Prophecy and Maggidism

In the Life and Writings of R. Joseph Karo


Mor Altshuler* 

Among the principal sources from which Rabbi Joseph Karo (1488 – 1575), the celebrated author of the last codification ofJewish law, Shulhan Arukh, and a most prominent lawmaker known as Maran (our master), drew inspiration was a hidden entity, whose voice spoke from Karo’s mouth and throat.  The voice identified itself as that of an emissary from the heavenly academy: “the Holy One Blessed Be He and all the members of the heavenly academy[1] have sent me to instruct you in the secret truth of the matter.”[2]  The emissary’s mission was to reveal to Karo the mysteries of the Torah and of Creation; the hidden secrets of the future in this world and the world to come; and the secrets of the transmigration of souls, which are the mysteries of repair and redemption.[3] Revelations of the future pertained even to political and military developments, which were understood at the time as alluding to revelation of the End: “During the minhah [afternoon] prayer, while the leader was still reading from the Torah, he [the voice] said to me: ‘Know, dear and beloved Joseph that the Turkish king will triumph over Edom.’”[4]  The date of the revelation “Sabbath day, 25 Adar II” could have fallen in the year 5293 (March 22, 1533) or 5296 (March 18, 1536), both of which were leap years on the Hebrew calendar that included a second month of Adar.  Yet the former seems more likely: it occurred at the height of the war between “the Turkish king,” Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent (1520 – 1566) and the kingdom of “Edom” – the Christian Hapsburg Empire led by Emperor Charles V and his brother Ferdinand, king of Spain.  After Suleiman was repelled at the gates of Vienna, the Empire’s capital, in 1529, he decided to attack by land.  In 1532, he led an army in the direction of Vienna but was stopped at the city gates of Guns (south of Vienna); in November 1532, he returned to Constantinople.  In 1533, he decided to open another front in the east, against Persia, and therefore brought most of his army back to Constantinople, but the threat of land war did not abate until June 1533, when the Ottomans signed a ceasefire agreement with Ferdinand.  The date and content of the revelation thus correspond to the belief, prevalent until the summer of 1533, that the Ottomans were about to defeat the kingdom of Edom.[5]

The Androgynous Angel as an Ideal Being

The motif of hearing prophecy from an angel, a divine messenger, goes back to the Bible, especially in connection with Zechariah, the latest of the prophets, and Daniel.  With the end of prophecy, revelation came to be conveyed through other manifestations of the holy spirit, although the term “prophecy” appears in Geonic and medieval literature in order to denote contemporary visions.[6]  The angel who spoke from Karo’s throat, however, was anonymous.  At times, it assumed a masculine identity, called speech (dibbur),[7] or the voice (qol),[8] analogous to the terms used for Moses’ prophecy,[9] thus elevating the revelations to this unique degree.  Occasionally, the voice was called the Maggid (sayer, speaker).[10]  This term, which denotes a human messenger (Jer. 51:31), appears in Rashi’s commentary on Pesahim as the recipient of heavenly revelations.[11]Maggid is used in connection with a heavenly messenger in Sefer ha-Tamar, a medieval treatise on alchemy and astrology translated from the Arabic.[12]  Despite the obscure wording of Sefer ha-Tamar, one can see that the term Maggid is tied to astrology, to foretelling the future through the influence of the stars, and it refers to the angel who connects the star to the one who gazes at the stars; alternatively, it is the astral sign of the person for whom the astrological map is cast.[13]  Beginning in the sixteenth century, the term Maggid as a heavenly messenger begins to appear in the writings of kabbalists such as Abraham ha-Levi; according to Moshe Idel, the influence of Sefer ha-Meshiv is evident there.[14]  It is also possible that Joseph Karo was influenced by the Maggid of R. Joseph Taitazak, but whether Taitazak had a Maggid and what connection it may have had to the revelations described in Sefer ha-Meshiv are questions that still do not have unambiguous answers.[15] Either way, it is quite clear that the title of Sefer ha-Meshiv that is literally “Book of the Responder” influenced the original title of Karo’s mystical diary, Sefer ha-Maggid, which is literally “Book of the Speaker.”

At other times, the voice of the heavenly messenger would appear as a feminine entity, identified as the Mishnah,[16] the Shekhinah[17] or the mother and lady (Matronita).[18]  Again, it is clear that Joseph Karo adopted previous patterns of revelation, for the personification of the Torah, which appears to the student in the personalized form of a woman, can be found in Marganita de-Bei Rav: “Happy is one who hears words of Torah every day… I have come to teach you; I therefore set out to greet you, to receive you, and I have found you.  Happy are you if you recall me; happy are you if you take me into your heart; happy are you if fulfill me; happy are you if you heed me.  You should direct your attention to me daily, for through me will your days be many.”[19] Similar wording is heard from Karo’s Mishnah: “Behold, I set out to greet you, to receive you, and I have found you.”[20]  Moreover, the voice refers to the Torah as marganita tovah (a goodly pearl)[21] and mentions the treatise Marganita de-Bei Rav as well.[22] However, in at least one revelation, the angel is simultaneously feminine – the Mishnah, and masculine – Jacob’s redeeming angel: “I, I am the Mishnah speaking through your mouth.  I dried the sea and pierced Rahab.[23]  I am the rebuking mother.  I am the angel who redeems through the mystery of Jacob.”[24]

Androgynous angels are mentioned in philosophical and kabbalistic literature:According to Saadia Gaon, the archangel that was revealed to the prophets was defined with both the masculine attribute kavod and the feminine attribute Shekhinah: “It is a form nobler even than the angels, magnificent in character, resplendent with light, which is called kavod. It is this form… that the Sages characterized as Shekhina[25]  In the interpretation of Moshe ben Nahman, Nahmanides, (1194-1270) a prominent commentator on the Torah and a leading Sephardic kabbalist, the patriarch Jacob’s “redeeming angel” is “also the Shekhinah, which accompanies Jacob as an angel.  For we [The Israelites] do not have a guardian angel, but God himself guides us.”[26]  In the Zohar as well, the Shekhinah is referred to as the “redeeming angel.”[27]  Along with the literary aspects, we should note a parallel in Joseph Karo’s personal life: his second wife, whom he believed to possess within her a masculine soul, which had been that of the biblical Bezalel (architect of the Israelite’s desert tabernacle) in its first incarnation and that of the tanna Rabbi Tarfon in its second incarnation.[28]  Hence the androgynous angel blends into his mystical diary’s cosmological image, comprising three layers reflected in one another, each of them containing an androgynous entity.  At the lowest level is Karo’s terrestrial wife, possessed of an androgynous soul; at the middle level is the Maggid-Shekhinah, the link between the terrestrial and supernal worlds; and at the uppermost level are the divine realms, also comprising masculine and feminine Sefirot.[29]  Opposing it is the world of the sitra ahra (the other side) – the forces of evil, also divided into male and female demons.[30]  This cosmological picture does not differ in principle from the cosmology of medieval Kabbalah, which places the infinite (ein-sof) and the Sefirot at the pinnacle of existence, above the middle world, which ties the Sefirot to the physical world.  It comprises the halls of paradise and the heavenly Temple, home to angels, holy beasts and the souls of the righteous, together with heavenly entities that have terrestrial realizations, such as the Sabbath, the Torah, and Jerusalem.  Joseph Karo’s inspiration thus revives kabbalistic cosmology and turns it into a stage on which the drama of his life is played out, as the reviver of the myth is its hero.[31]

Male and Female – Halakhah and Kabbalah

The androgynous nature of the heavenly messenger is not entirely arbitrary; one may occasionally note a correspondence between the content of the revelation and the messenger’s gender identity.  When the angel deals with halakhic matters, he identifies himself as male.[32]  When the revelations draw their inspiration from the Zohar, however, the angel tends to assume feminine garb.  In the Zohar itself, the relationship between Simeon bar Yohai and the Shekhinah is portrayed in erotic terms; and the Shekhinah likewise promises Joseph Karo, in the words of the Song of Songs, “that I will grant my love to you.”[33]  The erotic aspect, however, is overcome by the maternal theme, sometimes as “the mother who rebukes a person”;[34] sometimes as the mother who comforts and assuages: “I kiss you neshiqin de-rahimu, I hug you, I place your head in the shelter of my wing.”[35]  The expression neshiqin de-rahimu (kisses of love) creates a double entendre: kisses of pity (rahamim) or motherly love in Hebrew but erotic kisses in Aramaic, since the Aramaic verb rahim means “love.” The double meaning illuminates the perpetual move between motherly love and erotic love between male and female.[36]

In at least one instance, however, the angel takes on male identity and describes the Shekhinah – that is, his female identity – in the third person:

All your sins and faults will be purged by fire so that you will rise from here like pure wool. All the righteous ones in the Garden of Eden, the Shekhina at their head, will come out to meet you, welcoming you with many songs and praises. They will lead you like a groom who walks in front and they will accompany you to your canopy.[37]

The passage speaks of Joseph Karo’s death and the ascent of his soul to the Garden of Eden for a celestial wedding ritual in which he is the groom and the Shekhinah is the bride; it follows that the angel is describing his own wedding in his feminine form.  But such divisions had no effect on Joseph Karo’s erotic attitude, demonstrated both from the masculine side of the Holy One, Blessed be He and the feminine side of the Shekhinah: “By this merit, the Holy One, Blessed be He will love you.  And when you arise to pray and recite when He is delighting in the righteous ones in the Garden of Eden, that is, at midnight, He will delight in you and extend to you a touch of kindness, and He will kiss you with neshiqin de-rahimu and hug you, and the Shekhinah will be speaking with you.”[38]

The reflective character of the revelations influenced the account of the world of prophecy as a circle ending where it begins, as a cyclical movement from the prophet, to which the Sefirot are joined, forming a circle that unites the upper and lower realms.[39]  The circle, known also as olam ha-shem (the world of God or the world of God’s name) encompasses the concept of a hook, which resembles a heavenly serpent or dragon “whose head is good and whose tail is evil”; it is the intermediate world “between the world of unity and the world of separation.”  This androgynous world, whose protagonist is Metatron-Shekhinah, guides the world of separation; on its account, Elisha ben Abuyah erred and concluded there were two cosmic powers.[40]  Thus, the redeeming angel-Shekhinah is identified with Metatron,[41] and that identification transforms the trinity of Mishnah-Shekhinah-Metatron into the basic model for Joseph Karo’s theory of prophecy.  That model, comprising a sacred text and a celestial being with two aspects, conveys the equal weight assigned to the two components of the scriptural religions’ underlying structural model – prophetic revelation and sacred texts.[42]  It follows that the tension between, on the one hand, the aspiration to unmediated revelation and, on the other, the sanctity of the text was resolved in Joseph Karo’s case through a harmonizing approach that renewed prophecy by reviving the text rather than casting it aside.  It seems fair to assume that the Mishnah’s participation in the prophecy welling up within Karo resolved for him the conflict between halakhic continuity and prophetic innovation, just as the prophecy’s manifestation as voice rather than as vision solved the problem of anthropomorphism that has always beset Jewish thinkers.

