PROPERTY FROM THE ESTATE OF SHLOMO MOUSSAIEFF
Rabbi Jacob ben Jacob ha-Kohen of Castile (d. ca. 1270-1280) was a thirteenth-century Spanish kabbalist who traveled extensively among the Jewish communities of Spain and Provence searching for remnants of earlier mystical writings and traditions. He was strongly influenced by the thought of the Hasidei Ashkenaz, a sect of contemporary German pietists, and maintained contact with the last members of the hug ha-iyyun, the circle of Jewish mystics associated with the Sefer ha-iyyun (Book of Contemplation). He would eventually become one of the main pillars of the renascent Gnostic trend among a group of kabbalists known as the ma‘amikim.
The present manuscript contains several separate, though related, works:
1. Ff. 1r-13r: The complete text of Rabbi Jacob ha-Kohen’s commentary to Ezekiel’s visions of the Divine Chariot (Ezek. chs. 1 and 10), which combines hug ha-iyyun kabbalism (e.g., Sod yedi‘at ha-metsi’ut) with traditions from German pietistic sources, particularly Rabbi Eleazar ben Judah of Worms’ (ca. 1165-ca. 1230) own commentary on the Divine Chariot and an abridged version of his Hilkhot ha-kisse (Laws of the Divine Throne). Peirush mirkevet yehezkel treats the nature of divine names, divine speech, the divine Throne and Chariot, prophetic vision, and the angels, among other topics. The tract was composed in the third quarter of the thirteenth century and, as such, constitutes the most comprehensive and detailed mystical commentary on the Divine Chariot from the formative period of Sephardic kabbalistic thought to have come down to us. Although the work achieved great popularity, it lost its authorial attribution fairly early on. However, Rabbi Jacob’s authorship has been affirmatively established in modern times based on the testimony of his pupil, Rabbi Moses ben Solomon of Burgos (1230/1235-ca. 1300), who cites a number of passages from the treatise in his master’s name.
Our copy of the text can be dated to the thirteenth century, soon after the Peirush was itself first composed, based on both the script and paper used. As such, it is the earliest – by some two hundred years – of a small group of surviving manuscripts of this work written by Ashkenazic scribes. (We know that Rabbi Jacob communicated with Rabbi Eleazar’s students in Germany, and so it seems likely that our manuscript was copied in that circle.) A critical edition of the commentary was published in 2004 based on what was thought at the time to be the earliest surviving manuscript: Florence, Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana Plut. II. 41 (Sephardic, 1325-1328), ff. 120v-157v; the present text would appear to precede that exemplar by approximately fifty years and may thus be the earliest copy – Ashkenazic or otherwise – extant.
2. F. 13r-v: Immediately following the first work is a complete copy of an anonymous exposition on the Thirty-Two Paths of Wisdom used by God to create the world, according to the very first line of Sefer yetsirah (Book of Creation), an ancient Jewish mystical tract. This commentary, which exhibits the influence of Rabbi Azriel of Gerona (ca. 1160-ca. 1238), was originally composed in Spain during the mid-thirteenth century within the hug ha-iyyun and is very close in content to the Sefer ha-yihud ha-amitti (Book of True Unity) attributed to Rabbi Eleazar of Worms. Here, too, our manuscript is by far the oldest Ashkenazic version of this text to have come down to us, and perhaps the earliest copy extant.
3. Ff. 13v-14v: A few shorter iyyun tracts, also commenting on the Thirty-Two Paths of Wisdom from Sefer yetsirah, close the manuscript: the first (ff. 13v-14r) remains unpublished; the second (f. 14r-v) was printed by Oded Porat under the title “Shemot 32 netivot” and differs significantly, according to Gershom Scholem, from “Peirush 32 netivot” in that it approaches the topic from a magical, rather than a philosophical, perspective; and the third (f. 14v) was published first by Rabbi Judah Coriat in Sefer ma’or va-shemesh (Livorno, 1839), 24v, and then reedited by Porat as “32 netivot u-be’uran.” It would appear that our copies of all of these texts are the earliest (Ashkenazic) exemplars extant.
Anon., Sifrei kabbalat ha-ge’onim im he‘arot ve-likkutim (Jerusalem: Ha-Makhon le-Iyyun ba-Hasidut, 2006), 116-120.
Asi Farber-Ginat and Daniel Abrams (eds.), Peirushei ha-merkavah le-r. el’azar mi-worms u-le-r. ya‘akov ben ya‘akov ha-kohen (Los Angeles: Cherub Press, 2004).
Menachem Kallus, “Two Mid-13th Century Kabbalistic Texts from the ‘Iyun Circle’, with Commentaries” (M.A. thesis, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, 1985), 1-9.
Oded Porat, Kitvei ha-iyyun: mahadurot madda‘iyyot (Los Angeles: Cherub Press, 2013), 147-155, 161-163.
Gershom Scholem, Reshit ha-kabbalah (1150-1250) (Jerusalem: Schocken, 1948), 257-258 (nos. 8-9, 11).
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