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Zacuto, Moses ben Mordecai

Encyclopaedia Judaica
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ZACUTO, MOSES BEN MORDECAI (c. 1620–1697), kabbalist and poet. Zacuto, who
was born into a Portuguese Marrano family in Amsterdam, studied Jewish subjects under Saul
Levi *Morteira (an elegy on the latter's death by Zacuto was published by D. Kaufmann in rej,
37 (1898), 115). He also studied secular subjects. According to tradition, he later fasted 40
days "in order to forget the Latin language." He was a student in the bet midrash of
Amsterdam and in his youth traveled to Poland to study in the yeshivot there. Zacuto was
attracted by Kabbalah and refers in his letters to his teacher Elhanan, perhaps "Elhanan the
kabbalist," who died in Vienna in 1651. He moved to Italy, remaining for some time in
Verona. From 1645 he lived in Venice and served for a time as a preacher under Azariah
*Figo. Afterward, he became one of the rabbis of the city and a member of the Venetian
yeshivah. Between 1649 and 1670 he was proofreader of many books printed in Venice,
especially works on Kabbalah. He edited the Zohar Ḥadash in 1658, and also wrote many
poems for celebrations and special occasions. Zacuto tried to acquire the manuscripts of the
Safed kabbalists, especially those of Moses *Cordovero and the different versions of the
works of Ḥayyim *Vital. He befriended the kabbalist Nathan Shapiro of Jerusalem and the old
kabbalist Benjamin ha-Levi, who served as an emissary from Safed in Venice for two years

At the outset of the Shabbatean movement, Zacuto tended to give credence to the messianic
tidings, but he was opposed to innovations such as the abolition of tikkun ḥaẓot ("midnight
prayers") and other customs. In the spring of 1666, in a letter to Samson Bachi, he took a
positive but cautious stand in favor of the movement, mainly supporting its advocacy of
repentance. After the apostasy of *Shabbetai Ẓevi he turned his back on the movement and
joined the other Venetian rabbis in their action against *Nathan of Gaza when he came to
Venice in the spring of 1668. At the same time he openly opposed the Shabbateans in a letter
to Meir Isserles in Vienna, and in subsequent years rejected Shabbatean propaganda, despite
the fact that his favorite students *Benjamin b. Eliezer ha-Kohen of Reggio and Abraham
*Rovigo were among the "believers" (ma'aminim). Relations between Zacuto and these two
disciples became strained because of their differences, when, for example, the Shabbatean
scholar Baer Perlhefter came to Modena and Rovigo supported him. The Shabbateans on
several occasions criticized Zacuto, whose conservative temperament displeased them. In
1671 he was invited to serve as rabbi in Mantua, but he did not go until 1673, remaining there
until his death. He enjoyed great authority as the chief of the contemporary Italian kabbalists
and corresponded with kabbalists in many places. He never realized his desire to settle in Ereẓ

