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«Thesis submitted for the degree of “Doctor of Philosophy” by Sachi Ogimoto Submitted to the Senate of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem August ...»

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The Concept of the Ascent of Prayer by Sixteenth-century

Jerusalem Kabbalist, R. Joseph ibn Zayyah

Thesis submitted for the degree of

“Doctor of Philosophy”


Sachi Ogimoto

Submitted to the Senate of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem

August 2011

This work was carried out under the supervision of

Professor Jonathan Garb


First and foremost, I would like to express my deep and sincere gratitude to my

supervisor, Professor Jonathan Garb, of the Department of Jewish Thought, Faculty of Humanities, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. I appreciate his support and patience in helping me complete this project and his provision of clear-cut advice with profound insight and encouragement.

Table of Contents Introduction

Zayyah’s Life

Zayyah’s Writings

Introduction to Perush le-Tefilah

Survey of Research

Methodological Queries

The Structure of the Thesis

Characteristics of Zayyah’s Writing

Chapter One: Pre-Zayyah Patterns of the Ascent of the Prayer: Rabbinic Views, Hasidei Ashkenazic Views, and Early Kabbalistic Views

Rabbinic Views

Heikhalot Literature

Hasidei Ashkenazic Views

Early Kabbalistic Views

Chapter Two: Ascent of Prayer in the Theory of R. David ben Yehudah he-Hasid

Introduction to Sefer Or Zaru’a

Ascent Traditions

Theosophical Interpretation of Ascent of Prayer

The Change of the Personal Pronoun

Chapter Three: Ascent of Prayer by Angel

Angel as a Receiver of Prayer

Metatron and Shemaiel

Angelic Liturgy

Angel as a Deliverer of Prayer

Geographical Path

Obstacle to the ascent of prayer

Counterforce to Satan

Chapter Four: Ascent of Prayer by Divine Name: The Forty-Two-Letter Name

ii Forty-Two-Letter Name

Divine Name as Ascending force of Prayer

The Classic Model: The Ascent of the Crown

The Medieval Model—Ascent of Prayer by Divine Names

Numerological Exegesis

The Medieval Model 2: Counterforce

Counting Method

Notarikon, Roshey Tevot

Neoplatonic concept versus Traditional concept

Chapter Five: The Relationship with Kavvanah

The Definition of Kavvanah in Prayer: Transition of the Meaning........... 170 The Objects of Kavvanah

Kavvanah as the condition for acceptance of the prayer

Theosophical Kavvanah

Kavvanah as the Semantic Linguistic Magic of Power

Kavvanah as a Counterforce to Obstacles to prayer

Architectonic Significance of Kavvanah

Chapter Six: Interpretation of Prayer by Gematria

Single Calculation Numerology

Roshey Tevot/Notarikon

Great is our Lord

Concluding Remarks


Primary Sources in Print

Secondary Sources


–  –  –

Jewish thought depicts a variety of entities ascending heavenward: the soul, thoughts, letters, sacrificial offerings, the smoke of sacrifice, corporeal bodies, and prayer.1 Each of them has its own purpose: Sacrificial offering atones for the sins of the nation and of the individual2; an ascent of the soul and corporeal body brings solutions for earthly troubles3 or new knowledge; and prayer’s rise heavenward has multiple purposes. These phenomena demonstrate the prevalence of the notion in Jewish thought that certain materials or spiritual entities ascend to the most solemn place or to heaven.

Scripture repeatedly states that God hears man’s prayer,4 and Rabbinic Judaism continues to reinforce this concept. All prayer ascends to heaven. This notion has been firmly believed since the biblical period. How then does God According to the 13th century testimony of R. Ezra of Gerona, the ancient pious men 1 knew how to raise their thought to its source. See Moshe Idel, Kabbalah: New Perspectives (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1988), 46. The second highest Sefirah, Hokhmah, is the source of thought, beyond which thought cannot ascend.

