Vital Chajim

Vital Chajim a famous Cabalist and pupil of Isaac Loria (q.v.), was a descendant of a Calabrian family. He was born in 1543, and died in 1620. After the death of his teacher, Vital diligently collected all the manuscript notes of the lectures which Loria's disciples had written down, from which, together with his own jottings, he produced the gigantic and famous system of the Cabala; entitled the Tree of Life, ע החיים. This work, upon which Vital labored over thirty ears, was at first circulated in manuscript copies, and every one of the Cabalistic disciples had to pledge himself, under pain of excommunication, not to allow a copy to be made for a foreign land, so that for a time all the codices remained in Palestine. "Chajim's example," says Steinschneider, "gave a great impulse to his fertile followers, and not long afterwards, Aaron Berechja of Modena declared (in a manuscript work, 1629) that he had somewhere read that it is the duty of every student to write down the principles of the Cabala. With respect to the authenticity and arrangement of these writings, nearly all of which bear the name of Chajim, and are extant in hundreds of manuscripts (the very few that are printed having appeared together with other older Cabalistic works at Korez, 1784-85), we find an apparatus criticus of no less than four recensions; and Chajim himself began his comprehensive work with such care that he distinguished what he found taught in Loria's name from what he considered as authentic tradition. But his own account of the different ways in which he arranged and rearranged his materials, and the accounts of those who again prepared his writings for the press (viz. his son, Samuel Vital of Damascus; the polygrapher Jacob Zemnach, a Portuguese physician in Palestine, 1619-52; and his German pupil Meir Poppers at Jerusalem, Ob 1:212), and, lastly, a comparison of the different forms in which the same formulae and plays upon letters appear and to appear, must make every honest student despair of ever producing light and order out of this vast mass of confusion; and we might sum up our judgment, like an ingenious bibliographer, in the words "The dream of Pharaoh is one." The work of Chajim consists of six parts; a portion of that part which treats of

the doctrine of metenpsychosib (הגלגולים) has been translated into Latin bv Knorr von Rosenroth. See Fürst, Bibl. Jud. 3, 479 sq.; Ginsburg, Kabbalah, p. 135; De' Rossi, Diziaiona Historico (Germ. transl.), p. 328 sq.; Grätz, Gesc. d. Juden. 9:445 sq.; and note, 8, p. 75; 10:125 sq.; Steinschneider, Jewish Literature; p. 227 sq. (B. P.)

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