Zacuto's published exoteric works include his commentary on the Mishnah, Kol ha-Re-Me-Z;
he was known throughout his life as Re-Me-Z, from his initials (Rabbi Moses Zacuto). Part of
the work was published in Amsterdam in 1719. Ḥ.J.D. *Azulai, in his Shem ha-Gedolim,
noted that the manuscript was twice as long as the printed edition. A collection of halakhic
responsa was published in Venice in 1760. A commentary on the Palestinian Talmud is lost.
His major activity, however, was in Kabbalah. Zacuto opposed the mingling of the kabbalistic
system of Cordovero with that of Isaac *Luria which was then current in some circles
(Tishby, in: Zion, 22 (1957), 30) and for this reason he criticized Solomon Rocca's Sefer
Kavvanat Shelomo (Venice, 1670) even though he composed a poem honoring the author (see
Zacuto's Iggerot, letters nos. 7, 8). He went over the entire corpus of Luria's and Vital's
writings and added many annotations under the name Kol ha-Re-Me-Z or the abbreviation
Ma-Za-La-N (Moshe Zakkut Li Nireh – "It seems to me, Moses Zacuto"). Many of them are
collected in the books Mekom Binah and Sha'arei Binah of Isaac Ṣabba (Salonika, 1812–13)
and they have partly also appeared in different editions of the works of Vital and Jacob
*Ẓemaḥ. Zacuto wrote at least two commentaries on the *Zohar. In the first, he continued
Yode'ei Binah begun by his contemporary Joseph *Ḥamiz (up to Zohar i, 39). Here, Zacuto
used many commentaries from the school of Cordovero, the commentary Ketem Paz by
Simeon *Labi and the first commentary of Ḥayyim *Vital. The printed part contains the
commentary up to Zohar i, 147b (Venice, 1663). For unknown reasons it was never
circulated. One copy is extant in the library of the bet din in London, but there exist complete
manuscripts (e.g., British Museum, Ms. Add. 27.054–27.057). Mikdash ha-Shem, his second
commentary on the Zohar, was written for the most part according to the Lurianic Kabbalah,
and was published in abridged form in the Mikdash Melekh of Shalom *Buzaglo. The
complete commentary is found in the Oxford manuscripts Opp. 511, 512, 513, 515, 516, 517.
Mezakkeh ha-Rabbim (Oxford, Bodleian Library, Ms. Opp. 120), though ascribed to him, was
not written by him. A long kabbalistic responsum to the rabbis of Cracow on the copying of
Torah scrolls, tefillin, and mezuzot was published several times, in Mekom Binah, in Kiray
Sefer by Menahem Meiri (pt. 2, 1881, 100–8; separately, Berdichev, 1890). Zacuto arranged
tikkunim ("special prayers") for several religious ceremonies according to Kabbalah. These
were often reprinted and had great influence, especially on the religious life in Italy. They
include Sefer ha-Tikkunim (a tikkun for the eve of Shavuot and Hoshana Rabba; Venice,
1659), Mishmeret ha-Ḥodesh (ibid., 1660), Tikkun Shovavim (the initials of the first six
sections of Exodus), i.e., a tikkun for fasts undertaken in expiation for nocturnal ejaculations
(ibid., 1673), and Tikkun Ḥaẓot (ibid., 1704). All these were arranged under the influence of
Benjamin ha-Levi and Nathan Shapiro.

A major part of Zacuto's poetry is devoted to kabbalistic subjects, such as his poems in the
book Ḥen Kol Ḥadash (Amsterdam, 1712), and in Tofteh Arukh (a description of hell; Venice,
1715; see below). Besides this he arranged voluminous collectanea on kabbalistic subjects.
The first was Shibbolet shel Leket, on all the books of the Bible (Scholem, Kitvei Yad be-
Kabbalah, 1930, p. 153, para. 107). This was followed by Remez ha-Romez on numbers,
*gematria, and explanations of Holy Names according to numerology (Ms. British Museum,
Margoliouth 853); Erkhei Kinnuyim, selections from the Lurianic Kabbalah in alphabetical
order (complete in Ms. Jerusalem 110). Parts of this work were published at the end of Golel
Or by Meir *Bikayam (1737) and at the end of Bikayam's Me'ir Bat Ayin (1755). Another
anthology, in alphabetical order, was published as Em la-Binah, part of his Sha'arei Binah
(1813). Shorshei ha-Shemot, also called Mekor ha-Shemot, is a collection of practical
Kabbalah according to the order of the magical "names." This work was widely circulated in
manuscript and went through several versions by North African kabbalists. A complete
manuscript is in Jerusalem (8° 2454). Essays on kabbalistic subjects have remained in several
manuscripts; also a number of important collections of Zacuto's letters are preserved, e.g.,
Budapest 459 (in his own handwriting); Jerusalem 8° 1466; British Museum Ms. Or. 9165 (in
his handwriting); Jewish Theological Seminary, n.y. Mss. 9906 and 11478; and in the Eẓ
Ḥayyim Library in Amsterdam, C15. Only a few were published in Iggerot ha-Re-Me-Z
(Leghorn, 1780).
[Gershom Scholem]

Yesod Olam
Zacuto was the author of the first biblical *drama in Hebrew literature, Yesod Olam (ed. D.J.
Maroni, 1874; ed. A. Berliner, 1874). The play was not published during the author's lifetime,
apparently because it comprised only part (estimated at one-third) of a projected lengthy work
portraying Abraham in the major stages of his life as a righteous man on whom the entire
world rests. Only the first part (and perhaps not all of it) was finished; this deals with the
midrashic legend of the shattering of the household idols in Terah's home, the trial before
King Nimrod, Abraham's deliverance from the fiery furnace, and the death of Haran. The play
was written according to the classical rules of dramatic theory as they had developed in the
16th and early 17th centuries, but no particular model can be discerned. The author maintained
the three unities – of plot, time, and place – even to extremes. No stage effects were
introduced and therefore leading characters speak lengthy monologues. The plot is simple and
concentrates on the best-known details of the legend while omitting all the minor ones. The
hero, Abraham, is portrayed as an exalted and philosophic personality against whom the idol
worshipers and the hedonists rebel. The philosophy of the play is rationalist-humanist and
Abraham's views are remarkably similar to those of Maimonides; there is no trace of
kabbalistic influence.

