Zacuto, Moses ben Mordecai

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ZACUTO, MOSES BEN MORDECAI (c. 1620–1697), kabbalist and poet. Zacuto, who was born into a Portuguese Marrano family in Amsterdam, studied Jewish subjects under Saul Levi *Morteira (an elegy on the latter's death by Zacuto was published by D. Kaufmann in rej, 37 (1898), 115). He also studied secular subjects. According to tradition, he later fasted 40 days "in order to forget the Latin language." He was a student in the bet midrash of Amsterdam and in his youth traveled to Poland to study in the yeshivot there. Zacuto was attracted by Kabbalah and refers in his letters to his teacher Elhanan, perhaps "Elhanan the kabbalist," who died in Vienna in 1651. He moved to Italy, remaining for some time in Verona. From 1645 he lived in Venice and served for a time as a preacher under Azariah *Figo. Afterward, he became one of the rabbis of the city and a member of the Venetian yeshivah. Between 1649 and 1670 he was proofreader of many books printed in Venice, especially works on Kabbalah. He edited the Zohar Ḥadash in 1658, and also wrote many poems for celebrations and special occasions. Zacuto tried to acquire the manuscripts of the Safed kabbalists, especially those of Moses *Cordovero and the different versions of the works of Ḥayyim *Vital. He befriended the kabbalist Nathan Shapiro of Jerusalem and the old kabbalist Benjamin ha-Levi, who served as an emissary from Safed in Venice for two years (1658–59).

At the outset of the Shabbatean movement, Zacuto tended to give credence to the messianic tidings, but he was opposed to innovations such as the abolition of tikkun ḥaẓot ("midnight prayers") and other customs. In the spring of 1666, in a letter to Samson Bachi, he took a positive but cautious stand in favor of the movement, mainly supporting its advocacy of repentance. After the apostasy of *Shabbetai Ẓevi he turned his back on the movement and joined the other Venetian rabbis in their action against *Nathan of Gaza when he came to Venice in the spring of 1668. At the same time he openly opposed the Shabbateans in a letter to Meir Isserles in Vienna, and in subsequent years rejected Shabbatean propaganda, despite the fact that his favorite students *Benjamin b. Eliezer ha-Kohen of Reggio and Abraham *Rovigo were among the "believers" (ma'aminim). Relations between Zacuto and these two disciples became strained because of their differences, when, for example, the Shabbatean scholar Baer Perlhefter came to Modena and Rovigo supported him. The Shabbateans on several occasions criticized Zacuto, whose conservative temperament displeased them. In 1671 he was invited to serve as rabbi in Mantua, but he did not go until 1673, remaining there until his death. He enjoyed great authority as the chief of the contemporary Italian kabbalists and corresponded with kabbalists in many places. He never realized his desire to settle in Ereẓ Israel.

