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Jewish Commentators — Their Lives and Works

 

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Eleazar ben Judah ben Kalonymus
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Hebrew Name(s): אלעזר בן יהודה ראקיח בן קלונימוס; אלעסר רוקח; אלעזר בן יהודה מווירמייסא
Other Names: Eleazar Rokeach, Eleazer of Worms, Elazar Rokeach, Eleazar Rokeaḥ
Period: Rishonim — 12th–13th Century
Location: Germany
Dates: c. 1176–1238

Biography:
Eleazar Rokeaḥ was a rabbi, Kabbalist and mystic, a Talmudist and codifier, a liturgist, an astronomer and well versed in the sciences. Rokeaḥ was descended from the Kalonymous family of Mainz and was one of the last of the Chassidei Ashkenazi. Rokeaḥ was a disciple of Judah ben Samuel he-Ḥasid. He later contributed numerous edits to Judah ben Samuel he-Ḥasid's major work, Sefer Hasidim.
 
Eleazar Rokeaḥ was a signatory to the Takkanot Shum*.
 
Rokeaḥ's wife and children were murdered by Crusaders on the eve of 22 Kislev 1196 as he sat writing his commenatry on Genesis. He reports that he was working on Parashat Vayeshev when two crusaders entered his house and killed his wife (Dulcina,) his two daughters, Belat and Hannah, and his son, Jacob. Rokeaḥ's wife had conducted a business selling parchment scrolls in order to support his application to study.
 
Eleazar Rokeaḥ was noted for his kabbalistic interpretations which used a system of gematria and notarikon** derived in the Talmud. He wrote a great many works: ethical, mystical and also piyyutim.
 
*The Takkanot Shum (תקנות שו"ם‎), or Enactments of SHU"M were a set of directives drawn up over several decades by the leaders of Jewry in Speyer, Worms and Mainz which provided guidelines for conducting business affairs and life under the difficult conditions of the time. The term SHUM is derived as an acronym from the names of the three cities, in Hebrew, Shpira, Vermayza and Magentza. The Takkanot Shum continued to influence Europen Jewry for many centuries. Takkanot become necessary when problems to be dealt with are not met by existing halakhah.
 
**Notarikon (נוטריקון‎) is the method by which new words are derived from the letters of a single word. By taking each letter of the original word to stand for an initial letter or a final letter of new words, new meaning is derived. Notarikon is used in several ways: in aggadic interpretation of the Torah, to derive mystical/kabbalistic meanings, and to create acronym-like names.
Examples.
בראשית, in the beginning (Gen. 1:1) = בראשית ראה אלהים שיקבלו ישראל תורה, In the beginning God saw that Irael would accept the Torah.
אלול, Elul = אני לדודי ודודי לי , I am to my Beloved and my beloved is to me (Song of Songs 6:3)
רש''י Rashi = רבי שלמה יצחקי Rabbi Shlmo Yitzḥaki.

Works:
Ha-Rokeaḥ; Sha‘are ha-Sod weha-Yiḥud; Adderet ha-Shem; Moreh Ḥatta’im (aka. Seder ha-Kapparot); Sefer ha-Ḥayyim; Sha‘are ha-Sod ha-Yiḥud veha-Emunah; Yir’at El; Sefer ha-Kavod; Yayin ha-Rekaḥ; A Commentary on the Prayers; Ta‘ame we-Sodot ha-Tefillah; Perush ‘al Sefer Yetzirah; Midrash ve-Perush ‘al ha-Torah; Sha‘are Binah; Shi‘ur Komah; Sefer ha-Ḥokmah; Sefer ha-Shem; Eser Shemot; A Commentary on the piyyut Ha-Ohez; Sod ha-Ziwwug; Sefer ha-Ne‘elam; Sefer Mal’akim; Sefer Tagim; Sefer Pesak; Sefer ha-Kolot; Likkutim; Sode Raza; A Commentary on Shekalim; Tosafot; Piyyutim

Comments:
Moreh Ḥatta’im is a work on penitence and confession of sin. This work, which is included in the Hilkot Teshubah of the “Ha-Rokeaḥ,” has been reproduced many times under various titles.
Sefer ha-Ḥayyim is concerned with the unity of God, of the soul and its attributes, and of the three stages (i.e., plant, animal, and intellectual) in a person's life.
Sha‘are ha-Sod ha-Yiḥud veha-Emunah is a treatise on the unity and incorporeality of God, combating the anthropomorphism of the Haggadah.
Yir’at El (still extant in manuscript in the Vatican Library) contains mystical commentaries on Psalm lxvii., on the Menorah, and on Sefirat ha-‘Omer.
Sefer ha-Kavod contains mystical explanations of various Biblical passages.
Yayin ha-Rekaḥ is a work of mystical commentaries on the five Megillot.
A Commentary on the Prayers is mentioned by Joseph Delmedigo in his Mazref la-Ḥokmah.
Perush ‘al Sefer Yetzirah is a commentary on the Yetzirah, being extracts from Shabbethai Donnolo’s commentary.
Midrash ve-Perush ‘al ha-Torah is a kabbalistic commentary on the Pentateuch, mentioned by Azulai.
Sha‘are Binah is a work in which, by interpreting Biblical verses by gematria, Rokeaḥ shows the origin of many haggadot of the Talmud. Sha‘are Binah is frequently quoted by Solomon al-Kabiz in his Manot ha-Levi.
Shi‘ur Komah is a commentary on the Shi‘ur Komah, the Pirke de-Rabbi Yishma‘el, and the Merkabah.
Sefer ha-Ḥokmah is a kabbalistic treatise on the various names of God, and of angels, and on the seventy-three gates of the Torah, תורה שערי.
Sefer ha-Shem contains mystical dissertations on the names of twenty-two letters, with a table of permutations.
Eser Shemot is a commentary on the ten names of God.
Sod ha-Ziwwug, Sefer ha-Ne‘elam, Sefer Mal’akim, Sefer Tagim, Sefer Pesak, and Sefer ha-Kolot, are small Kabbalistic treatises, all of which are still extant in manuscript.
Likkutim is a collection of kabbalistic fragments, mentioned by Recanate.
Sode Raza is a treatise on the mysteries of Kabbalah, particularly on the Merkabah. Part of Sode Raza was published at Amsterdam in 1701, under the title Sefer Razi’el ha-Gadol.
Tosafot. Rokeaḥ wrote tosafot to many Talmudical treatises. These are referred to by Bezalel Ashkenazi in his Shittah Mekubbezet.
Rokeaḥ's Commentary on Shekalim is cited by Asheri in his commentary to that treatise in the Babylonian Talmud.
Piyyutim: Eleazar Rokeaḥ composed (fifty-five, according to Zunz) liturgical poems and dirges which occur in the Ashkenazic maḥzorim (Prayer books), kinot, and seliḥot.

 

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