The style too is classical and the play is composed almost entirely in sonnets. Sentences are
generally short and comprehensible, but the language is flowery. Though the vocabulary is
largely drawn from the Bible, Zacuto does not hesitate to use talmudic idioms. No details
exist from which the exact date of composition can be determined. However, it is clear that
Zacuto wrote the play before he became a kabbalist of the Lurianic school. The play treats at
length the theory of the immortality of the soul, which is rejected by Nimrod and his sages
while Abraham defends it. This is clearly an echo of the dispute over the views of Uriel da
*Costa, who angered Sephardi Jewry by his denial of the immortality of the soul. This fact
supports the view that the play was written before 1640.

Tofteh Arukh
When he lived in Italy, Zacuto wrote his great dramatic poem, Tofteh Arukh. It appears that
this work was inspired by Dante's Divine Comedy, as the subject matter is the afflictions of
the soul in hell. In the opening verses, the dead man recounts his last illness and the
arrangements for his burial. Afterward follows the episode of ḥibbut ha-kever ("tribulations in
the grave"). The angel Duna commences the judgment and trial and with the aid of his angels
drags the dead man through the seven sections of hell, showing the terrible punishments
suffered by sinners. The conclusion is a description of the difference between the fate of
sinners and that of the righteous, and toward the end the angel and the dead man praise God as
the true judge. The poem consists of 185 rhymed stanzas of five verses each. The author
employs many homonyms, assonances, and word plays, to an extent that becomes tedious.
The work attained great popularity, especially among groups of kabbalists, such as Ḥadashim
la-Bekarim. After its publication (Venice, 1715), a sequel titled Eden Arukh was written by
Jacob Daniel Olmo. Since the second edition (1743) the two poems have been published

[Jozeph Michman (Melkman)]

A. Apfelbaum, Moshe Zacut (Heb., 1926); Ghirondi-Nepi, 225; Landshuth, Ammudei, 2
(1862), 214–21; G. Scholem, Kitvei Yad be-Kabbalah (1930), 150–5; idem, in: Zion,
13–14 (1949), 49–59; idem, in: Behinot, 8 (1955), 89; 9 (1956), 83; Scholem,
Shabbetai Zevi, 653–4; A. Yaari, Ta'alumat Sefer (1954), 54–56, 67–75; idem, in:
Behinot, 9 (1956), 77; M. Benayahu, in: Sinai, 34 (1954), 156; idem, in:
Yerushalayim, 5 (1955), 136–86; idem, in: Sefunot, 5 (1961), 323–6, 335; I. Tishby,
Netivei Emunah u-Minut (1964), index; Stein-schneider, Cat Bod, 1989–92. yesod
olam: J. Melkman, in: Sefunot, 10 (1966), 301–33; idem, in: Studia Rosenthaliana, 1,
pt. 2 (1967), 1–26; 3 (1969), 145–55. tofteh arukh: Tofteh Arukh, ed. by D.A.
Friedman (1922); H. Hamiel, in: Sinai, 25 (1949), 304–19; 26 (1950), 101–12; M.
Zacuto, L'inferno preparato (transportato in versi Italiani da S.I. Luzzati; 1819); C.
Foa, Tofte gnaruch ossia il castigo dei reprobi poema ebraico del secolo xvii di Mose
Zacut, versione italiana in., prosa (1901).

Moses ben Mordecai Zacuto

Connected to:
Kabbalah Jerusalem Talmud Italy

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Moses ben Mordecai Zacuto (c. 1625 – 1 October 1697), also known by the Hebrew
acronym ReMe"Z, was a rabbi, Kabbalist, and poet. Zacuto, who was born into a Portuguese
Marrano family in Amsterdam, studied Jewish subjects under Saul Levi Morteira (an elegy on
the latter's death by Zacuto was published by D. Kaufmann in REJ, 37 (1898), 115). He also
studied secular subjects, such as the Latin language. As a pupil of Morteira, he may also have
been, as a youth still in Amsterdam, a fellow student of Baruch Spinoza.[1]