Zacuto's published exoteric works include his commentary on the Mishnah, Kol ha-Re-Me-Z; he was known throughout his life as Re-Me-Z, from his initials (Rabbi Moses Zacuto). Part of the work was published in Amsterdam in 1719. Ḥ.J.D. *Azulai, in his Shem ha-Gedolim, noted that the manuscript was twice as long as the printed edition. A collection of halakhic responsa was published in Venice in 1760. A commentary on the Palestinian Talmud is lost. His major activity, however, was in Kabbalah. Zacuto opposed the mingling of the kabbalistic system of Cordovero with that of Isaac *Luria which was then current in some circles (Tishby, in: Zion, 22 (1957), 30) and for this reason he criticized Solomon Rocca's Sefer Kavvanat Shelomo (Venice, 1670) even though he composed a poem honoring the author (see Zacuto's Iggerot, letters nos. 7, 8). He went over the entire corpus of Luria's and Vital's writings and added many annotations under the name Kol ha-Re-Me-Z or the abbreviation Ma-Za-La-N (Moshe Zakkut Li Nireh – "It seems to me, Moses Zacuto"). Many of them are collected in the books Mekom Binah and Sha'arei Binah of Isaac Ṣabba (Salonika, 1812–13) and they have partly also appeared in different editions of the works of Vital and Jacob *Ẓemaḥ. Zacuto wrote at least two commentaries on the *Zohar. In the first, he continued Yode'ei Binah begun by his contemporary Joseph *Ḥamiz (up to Zohar i, 39). Here, Zacuto used many commentaries from the school of Cordovero, the commentary Ketem Paz by Simeon *Labi and the first commentary of Ḥayyim *Vital. The printed part contains the commentary up to Zohar i, 147b (Venice, 1663). For unknown reasons it was never circulated. One copy is extant in the library of the bet din in London, but there exist complete manuscripts (e.g., British Museum, Ms. Add. 27.054–27.057). Mikdash ha-Shem, his second commentary on the Zohar, was written for the most part according to the Lurianic Kabbalah, and was published in abridged form in the Mikdash Melekh of Shalom *Buzaglo. The complete commentary is found in the Oxford manuscripts Opp. 511, 512, 513, 515, 516, 517. Mezakkeh ha-Rabbim (Oxford, Bodleian Library, Ms. Opp. 120), though ascribed to him, was not written by him. A long kabbalistic responsum to the rabbis of Cracow on the copying of Torah scrolls, tefillin, and mezuzot was published several times, in Mekom Binah, in Kiray Sefer by Menahem Meiri (pt. 2, 1881, 100–8; separately, Berdichev, 1890). Zacuto arranged tikkunim ("special prayers") for several religious ceremonies according to Kabbalah. These were often reprinted and had great influence, especially on the religious life in Italy. They include Sefer ha-Tikkunim (a tikkun for the eve of Shavuot and Hoshana Rabba; Venice, 1659), Mishmeret ha-Ḥodesh (ibid., 1660), Tikkun Shovavim (the initials of the first six sections of Exodus), i.e., a tikkun for fasts undertaken in expiation for nocturnal ejaculations (ibid., 1673), and Tikkun Ḥaẓot (ibid., 1704). All these were arranged under the influence of Benjamin ha-Levi and Nathan Shapiro.

A major part of Zacuto's poetry is devoted to kabbalistic subjects, such as his poems in the book Ḥen Kol Ḥadash (Amsterdam, 1712), and in Tofteh Arukh (a description of hell; Venice, 1715; see below). Besides this he arranged voluminous collectanea on kabbalistic subjects. The first was Shibbolet shel Leket, on all the books of the Bible (Scholem, Kitvei Yad be-Kabbalah, 1930, p. 153, para. 107). This was followed by Remez ha-Romez on numbers, *gematria, and explanations of Holy Names according to numerology (Ms. British Museum, Margoliouth 853); Erkhei Kinnuyim, selections from the Lurianic Kabbalah in alphabetical order (complete in Ms. Jerusalem 110). Parts of this work were published at the end of Golel Or by Meir *Bikayam (1737) and at the end of Bikayam's Me'ir Bat Ayin (1755). Another anthology, in alphabetical order, was published as Em la-Binah, part of his Sha'arei Binah (1813). Shorshei ha-Shemot, also called Mekor ha-Shemot, is a collection of practical Kabbalah according to the order of the magical "names." This work was widely circulated in manuscript and went through several versions by North African kabbalists. A complete manuscript is in Jerusalem (8° 2454). Essays on kabbalistic subjects have remained in several manuscripts; also a number of important collections of Zacuto's letters are preserved, e.g., Budapest 459 (in his own handwriting); Jerusalem 8° 1466; British Museum Ms. Or. 9165 (in his handwriting); Jewish Theological Seminary, n.y. Mss. 9906 and 11478; and in the Eẓ Ḥayyim Library in Amsterdam, C15. Only a few were published in Iggerot ha-Re-Me-Z (Leghorn, 1780).

