Abulafia, Abraham ben-Samuel

(1241–after 1291)
   Spanish Cabbalist.
   Abulafia was a member of a powerful and widespread family. When he was a child, his family moved from Saragossa to Toleda in Navarre, where he was taught the Bible, the Mishnah and the Talmud by his father. Most of his life was spent in Palestine, Greece and Italy, immersed in mystical studies, and attempts to reconcile the Cabbala (Jewish mysticism) with the works of MAIMONIDES. Abulafia was outstanding among mystics of the ecstatic type. The basic aim of his method was to ‘unseal the soul’, through intense contemplation resulting in spiritual ecstasy. The object contemplated was the Hebrew alphabet, especially the letters which constituted the Name of God. Abulafia called this hoch-mat ha- zeruf, ‘the science of the combination of letters’. According to Abulafia, he was the author of twenty-six cabbalistic works and twenty-two prophetic books. They were written around the same time as the Zohar (‘Book of Splendour’), which achieved far greater popularity and became the central work for the Cabbalists. Another reason for the neglect of his manuals was that he was suspect in the eyes of the Orthodox, for he had only slight rabbinic scholarship but a wide knowledge of contemporary philosophy. He and his works were bitterly opposed by Solomon ADRET, the leading contemporary rabbi in Spain.
   Abulafia seemed to have thought that he had a messianic role as well. In 1280, he went to seek audience with the pope ‘in the name of Jewry’. He arrived in Rome on the very night that Pope Nicholas III died. He was imprisoned in the Franciscan College for four weeks, but then released. Between 1279 and 1291, Abulafia wandered around Italy, and all his surviving works date from that period. Nothing is known of him after 1291.

Who’s Who in Jewish History after the period of the Old Testament. . 2012.

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