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Zerah ben Nathan of Troki


ZERAH BEN NATHAN OF TROKI (1578–1657/8), Karaite scholar. Zerah was born in Birzhe, Lithuania. At the age of five his parents sent him to study in Troki. His first teacher was his relative, Isaac ben Abraham *Troki, in whose house Zerah stayed. After his teacher's demise he studied with Troki's disciple – Joseph ben Mordecai *Malinovski. In 1618 he visited Constantinople for the purpose of study. He was interested in Kabbalah, practical mysticism, astronomy, astrology, mathematics, etc. He is mainly known through his correspondence (from 1620) with the famous Jewish scholar and kabbalist, Joseph Solomon *Delmedigo from Candia, who spent five years in Lithuania as a physician of Prince Krzysztof Radziwiłł. In his letters, Zerah complained that "he had neither friend nor teacher among the Jews," adding that he had important books from many countries in his library. His first letter to Delmedigo included questions on Kabbalah. Later he put to Delmedigo 12 major and 70 minor problems mainly relating to mathematics, astronomy, physics, and medicine. He also discussed "demons, amulets, divination, dreams, and secret remedies and the antithetical temperamental balance called in Greek 'sympathy' and 'antipathy'…" as well as theological problems such as the existence of God, Providence, Heaven and Hell, and Resurrection. These questions were published by Delmedigo in Sefer Elim (Amsterdam, 1629). His answer, entitled Iggeret Aḥuz, was published by Abraham Geiger in Melo Chofnajim with a German translation and notes (Berlin, 1840). Delmedigo's reply expressed his views on Kabbalah, drew Zerah's attention to a series of works on mathematics, philosophy, exegesis, and other subjects, and provided him with a list of his works. Zerah evinced an interest in Philo's writings and asked Delmedigo to translate for him a table of contents and some extracts from Philo from Latin into Hebrew.

Zerah corresponded with Karaite scholars and community leaders from different lands, such as the scholar Joseph ben Moses Maruli of Istanbul and David b. Joshua, a head of the Jerusalem Karaite community. He wrote a letter to *Manasseh Ben Israel after his acquaintance with a Latin work by Manasseh, from which a clergyman from Vilna translated some sections for him into Polish. Zerah offered Manasseh for publication at the latter's printing house in Amsterdam the book Ḥizzuk Emunah by Isaac ben Abraham Troki and the liturgical poem by Joseph ben Mordecai Malinovski Ha-Elef Lekha. Manasseh did not print the former, presumably because of the fear of censorship, and published the second in 1643.

Zerah wrote a kabbalistic commentary on Song of Songs (W. Nathansohn, Devir, second edition, Warsaw 1883, i, 222); a commentary on Moreh Nevukhim by Maimonides (ios spb b 383); a number of elegies and a large number of liturgical poems in Hebrew and the Karaite language, of which some were included in the Karaite prayer books.


Mann, Texts, 2 (1935), index, p. 1595; I. Cohen, Vilna (1943), 205, 457–8. add. bibliography: A.B. Gottlober, Bikkoret le-Toledot ha-Kara'im (1865), 165–66; M. Polliack (ed.), Karaite Judaism: A Guide to its History and Literary Sources (2003), index; S. Schreiner, Studia Judaica, 2:4 (1999), 165–83; Sefer Elim, Odessa (1864).

[Yehuda Komlosh /

Golda Akhiezer (2nd ed.)]

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