The reflective quality of the revelations is expressed as well in the circular relationship between the grantor and the recipient; that is, between the angel and Karo’s soul: “I, it is I who speak with you; your soul (neshamah) – not life (nefesh), not spirit (ruah), but the soul (neshamah) itself.”[43]  Neshamah is an anagram of Mishnah

((משנה = נשמה and that nexus shows that the content of the revelations reflects the intellectual world of the recipient, or – as the Maggid puts it – it is “a lyre playing of itself.”[44]  Accordingly, when the Maggid errs in citing a verse, Karo himself is the source of the error, and it is he who must resolve the difficulties thereby raised: “Even if I occasionally offer an interpretation of an inaccurately transcribed verse, I am nevertheless speaking in accord with your will…what a person is shown is in accord with what he wills…as it is written, ‘by the prophets have I been envisaged’…not from Him do I ‘multiply visions’ but from what arises in the prophets’ imaginative faculties.”[45]  It is important to stress that the Maggid directs Karo to resolve the difficulty exegetically rather than resting content with noting an erroneous citation.  That directive casts an ironic light on R. Jacob Emden’s comment in the name of his father that “the rabbi [author of] Beit Yosef was more learned than his Maggid[46]

Moreover, the soul is at the pinnacle of human spirituality,[47] and the revelation of the soul through the instrumentality of the angel paints a complex picture of the angel-Shekhinah as Joseph Karo’s ideal essence, “the personal angel who accompanies every person and represents his concealed essence.”  This ideal essence is androgynous, possessed of “a feminine image behind the masculine image,” which symbolizes the Shekhinah, the unattained heavenly beloved, and the longed-for unity between it and Karo’s soul just like the Walter Benjamin’s androgynous “angelus novus,” as interpreted by Gershom Scholem.[48]  Identifying the angel as the ideal “I” also fits the androgynous angels created on the second day, continuously formed and burned up, which symbolize the image of primeval Adam, created hermaphroditically in the Garden of Eden, and his perfected essence when fulfilled at the end of days.[49]  It is possible that the Maggid was referring to these angels when he described the angels that surround Karo and are created by his breath whenever he studies Mishnah.[50]  Moreover, the image of the angel as the idealized “I” is suited to its designation as redeeming or “guardian” angel (ha-mal’akh ha-go’el), who protects Karo from all ill, particularly the internal ills embodied in his own sinful thoughts.  The role of guardian is consistent with some of Zvi Werblowsky’s observations, according to which the Maggid gives voice to a projection of moral values, whether their source is in Karo’s superego or in his subconscious.[51]  Werblowsky, however, emphasized the oedipal pattern of the mother-like speaker while expunging from the picture the aspect of the Shekhinah as celestial beloved, blended into the complete feminine image.  Either way, Joseph Karo did not see the personal mark borne by the revelations as external evidence of what was transpiring in the recesses of his soul; rather he saw it as authentication of his standing in the higher realms and of his being among the select few who merited revelations of this sort: “Your eyes behold that for many generations no man has reached this high degree, except some chosen few.”[52]  That is why he did not define the revelations as a monologue but, rather, as a dialogue with a supernal substance, and why he desired constant confirmation of their truth.

The Analogy to Moses’ Prophecy

The angel indeed classified the revelations as prophecy: “Although prophecy has departed from Israel, it has not departed from within you.”[53]  The prophetic quality of the Maggid’s utterances is especially blatant in the comparison between the voice’s appearance in Karo’s mouth and throat – “for you are privileged to speak mouth to mouth when I speak with you”[54] – and Moses’ prophecy, regarding which scripture says, “mouth to mouth I speak with him.”[55]  Indeed, Zvi Werblowsky pointed out that “Maggidism is an attempt at emulating Mosaic prophecy…many of the passages quoted above clearly intend to echo Moses.”[56]

The tradition in all its streams exalts Moses’ figure as the paradigm of the prophet-legislator, mediating between God and the nation of Israel.  The Sages glorified Moses’ role in the exodus from Egypt, depicting the Messiah of the final redemption in Moses’ image: “Like the first redeemer, so will the final redeemer be.”[57]  The philosophers acclaimed his intellectual attainments and moral perfection, while the mystical tradition assigned his soul a unique meta-historical standing, as the reincarnation of the souls of Abel and Seth, primeval Adam’s sons, who in the future will be reincarnated as the Messiah.[58]  Joseph Karo’s connection to Moses, and, via Moses, to the soul of primeval Adam and of the Messiah, is, then, a round-about way to his own messianic image.

On the manifest plane, the resemblance between maggidism and Moses’ prophecy is expressed in their common characteristic of stammering.  Like Moses, who was “heavy of speech and of a heavy tongue” (Ex. 4:10), the Maggid also sometimes stammered:  “He stammered and said ‘you cause me to stammer by the wandering thoughts in your mind at the time of prayer, for you do not concentrate sufficiently [on your prayers].’”[59]  And like Moses, whose complaint that “I am of uncircumcised lips” (Ex. 6:12) reflected the impurity of his foreskin or that of his son,[60] the Maggid’s stammering likewise resulted from Joseph Karo’s sinful thoughts, which interfered with the fluency of his tongue and also caused him to experience nocturnal emissions.[61]  Sinful sexual thoughts are punished by leprosy (zara`at), an affliction taken to indicate sexual and spiritual impurity: “How necessary it is to avoid thoughts of women and to extirpate such thoughts that arise in your heart during prayer, especially while praying the amidah; and you know who causes them to arise in your heart… Take great care regarding the affliction of leprosy which is a sign (’ot) not to sully the covenant of circumcision.”[62]  One revelation included the explicit comment, “Take great care not to think of sexual matters, for Samael pursues you with such thoughts”;[63] and another revelation hints that the pair of demons Kazkefuniand Zarita give rise to sinful thoughts, from which leprous demons are born:  “at the time of the afternoon prayer, while the prayer leader was reading from the Torah scroll, he said to me… As for you, stand with me here at my right and fear not nor shrink back; for I am prepared to rescue you even if the demon Kazkefuniand his spouse Zarita indict you with all their hearts – I will send them away defeated by you if you firmly adhere to my Torah, fearing and serving Me.”[64]  The repetition of the three-fold connection between sinful sexual thoughts, the impurity of the organ on which the covenant is imprinted, and the punishment of leprosy has the effect of linking Karo to the flaws in Moses’ leadership and imparting a scriptural aura even to his sins.  The connection shows the vulnerability of the world of prophecy, which is situated between the world of separation and the upper world and open to the rule of the forces of evil.  It also glorifies Karo’s battle for moral purity, making it a battle for the rescue of the Shekhinah from the forces of evil.  The battle takes place by exalting the image of Moses, whose soul emanates from the Sefirah of binah (understanding), the source of prophecy,[65] and his mouth-to-mouth prophecy is the perfect coupling of masculine and feminine, the Sefirot of malkhut (sovereignty) and tif’eret (splendor).[66]  Meanwhile, Karo attributes to his own personality the flaws seen in Moses, such as sinful thoughts that bring up the demons responsible for nocturnal emissions, on account of which the Maggid stammers.

Moses and Rabbi Simeon bar Yohai, His Kabbalistic Double

Prophecy is defined in Karo’s mystical journal as the Shekhinah’s speech within the prophet’s mouth: “for prophecy is the Shekhinah’s speaking through the prophet’s mouth, and that is the meaning of ‘I put My words in your mouth,’ and it appears as if he is prophesying from within himself.”[67]  The Shekhinah’s speech is presented in a manner tied to the Zohar’s depiction of prophecy as a state of erotic bonding between Moses and the Shekhinah: “After that, Moses separated from his wife because he bonded with the supernal [level] and was husband to the Shekhinah, as written in the Holy Zohar[68]  Indeed, Joseph Karo’s identification with Moses is expressed in the heavenly promise to bestow on him the degree of prophecy that takes the form of the Shekhinah speaking through his mouth: “for you will be the Shekhinah’s place of encampment and the Shekhinah will speak through you.”[69]  One may also attribute to the Zohar’s influence the account of Karo’s death and of his soul’s ascent to a celestial nuptial ceremony with the Shekhinah[70] on the model of the nuptial ceremony (hillula) of Simeon bar Yohai, whose soul departed at the time of his spiritual coupling with the Shekhinah.[71]  Simeon bar Yohai is described in the Zohar as resembling Moses or as his reincarnation, reinforcing the three-fold analogy among Moses, bar Yohai, and Karo.[72]

The identification of Joseph Karo with the figures of Moses and Simeon bar Yohai is explicitly stated in the Tiqqun Leil Shavu`ot (all-night study and prayer gathering on the festival of Shavuot) that Karo and his group conducted in Salonika in 1533.  His colleague, Solomon ha-Levi Elkabetz, described the event in an epistle suggesting that the members of the group reenacted the giving of the Torah on Shavuot.  Joseph Karo recreated the role of Moses, mediating between God and Israel, represented by the members of the group.  He experienced a public revelation of the Shekhinah in his mouth – “all the companions heard the voice”[73] – corresponding to the public revelation at Sinai,[74] to the midrashic description of God descending accompanied by the angels and of the Shekhinah’s encampment,[75] and to the Zohar’s description of the great assembly (idra rabba) that apparently took place on the night of Shavuot, when Simeon bar Yohai and his circle served as the Shekhinah’s wedding attendants, raising her up and adorning her by studying the Torah and its mysteries.[76]  Moreover, at this encounter, the Shekhinah adjured the members of the group to immigrate to the Land of Israel – “Go up to the Land of Israel”[77] – as prophecy is distinctive in its imposition of a specific mission, able to be worded literally.  Evidently, the placement of the Land of Israel at the prophecy’s focus, and the command to immigrate there, resolved Karo’s uncertainties about the possibility of prophecy outside the Land of Israel.[78]

Karo’s esteem for Simeon bar Yohai, Moses’ Zoharic double, nourished his hope that, once in the Land of Israel, he would merit revelation of celestial mysteries, just as they were revealed to Simeon bar Yohai and the members of his circle: “As for things about which you are in doubt, four-winged angels will teach them to you as they taught Rabbi Simeon bar Yohai in the cave.”[79]  Another revelation shows his aspiration to go beyond bar Yohai in uncovering kabbalistic secrets: “and to plumb the wisdom of the Kabbalah more than Rabbi Simeon in Meron, and he will come to learn from you.”[80]  Indeed, after settling in Safed in 1536, Joseph Karo regularly visited the graves of Rabbi Simeon bar Yohai and his son Eliezer in Meron on Hoshana Rabbah, to fulfill there the custom of making a circuit with the four Sukkot species as a charm to ensure rainfall and of studying the Zohar as a charm for the disclosure of its secrets:  “And Rabbi Simeon bar Yohai and his son were happy to greet you, as you read the Zohar at their burial site and in the nearby village, but because you circled Rabbi Eliezer with the four species that induce a willingness to provide water, the waters were aroused and came…and if you diligently continue to read thus [in the Zohar], so, too, will the supernal mysteries be revealed to you, and all is alluded to in the Zohar[81]  The participants in the ritual included several companions of the group that had participated in the 5293 (1533) Tiqqun Leil Shavu`ot and immigrated to Safed in the wake of the shared oath; in effect, they became the founders of the first “Zoharic congregation” of Safed.[82]

Biblical Moses and Moses Maimonides, His Halakhic Double

Revelations by Maggid and manifestations of prophecy are not unique to Joseph Karo; earlier instances are known.[83]  Among others was Abraham Abulafia, whose claim to have experienced prophecy proved intensely controversial during the thirteenth century.[84]  On the other hand, the visions of Solomon Molkho in the sixteenth century were taken as true prophecy,[85] and his death at the stake in 1532 was considered to have been in sanctification of God’s Name.  The shift in attitude toward the phenomenon of prophesying was the result of a complex, multi-faceted process, whose links to events at the time have not yet been adequately studied.  But with regard to Joseph Karo, it is clear that, whatever the role of contemporary spiritual trends, his standing as a halakhist also contributed to the legitimating of his maggidism and its acceptance within the spiritual life of the community of Safed kabbalists.  One consideration may have the halakhic mantle in which the maggidism was garbed: consciously or not, Karo aspired to anchor the maggidism as prophecy in accord with applicable halakhic standards.  Accordingly, the forms taken by his prophesying meet the criteria for Mosaic prophecy as set forth in Maimonides’ Mishneh Torah.[86]

Revelations by and manifestations of prophecy are not unique to Joseph Karo; earlier instances are known.  Among others was Abraham Abulafia, whose claim to have experienced prophecy proved intensely controversial during the thirteenth century.  On the other hand, the visions of Solomon Molkho in the sixteenth century were taken as true prophecy, and his death at the stake in 1532 was considered to have been in sanctification of God’s Name.  The shift in attitude toward the phenomenon of prophesying was the result of a complex, multi-faceted process, whose links to events at the time have not yet been adequately studied.  But with regard to Joseph Karo, it is clear that, whatever the role of contemporary spiritual trends, his standing as a halakhist also contributed to the legitimating of his maggidism and its acceptance within the spiritual life of the community of Safed kabbalists.  One consideration may have the halakhic mantle in which the maggidism was garbed: consciously or not, Karo aspired to anchor the maggidism as prophecy in accord with applicable halakhic standards.  Accordingly, the forms taken by his prophesying meet the criteria for Mosaic prophecy as set forth in Maimonides’ .