–  –  –

Moshe Idel, Ascensions on High in Jewish Mysticism: Pillars, Lines, Ladders (Budapest:

3 CEU Press, 2005), 35.

Kings I 9:3, Kings II 19:4, Is. 37:4, Is. 38:5, Jer. 14:12, Ps. 4:2; 4:4; 6:10; 17:1; 39:13; 54:4;

4 61:2; 65:3; 66:19; 84:9; 102:2; 143:1; Prov. 15:29; 28:9; Neh. 1:6, Ch.II 6:19; 6:20; 6:35; 6:39;

7:12; 30:27.

–  –  –

question is God-oriented, and the latter investigates the human side of the act.

Indeed, there is a view that God listens to all human words or thought without any effort on the part of man. In other words, God, in His omnipotence, does not require humans to enable Him to hear their prayers. This human-oriented view has dominated since the post-biblical period and is especially prominent in kabbalistic speculation. This concept reached its summit with the 16th century Jerusalem kabbalist, R. Joseph ben Abraham ibn Zayyah (1505-1573), one of the most important Kabbalists in this center.5 In this thesis, I will focus upon the latter human-oriented question, which will be a point of departure for understanding how the new tradition, the ascent of prayer, emerged and developed. I shall focus further here on one of the phenomena of the ascent of prayer found in Perush le-Tefilah, written by ibn Zayyah.

Zayyah’s Life R. Joseph ben Abraham ibn Zayyah lived in Jerusalem during the Golden Age of the Ottoman period in Eretz-Israel/Palestine.6 The economic crisis in Moshe Idel, “Spanish Kabbalah after the Expulsion,” Moreshet Sepharad: The Sephardi 5 Legacy (Ed., Haim Beinart; Jerusalem: The Magness Press, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, 1992), 2:176.

According to Abraham David, Zayyah was known to have lived in Jerusalem from 6 1518 or an earlier date. See Abraham David, To Come to the Land: Immigration and Settlement in Sixteenth-Century Eretz-Israel (Tr. Dena Ordan; London: The University of Alabama Press, 1999), 155. The precise date of birth and his lifetime were unclear but

–  –  –

center, Aleppo (Haleb), in Syria.7 Sometime prior to 1560, Zayyah moved to Damascus. He was regarded as an important posek (decisor) and served as rabbi for the local Musta’rabim8 in Jerusalem and Damascus.9 His active role in the halakhic field is well known, and many of his responsa, written in Jerusalem he was in Jerusalem till 1555 and then moved to Damascus. See Dotan Arad, “Rabbi

Yoseph Ibn Sayah: A Profile of a Sixteenth-Century Musta’rib Sage,” Shalem 8 (2008):

136. (Hebrew) (Hereafter cited as “A Profile.”) Idel, “Spanish Kabbalah after the Expulsion,” 176; Jonathan Garb, “Kabbalah of 7 Rabbi Joseph Ibn Sayyah as the Source for the Understanding of Safedian Kabbalah,” Kabbalah 4 (1997): 261 (Hebrew).

Abraham David, The Immigration and Settlement in the Land of Israel in the 16th Century 8 (Jerusalem: Rubin Mass, 1993), 79 (Hebrew). Although he is said to be belong to the Arabic speaking, indigent Jews, his origin is not explicitly mentioned but his name and his Arabic knowledge testifies that. See Arad, “A Profile,” 145. According to Garb, “Kabbalah of Rabbi Joseph Ibn Sayyah,” 261, Zayah served as Rabbi of the Musta’rabim in Damascus in 1578-1582.

According to Asaf, Zayyah was one of the important rabbis in Damascus and 9 afterwards he was appointed as Rabbi in Jerusalem. S. Asaf, “On the Various Manuscripts; 3. Responsa of R. Joseph ibn Zayyah,” Kiriat Sefer 11 (1934-1935): 492 (Hebrew). Yehudah Ratzaby, Be’ur Tefillah (Commentary on the Prayers) by Yosef Sayyah (?), Kiryat Sefer 68 (1998): 292 (Hebrew). Zayyah served Beit Din of the Musta’rabim in Damascus.

