Sefer hemdat yamim is an anthology, in three volumes, of kabbalistically-suffused homilies, prayers, and practices for the entire Jewish liturgical year. The first volume focuses exclusively on Shabbat; volume two treats rosh hodesh, Hanukkah, Purim, and various fast days (though, significantly, not the fasts of 17 Tammuz and 9 Av and the three weeks between them); and the last and largest volume is dedicated to the three pilgrimage festivals (Passover, Shavuot, and Sukkot), the High Holidays, and their associated liturgical seasons. The third volume was printed first, in 5491 (1731), and the other two were printed the following year, in 5492 (1732). While the first two, shorter volumes were often bound together, in the present lot they retain their separate status, each one bound individually with its own (identical) title pages.
The work’s purpose is to explain the inner meaning of the commandments and customs (usually according to Lurianic Kabbalah) and to thereby inspire the reader toward greater piety and maximal spiritual elevation. Within a short time of the appearance of the editio princeps, it achieved immense popularity throughout the Jewish world on account of its beautiful language, lucid presentation, rich content, emotional depth, and the righteous sincerity of the writing, going through a further seven editions in Constantinople, Żółkiew (four times), Livorno, and Venice by 1764. Indeed, numerous adaptations of, and extracts from, the series were published as self-standing books starting already in 1731, the year the work itself began to appear!
The authorship of Sefer hemdat yamim remains one of the most fascinating bibliographical enigmas in the history of the Jewish book. The man who brought it to press, Rabbi Israel Jacob Algazi (1680-1756), claimed to have discovered the anonymous manuscript, to which he added his own glosses, in Safed. Prior to publication, he secured the approbations of Hayyim Abulafia (ca. 1660-1744) and Isaac ha-Kohen Rappaport (d. 1755), two prominent rabbis in Izmir. Nevertheless, not long after it appeared, the book was condemned by Rabbi Jacob Emden (1697-1776), in part due to the three piyyutim, for the first and seventh nights of Passover and the night of Shavuot, appearing on ff. 29v, 64v, 75r-v, respectively, of volume three, that bore acrostics spelling out the Hebrew name of the Sabbatian prophet Nathan of Gaza (1643-1680). In the aftermath of this and other accusations, the book ceased to be printed in Ashkenazic communities up until modern times, although it continued to circulate widely among, and exert enormous influence upon, Sephardic and Mizrahi Jews. In the twentieth century, Avraham Yaari came to the book’s defense in a monograph-length study in which he claimed that it was actually authored by Rabbi Benjamin ha-Levi (ca. 1590-1672), a Lurianic scholar free of Sabbatian heresy, at the end of his life. However, most of Yaari’s colleagues maintained that it was, in fact, the product of Sabbatian kabbalists writing in the early eighteenth century, and that consensus position remains largely unchallenged in academic circles down to the present.
Reah Sadeh [Rabbi Simeon Dweck ha-Kohen of Aleppo] (ff. 1r, 110r)
Shalom Ezekiel Tsadik(?) (f. 56r)
Beit ha-Keneset(?), from Israel Aaron Attias (f. [i])
Moses Zevi (f. [ii])
Nathan Benjamin (f. 282r)
Moshe Fogel, “Shabbeta’uto shel sefer ‘Hemdat yamim’: hitbonenut mehuddeshet,” in Rachel Elior (ed.), Ha-halom ve-shivro: ha-tenu‘ah ha-shabbeta’it u-sheluhoteha: meshihiyyut, shabbeta’ut u-frankism, vol. 2 (Jerusalem: Hebrew University; Jewish National and University Library, 2001), 365-422.
Vinograd, Izmir 29, 33, 34
Avraham Yaari, Ta‘alumat sefer: Sefer hemdat yamim, mi hibbero u-mah hayetah middat hashpa‘ato (Jerusalem: Mossad Harav Kook, 1954).
Avraham Yaari, “Ha-defus ha-ivri be-izmir,” Areshet 1 (1959): 97-222, at pp. 127-128 (nos. 23, 27, 28).
Avraham Yaari, “Sifrei tikkunim u-tefillot lefi sefer ‘Hemdat yamim’,” Kiryat sefer 38,1-3 (1963): 97-112, 247-262, 380-400.
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