merits of kabbalistic study. This small work was widely read and accepted. Another work belonging to the same category is Ḥoker u-Mekubbal (Maamarha-Vikku'aḥ), designed as a dialogue between a philosopher and a Lurianic kabbalist. In this work, Luzzatto answers, point by point, many criticisms against the Kabbalah which were current among the rationalists in Italy, and tries to prove that only Lurianic Kabbalah can give a satisfactory answer to Judaism's religious problems.
The most important of the writings influenced by the maggid was the Zohar Tinyana, which was written in Aramaic, the language of the original *Zohar. Most of the work is now lost; parts were printed as Razin Genizin, Megillat Setarim, and Tikkunin Ḥadashim (Tikkunei Zohar being one of the later parts of the original Zohar). Although Luzzatto used the Zohar's language and literary form, his main and almost sole idea expressed and studied in these works was the idea of the redemption. Luzzatto employed older kabbalistic ideas about the redemption but gave them a new form and new structure. Detailed study was devoted to the duties of the various messianic figures in the process of the redemption – the Messiah son of Joseph, Messiah son of David, and Moses. Luzzatto studied the function of the various heavenly Sefirot in this process, especially the third Sefirah, Binah, whose revelation and influence on this world would bring about the culmination of the redemption. Recently, a part of Luzzatto's diary describing the first revelations of the maggid was discovered, and the theological problems discussed there are the same as those in the other known parts of the Zohar Tinyana. Problems of the redemption and the history and adventures of the Messiah's soul are also dealt with in Luzzatto's short treatises, Addir ba-Marom and Ma'amar ha-Ge'ullah.
Luzzatto's Ethical Works
Long after his death, and after the controversy around him had subsided, Luzzatto became a saint in the eyes of most of Eastern European Jewry. This did not come about because of his kabbalistic writings, but because of his major works on ethics. His chief work in this field, and his best-known book, is Mesillat Yesharim, written in Amsterdam (English translation Mesillat Yesharim: The Path of the Upright by M.M. Kaplan with Hebrew text and introduction, 1936, 19642), which uses as a framework the famous baraita of R. *Phinehas b. Jair (Sot. 9:15). Luzzatto instructs the reader in the path of ascent from the forsaking of sinful ways, through moral behavior, to the peak of prophecy and contact with the divine spirit. The popularity of the book resulted from its systematic exposition of every problem which might prevent the attainment of religious and ethical perfection. The author explains the importance and meaning of every step on the way, describes the means by which it can be made, and warns the reader of the dangers which might obstruct his way. Luzzatto wrote the book in a simple, rabbinic style, using some philosophical terms, but no kabbalistic element is evident, though detailed analysis reveals some underlying kabbalistic assumptions. This work was printed many times, translated into many languages, and alongside *Bahya ibn Paquda's Ḥovot ha-Levavot, became the most influential ethical work in Judaism. In some yeshivot in Eastern Europe where the book was studied, pupils were expected to know it by heart.
In other ethical and theosophical works Luzzatto studied some basic theological questions, using philosophical language, although the underlying kabbalistic approach is apparent. In his Derekh ha-Shem and Da'at Tevunot, Luzzatto studied in detail the problems of the aim of creation, Adam's sin, the ways of divine justice, the relationship and mutual dependence between the just and the sinner, the next world and the world of the redemption, etc., alongside discussions of everyday problems of religious and ethical behavior – prayer, the Commandments, the ways to overcome evil desires, etc. All his works in this field were widely read and accepted, and contributed to his metamorphosis to sage and saint, instead of a controversial figure suspected of Shabbateanism.
Poetry and Letters
Luzzatto wrote numerous poetical works. Many of them were lost, and many are still in manuscript. A collection of his poems, published by S. Ginzburg (1945), includes mainly works written in honor or in memory of friends or for weddings. His talent is revealed through his rich and flowing imagery, and his use of the Hebrew language is masterly. These poems were written according to the ancient tradition of Hebrew poetry in Italy, which relied on the traditions of Hebrew poetry in both Muslim Spain and Renaissance Italy. Besides these, Luzzatto's published poems include a few religious pieces, all of which contain kabbalistic and messianic overtones; sometimes he added a mystical commentary to his own religious poems. He also wrote many prayers, and it seems that he wrote 150 religious poems in the form of the Psalms, but this work has not survived.
However, Luzzatto's most famous poetic works are his verse dramas. His first play, Ma'aseh Shimshon, was written before he was 20 years old to exemplify the rhetorical laws he propounded in his Leshon Limmudim, a treatise on rhetorics, in which he made use of his knowledge of classical and contemporary Italian literature. It seems that Luzzatto felt close to Samson, his tragic hero, possibly for messianic reasons, and that gave the play some poetic depth. His second and most important play, Migdal Oz, was written while he was still in Italy. It was composed in the form of contemporary Italian pastoral drama, but Luzzatto gave the plot such Jewish overtones that some critics think that the play is in fact a kabbalistic allegory. His third and last play, La-Yesharim Tehillah, written in Amsterdam, is one of Luzzatto's last works. The play is an allegory, which probably gives expression to the feelings of persecution he experienced at the time of controversy around him, and at the same time reflects his belief in the ultimate victory of the just. In Migdal Oz and La-Yesharim Tehillah, Luzzatto used commonplace love plots to give expression to poetic sentiments far beyond the conventional plots. Luzzatto's plays were accepted and admired by Hebrew writers and intellectuals in Italy and Western Europe, and many were influenced by them. Luzzatto's works, especially Migdal Oz, exercised a strong influence on Haskalah literature, especially its poetry and drama. These maskilim, who were inimical to the kabbalists, were so impressed by the plays that they forgot Luzzatto's kabbalistic writings and messianic aspirations and adopted him as if he were one of their own.