For Karo, Rabbi Moses ben Maimon, Maimonides,[87] represented the paradigmatic halakhist, an embodiment of Moses as legislator in the same way that Simeon bar Yohai embodied Moses as kabbalist, husband of the Shekhinah.[88] Like Maimonides, Karo took upon himself the task of composing a law code, the Shulhan Arukh; most of the halakhot in both Shulhan Arukh and his previous Beit Yosefare decided in accord with Maimonides’ opinion, for Maimonides and RIF[89] form a majority, among Karo’s three “pillars of [halakhic] instruction,”[90] against the minority view of RoSH.[91]  In his collection of responses, entitled Avqat Rokhel, Karo ruled that in the Land of Israel and throughout the eastern lands (“the Arabistan”) and North Africa (“the Maghreb”), one should rule in accord with Maimonides: “Maimonides of blessed memory, the greatest of the decisors, and all the communities of the Land of Israel, the Arabistan, and the Maghreb follow his views and accepted him as their rabbi, and why should one who follows his rulings, both the lenient and the stringent, be compelled to vary from them?  And particularly since their fathers and fathers’ fathers followed that practice, the sons should not vary to the left or the right from [the rulings of] Maimonides of blessed memory.”[92]  From this follows the singular importance of the Maggid’s promise, expressed in 1543, five years after the failure of the effort to renew classical rabbinic ordination in Safed: “For I will raise you up to be a prince and ruler over all the Diaspora of Israel throughout the realm of Arabistan.  And because you showed your devotion to the return of ordination to its prior state, you will merit being ordained by all the sages of the Land of Israel and all the sages in the Diaspora.  And through you, I will restore ordination to its prior state, and I will grant you the privilege of completing your treatise.”[93]  The promise shows that Karo aspired to take his place beside Maimonides as “prince and ruler” over the Land of Israel and “over all the Diaspora of Israel throughout the realm of Arabistan” and that he hoped his rulings would assume their place beside Maimonides’ Mishneh Torah as binding in all communities.

One area in which Maimonides’ influence is apparent is that of the halakhic distinctiveness of Moses’ prophecy.  Maimonides regarded prophecy as the final perfection of a person, and he characterized Moses as the only prophet who had achieved

that perfection.[94]  In his halakhic law code, Mishneh Torah, Maimonides identified five characteristics that distinguished Moses’ prophecy from that of the other prophets;[95] all five can be found as well in Joseph Karo’s pattern of maggidism:

1. Prophesying while awake

In what respect was the prophecy of Moses distinguished from that of the other prophets? All the prophets received their inspired messages in a dream or in a vision; Moses while awake and standing, as it is said, “And when Moses went into the tent of meeting that He might speak with him, then he heard the Voice speaking unto him from above the ark of the testimony.” (Num. 7:89.)[96]

Joseph Karo likewise was called on by the heavenly messenger only while he was awake.  Moreover, he regarded sleep as laziness, punished by withholding of speech: “I then slept until daybreak so that when I awoke the sun was shining. I was very upset, saying to myself: ‘Why did I not arise during the night so that the speech should come to me as beforetimes?’”[97]

2. Direct prophecy; no intermediary

All the prophets received their messages through the medium of an angel. Hence, what they saw, they saw as an allegory or riddle. Moses received his messages not through an angel, as it is said, “With him do I speak mouth to mouth” (Num.12:8), “And the Lord spoke unto Moses face to face” (Ex. 33:11). Furthermore “And the similitude of the Lord doth he behold” (Num. 12:8); that is to say, that it was no allegory that was revealed to Moses but he realized the prophetic message clearly, without riddle and without parable. To this, the Torah testifies in the text, “Even manifestly, and not in dark speeches” (Num.12:8), which means that he received his prophecy not as a riddle, but had a clear and lucid vision.[98]

At first glance, the appearance of an angel, as mediator and messenger, would appear to differentiate Karo’s prophecy from that of Moses, which was “not through an angel.”  But that gap between the phenomena is closed by the angel’s promise to be revealed in the manner of the revelation to Moses: “Behold, I come to delight you and to speak through your mouth, not in a dream but as one who speaks with his friend.”[99]

3. Prophecy without fear

All the prophets (when receiving their messages) were filled with fear and consternation and became physically weak. Not so our teacher Moses, of whom scripture says, “as a man speaketh unto his friend” (Ex. 33:11). Just as a man is not startled when he hears the words of his fellow-man, so the mind of Moses was vigorous enough to comprehend the words of prophecy while retaining his normal state.[100]

Similarly, the Maggid speaks with Karo “as you see this time, I speak with you as a man speaks with his friend.”[101]  Indeed, Karo did not become disoriented or unconscious in the manner that characterizes mystical ecstasy;[102] rather, he remained lucidly conscious, able to recall the content of the revelations and note them in his mystical journal after the fact.  His tranquility contrasts with the reaction of his coterie during the public revelation at the Tiqqun Leil Shavu`ot, as Elkabetz describes it: “It was an exceedingly pleasant voice, becoming increasingly stronger. We all fell upon our faces and none of us had any spirit left in him because of our great dread and awe.”[103]

The allusions to the giving of the Torah – “The sound of the horn grew louder and louder; Moses spoke, and God answered him by a voice” (Ex. 19:19) – cast Joseph Karo, like Moses, as an island of tranquility and calm surrounded by followers – the Israelites at the giving of the Torah; the members of the group at the Tiqqun Leil Shavu`ot – who are terrified by the awesomeness of the revelation.

4. Prophesying at will

None of the prophets could prophesy at their pleasure. It was otherwise with Moses. He was invested with the prophetic spirit and was clothed with the power of prophecy whenever he pleased. There was no need for him especially to concentrate his mind and prepare for the prophetic manifestations; since he was ever intent and in readiness like the ministering angels. He therefore prophesied at all times; as it is said, “Stay ye that I may hear what the Lord will command concerning you” (Num. 9:8).[104]

Similarly, Karo calls on the Maggid whenever he wants to: “I began to review mishnayot, and I had not completed two chapters before – hark! My beloved came and said...”[105]  The mechanism for summoning the celestial messenger was the review of mishnayot, which Karo, as a halakhist, regularly studied.[106]  On the mystical plane, however, mishnayot played the role of a textual embodiment of the middle realm, the entryway to the supernal realm, just as the oral Torah was the entryway to the written Torah.  The harmonious blending of a halakhic point of view with kabbalistic symbolism was characteristic of Karo’s spiritual world and was expressed in the technique of reviewing, or “grinding,” mishnayot in order to summon the Maggid.  In Aramaic, g-r-sis a verb stem meaning “review” or “recite out loud” as well as “to grind”. The term depicts the act of studying as a loud, oral recitation, fitting well with the manner in which the oral Torah is studied.  Mystical study, however, differs from halakhic study, which is centered on reading and recitation; and “grinding”  mishnayot as the term is used by Karo may mean not just reading them aloud but may have overtones of grinding, physically breaking the literal meaning. 

The “great tanna” R. Joseph Ashkenazi of Safed is said to have had the practice of singing mishnayot, and Zvi Werblowsky and David Tamar assumed, in view of that account, that Joseph Karo likewise reviewed mishnayot melodiously.[107]  Solomon Elkabetz also recounts that, at the Tiqqun Leil Shavu`ot, the members of the group studied “…with quite unbelievable melody and tunefulness.”[108]  But Elkabetz testifies as well that the voice that was heard from Karo’s mouth was not a melody but rather “a voice with letters clearly parsed” that was not understandable: “We heard a voice speaking out of the mouth of the pious, may his light shine. It was a loud voice with letters clearly parsed. All the companions heard the voice but were unable to understand what was said.”[109] 

  The similarity between the beginning of the process, involving Karo’s review of mishnayot, and the outcome of the process – the voice being heard from Karo’s mouth – becomes clearer in light of Maimonides’ comments on the encounter at Sinai:

…It was he who was spoken to and that they heard the great voice, but not the articulation of speech… Moses being the one who heard the speech and reported to them… that all Israel only heard at that Gathering one voice one single time… Moses made them hear again as spoken in his own speech with an articulation of the letters that were heard. The sages said this, quoting in support of this assertion the dictum: “God hath spoken once, twice have I heard this” (Ps. 62:12).[110]

Maimonides believes that the Israelites at the giving of the Torah heard a single sound, that is, a single tone in which all the words were encompassed; accordingly, they did not understand the meanings of the words.  Moses, who understood divine speech in its entirety, separated the phonemes and repeated each word separately so the Israelites could understand them as well.  Joseph Karo “ground,” reviewed, mishnayot – perhaps reciting them constantly and rapidly[111] – such that the words and phonemes merged into one another.  At the second stage, the “speaking voice” or the “speech,” in which all the words were encompassed, burst forth from his mouth.  At the third stage, Karo separated the elements of the speech and repeated each word for the listeners in his group or wrote them in his mystical journal.  A dynamic continuum was thus formed, comprising three steps: active, passive, and active.[112]  At the first stage, Karo actively reviewed mishnayot; at the second stage, he allowed the voice to flow from his mouth, while he himself served as a receiving vessel, a sort of horn, for the celestial voice; at the third stage, he was again active in “parsing letters” – separating the speech into words.[113]

The mystical term for the process is connection (qesher), and formation of the connection requires that the process go forward continuously; any pause at any stage terminates the entire process and, in mystical terms, causes the Shekhinah to fall:

It said as well, regarding the connection that was terminated for you yesterday: you know that you have never experienced such an interruption, but it is to teach you and show you that you must not interrupt the connection and the bonding with God, may He be blessed, and the contemplation of my Torah even for an instant; for if you pause even for an instant, the Shekhinah, God forbid, falls; and woe to him and to the fate of one who [thus] causes all the worlds to be destroyed.  His life, spirit and soul will be destroyed.  Now go, see and learn the agitation you incurred [?], how you were shaken when the connection was interrupted and the prayer fell to the ground, how much more will you be terrified, to the ultimate terror, when you know that the instant you pause from contemplating the Torah, you cause, God forbid, the congregation of Israel to fall between the feet.[114]

The use of the terms Torah and prayer to connote revelation of the Shekhinah shows that Karo used not only the Mishnah but also the written Torah and the letters of the liturgy as mystical texts, whose “grinding” – reviewing – brings about the revelation of the heavenly voice.  That conclusion sheds further light on the order of study at the Tiqqun Leil Shavu`ot: the members of the group studied selected chapters from each section – Torah, Prophets, Writings – of the Bible; the mishnaic order Zera`im, which encompasses laws of prayer and agricultural laws, “…and then we studied in the way of truth,”[115] that is, most likely, kabbalistic writings, especially the Zohar.  The sequence of texts is not coincidental, for it reflects a horizontal historical axis, from older to more recent, that is also a non-historical vertical axis: descent of the celestial voice and ascent on the ladder of prophecy, to the rank of Moses our teacher.