He was inclined to mysticism from his youth, and at one time fasted forty days that he might
forget the Latin which he had learned, since, in his opinion, it could not be reconciled with
kabbalistic truths. To continue his Talmudic studies he went from Amsterdam to Poland, as is
clear from the letter of recommendation which he gave at Venice in 1672 to the delegates who
had come to Italy to collect money for the oppressed Polish communities.[2] It was his
intention to make a pilgrimage to Palestine, but on the way he was persuaded to remain as
rabbi in Venice, where he stayed, with the exception of a short residence in Padua, from 1645
until the summer of 1673.[3] He was then called to Mantua at a fixed salary of 300 ducats, and
remained there until his death, twenty-four years later. His epitaph is given by Wolf (Bibl.
Hebr. iv. 1200) and by Landshuth (Ammude ha-'Abodah, p. 215).

Mystical pursuits
Rabbi Zacuto applied himself with great diligence to the study of the Kabbalah under Ḥayyim
Vital's pupil Benjamin ha-Levi, who had come to Italy from Safed; and this remained the
chief occupation of his life. He established a seminary for the study of the Kabbalah, and his
favorite pupils, Benjamin ha-Kohen and Abraham Rovigo, often visited him for months at a
time at Venice or Mantua, to investigate kabalistic mysteries. He composed forty-seven
liturgical poems, chiefly Kabbalistic, enumerated by Landshuth (l.c. pp. 216 et seq.). Some of
them have been printed in the festal hymns Hen Ḳol Ḥadash, edited by Moses Ottolenghi
(Amsterdam, 1712), and others have been incorporated in different prayer-books.

He also wrote penitential poems (Tikkun Shovavim, Venice, 1712; Leghorn, 1740) for the
service on the evening before the day of New Moon, as well as prayers for Hosha'na Rabbah
and similar occasions, all in the spirit of the Kabbalah. Zacuto was, moreover, the author of a
poem containing a thousand words, each beginning with the letter "‫( "א‬Elef Alpin; printed
with a commentary at the end of the Iggerot ha-ReMeZ, pp. 43 et seq.), a long poem, Tofteh
'Aruk, or L'Inferno Figurato (Venice, 1715, 1744), in which he depicts the punishments of
hell, and the oldest dramatic poem in the Hebrew language, which A. Berliner first edited
under the title Yesod 'Olam (Berlin, 1874).

In his Shorshei Hashemot (Book of the Roots of the Names) he included long quotations of the
Fez Kabbalist R' Isaiah Bakish (16-17th c.)[4]

 'Hen Ḳol Ḥadash (hymns), ed. Moses Ottolenghi (Amsterdam, 1712)
 Tikkun Shovavim (poems), Venice, 1712; Leghorn, 1740
 Shudda de-Dayyane, a guide for decisions on commercial law (Mantua, 1678; reprinted in
Ha-Goren, iii. 181 et seq.)
 Ḳol ha-ReMeZ (published posthumously), a commentary on the Mishnah (which he knew by
heart), with elucidations of the commentaries of Bertinoro and others (Amsterdam, 1719)
 A collection of responsa with the decisions of contemporaries (Venice, 1760)
 Iggerot ha-ReMeZ, containing letters of cabalistic content written by himself and others and
his poem 'Elef Alpin' (Leghorn, 1780)
 Yesod 'Olam (Berlin, 1874)
 He edited and emended also the Zohar (Venice, 1663) and other writings. A considerable
number of his works, such as a commentary on the Jerusalem Talmud, homilies, and
cabalistic writings, are still unpublished as of 1906.
 Shorshei Hashemot (Book of the Roots of the Names), XVIIe Century (hebr.). Ed. Nehora, c.

Jewish Encyclopedia bibliography

 Azulai, Shem ha-Gedolim, i. 153;
 Daniel Levi De Barrios, Arbol de las Vidas, p. 78;
 Delitzsch, Zur Geschichte der Jüdischen Poesie, pp. 72 et seq., Ha-Goren, iii. 175 et seq.;
 Heinrich Grätz, Gesch. ix. 201 et seq., x. 170;
 Graziadio Nepi-Mordecai Ghirondi, Toledot Gedole Yisrael, p. 225;
 Moritz Steinschneider, Cat. Bodl. cols. 1989-1992;
 Zunz, Literaturgesch. pp. 440 et seq.:
 Julius Fürst, Bibl. Jud. iii. 201 et seq.;
 Joseph Zedner, Cat. Hebr. Books Brit. Mus. pp. 588 et seq.