Recanati, Menahem ben Benjamin

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RECANATI, MENAHEM BEN BENJAMIN (late 13th-early–14th centuries), Italian kabbalist and halakhic authority. No information whatsoever is available on Recanati's life, although according to family tradition mentioned in Shalshelet ha-Kabbalah he was once an ignorant man who miraculously became filled with wisdom and understanding.

He wrote three kabbalistic works: Perush al ha-Torah (Venice, 1523); Ta'amei ha-Mitzvot (Constantinople, 1544); and Perush ha-Tefillot (ibid., 1544); and one halakhic work, Piskei Halakhot (Bologna, 1538). Two commentaries on the Perush al ha-Torah were written during the 16th century: one by Mattathias Delacrut (Neubauer, Cat, nos. 1615, 1623, 3); and Be'ur Levush Even Yekarah by Mordecai Jaffe (Lublin, 1605; Lemberg, 1840–41). An important part of the Ta'amei ha-Mitzvot, in which Recanati deals with the problem of the nature of the Sefirot, still remains in manuscript. According to Recanati, the Sefirot are not the essence of God but coverings in which God enfolds Himself and instruments through which He acts. This entire extract is quoted by Judah *Ḥayyat in his commentary to *Ma'arekhet ha-Elohut, and in their discussions of this question other 16th-century kabbalists (notably Isaac Mor Ḥayyim, Elhanan Sagi Nahor, Solomon *Alkabeẓ, and Moses *Cordovero) refer to Recanati's views. Even those who oppose his theory refer to him with admiration and respect, with the exception of David Messer *Leon, who attacks him harshly in Magen David (ms Montefiore 290).

With the exception of his discussion on the essence of the Sefirot, where his conclusion is the result of his own speculations, Recanati's doctrine is drawn mainly from written sources. He cannot be regarded as the recipient of "revelations from heaven" (despite Guedemann; see bibl.), and in few places indeed does he tell of his dreams and visions. Thanks to him the doctrines of many kabbalists whose writings are otherwise unknown have been preserved. He made use of many sources, which he usually does not mention by name, and was especially indebted to *Naḥmanides, whom he refers to as "the great rabbi." Another kabbalist he mentions frequently is R. Ezra (whose name is occasionally changed to R. Azriel), and he made use of the writings of Jacob b. Sheshet Gerondi, *Asher b. David, Joseph *Gikatilla, and *Moses b. Shem Tov de Leon. Recanati was acquainted with two large works on the reasons for the precepts which were written during his lifetime: one by R. Joseph from Shushan (then attributed to Isaac ibn Farḥi) and another by an unknown author. An important part of his commentaries on Naḥmanides' esoteric mysticism derives from Keter Shem Tov by Shem Tov *Ibn Gaon. Other important sources were Sefer ha-*Bahir and the Zohar, which he quotes often although he had access to only a limited number of sections.


Zunz, Lit Poesie, 369ff.; Guedemann, Gesch Erz, 2 (1884), 180–2; I. Sonne, in: ks, 11 (1934/35), 530; G. Scholem, ibid., 185; Scholem, Mysticism, index s.v.Menahem of Recanati; idem, Ursprung und Anfaenge der Kabbala (1962), index; idem, Von der mystischen Gestalt der Gottheit (1962), index; idem, On the Kabbalah and its Symbolism (1965), index; Y. Nadav, in: Tarbiz, 26 (1956/57), 440–58; J. Ben-Shelomo, Torat ha-Elohut shel R. Moshe Cordovero (1965), index; E. Gottlieb, Ha-Kabbalah be-Khitvei Rabbenu Baḥya ben Asher (1970), 259–63.

[Efraim Gottlieb]