MOSES BOTAREL (called also Moses Bonyak Botarel of Cisneros):


Spanish scholar; lived in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. He was a pupil of Jacob Sefardi (the Spaniard), who instructed him in the Cabala. He studied also medicine and philosophy; the latter he regarded as a divine science which teaches the same doctrines as the Cabala, using a different language and different terms to designate the same objects. He extols Aristotle as a sage, applying to him the Talmudic sentence, "A wise man is better than a prophet"; and he censures his contemporaries for keeping aloof from the divine teachings of philosophy. Yet despite his reverence for this science, which he pretended to have mastered, Moses Botarel was in many respects a man of very limited intellect. He believed in the efficacy of amulets and cameos, and declared that he was able to combine the names of God for magical purposes, so that he was generally considered a sorcerer. He asserted that by means of fasting, ablution, and invocation of the names of God and of the angels prophetic dreams could be induced. He also believed, or endeavored to make others believe, that the prophet Elijah had appeared to him and appointed him as Messiah. In this rôle he addressed a circular letter to all the rabbis, asserting that he was able to solve all perplexities, and asking them to send all doubtful questions to him. In this letter (printed by Dukes in "Orient, Lit." 1850, p. 825) Botarel refers to himself as a well-known and prominent rabbi, a saint, and the most pious of the pious. Many persons believed in his miracles, including the philosopher Ḥasdai Crescas.

Botarel was one of those who attended the disputation at Tortosa (1413-14), and he is said to have written a polemic against Geronimo de Santa Fé. In 1409, at the request of the Christian scholar Maestro Juan, Botarel composed a commentary on the "Sefer Yeẓirah." In the preface he excuses himself for having revealed the divine mysteries of this work to Maestro Juan by quoting the saying of the sages that a non-Jew who studies the Torah is equal to a high priest. In his commentary he quotes earlier cabalistic works, including some ascribed to the old authorities, such as the amora R. Ashi. It is interesting to note that he does not quote the Zohar. Botarel's commentary on the "Sefer Yeẓirah" was printed at Mantua in 1562, with the text and with other commentaries; it was republished at Zolkiev, 1745; Grodno, 1806; and Wilna, 1820.

This Moses Botarel must not be confounded with Moses b. Leon Botarel, who lived at Constantinople in the sixteenth century and wrote the "'En Mishpaṭ," containing predictions and being a free paraphrase of a Latin work of Michael Nostradamus.

  • Jellinek, Biographische Skizzen, in Orient, Lit. 1846, pp. 187-189;
  • N. Brüll, in Ha-Maggid, 1878, pp. 198-199;
  • Grätz, Gesch. viii. 98;
  • idem, in Monatsschrift, 1879, pp. 78-83;
  • Steinschneider, Jewish Literature, pp. 110, 128;
  • idem, Cat. Bodl. cols. 1780-1783.
J. J. Z. L.
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