5. Sanctification and glowing facial skin 

…All the prophets, when the prophetic power left them, returned to their tent, that is, attended to the satisfaction of their physical needs. Therefore they did not separate themselves from their wives. Moses, our teacher, never went back to his former tent. He accordingly permanently separated himself from his wife, and abstained from similar gratifications. His mind was closely attached to the rock of the universe. The divine glory never departed from him; the skin of his face sent forth rays of light, and he was sanctified like the angels.[116]

Joseph Karo did not permanently withdraw from this-worldly life, but he aspired to a life of withdrawal, especially to sexual relations divested of physical pleasure.[117]  He thought asceticism to be the path to liberation from physical desire and to a purified consciousness, on account of which Moses’ face glowed.  In compensation for that ascetic way of life, the Maggid promised Karo that an inscription would appear on his forehead, in the manner of Moses’ facial glow: “I will give you the privilege of having it written on your forehead that you are the head of the yeshiva….And Scripture’s statement that the skin of Moses’ face sent forth rays of light [means] that during the forty days of Moses’ stay on the mountain, when he ate no food, he grew and nourished his soul, thereby causing his face to glow.”[118]  The remainder of the inscription may be supplied by another revelation: “this is the venerable tanna of the Land of Israel, this is the head of the yeshiva of the Land of Israel; this is the great author [mehabber; the term by which Karo is widely referred to in halakhic scholarship] of the Land of Israel.”[119]

Joseph Karo’s belief that he was experiencing a renewal of direct revelation, that is, of prophecy, which had ended with the destruction of the Temple and the exile, thus encompassed as well his aspiration that his prophecy would be established in the Land of Israel and complement the life-work of Moses, who had not entered the Land.  But that aspiration did not lead him to challenge or negate the historical continuum of halakhic decisors; rather, he regarded himself as carrying on their work and gathering their rulings.  The halakhic tradition referred to in the revelations includes the prominent law code writers on whom Karo relied in his own rulings:

From the time of Moses, master of all the prophets, until the time of Rabbi [Judah the Prince], the oral Torah was not written down.  The entire Mishnah was not explicated until Rav Ashi came to gather, compile, interpret, and rule. From his time, there were no [compilations of] halakhot… until RIF, Maimonides, and RoSH came to rule on the [issues of] halakhah throughout the gemara.  And Maimonides did wonders in speaking of the entire Torah, but from then until now, no one was moved to gather everything [i.e., all halakhic rulings] as you have been moved.[120]

These individuals appear in the list of decisors in the introduction to Karo’s Beit Yosef,[121] attesting to the effort to harmonize Halakhah with both prophecy and Kabbalah that characterized Karo’s mystical world as well as his approach as a halakhic decisor.[122]  That drive is expressed in two dimensions of Karo’s relationship to Moses’ prophecy, each relying on a sacred text to emphasize a different aspect of the biblical Moses.  In the kabbalistic dimension, inspired primarily by the Zohar, Karo follows in the footsteps of Moses the redeemer, husband of the Shekhinah and double of Simeon bar Yohai.  In the halakhic dimension, inspired primarily by the Mishneh Torah, Karo follows Moses the legislator, the double of Maimonides.  The two layers are joined in a harmonious whole: Shekhinah – Zohar – Moses the redeemer – Simeon bar Yohai, together with Maggid – MishnehTorah – Moses the legislator – Maimonides.  From this point of view, Karo’s spiritual world is hermaphroditic, and its perfection follows from its ability to harmonize the masculine side (Halakhah) with the feminine side (Kabbalah).  This harmony is described in imagery of light, an ancient symbol for the revelation of truth, which gives off sparks through the letters that shine and receive illumination as he studies,[123] tying the eternal text to the one-time revelation and bonding him to his Creator: “and this is the mystery of the thread of grace.”[124]  The pinnacle of that harmony is symbolized by Moses, to whose status Karo hoped to rise through the use of various sorts of intermediaries: prophetic (Maggid-Shekhinah), textual (Torah, Mishnah, prayer), and historical (Simeon bar Yohai and Maimonides).

Redemption and the Appearance of Elijah

An additional figure whose appearance Karo awaited was that of Elijah the Prophet, counted among both the heavenly and the historical mediators: “and you should afflict yourself as I told you so that you will be privileged to see Elijah while you are awake, and he will speak with you mouth-to-mouth.”[125]  InKaro’s mystical diary, Elijah is portrayed as a magical figure with mythic and eschatological strains, identified with Metatron, the servant-angel “taking on bodily form and appearing in this world.”[126]  The Maggid discloses that Metatron-Enoch-Elijah are incarnations of the soul of Joshua Bin-Nun, which was conceived with the soul of Pinhas son of El`azar son of Aaron the priest, both of whom carried out the messianic mission of Moses and Aaron.[127]  Karo’s desire to attain the great height of experiencing an appearance of Elijah “seeing him while awake and exchanging greetings with him”[128] can be achieved through the magical use of letters to adjure angels, for the Maggid instructs him that the image of Elijah will appear before him if, while lying on his bed, he contemplates the letters of the wordנביא  in an atbash code as.טשמת [129] According to the Maggid’s explanation, however, the code’s driving force is mystical rather than magical, flowing from the backward structure of the created world: “They are in accord with the mystery of the letters arranged tav to alef but went forth into the world in the sequence alef to tav[130]  This interpretation implies that the world was created in reverse, from end to beginning, and the letter created last –א – went out first, and to read the hidden text, one must replace it with the first-created letterת. Moreover, the reversed or circular structure can be found in the underpinnings of Karo’s circular theory of prophecy and of Moses’ prophecy, as well as in the technique of “grinding” – reviewing mishnayot: God speaks a single utterance and creates a complete circle, whose end is rooted in its beginning.  The prophet makes the circle linear through pauses in speech, which separate letter from letter.

Karo’s aspiration to experience the appearance of the prophet Elijah appears on its face to contradict his wish to attain Moses’ status, for an appearance of Elijah is at a lower rung on the ladder than the prophecy of Moses.  On that account, Zvi Werblowsky assumed that “this desire may be no more than a carry-over from the popular tradition which regarded the apparition of the prophet as one of the greatest spiritual boons.”[131]  But the tradition also assigns Elijah the eschatological role of herald of the redemption; and here, too, Maimonides’ influence is evident, for the step down – from Mosaic prophecy to appearance of Elijah – is characteristic of Maimonides’ position, according to which the historical prophet, Moses, is more exalted than the eschatological prophet of the Messianic age.  In the portion of his legal treatise that deals with kings and wars, Maimonides writes:

Taking the words of the prophets in their literal sense, it appears that the inauguration of the Messianic era will be marked by the war of Gog and Magog; that prior to that war, a prophet will arise to guide Israel and set their hearts aright, as it is written: “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the Lord” (Mal. 3:23). He will come neither to declare the clean unclean, nor the unclean clean; neither to disqualify those who are presumed to be of legitimate descent, nor to pronounce qualified those who are presumed to be illegitimate descent, but to bring peace in the world, as it is said: “And he shall turn the hearts of the fathers to the children” (Mal. 3:24). Some of our Sages say that the coming of Elijah will precede the advent of the Messiah.[132]

In the Guide of the Perplexed, Maimonides repeats the idea that the restoration of prophecy will precede the coming of the Messiah and herald it.[133]  Following that lead, Joseph Karo took up both sides of the prophetic coin: he strove to achieve an appearance of Elijah as a sign that the redemption was near, but he did so without waiving the superiority of Mosaic prophecy.  Thus, what reveals the implicit messianic aspect of Karo’s theory of prophecy turns out, paradoxically enough, to be its very grounding in Maimonides’ halakhic position.

Moreover, Karo, influenced by Maimonides, linked the various prophets destined to appear at the end of days, drawing no clear distinctions among them.[134]   He anticipated performing miracles, like Moses and Elijah: “And I will work miracles and wonders through you, and they will know thereby that God is within Israel.”[135]  He aspired to cause people to repent, like the prophet of the future, whether or not identified as Elijah: “And here, too, you disseminated Torah, and they were ashamed on your account to sin…And many will return on your account from sinning, and you will then go up to the Land of Israel.”[136]  Karo’s approach to Halakhah was also influenced by Maimonides’ image of the future prophet: wanting to preserve the permanent standing of the Torah of Moses, Maimonides ruled that the Torah was not destined to change even in the time of redemption, and that the future prophet will neither add to nor subtract from it; rather, he will encourage the Jews to fulfill its commands: “Accordingly, when a man worthy to be a prophet, comes professedly as a messenger of God, and proposes neither to add to the Law nor to take aught from it, but only exhorts his bearers to serve God by obedience to the precepts of the Torah.”[137]  In a similar way, Joseph Karo did not aspire to change the Halakhah but to summarize it and to rule in accordance with its principles: “Behold, all the Sages of Israel plead for you to the Holy One, blessed be He, namely, Rabbi Isaac Alfasi, Rabbi Moses ben Maimon and Rabbi Asher ben Jehiel, because you are engaged in explaining their words and deciding in accordance with their opinions and you explain these and frequently decide in accordance with their opinions.”[138]


Maimonides’ influence, along with the spiritual world of Kabbalah, thus gave rise to a unique pattern of mystical prophesying anchored in halakhic standards.  Maimonides, however, wrote abstract laws, while Karo internalized them and carried them out.[139]  His eagerness to put the written laws into practice reflects his deep-rooted messianic aspirations, expressed both in his life and in his oeuvre.  His identification with the heroes of the past – Simeon bar Yohai and Maimonides and, through them, Moses – and his ability to revitalize their figures within his own, thereby putting a new face on them, afford his writings a renaissance quality, a literary and poetic revival of ancient traditions.