–  –  –

eminent contemporaries, and others are found in a separate collection.

Relatively extensive information about his intellectual profile is preserved, unlike other kabbalists. However, scant information is found about his family background. We know that he was born in Jerusalem and he had at least one daughter.11 On the other hand, Zayyah’s relationships with his contemporaries are quite well known. Zayyah had a close relationship with R. Abraham Castro, the leader of the Jewish community in Egypt12 who immigrated to Jerusalem and oversaw the construction of the walls of Jerusalem’s Old City.13 Castro provided the financial support to Zayyah, and Zayyah dedicated two of his writings to him.14 Castro was also close to the other important kabbalists R.

David ben Solomon ibn Abi Zimra (1479-1573), the first teacher of the prominent Safedian Kabbalist R. Isaac of Luria,15 and the sages in Safed, Garb, “Kabbalah of Rabbi Joseph Ibn Sayyah,” 261; Ruth Lamdan frequently quoted 10 from the response in order to demonstrate that Zayyah contributed to solving the halakhic questions and was in a strong position to rule the various regulations. Zayyah took a rationalistic solution or coercible way rather than entrusting independence will or self-direction for religious observation. [A Separate People: Jewish Women in Palestine, Syria and Egypt in the Sixteenth Century (Leiden: Brill, 2000).

Arad, “A Profile,” 140.

11 Garb, “Kabbalah of Rabbi Joseph Ibn Sayyah,” 8, 261.


–  –  –

Musta’arabi community16 and corresponded with Caro on the issue on the tax exemption for scholars. Another important figure is R. Moshe ben Hayyim Alsheikh (1520-1593), a contemporary to Zayyah born in Adrianople, who later immigrated to Eretz Israel, settling in Safed. Alsheikh acts as a biblical commentator who studied under Joseph Taitazak and Joseph Caro in Salonika.17 Zayyah mentioned his name in his Perush le-Tefilah.18 Kabbalists who influenced Zayyah included the 13th century kabbalist in Aragon of Spain, Abraham Abulafia, a leading figure of prophetic-ecstatic Kabbalah19, and his student, the Castilian Kabbalist, R. Joseph ben Abraham Gikatilla (1248-1325), the contemporary of R. David ben Yehudah he-Hasid, R.

Joseph ben Shalom Ashkenazi,20 and Jewish mystical-magical literatures.

But later he considered joining the Sephardi community.

16 He was inclined towards philosophical speculation. For his relationship with 17 philosophy see Cambridge Companion to Medieval Jewish philosophy (ed., Daniel H. Frank and Liver Leaman; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 249.

For Alsheikh see the section “Introduction to Perush le-Tefilah.” See also Ratzaby, 18 “Be’ur Tefillah,” 279-282.

Moshe Idel, The Mystical Experience in Abraham Abulafia (tr., Jonathan Chipman;

19 Albany: State University of New York Press, 1988), 195.

For the relationship between Zayyah and Ashkenazi see Garb, “Kabbalah of Rabbi 20 Joseph Ibn Sayyah,” 263, 289, 291. The relationship between R. David’s Commentary on Sefer Yezirah (Ms. Cambridge Add.664/1 fol. 20a) and Joseph ben Shalom Ashkenazi’s Hakudamat ha-Rabad (Ms. Jerusalem 404 8゜) is noted by Gershom Scholem in “R.

–  –  –

including the prominent Yemenite kabbalist, R. Yahya ben Joseph Zalah (1714-1806),21 and the Safedian Kabbalist, R. Hayyim Vital, R. Isaac Luria’s principal disciple.