[Gershom Scholem]

Yesod Olam

Zacuto was the author of the first biblical *drama in Hebrew literature, Yesod Olam (ed. D.J. Maroni, 1874; ed. A. Berliner, 1874). The play was not published during the author's lifetime, apparently because it comprised only part (estimated at one-third) of a projected lengthy work portraying Abraham in the major stages of his life as a righteous man on whom the entire world rests. Only the first part (and perhaps not all of it) was finished; this deals with the midrashic legend of the shattering of the household idols in Terah's home, the trial before King Nimrod, Abraham's deliverance from the fiery furnace, and the death of Haran. The play was written according to the classical rules of dramatic theory as they had developed in the 16th and early 17th centuries, but no particular model can be discerned. The author maintained the three unities – of plot, time, and place – even to extremes. No stage effects were introduced and therefore leading characters speak lengthy monologues. The plot is simple and concentrates on the best-known details of the legend while omitting all the minor ones. The hero, Abraham, is portrayed as an exalted and philosophic personality against whom the idol worshipers and the hedonists rebel. The philosophy of the play is rationalist-humanist and Abraham's views are remarkably similar to those of Maimonides; there is no trace of kabbalistic influence.

The style too is classical and the play is composed almost entirely in sonnets. Sentences are generally short and comprehensible, but the language is flowery. Though the vocabulary is largely drawn from the Bible, Zacuto does not hesitate to use talmudic idioms. No details exist from which the exact date of composition can be determined. However, it is clear that Zacuto wrote the play before he became a kabbalist of the Lurianic school. The play treats at length the theory of the immortality of the soul, which is rejected by Nimrod and his sages while Abraham defends it. This is clearly an echo of the dispute over the views of Uriel da *Costa, who angered Sephardi Jewry by his denial of the immortality of the soul. This fact supports the view that the play was written before 1640.

Tofteh Arukh

When he lived in Italy, Zacuto wrote his great dramatic poem, Tofteh Arukh. It appears that this work was inspired by Dante's Divine Comedy, as the subject matter is the afflictions of the soul in hell. In the opening verses, the dead man recounts his last illness and the arrangements for his burial. Afterward follows the episode of ḥibbut ha-kever ("tribulations in the grave"). The angel Duna commences the judgment and trial and with the aid of his angels drags the dead man through the seven sections of hell, showing the terrible punishments suffered by sinners. The conclusion is a description of the difference between the fate of sinners and that of the righteous, and toward the end the angel and the dead man praise God as the true judge. The poem consists of 185 rhymed stanzas of five verses each. The author employs many homonyms, assonances, and word plays, to an extent that becomes tedious. The work attained great popularity, especially among groups of kabbalists, such as Ḥadashim la-Bekarim. After its publication (Venice, 1715), a sequel titled Eden Arukh was written by Jacob Daniel Olmo. Since the second edition (1743) the two poems have been published together.

[Jozeph Michman (Melkman)]


A. Apfelbaum, Moshe Zacut (Heb., 1926); Ghirondi-Nepi, 225; Landshuth, Ammudei, 2 (1862), 214–21; G. Scholem, Kitvei Yad be-Kabbalah (1930), 150–5; idem, in: Zion, 13–14 (1949), 49–59; idem, in: Behinot, 8 (1955), 89; 9 (1956), 83; Scholem, Shabbetai Zevi, 653–4; A. Yaari, Ta'alumat Sefer (1954), 54–56, 67–75; idem, in: Behinot, 9 (1956), 77; M. Benayahu, in: Sinai, 34 (1954), 156; idem, in: Yerushalayim, 5 (1955), 136–86; idem, in: Sefunot, 5 (1961), 323–6, 335; I. Tishby, Netivei Emunah u-Minut (1964), index; Stein-schneider, Cat Bod, 1989–92. yesod olam: J. Melkman, in: Sefunot, 10 (1966), 301–33; idem, in: Studia Rosenthaliana, 1, pt. 2 (1967), 1–26; 3 (1969), 145–55. tofteh arukh: Tofteh Arukh, ed. by D.A. Friedman (1922); H. Hamiel, in: Sinai, 25 (1949), 304–19; 26 (1950), 101–12; M. Zacuto, L'inferno preparato (transportato in versi Italiani da S.I. Luzzati; 1819); C. Foa, Tofte gnaruch ossia il castigo dei reprobi poema ebraico del secolo xvii di Mose Zacut, versione italiana in., prosa (1901).