It is hard to know for certain whether Joseph Karo’s identification with Moses reached the point of believing that Moses’ soul was reincarnated within his own.[140]  A Safed tradition cited by Hayyim Vital tells that Karo was a reincarnation of the soul of the tannaJudah bar Il’ai.[141]  The reason for that analogy is clear: Judah bar Il’ai was one of five elders ordained by Judah ben Bava,[142] just as Joseph Karo was ordained by Jacob Berab.  As for Karo’s first, biblical, incarnation, Vital argued that even though Moses was from the cluster of Abel, he had “a few sparks” from the cluster of Cain, and he cited Joseph Karo as among the people whose souls had elements of Cain’s cluster.[143]  His words are consistent with the suggestion in Karo’s mystical diarythat Moses’ reincarnations are not over yet because he should appear repeatedly to repair Israel.[144]

The End


For further discussion refer to 

Tikkun Leil Shavuot of R. Joseph Karo and the Epistle of Solomon ha-Levi Elkabetz

'Let Each Help his Neighbor', on the Origins of "Tikkun Leil Shavuot" in Safed Kabbalah

Rabbi Joseph Karo and Sixteenth-Century Messianic Maimonideanism

Revealing the Secret of His Wives – R. Joseph Karo Concept of Reincarnation and Mystical Conception 

Hebrew publications about Kabbalah & Messianism  

* I thank Prof. Joseph Dan, Prof. Yehuda Liebes, Prof. MattGoldish,Ms. Maya Levi, and translator Mr. Joel Linsider for their contribution. For the Hebrew version of this article, see “The Concept and the Experience of Prophecy of R. Joseph Karo,” in: BeDarkhay Shalom, Studies in Jewish Thought Presented to Shalom Rosenberg, B. Ish-Shalom and A. Berholz (eds.), Jerusalem 2005, pp. 452-472. 

[1] The “heavenly academy” is mentioned in Talmudic tractates: Bava Mezia 86a; Pesahim 53b; Gitin 68a. The promise to reveal heavenly secrets recalls Sefer ha-Peli’ah. See Sefer ha-Peli’ah Attributed to Nehunyah ben ha-Qanah [Book of Wonder],Premislany 1883, p. 68 (Heb.); A. Z. Aescoly, “Some Remarks on the History of the Messianic Movements”, in: Sinai 12 (1943), pp. 75-91 (Heb.). A revelation of an angel that comes out of the Holy Ark and speaks to “One Jew” is described in Sefer Hasidim. See J. Dan, Ashkenazi Hasidism in the History of Jewish Thought, Ramat-Aviv 1990, vol. 2, p. 190 (Heb.). A mysterious figure and a heavenly voyage are mentioned in the Zohar. See M. Hellner-Eshed, A River Issues Forth from Eden, Tel Aviv 2005, pp. 177-181 (Heb.)

[2] MM, p. 23. Unless otherwise noted, the quotations from Karo’s mystical diary are translated from a Hebrew version of Maggid Mesharim [The Preacher of Righteousness], ed.A. Bar-Lev, Petah-Tikva 1990 [Henceforth MM].

[3] MM, p. 4: “I will reveal to you the secrets of transmigration of souls…I will reveal the reincarnations of all your relatives and friends, and you will see great wonders and be amazed.”  See also M. Altshuler, “‘Revealing the Secret of His Wives’ – R. Joseph Karo’s Concept of Reincarnation and Mystical Conception”, in:Frankfurter Judaistische Beiträge 31 (2004), pp. 91-103.

[4] MM, p. 162. The biblical kingdom of Edom is a traditional code word for Rome and, later, Christianity.

[5] On the wars between the Ottomans and the Hapsburg Empire, see  The Cambridge Modern History, A.W. Ward, G.W. Prothero and S. Leathes (eds.), Cambridge 1934, vol. 3, pp. 104-118; C. Petrie, Earlier Diplomatic History 1492-1713, London 1949, pp. 46-54.  On the messianic expectation that the wars between Christian Edom and Muslim Ishmaelwould hasten the redemption, see B.Z. Netanyahu, Don Isaac Abravanel, Statesman & Philosopher, Philadelphia 1953, pp. 195-241; A.Z. Aescoly, Jewish Messianic Movements, Y. Even-Shemuel (ed.), Jerusalem [1956] 1987, vol. 1, pp. 317-320 (Heb.); R. Shatz, “Gnostic Literature as a Source of Shlomo Molcho’s Sefer ha-Mefo’ar”, in: Early Jewish Mysticism, Jerusalem Studies in JewishThought, No. 6, J. Dan (ed.), Jerusalem 1987, pp. 252-258 (Heb.).

[6] See A. Heschel, “Inspiration in the Middle Ages”, in: Alexander Marx Jubilee Volume, S. Liberman (ed.), New York 1950, pp. 175-208 (Heb.).

[7] MM, p. 204.  On dibbur in connection with God’s name and the letters of the alphabet, see G. Scholem, “The Name of God and the Linguistic Theory of the Kabbalah”, in: Diogenes 79 (1972), pp. 59-80.  On dibbur as indicating divine revelation in rabbinic thought and the Kabbalah of Gerona, see H. Pedaya, Vision and Speech: Models of Revelatory Experience in Jewish Mysticism,Los Angeles 2002, p. 151 (Heb.).  On prophecy as dibbur in the writings of Abraham Abulafia, see M. Idel, Studies in Ecstatic Kabbalah, Albany 1988, p. 6; M. Idel, The Mystical Experience in Abraham Abulafia, Albany 1988, pp. 53-57, 83-105; M. Idel, Messianic Mystics, New Haven and London 1998, pp.154-169.

[8] See “The Epistle of Solomon ha-Levi Elkabetz”, in: Jewish Mystical Testimonies, Louis Jacobs, New York 1976, p. 100: “We heard the voice speaking out of the mouth of the pious, may his light shine.”

[9] Num. 7:89: “When Moses went into the Tent of Meeting to speak (ledabber) with Him, he would hear the voice (qol) addressing (middaber) him from above the cover that was on top of the Ark of the Covenant between the two cherubim; thus He spoke (vayedabber) to him.”

[10] MM, p. 245: “All that the Maggid said”; The Epistle of Elkabetz, p. 103: “Observe that the Maggid mentioned some of you…” See also R.J. Z. Werblowsky, Joseph Karo, Lawyer and Mystic, Oxford 1962, p. 265.   

[11] See Rashi’s commentary on Pesahim 105b: “Nor am I a seer – a maggid.” 

[12] See Sefer ha-Tamar le-Abu Aflah al-Saraqosti be-Hokhmat ha-Ruhaniyut [The Book of thePlum Tree on the Wisdom of Spirituality by Abu Aflah al-Saraqosti], ed. G. Scholem, Jerusalem 1927, pp. 13-15 (Heb.):  “And know that this final spark [of the divine will] that speaks with people is not speech of the tongue…rather, it is a hidden, voiceless speech, properly called shefa (influx)…And know that the visible ones among them and the invisible ones are the prophesiers, and they descend on them and move their lips so they speak of what will happen… And when what they say is regarded precisely, it will always be proven true, with no doubt… And know and understand who is fit to reveal these mysteries, for the maggidim are the stars, and guard this.”

[13] Shlomo Pines concluded that the concept of Maggid as used in Sefer ha-Tamar was foreign to the kabbalists, who adopted it to describe a heavenly mediator but divested it of its astrological connections and replaced them with notions of Jewish theosophy.  See S. Pines, “Le Sefer ha-Tamar et les Maggidim des Kabbalistes”, in: Hommage a’ Georges Vajda,tudes d’histoire et de pens’ee juives, G. Nahon et C. Touati (eds.), Louvain 1980 , p. 363; J. Garb, Manifestations of Power in Jewish Mysticism, Jerusalem 2004, p. 69 (Heb.).

[14] See M. Idel, “Inquiries in the Doctrine of Sefer ha-Meshiv”, in: Sefunot 17 (1983), pp. 189-192, 212-219 (Heb.).

[15] See G. Scholem, “The Maggid of R. Yoseph Taitazak and the revelations attributed to him”, in: Sefunot 11 (The Book of Greek Jewry 1), M. Benayahu (ed.), Jerusalem 1971-1977, pp. 67-112 (Heb.); B. Sack, “R. Joseph Taitazak’s Commentaries”, in: Shlomo Pines Jubilee Volume, part 1,Jerusalem Studies in JewishThought, No. 7, M. Idel, W. Z. Harvey and E. Schweid (eds.), Jerusalem 1988, pp. 341-355. (Heb.); Idel, Messianic Mystics, pp.129-132, 145; L. Fine, “Benevolent Spirit Possession in Sixteenth-Century Safed”, in: Possession in Judaism Cases and Contexts from the MiddleAges to the Present, M. Goldish (ed.), Detroit 2003, pp.101-123.

[16] See Werblowsky, Karo, p. 277.

[17] See MM, p. 193: “And the Shekhinah speaks with you”; The Epistle of Elkabetz, p. 101: “We heard of the anguish of the Shekhinah

[18] MM, p. 91: “I am the one called Matronita

[19]Beit ha-Midrash, Adolf Jellinek (ed.), Jerusalem 1967, vol.1, Heder Sheni, p. 122. (Heb.) Marganita de-Bei Rav [the Pearl of the House of the Rabbi] is a short medieval composition by an anonymous writer that praises the learning of the Torah, popular among Safed Kabbalists.   

[20] MM, p. 197.

[21] MM, p. 362.

[22] See MM, p. 276. Two more precedents are Israel Alnaqawa’s description of the Talmudic tractate Hagigah in the figure of a woman, who appears in the student’s home after his death and keens for him “like a woman mourning her husband.”  See Menorat ha-Ma’or [The IlluminatingLamp], New York 1931, part 3, perek Talmud Torah, pp. 275-276 (Heb.).  Similarly, a feminine entity called “the prayer” (ha-tefillah) was revealed to Asher Laemmleinin a manner that recalls the revelation of the Shekhinah to Joseph Karo.  See Idel, Messianic Mystics, pp. 140-142.

[23] Alluding to Isa. 51:9-10.

[24] MM, p. 114.  Alluding to Gen. 48:16: “The angel who has redeemed me from all harm.”

[25]The Book of Beliefs and Opinions, Saadia Gaon, trans. S. Rosenblatt, New Haven 1976 [1948], chapter 9, p. 121.

[26]Peirushei ha-Torah le-Rabbenu Mosheh ben Nahman [Torah Commentaries of Nahmanides], ed. H. D. Chavel, Jerusalem 1959, on Gen. 48:16 (Heb.); Werblowsky, Karo, p. 104. 

[27] On gender distinctions in the Zohar and kabbalistic literature, the divine androgyny of du-partzufin and the question of equality or a phallo-centric doctrine, see A. Farber-Ginat, The Concept of the Merkabah in Thirteenth-Century Jewish Esotericism, Doctoral dissertation, Hebrew University of Jerusalem 1986, pp. 118-119, 560, 633-638 (Heb.); G. Scholem, Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism, New York [1941] 1988, pp. 225-229; I. Tishby, The Wisdom of The Zohar, London and Washington [1989] 1994, vol. 1, pp. 202-204, 371-373, 513-514; vol. 2, pp. 623-626; E.R. Wolfson, “Woman – The Feminine as Other in Theosophical Kabbalah: Some Philosophical Observations on the Divine Androgyny”, in: The Other in Jewish Thoughtand History, L. J. Silberstein and R. L. Cohn (eds.), New York 1994, p.188; E.R. Wolfson, Circle in the Square: Studies in the Use of Gender in Kabbalistic Symbolism, Albany 1995, pp. 80-106, 121; M. Idel, R. Menahem Recanati The Kabbalist, Tel Aviv 1998, pp. 226, 285 (Heb.); D. Abrams, Female Body of God in Kabbalistic Literature, Jerusalem 2004, pp. 92-123 (Heb.); M. Idel, Kabbalah and Eros, New Haven and London 2005, pp. 53-103; M. Idel, “Androgyny and Equality in the Theosophico – Theurgico Kabbalah”, in: Diogenes 208 (2005), pp. 28-38; C. Mopsik, Sex of the Soul: The Vicissitudes of SexualDifference in Kabbalah, D. Abrams (ed.),  Los Angeles 2005, pp. 14-52; E.R. Wolfson, Language, Eros, Being, New York 2005, pp. 142-189; Also see M. Bowie, Lacan, Massachusetts and London 1991, pp. 122-157.