Zayyah’s Writings Zayyah wrote several works, including voluminous works of magic, but his works are still waiting to be studied and printed.22

1. Even ha-Shoham is a commentary on the combination of letters (hokhmat ha-seruf) completed in Jerusalem in 1538.23 This work is devoted to R.

David ben Yehudah he-Hasid as Grandson of Nahmanides,” Studies in Kabbalah (Tel Aviv: Am Oved, 1998), 158 (Hebrew); Joseph ben Shalom Ashkenazi, A Kabbalistic Commentary of Rabbi Yoseph ben Shalom Ashkenazi on Genesis Rabbah (ed. Moshe Hallamish; Jerusalem: The Magnes Press, 1984), 9 (Hebrew).

Moshe Hallamish, Kabbalah: In Liturgy, Halakhah and Customs (Ramat Gan: Bar-Ilan 21 University, 2002), 221 (Hebrew). Zalah often mentioned the name of Zayyah in his Siddur.

See Moshe Idel, “The Relationship of the Jerusalem Kabbalists and Israel Sarug of 22

Safed: The Sources of the Doctrine of Malbush by R. Israel Sarug” Shalem 6 (1992):

165-173. (Hebrew); Jonathan Garb, Manifestations of Power in Jewish Mysticism: From Rabbinic Literature to Safedian Kabbalah (Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 2005) (Hebrew), 188.

Scholem, Kabbalah (New York: A Meridian Book, 1978), 70; Gershom Scholem, 23 Kabbalistic Manuscripts (Kitvey-Yad be-Kabbalah, (Jerusalem: 1974), 89–91; Garb, “Kabbalah of Rabbi Joseph Ibn Sayyah,” 265; David, To Come to the Land, 155; Moshe

–  –  –

kehillah,24 a Nagid in Egypt.25 As Scholem put it, Even ha-Shoham is “the most detailed textbook on meditation into the mystery of the Sefirot” and introduces kabbalistic chiromancy.26 The influence of Abulafia’s doctrine is prominent here.27 Extant in manuscripts are Ms. Jerusalem 8 and Ms.

–  –  –

Hallamish, An Introduction to the Kabbalah, (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1999), 66; Ratzaby, “Be’ur Tefillah,” 279. For editorial technique of manuscript especially the Kabbalistic ones and accompanying problems see Daniel Abrams, Kabbalistic Manuscripts and Textual Theory: Methodologies of Textual Scholarship and Editorial Practice in the Study of Jewish Mysticism (Jerusalem; Magnes Press, 2010), 429-443.

David, To Come to the Land, 155; Abrams, Kabbalistic Manuscripts, 90-91; Abraham 24 David, “The Office of Nagid in Egypt and its history of Abraham Castro,” Tarbiz 41 (1974): 335-36 (Hebrew); Eliav Shochetman, “Additional Information on the Life of R.

Abraham Castro,” Ziun 48 (1983): 387-89; Garb, “Kabbalah of Rabbi Joseph Ibn Sayyah,” 261.

Garb, “Kabbalah of Rabbi Joseph Ibn Sayyah,” 261; Jonathan Garb, “Trance 25 Techniques in the Kabbalistic Tradition of Jerusalem,” Pe’amim 70 (1997): 48 (Hebrew);

David, “The Office of Nagid in Egypt,” 325-337, A. Shochtman, 387-403.

Scholem, Kabbalistic Manuscripts, 90–91; Scholem, Kabbalah, 319, 371.

26 Moshe Idel, Studies in Ecstatic Kabbalah (Jerusalem: Academon, 1990), 108 (Hebrew).

27 Ms. Jerusalem, Jewish National and University Library, Heb. 8゜416; Ms. St.

28 Petersburg Evr. II A 1 (F. 63936); Ms. Livorno – Talmud Tora 77 (49076); Ms. Bar-Ilan 598 (IMHM, no. 36544); Ms. Bar Ilan 1211 (22878).

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