Toledot Ha-Ari

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TOLEDOT HA-ARI (Heb. תּוֹלְדוֹת הָאֲרִ״י), a legendary biography of Isaac *Luria of *Safed. It is one of the most detailed and richest hagiographies written in Hebrew.

Found in many manuscripts, it seems to have been a popular work, was translated into Ladino (printed 1766), and even adapted into the story genre having a single plot (e.g., a Yemenite story based on it). It first appeared in print under the title Kavvanot u-Ma'aseh Nissim (Istanbul, 1720). The relationship between this work and the Shivḥei ha-Ari, another collection of stories about Luria (first printed in Joseph *Delmedigo'sTa'alumot Ḥokhmah, Basle, 1629–31, and again in a different version in Emek ha-Melekh by Naphtali *Bacharach, Amsterdam, 1648) is a point of discussion in modern scholarship. Benayahu maintains that the letters constituting Shivḥei ha-Ari (the letters of Solomon Shlumil of Dresnitz) were written in Safed in the first decade of the 17th century, and were taken from Toledot ha-Ari which, according to him, already existed then as a collection of stories. However, the first manuscripts of Toledot ha-Ari were written in the second half of the 17th century, decades after R. Shlumil's letters.

Toledot ha-Ari is a more fantastical, romantic, and imaginative work than Shivḥei ha-Ari. It includes, for example, a version of "The Story of the Jerusalemite," a 13th-century tale about the marriage between a man and a demon, adapted to serve as a vehicle to demonstrate Luria's greatness. The famous story of the *dibbuk (a spirit which entered a girl's body) which appears in Shivḥei ha-Ari as an addendum, and is not among Shlumil's original letters, is an integral part of Toledot ha-Ari. The supernatural tales found in Toledot ha-Ari are also not in Shivḥei ha-Ari. In Toledot ha-Ari, Luria is sometimes portrayed as a famous rabbi and judge, respected in Safed and all over the Jewish East. This is not a historical fact, and nothing of the sort is mentioned in Shlumil's letters. It may therefore be inferred that Shivḥei ha-Ari is a compilation of intimate accounts told by Luria's pupils, whereas Toledot ha-Ari is a collection of fantastical and imaginary hagiographies which were associated with Luria by later admirers, after his fame had spread all over the Jewish world. At the same time, there is little doubt that Toledot ha-Ari also includes some true stories about Luria which Shlumil either did not know, or did not include in his extant letters. It must therefore be considered also as a source on Luria's life and works. It served as an example for later Jewish compilers of hagiographies, and, undoubtedly, influenced Shivḥei ha-Besht (Berdichev, 1815), the hagiographies of the founder of Ḥasidism, and other similar works.


M. Benayahu (ed.), Sefer Toledot ha-Ari (1967), incl. bibl.; idem, in: Sefunot, 10 (1966), 213–98.

[Joseph Dan]