[28] See Altshuler, His Wives.

[29] On the mystery of the hermaphrodite, see MM, pp. 24-25; Idel, Kabbalah and Eros, pp. 53-103.  On the structure of the upper worlds and the status of the Shekhinah or Matronita in MM, as well as the influence of Menahem Recanati, see Werblowsky, Karo, p. 219; Abrams, Female Body, p. 81; Idel, Androgyny, pp. 27-38. 

[30] See below, footnote 64.

[31] See Y. Liebes, “‘Two Young Roses of a Doe’: The Secret Sermon of Isaac Luria before his Death”, in: Lurianic Kabbalah, Jerusalem Studies in JewishThought, No.10, R. Elior and Y. Liebes (eds.), Jerusalem 1992, pp. 113-169 (Heb.); J. Dan, On Sanctity, Jerusalem 1997, p. 79 (Heb.).

[32] See MM, pp. 194-198; 391-392.

[33] See MM, pp. 187, 120; Tishby, Zohar, vol. 3, pp. 1396-1400; Y. Liebes, “The Messiah of the Zohar: On R. Simeon bar Yohai as a Messianic Figure”, in: Studies in the Zohar, Albany 1993, pp. 63-74; Hellner-Eshed, Eden, pp.187-197, 237-267.

[34] MM, p. 204.

[35] MM, p. 362.

[36] A modern analogue, in which an erotic undertone lurks behind a maternal attitude, can be found in Bialik’s poem “Shelter Me under Your Wing.” See H.N. Bialik: Poems, ed. with introduction Avner Holtzman, Israel 2004, pp. 306-307 (Heb.).

[37] MM, p. 6; as translated at L. Jacobs, Jewish Mystical Testimonies, New York 1976, p. 109.

[38] MM, p. 193. Cf. Werblowsky, Karo, p. 130, n. 4.

[39] See MM, p. 132: “For it is a festival of the Lord for us [Ex. 10:9] that is, we are required to perfectly join all the Sefirot, such that their end is fixed in their beginning.  Forhag (festival) is a mahol (dance) which is a circle, revolving, and when their end is fixed in their beginning, they resemble a circle.”  The source is in Sefer Yezirah [Book of Creation], trans. and commentary by A. P. Hayman, Tübingen 2004, §5, §6, pp. 72, 74: “The ten Sefirot are the basis… Their end is fixed in their beginning, and their beginning in their end”; J. Dan, Jewish Mysticism, New Jersey and Jerusalem 1998, vol. 1, pp. 170-187. On Abulafia’s “wheel of prophecy,” see G. Scholem, The Kabbalah of Sefer ha-Tmuna and of Abraham Abulafia, J. Ben-Shlomo (ed.), Jerusalem 1968, pp. 213-215 (Heb.); Idel, Ecstatic Kabbalah, pp. 11-12; M. Idel, Language, Torah, and Hermeneuticsin Abraham Abulafia, Albany 1989, pp. 38-41. On Elkabetz’s concept of the Sabbath as a beginning and an end, see R. Kimelman, The Mystical Meaning of Lekhah Dodi andKabbalat Shabbat, Jerusalem 2002, pp. 47-48 (Heb.).

[40] MM, p. 202; Werblowsky, Karo, p. 220.  The Hook is a designation for the constellation Drago, described as a “slant serpent,” a “twisted serpent,” or a heavenly dragon.  According to ancient and medieval cosmology, this was the point at which the wheel of the ecliptic intersects with the wheel of the Zodiac.  See Sefer Yezirah, §59, p. 176: “The Hook in the universe is like a king on his throne”; The Book Bahir [Book of Brightness], ed. Daniel Abrams, California 1994, §70, §75, pp.161,163.  In the interpretation of Menahem Recanati, which Joseph Karo cites, this is the connective point between the Shekhinah and the nine Sefirot of binyan.  See Levushei Or Yeqarot she-hu Sefer ha-Recanati [Precious Garments ofLight, that is, the Book of Recanati], Mordecai Jaffee, Jerusalem 1961, section Bereishit, 18d (Heb.); Idel, Recanati, pp. 215-231.

[41] See Idel, Recanati, p. 224.

[42] See Dan, On Sanctity, pp. 108-111.

[43] MM, p. 370.

[44] MM, p. 358, referring to 2 Kings 3:15:  “As the musician played, the hand of the Lord came upon him.” 

[45] MM, p. 358, referring to Hos. 12:11.  The occasion for the conversation is an inaccurate quotation of the biblical verse in Deut. 29:9.

[46]SeferTorath ha-Qana’ut [The Book of the Teaching of Zealousness], Jacob Emden, Jerusalem 1971 [Amsterdam 1752], “Haqirah be-inyan ha-maggidim bi-khelalan,” 48a (Heb.); Werblowsky, Karo, p. 262-263; J.I. Dienstag, “The Attitude of Maran Joseph Karo to Maimonides”, in: Sinai 59 (1966), p. 75 (Heb.). In contrast to Emden’s strict attitude, Julian Barnes offers a humorous presentation of “mistakes in literature and whether they matter.” See Flaubert's Parrot, Julian Barnes, New York 1990 [1984], p. 76.

[47] According to the Zohar, the three aspects of a person’s spiritual being – nefesh, ruah, neshamah, forming the acronym NaRaN – are arranged hierarchically.  The holy soul (neshamah) is formed from the Throne of Glory; life (nefesh) is formed from the earth, and spirit (ruah) mediates between them.  See Tishby, Zohar, vol. 2, pp. 684-692; MM, pp. 21-22, 33-34, 337-340.

[48] See G. Scholem, Od Davar [Explications and Implications], A. Shapira (ed.), Tel Aviv 1992, vol. 2, pp. 422, 429 (Heb.).

[49] See MM, p. 265; The Legends of the Jews, L. Ginzberg, trans. H. Szold, Philadelphia 1968, vol. 1, p. 66; vol. 5, pp. 88-89; Tishby, Zohar, vol. 2, pp.624-625; vol. 3, pp. 1355-1356. On the Messiah as an androgyny, see Idel, Messianic Mystics, p.155.

[50] See MM, p. 133.

[51] See Werblowsky, Karo, pp. 164-168, 279-286.

[52] MM, p. 8; Werblowsky, Karo, p. 264.

[53] MM, p. 370.

[54] MM, p. 116.

[55] Num. 12:7-8: “Not so my servant Moses; he is trusted in all My house.  Mouth to mouth I speak with him, plainly and not in riddles, and he beholds the likeness of the Lord.”  So, too, MM, p. 4: “As for you, stand here with me,” based on God’s command to Moses on Deut. 5:28: “But as for you, stand here with me, and I will speak to you [concerning] all of the commandments, statutes, and ordinances that you are to teach them, so they may do them in the land that I am giving them to possess.”

[56] Werblowsky, Karo, p. 269.

[57]Midrash RabbahNumbers, eds. H. Freedman and M. Simon, trans. J. J. Slotki, London 1961 [1939], vol. 1, p. 413 (section Naso, 11:2).

[58] The letters of Moses’ name m-s-h form an acronym for Moses, Seth, Abel

(מש"ה = משה, שת, הבל). On Moses as the reincarnation of Seth and Abel, see MM, pp. 308, 363.  On Moses as the reincarnation of Abel, see Idel, Messianic Mystics, p.150; Peirushei ha-Torah le-Rabbenu Mosheh ben Nahman (Nahmanides), on Gen. 4:1, part 4, p. 43 and the comment of Hayyim Dov Chavel ad loc.  Menahem Recanati, Levushei Or Yeqarot, Genesis, 16a writes as follows: “The received secret regarding Abel is very great, alluded to in the verse ‘Now Moses was shepherding’ [Ex. 3:1].’”  See also Sefer Asarah Ma’amarot [Bookof Ten Essays], Menahem Azariah of Fano, Jerusalem 2000 [Venice 1597], Ma’amar ha-Middot, Middah Sheminit, sec. 18, p. 517 (Heb.); Sha`ar ha-Gilgulim [The Gate of Transmigrations], Hayyim Vital, Jerusalem 1972 [Frankfurt 1684], Introduction 36, p. 305 (Heb.): “In Moses, too, there are some sparks rooted in Cain, though Moses’ root is Abel; that is especially so in the final generation close to the time of the Messiah’s coming.”

[59] MM, p. 263; as translated inWerblowsky, Karo, p. 262.

[60] The expressions “uncircumcised lips” and “heavy tongue” have a sexual connotation referring to one with a foreskin, which weighs him down and impairs his perfection.  See Gen. 34:14, in which Jacob’s sons tell the Shekhemites that they cannot give their sister “to a man who has a foreskin”; Ibn Ezra comments, “a foreskin of flesh, meaning something that weighs him down.”  There follows from this the connection between Moses’ being heavy of speech and of heavy tongue (Ex. 4:10) and his being of uncircumcised lips (Ex. 6:12).  The connection between the tongue and the male organ is grounded in the structure of the masculine body, in which the “covenant of the tongue,” at the center of the upper portion of the body, corresponds to the “covenant of the genitals” at the center of the lower portion of the body.  See Mishnah, Nedarim 3:11; N. J. Wilhelm, On the Eighth Day: an Anthology of Halakhah andHomiletics Related to Circumcision, Israel 1992, p. 235 (Heb.); L. Hoffman, Covenant of Blood: Circumcision and Gender in Rabbinic Judaism, Chicago 1996; N. Rubin, The Beginning of Life, Tel Aviv 1995 (Heb.); E.R. Wolfson, “Circumcision and the Divine Name: A Study in the Transmission of Esoteric Doctrine”, in: Jewish Quarterly Review 78 (1987), p.110. In Christianity, see Philippians 3:3; Colossians 2:1; D. Boyarin, A radical Jew: Paul and the politics of identity,California 1994, pp. 13-38, 106-135, and 224-226. I thank Maya Levi for these citations.

[61] See MM, pp. 138, 279-280.  See also MM, p. 133: “As I have taught you, the heaviest limb [eiver, denoting both a bodily limb generally but also, specifically, the penis] is the tongue.”  On Joseph Karo’s view of the connection between sexual asceticism and mystical exaltation, see Idel, Kabbalah and Eros, pp. 223-232.

[62] MM, p. 3, alluding to Deut. 24:8-9: “Take great care regarding the plague of leprosy… Remember what the Lord your God did to Miriam along your way when you came forth out of Egypt.” Leprosy is understood by the rabbis as the biblical punishment for sins committed by the mouth (i.e., through speech) and by the sexual organ. Thus Miriam was smitten with leprosy for the slander she had spoken about Moses’ sexual conduct. See Num. 12:1 andRashi’s comment ad loc; Ex. 4:6: and Rashi’s comment ad loc.

[63] MM, p. 264.

