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ḤAYYAṬ, JUDAH BEN JACOB:

Spanish cabalist; lived in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Himself one of the exiles from Spain, he describes in vivid colors his sufferings and those of his brethren (preface to his "Minḥat Yehudah"). In the winter of 1493 Ḥayyaṭ and his family, with 250 other Spanish refugees, were ordered to leave Lisbon. For four months the ship on which they had embarked remained at sea, as no port would allow the Jews to land for fear of the plague. Finally, the vessel was captured by Biscayan pirates, plundered, and taken to Malaga. The officials of that port would allow the Jews neither to land nor to depart; nor were provisions given them. They were, however, visited by priests who came on board every day to preach Christianity. Driven by hunger, hundreds were converted. Ḥayyaṭ's wife died of starvation, and he himself lay between life and death.

At last the Malaga authorities allowed the Jews to set sail for Africa. Ḥayyaṭ settled in Berbera, but there a new calamity befell him. A Mohammedan, a native of Spain, testified that, during the rejoicings at the conquest of Granada, Ḥayyaṭ had ordered his flock to drag through the streets the effigy of Mohammed. Accordingly he was thrown into a dungeon, and was offered the alternatives of death or the adoption of Islam. After forty days of incarceration he was ransomed by the Jews of Luza, to whom he presented two hundred volumes from his library. He then went to Fez; but a famine which raged there was so severe that he was compelled to turn a hand-mill for a piece of bread scarcely fit for a dog. At night he slept upon the ash-heaps of the town. After many struggles and sufferings he reached Italy and settled at Mantua.

Ḥayyaṭ was one of the greatest cabalists of his time. At the request of Joseph Jabez of Mantua, he wrote a commentary on "Ma'areket ha-Elahut," a cabalistic system of theology, attributed to Perez ben Isaac. This work, together with the text, was published at Ferrara in 1557, under the title "Minḥat Yehudah." In the preface, in which the events of his stormy life are narrated, he glorifies the Cabala, and advises its students concerning the works to be consulted on that subject. According to him, Isaac ibn Laṭif is to be relied upon in everything except in Cabala, "in which he stands only upon one foot"; and Abraham Abulafia is a mere swindler. Ḥayyaṭ recommends: the "Sefer Yeẓirah," which he attributes to the tanna R. Akiba; the "Bahir"; the works of Joseph Gikatilla; those of Shem-Ṭob de Leon; the "Sodot" of Naḥmanides; and the writings of Menahem Recanati.

Bibliography:
  • Introduction to Ma'areket ha-Elahut;
  • Conforte, Ḳore ha-Dorot, p. 30a;
  • De Rossi-Hamberger, Hist. Wörterb. p. 72;
  • Nepi-Ghirondi, Toledot Gedole Yisrael, p. 149;
  • Zunz, Z. G. pp. 231, 377;
  • Steinschneider, Cat. Bodl. col. 1300;
  • Fuenn, Keneset Yisrael, p. 396.
K. I. Br.
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