ASHKENAZI, JOSEPH


ASHKENAZI, JOSEPH
ASHKENAZI, JOSEPH (1525–1577), annotator of and commentator on the Mishnah. Ashkenazi, known as "ha-Tanna" of Safed, was the son-in-law of R. Aaron b. Gershon Land, who was rabbi in Prague and later headed the bet din of the Poznan community. Ashkenazi fought fiercely against philosophy and theoretical-philosophical Kabbalah. At Prague he denounced Maimonides as a heretic and was threatened with excommunication by the rabbis of Prague if he did not desist. Abraham ha-Levi Horowitz wrote a polemical pamphlet against Ashkenazi's father-in-law, which was mainly directed against Ashkenazi himself. After his father-in-law's death (1560) he went to Verona but it would seem that he did not spend many years there and that he subsequently went on to Egypt where he taught at a yeshivah. Here he was friendly with bezalel ashkenazi and probably also with isaac luria . Perhaps his contacts with these two scholars, who devoted themselves to the study of variant readings of the Mishnah and Talmud as they occur in manuscripts, influenced Ashkenazi to accept the usage of the Egyptian scholars. In 1569/70 he went to Safed, where, as was his custom, he roused violent controversies. He demanded that tithes and terumot ("offerings") should be given from crops grown in Ereẓ Israel even when heaped by a Gentile (the obligation of tithing applying from the action of heaping) in contradiction to joseph caro and the ordinance of 1572 which had ruled that these need not be tithed. His opposition to philosophy in general is expressed in one of his works written in 1565 and preserved in manuscript (discovered by G. Scholem, Oxford Ms. 1664 and Budapest, Kaufmann Library, Ms. 290). Ashkenazi attacks Maimonides and his ideas; he opposes the use of allegory as well as the philosophic concept that "God is pure unchangeable intellect." According to Ashkenazi this heresy is the source of all other heresies. From it stem the denial of Providence; of reward and punishment; of the mitzvot; of resurrection in the world to come. His accusations are leveled mainly against Maimonides, Abraham ibn ezra , levi b. gershom , and   joseph albo . Ashkenazi contends that the esoteric world is merely a dimension added to the exoteric one which applies to matters of the heavenly world; that the books of Kabbalah ascribed to the tannaim and amoraim are the true Kabbalah and must not be disputed. He sharply criticizes the kabbalists of the Middle Ages who tried to compromise with philosophy. According to him, even Naḥmanides , solomon b. abraham adret , and Baḥya b. Asher vacillated between true Kabbalah and philosophy. The authors of speculative kabbalism are "false kabbalists" and by this he means azriel of Gerona and meir ibn gabbai . Manuscript copies of Ḥayyim Vital's Oẓerot Ḥayyim contain kabbalistic sayings which Vital had heard from Ashkenazi and which resemble those of the late German Ḥasidim. It was probably in Safed that he started to devote himself mainly to the textual criticism of the Mishnah. He annotated the complete Mishnah on the basis of various manuscripts. His annotations were widely used by students and commentators of the Mishnah. -BIBLIOGRAPHY: D. Kaufmann, in: MGWJ, 42 (1898), 38–46; O. Bloch, ibid., 47 (1903), 153 ff. (reprinted, Pressburg, 1903); Ẓevi ha-Levi Ish Hurwitz, in: Sinai, 7 (1940), 311 ff.; J.N. Epstein, Mishnah, 2 (1948), 1284 ff.; G. Scholem, in: Tarbiz, 28 (1958/59), 59–89, 201–35.

Encyclopedia Judaica. 1971.

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