ALḳABIẒ, SOLOMON BEN MOSES HA-LEVI:
By: H. G. Enelow
A cabalist and liturgical poet born in Safed, who flourished in the first half of the sixteenth century and who was a contemporary of Joseph Caro, the author of the "Shulḥan 'Aruk," and teacher and brother-in-law of Moses Cordovero, one of the foremost representatives of Jewish mysticism. Like Caro and Cordovero, he belonged to the group of cabalists who had taken up their abode at Safed, in Upper Galilee, and made that city the Mecca of the mystics. Alkabiẓ, who was a disciple of Joseph Taytatzaqk, migrated thither from Turkey, where he had lived at Salonica and Adrianople. The date of his death is unknown. According to Aripol, at the time Alsheich flourished he was sixty years old (compare Azulai, "Shem ha-Gedolim," ed. Benjacob, i. 164); in 1561, the year in which his commentary on the Book of Ruth appeared, he was still living, and even Elijah di Vidas, the pupil of Cordovero, whose "Reshit Ḥokmah" (The Beginning of Wisdom) was finished in 1575, in quoting a prayer composed by Alḳabiẓ. mentions him as yet alive (see Nepi-Ghirondi, "Toledot Gedole Yisrael," p. 320). He, therefore, must have attained to a ripe old age. The exceptional esteem in which Alḳabiẓ was held, both by his contemporaries and by his immediate posterity, is attested by the legend woven around the circumstances of his death. The same account which popular fancy invented for the poet Ibn Gabirol is also allotted to Alḳabiẓ. It is as follows: An Arab, who remarked his wisdom and striking personality, was moved by envy to murder him. He buried his victim beneath a fig-tree, which straightway began to blossom in advance of the season, and thus attracted the attention of the townsfolk and their prince. The latter summoned the assassin, and finally succeeded in wringing from him a confession of his crime; whereupon the culprit was hanged on the self-same fig-tree (compare Landshuth, "'Ammude ha-'Abodah," p. 310). This is only one of the many legends with which mystic imagination adorned the memory of AlḲabiẓ. Another, telling of an ecstatic vision which AlḲabiẓ and Caro had seen one Pentecost night while yet in Turkey, may have been the cabalistic embellishment of the direct causes for the migration of the two masters to Palestine (see Isaiah Hurwitz, "Shene Luḥot ha-Berit," ed. Amsterdam, p. 180a).
AlḲabiẓ's popularity rests mainly on his liturgic poem for the Sabbath-eve service, which, under the name of "Lekah Dodi" (Come, My Beloved), has become more famous than its author. Not only was this mystic love-song to the Sabbath readily admitted into both the Spanish and the German rituals, but R. Isaac Luria, the leader of the contemporary cabalists, is said to have preferred it to all the poetry of Ibn Ezra and Ibn Gabirol. It has also been appreciated in modern days by the poet Herder, who translated it into German, and by Heinrich Heine, who, though he erroneously attributed it in his "Romancero" to Judah ha-Levi, also rendered it into German ("Werke," iii. 234, Hamburg, 1884), while Mrs. Alice Lucas has included a good English version in "The Jewish Year," pp. 167 et seq., London, 1898. This poem, however, is but one of a large number written by AlḲabiẓ and embodied in several rituals.
Among his larger works, his cabalistic commentaries on several Biblical books require notice. The first of the series, a "Commentary on the Book of Esther," was written in 1529, when he sent it to his father-in-law as a Purim gift for his bride. It was not published till 1585, when it appeared at Venice, accompanied by the Hebrew text and several homilies,under the title of "Manot ha-Levi" (The Gifts of the Levite). His commentary on the Song of Songs, called "Ayelet Ahabim" (The Dawn of Love), written in 1536, was published, with the text, in Venice, 1552; while "Shoresh Yishai" (The Root of Jesse), on the Book of Ruth, written in the year 1553, appeared, together with the text and an index by his son Moses, in 1561, at Constantinople. Besides this series he wrote a commentary on the Book of Hosea, which, however, has not been published, and quite a large number of cabalistic prayers and books. Among the latter his "Bet Adonai" (The House of the Lord) should be mentioned, which the authors of "Shalshelet ha-ḳabbalah" and "Sifte Yeshenim," as well as Wolf, attribute to his son Moses, but which, no doubt, belongs to Alḳabiẓ senior, because he alludes to it as his own work both in his commentary on Ruth (iii. 14), and in a note to the Zohar (Gen. i. 16), which he sent to Joseph Caro, and which the author of "Seder ha-Dorot" claims to have seen (compare "Seder ha-Dorot," p. 243). De Rossi misreads the passage in question, and deduces from it the existence in manuscript of a commentary on the entire Zohar.
Azulai, furthermore, appears to have seen another work by this author, which possesses some biographical value, inasmuch as under the title of "Berit ha-Levi" (The Covenant of the Levite), AlḲabiẓ collected in it a cabalistic commentary on the Passover Haggadah, and a number of other esoteric disquisitions, all of which he left as a species of mystic souvenir to his disciples and associates at Adrianople, just prior to his departure for Palestine.
- Steinschneider, Cat. Bodl. col. 2279;
- Landshuth, 'Ammude ha-'Abodah, pp. 310 et seq.;
- Azulai, Shem ha-Gedolim, ed. Benjacob, i. 164;
- Nepi-Ghirondi, Toledot Gedole Yisrael, p. 320;
- Heilprin, Seder ha-Dorot, ed. Maskileison, i. 243; iii. 25;
- Conforte, ḳ;ore ha-Dorot, ed. Petrokof, pp. 65 et seq.;
- De Rossi, Dizionario Storico (Germ. trans.), p. 38;
- Winter and Wünsche, Jüdische Literatur, iii. 94.