[64] MM, p. 162. The demonic couple Kafkefuni and his younger wife Zarita are mentioned in The Treatise on the Emanationon the Left by Isaac ha-Kohen of Castile as the rulers of the central part of “the third air” in the realm of the satanic power. See G. Scholem, “The Kabbalah of R. Ya’akov and R. Isaac Sons of R. Ya’akov ha-Cohen”, in: Jerusalem Studies in JewishThought, No. 1, Jerusalem 1926, p. 256 (Heb.):  “The central part is given to the king who rules the winds, Kafkefuni his name, and his young wife Zarita…. Their descendants take forms that differ from one another; they have bodies, and their faces have different images; the sons of Zaritaappear like those with zara`at (leprosy).”  Later (p. 257) another demon is mentioned, named Kafzefuni.  Thus, the demon Kazkefuni who indicts Joseph Karo is a blend of the two names, and the reference shows that Karo knew the writings of Isaac ha-Kohen.  I thank Yehuda Liebes for bringing this reference to my attention.  On the dualistic and messianic writings of Isaac ha-Kohen, see Dan, Jewish Mysticism, vol. 2, pp. 201-219; vol. 3, pp. 253-282.

[65] See MM, p. 308.

[66] See MM, p. 207.

[67] MM, p. 298, alluding to Isa. 51:16.  See also Werblowsky, Karo, pp. 198-199; Idel, Inquiries, p. 220; Fine, Spirit Possession, pp.106-108.

[68] MM, p. 108. On Moses as the bridegroom of the Torah and the husband of the Shekhinah, see R. Patai, The Hebrew Goddess, New York 1967, pp. 281-287; Y. Liebes, “Myth vs. Symbol in the Zohar and in Lurianic Kabbalah”, in: Essential Papers on Kabbalah,L. Fine (ed.), Albany 1995, pp. 212-242.

[69] MM, p. 156.

[70] See MM, pp. 5-7.

[71] Liebes, The Messiah of theZohar, pp. 63-65, 82-84; Y. Liebes, “Zohar and Eros”, in: Alpayim 9 (1994), pp. 99-112 (Heb.).

[72] See Liebes, The Messiah of theZohar, pp. 19-22; R. Elior, “R. Joseph Karo and R. Israel Ba’al Shem Tov Mystical Metamorphosis, Kabbalistic Inspiration and Spiritual Internalization”, in: Tarbiz 65 (1996), pp. 680-683, 697 (Heb.); Hellner-Eshed, Eden, pp. 48-54.

[73]The Epistle of Elkabetz, p. 100.

[74] Per Ex. 20:15: “And all the people perceived the thunderings.”

[75] See Pesikta de-Rab Kahana, trans. W.G. Braude and I. J. Kapstein, Philadelphia 1978 [1975], p. 243 (12:22); Sifrei de-Bei Rav, Numbers, ed. H.S. Horowitz, Leipzig 1917, section Be-ha`alotekha, pp. 83-84 (Heb.).

[76] See Tishby, Zohar, vol. 3, pp. 1256-1259, 1318-1319; Liebes, The Messiah of theZohar, pp. 74-82; M. Altshuler, “The First Tzaddik of Hasidism: The Zlotchover Maggid and His Circle”, in: Jewish Studies Quarterly 11 (2004), pp. 144-159; Hellner-Eshed, Eden, pp. 85-91. Broader discussions can be found in Patai, Goddess, pp. 144-147; Scholem, Major Trends, pp. 229-235; D. Ariel, The Mystic Quest, New York  [1988] 1992, pp. 89-109.

[77]The Epistle of Elkabetz, p. 101.

[78] See W.Z. Harvey: “The Uniqueness of the Land of Israel in the Thought of Crescas”, in: The Land of Israel in Medieval Jewish Thought, M. Hallamish and A. Ravitzky (eds.), Jerusalem 1991, pp. 151-165 (Heb.); H. Kreisel, “The Land of Israel and Prophecy in Medieval JewishPhilosophy”, in: The Land of Israel in Medieval Jewish Thought, M.Hallamish and A. Ravitzky (eds.), Jerusalem 1991, pp. 40-51 (Heb.); M. Pachter, “The Land of Israel in the Homiletic Literature of Sixteenth Century Safed”, in: The Land of Israel, pp. 290-320 (Heb.); M. Idel, “RaShBA and Abraham Abulafia: The History of a Neglected Kabbalistic Polemic”, in: Atara L’Haim, Studies in Talmud and MedievalRabbinic Literature in Honor of Professor Haim Dimitrovsky , D. Boyarin, S. Friedman, M. Hirshman, M. Schmelzer and I.M. Ta-Shma (eds.), Jerusalem 2000, pp. 235-251 (Heb.) . Among the greatest to hold the view that prophecy alights only in the Land of Israel or on its account was Solomon ben Adret (RaShBA, 1235-1310), a Sepharadi decisor, poet and kabbalist, and a student of Nahmanides.  See She’elot u-Teshuvot ha-RaShBA [Responsa ofthe RaShBA by Solomon ben Abraham ben Adret], Jerusalem, 1997 [Rome 1470], sec. 548, part 1, p. 272: “Prophecy does not alight outside the Land [of Israel].”  Joseph Karo held RaShBA in high regard and included him in the list of decisors in the introduction to his Beit Yosef; and the Maggid referred to him as “the RaShBA, God’s chosen one” (MM, p. 77).  It may therefore be inferred that RaShBA’s position influenced Karo’s determination to immigrate to the Land of Israel.

[79] MM, p. 52.

[80] MM, p. 344.  “Rabbi Simeon is represented by the abbreviation “r-sh” but some texts read

“r-o-sh” (Head).  Boaz Huss interpreted that abbreviation as alluding to Simeon bar Yohai’s position as the first and foremost kabbalist.  See B. Huss, “The Zoharic Communities of Safed”, in: Shefa Tal, Studies in Jewish Thought and Culturepresented to Bracha Sack , Z. Gries, H. Kreisel and  B. Huss (eds.), Beer Sheva 2004, p. 164 (Heb.) On Rabbi Isaac Luria (the Ari) as the reviver of the Zoharic story, see L. Fine, Physician of the Soul, Healer of the Cosmos – Isaac Luria and His Kabbalistic Fellowship, California 2003, pp. 300-333.

[81] MM, pp. 265-266.

[82] See Fine,Isaac Luria, pp. 41-77; Huss, Zoharic Communities. The identity of those in attendance at the Tiqqun Leil Shavu`ot described in the Elkabetz Epistle, who had fulfilled the oath and immigrated to the Land of Israel, is a matter for separate study. 

[83] On the messianic context of sixteenth century prophecy, see, Scholem, Major Trends, pp. 119-155; Idel, Ecstatic Kabbalah, pp. 1-31; Dan, On Sanctity, pp. 31-58; Idel, Messianic Mystics, pp. 61-65, 295-298; M. Goldish, The Sabbatean Prophets, Cambridge, Mass. 2004, pp. 41-55.

[84] See Idel, RaShBA .

[85]  See Aescoly, Jewish Messianic Movements, pp. 431-433.

[86] See below.

[87] Born in Cordova, Spain (1138) and died in Egypt (1204), Maimonides was the leader of the Jewish community of Egypt, the most prominent decisor of Jewish law and an influential though controversial philosopher.  

[88] The notion, which had spread among Maimonides’ opponents, that Maimonides had been reincarnated as a worm, is rejected by the Maggid. See MM, p. 194; Werblowsky, Karo, p. 170.

[89] R. Isaac Al-Fasi (1013-1103) from Fez, Morocco, is an important decisor of the Sepharadic tradition of halakhah.   

[90] Introduction to Beit Yosef, Tur OrahHayyim [Jacob ben Asher’s Tur OrahHayyim with the Beit Yosef Commentary by Joseph Karo], Montreal 1994 [Venice 1550] (Heb.).

[91] Rabbi Asher ben Jehiel (RoSH) had been born in Ashkenaz (1250) and was appointed as the head of the Jewish court of Toledo, Spain. His rulings are considered an early example of integration of French, Ashkenazi and Sephardic traditions of Halakhah. See also Dienstag, The Attitude ofMaran, pp. 58-59, 72;   

[92]She’elot u-TeshuvotAvqat Rokhel le-Maran Rabbenu Yosef Karo [Responsa Avqat Rokhel, by Joseph Karo], Jerusalem 2002 [Salonika 1791], sec. 32, p. 139 (Heb.); Dienstag, The Attitude ofMaran, p. 58; M. Benayahu, Yosef  Behiri [Joseph My Chosen One], Jerusalem 1991, pp. 139-140, 583. (Heb.)

[93] MM, p. 211.  Classical ordination (semikhah) had lapsed in late antiquity or early medieval times, and its renewal was a messianic attempt to reestablish the Sanhedrin. Although this attempt failed, Karo treated the local court in Safed as a great rabbinic court, something that aroused resentment in rabbinic circles.  See Responsa Avqat Rokhel, sec. 17, p. 18; I.M. Ta-Shma, “Rabbi Joseph Karo: Between Spain and Germany”, in: Tarbiz 59 (1990), p. 155 (Heb.).

[94] On Mosaic prophecy in the writings of Maimonides, see A. J. Reines, “‘Maimonides’ Concept of Mosaic Prophecy”, in: Hebrew Union College Annual XL-XLI (1969-1970), pp. 325-361; M. Kellner, “Maimonides and Gersonides on Mosaic Prophecy”, in: Speculum 52, 1 (1977), pp. 62-79; J. Levinger, Maimonides as Philosopher and Codifier, Jerusalem 1989, pp. 21-48 (Heb.); H. Kreisel, Prophecy: the History of an Idea in Medieval Jewish Philosophy,Amsterdam Studies in Jewish Thought, No. 8, R. Munk (ed.), Dordrecht, Boston and London 2001, pp. 148-315; D. Schwartz, Contradiction and Concealment in Medieval JewishThought, Ramat-Gan 2002, pp. 68-80 (Heb.); M. Rigler, “Maimonides – Bibliography of Bibliographies”, in: The Anthology of Maimonides – Sinai 68, vols. 135-136, Jerusalem 2005, pp. 455-471 (Heb.). Most scholars take the view that Maimonides distinguished Mosaic prophecy as perfected intellectual cognition.  See, e.g., Kreisel, Prophecy, p. 190: “All the differences between Mosaic and non-Mosaic prophecy revolve around the notion that Mosaic prophecy alone was purely intellectual.”  According to Dov Schwartz, however, Maimonides’ true opinion was that Moses prophesied using the imaginative faculty.

[95] See The Guide of the Perplexed, Moses Maimonides, trans. with an Introduction and Notes by S. Pines, Introductory Essay by L. Strauss, Chicago 1963, vol. 2, p. 367: “For to my mind the term prophet used with reference to Moses and to the others is amphibolous”; Reines, Maimonides, p. 332: “An amphibolous term is defined by Maimonides as one that is ‘predicated of two things between which there is a likeness in respect of some notion, which notion is an accident attached to both of them but not a constituent element of the essence of either one of them’”; Kellner, Maimonides and Gersonides, p. 65: “…amphibolous; that is to say, it is the same word but it is used with reference to two totally distinct and fundamentally dissimilar phenomena.”

[96]Mishneh Torah [The Code of Maimonides], Moses Maimonides, ‘The Book of Knowledge’ (Book 1), trans. and ed. M. Hyamson, New York 1937, Fundamentals of Torah, 7:6, p. 43a.

[97] MM, p. 8, as translated in Jacobs, Mystical Testimonies, p. 111; Werblowsky, Karo, p. 257.

[98]Mishneh Torah, ‘The Book of Knowledge’, Fundamentals of Torah, 7:6, p. 43a.