A vast amount of Luzzatto's personal writings was discovered and printed by S. Ginzburg. This collection includes many of Luzzatto's letters, as well as letters addressed to him, or concerning his activities and the controversy around him. The collection includes his personal revealing letters to his teacher and defender, Isaiah Bassan. Among other documents, this collection includes the texts of the regulations of Luzzatto's circle, texts of the accusations against him, etc. The details make possible a chronological reconstruction of Luzzatto's bibliography, though many of the works mentioned are unknown today.
Kinat ha-Shem Ẓeva'ot, a polemical work of a personal nature, was written in answer to the accusation that his theology and activities were Shabbatean in nature. A portion of this work was printed in Koenigsberg in 1862. Luzzatto clearly expresses his negative attitude toward Shabbatean heresy and antinomian practices, but he does not deny that there is truth in some Shabbatean kabbalistic ideas. However, he explains that these should be studied with care, to separate "the fruit from the husk."
Luzzatto's place in the history of Hebrew literature was the subject of a long argument, which still persists. Some scholars (e.g., *Lachover), seeing him as the first "modern" Hebrew writer, begin the history of Hebrew modern literature with the study of his dramatic poems. Others maintain that, as modern Hebrew literature was a revolutionary development that rebelled against the religious character of medieval literature, Luzzatto cannot be included among its creators, because of his strong ties with such past ideologies as Kabbalah and messianism. Yet others, however, see the development of modern Hebrew literature as an evolutionary process, which never broke completely from traditional ideas and concepts. These regard Luzzatto's works as a compromise between old and new, signifying the start of a new era in Hebrew literature.
It cannot be doubted that Luzzatto's works as a whole are a typical product of 18th-century culture: his Kabbalah was Lurianic Kabbalah, which was the accepted theology of the time; his strongest emotions were aroused by messianic problems, in common with most of the more aware thinkers of his age; a contemporary of Leibniz, he felt concerned by the problems of theodicy as well as of historiosophy; and he accepted the conventions of 18th-century Italian literature. However, Luzzatto's work is unique for at least three reasons. The first is the unique connection he achieved between such apparently foreign subject matters as rhetoric and logic on the one hand, and Kabbalah on the other hand. Through this encyclopedic aspect he takes his place among the great Italian thinkers of the Renaissance, from Pico de la Mirandola and Marsile Ficin to Johanan Alemano and Elijah del Medigo. The second is that, unlike previous Jewish-Italian thinkers, such as Leone *Modena or Azariah de *Rossi, Luzzatto did not doubt the fundamental Jewish beliefs, despite his close connections with Italian secular culture. He could be, at the same time, both a Jewish traditionalist and a writer of dramatic poems in the Italian manner. Thirdly, unlike any other writer of the 18th century, Luzzatto, though persecuted when alive, was accepted by the three main 19th-century Jewish movements, which were fighting bitterly among themselves: the Ḥasidim saw him as a saintly kabbalist and used some of his kabbalistic ideas; their opponents, the Mitnaggedim, regarded his ethical works as the clearest pointers toward a Jewish ethical, rabbinic way of life; and the Haskalah writers saw Luzzatto as a progenitor of their own movement, and his works as the beginning of Hebrew aesthetic writing. Every facet of Luzzatto's work, therefore, remained alive and creative in the divided and confused Jewish culture of the 19th century.
A full bibliography of Luzzatto's printed works is to be found in: N. Ben-Menahem, Kitvei Ramḥal (1951); S. Ginzburg, The Life and Works of M.H. Luzzatto (1931); idem, R. Moshe Ḥayyim Luzzatto u-Venei Doro (1937); I. Almanzi, in: Kerem Ḥemed, 3 (1838), 112–69; J. Schirmann, Gilyonot, 21 (1947), 207–17; F. Lachover, Al Gevul ha-Yashan ve-he-Ḥadash (1951), 29–96; I. Tishby, Netivei Emunah u-Minut (1964), 169–203; idem, in: ks 45 (1970), 127–254, 300, 628; M. Benayahu, in: Sefunot, 5 (1961), 299–336; Waxman, Literature, 3 (19602), 90–107; Y. David, introd. to Moshe Ḥayyim Luzzatto, Ma'aseh Shimshon (1967), incl. bibl. add. bibliography: Y. David, Moses Hayyim Luzzatto's Plays, a comparative study (1972); Migdal Oz. Critical edition with introduction and commentary (1972); J. Hansel, Le Philosophe et le cabaliste, tr. from Hebrew and annotated (1991); idem, Moïse Hayyim Luzzatto (1707–1746). Kabbale et philosophie (2004); Daat, special issue on Luzzatto, no. 40, Winter 1998.
[Joseph Dan /
Joelle Hansel (2nd ed.)]