[99] MM, p. 193, alluding to Ex. 33:11: “And the Lord spoke with Moses face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend.”

[100]Mishneh Torah, ‘The Book of Knowledge’, Fundamentals of Torah, 7:6, p. 43a.

[101] MM, p. 8.

[102] On agitation as a means for attaining the mystical vision or as a reaction to it, see Scholem, Sefer ha-Tmuna, p. 248; Pedaya, Vision and Speech, pp. 47-90.

[103]The Epistle of Elkabetz, p. 100.

[104]Mishneh Torah, ‘The Book of Knowledge’, Fundamentals of Torah, 7:6, p. 43a.

[105]MM, p. 73. Alluding to “Hark! my beloved knocks” (Cant. 5:2), on which Rashi comments “He causes his Shekhinah to rest on the prophets, conveying admonitions through them.”  And Maimonides wrote that the verse “Hark! My beloved knocks” denoted a voluntary prophetic inspiration gained by Moses alone. See The Guide of the Perplexed, vol. 2, chapter 51, p. 623; Idel, Abulafia, pp. 116-119.

[106] Karo’s routine for studying mishnayot is detailed at MM, p. 275.

[107] See Werblowsky, Karo, p. 272; D. Tamar, Studies in the History of the Jewish People in Eretz Israel andin Italy, Jerusalem 1986, p. 197 (Heb.).

[108]The Epistle of Elkabetz, p. 100.


[110]The Guide of the Perplexed, vol. 2, pp. 364-365. The dictum of the Sages can be found in Mekhilta deRabbi Yishma’el, ed. J.Z. Lauterbach, Philadelphia 1933, vol. 2, tractate Shirata, chapter 8, p. 62: “…but He can say two words in one utterance, a manner of speech of which human beings are incapable, as it is said: ‘God hath spoken once, twice have I heard this (Ps. 62:12).’” However, according to another tradition of the Sages that can be found in Makot 23b-24a, the people of Israel heard the first two commandments directly from the mouth of the Almighty.

[111] There may be some similarity to Abraham Abulafia’s technique of rapidly reciting combinations of letters of God’s names. See Idel, Abulafia, p. 39: “the immediate goal of these combinations is to achieve a state of ‘warming of the heart’… in order to be ready to receive the emanated influx.”

[112] See Garb, Manifestations, pp. 68-71, 216-219, and 261.

[113] The term “parsing letters” (hitukh otiyot) connotes the insertion of pauses between the phonemes, so that the voice becomes comprehensible speech.  It first appears in Abrabanel’s commentary on Num. 7:89, in which he takes issue with Maimonides’ idea that the divine voice was not a sensible and audible voice.  In Maimonides’ view, the voice was an emanation of eternal truths, which Moses apprehended by his intellect and “translated” into letters and words; Abrabanel, however, maintained that God spoke with Moses through a miraculously created audible voice.  See Peirush Al ha-Torah [Commentary on the Torah], Don Isaac Abrabanel,Jerusalem 1964, p. 30: “But [Maimonides] would say that the voice heard by the Israelites at Sinai was a voice created without parsing the letters, for they were not all prepared for prophecy.”  It may be assumed that Elkabetz borrowed the term from Abrabanel.  Later, the term appears in Hayyim Vital’s Ez ha-Da`at Tov [The Tree of Good Knowledge],Jerusalem 2001 [n.p. 1866], part 1 (section Yitro) 77a (Heb.). See also Shenei Luhot ha-Berit ha-Shalem [Two Tabletsof the Covenant, complete edition], Isaiah Horowitz, Jerusalem 1993 [Amsterdam 1649], tractate Shevu`ot, chapter Torah Or, p. 112; Mishnat Hasidim [Teaching of thePious], Immanuel Hai Ricci, Lemberg 1858 [Amsterdam 1727], Masekhet Shaharit de-Shabbat, Chap. 8, par. 1, p. 116b (Heb.).  These analyses are part of the broad area dealing with the revelation at Sinai, especially the clause “and all the people saw the thunderings” (Ex. 20:15).  For further discussion, see M. Weinfeld, “The Uniqueness of the Decalogue and its Place in Jewish Tradition”, in: The Ten Commandments, B. Z. Segal (ed.), Jerusalem 1985, pp. 31-34 (Heb.).   

[114] MM, p. 184.  Just as the Shekhinah falls in the wake of interrupted prayer or study, it may be raised through the instrumentality of prayer and study; and it is understood that there is a linguistic and conceptual link between the ascent of the group’s members, as they raise the Shekhinah, and its demand that they ascend to the Land of Israel i.e., immigrate there. See The Epistle of Elkabetz, pp. 100-102: “The sound of your Torah and the breath of your mouth have ascended to the Holy One, blessed be He, breaking through many firmaments and many atmospheres until it rose upwards… You have ascended so far on high. Through you I have become elevated this night… Stand upon your feet and raise me up… Go up to the land of Israel… for you have elevated the Congregation of Israel.”

[115]The Epistle of Elkabetz, p. 100.

[116]Mishneh Torah, ‘The Book of Knowledge’, Fundamentals of Torah, 7:6, fol. 43a.

[117] See MM, p. 138: “Regard yourself as standing before the King, King of kings, the Holy One Blessed Be He, whose Shekhinah hovers over you and continuously accompanies you.  Accordingly, be wary of taking pleasure in eating, drinking, or sexual relations, as I have taught you; such pleasures should be repugnant to you and you should not crave them.”

[118] MM, p. 175; M. Pachter, “Kabbalistic Ethical Literature in Sixteenth-Century Safed”, in: Binah 3 (1994), pp. 159-178; on the glowing of Moses and Simeon bar Yohai’s faces according to the Zohar, see Y. Liebes, “Physiognomy in Kabbalah”, in: Pe’amim 104 (2005) pp. 27-28 (Heb.); Hellner-Eshed, Eden, pp. 57-58.

[119] MM, p. 5. 

[120] MM, p. 7.

[121] See Introduction to Beit Yosef. Karo explains there that his method in deciding Halakhah relies, first, on the majority view within the texts of the Oral Torah: Mishnah, Baraita, Tosefta.  Thereafter, he refers to RIF, Maimonides, and RoSH, whom he calls “the three pillars of instruction.”  He then looks to Nahmanides, RaShBA, RaN (Rav Nisim), Mordecai, a thirteenth century halakhic composition by the Ashkenazi decisorMordecai ben Hillel, Sefer Mizvot ha-Gadol, written in the thirteenth century by the Ashkenazi scholar Moses ben Jacob to explain the 613 commandments, and “the other renowned sages,” as well as to local practice.  The ordering is not coincidental; it attests, rather, to his drive to base halakhic rulings on a rational hierarchy, which builds a historical continuum, a Sanhedrin of the generations that may be parallel to the “heavenly academy” mentioned in his mystical journal.

[122] See MM, p. 258: “And so, be strong and vigorous in your Torah, as you engage in [study of] Torah, Mishnah, Gemara, Rashi, Tosafot, decisors, and Kabbalah.  For you tie them to one another, and all the angels on high seek your peace and well-being.”  On the Kabbalah blended into Joseph Karo’s Halakhah, see J. Katz, Halakhah and Kabbalah, Jerusalem 1986, pp. 52-70 (Heb.); M. Hallamish, “Joseph Karo – Kabbalah and Halakhic Decisions”, in: Da’at 21 (1988), pp. 85-102 (Heb.); Ta-Shma, Spain and Germany; cf. I. Twersky, “The Shulchan Arukh; Enduring Code of Jewish Law”, in: Judaism 16 (1967), pp. 141-158.

[123] See MM, p. 31.

[124] MM, p. 215.

[125] MM, p. 9.  In Sefer ha-Meshiv, Elijah serves as intermediary between the soul and the mysteries of the Torah, and the messianic era is characterized by the directness of revelation – appearance. See Garb, Manifestations, p. 181.

[126] MM, p. 31; see also pp. 104, 298.  In the identification of Elijah with Metatron, one can see the reflective nature of the world of prophecy, for the Maggid himself is identified with Metatron.  Thus, Joseph Karo in fact was granted a revelation of Elijah.

[127] MM, pp. 105-109.  A version of the idea appears in the writings of Hayyim Vital.  See Sha`ar ha-Gilgulim, introduction 38, pp. 335-336: “In the future, in the generation of the Messiah, Moses our teacher, peace be upon him, will be reincarnated and will teach Torah to all Israel, but he will be of uncircumcised lips and his spokesman will be Elijah the Prophet, of blessed memory, who lives and endures, and he is Pinhas ben El`azar ben Aaron the priest, brother of Moses our teacher, peace be upon him.”  See also Idel, Messianic Mystics, p. 167.

[128] MM, p 31.

[129] See MM, p. 31; Werblowsky, Karo, p. 270; Idel, Inquiries, pp. 240-243; Altshuler, His Wives, p 100; Garb, Manifestations, pp. 203-212. The atbash code is based on the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet arranged in 11 pairs, “alpha to omega”; the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet is replaced by the last, the second by the next-to-last, and so forth. 

[130] MM, p. 363.

[131] Werblowsky, Karo, p. 269. See also Shatz, Gnostic Literature, pp. 252-258.

[132]Mishneh Torah [The Code of Maimonides], Moses Maimonides, ‘The Book of Judges’ (Book 14), trans. A.M. Hershman, New haven 1949, Laws Concerning Kings and Wars, 12:2, p. 241.

[133] See The Guide of the Perplexed, vol. 2, chapter 36, p. 373: “This also will be the cause for prophecy being restored to us in its habitual form, as has being promised in the days of the Messiah, may he be revealed soon.”

[134] In Laws Concerning Kings and Wars, Maimonides did not definitively declare the prophet of the end of days, destined “to guide Israel and set their hearts aright,” to be Elijah.  And in Laws Concerning the Fundamentals of the Torah, he even noted that the future prophet would not work miraculous signs, as did Moses, Elijah, and Elisha.  It may be inferred from this that Elijah is not the sole prophet destined to appear at the end of days.

[135] MM, p. 92.

[136] MM, p. 391.

[137]Mishneh Torah, ‘The Book of Knowledge’, Fundamentals of Torah, 10:1, fol. 45b.

[138] MM, p. 7, as translated in Jacobs, Mystical Testimonies, p. 110.

[139] Maimonides’ influence on messianic trends in Safed is clearly evident as well in the attempt in 1538 to renew classic rabbinic ordination, an effort in which Joseph Karo was involved.  The project, led by Jacob Berab, sought to establish a Sanhedrin on the basis of Maimonides halakhic ruling in Mishneh Torah, ‘The Book of Judges’, Laws Concerning the Sanhedrin, chapter 4, pp. 10-12.

[140] On Karo’s belief in reincarnation and the mystery of his wives’ reincarnation, see Altshuler, His Wives, pp. 99-103. 

[141] See Sha`ar ha-Gilgulim, Introduction 38, p. 357.

[142] See Avoda Zara 8b.

[143] See Sha`ar ha-Gilgulim, Introduction 36, p. 305; Introduction 38, pp. 356-357.

[144] See MM, p. 363: “You must know that Moses was perfected in his second incarnation, as Seth, and he had no need to be reincarnated again…. He came the third time only on account of Israel, as is written (Dtn. 3:26), ‘The Lord was angry with me on your account.’” The Hebrew vayit`aber means “angry”; by play on words, it is associated with `ibbur, pregnancy, implying that Moses returned to the status of a fetus and was born anew on Israel’s account.