Page 79 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 14

Basic HTML Version

in its title either one of his names, Hayyim, Joseph or David, or an
allusion to his name by
Several noteworthy examples of bibliomancy — a craft Azulai
himself practiced on occasion — are to be found in
Shem ha-
The practical Kabbalah, because of its occultism, was
surcharged with danger and Azulai warns against it. He tells
of a North African scholar who had learned the art of
— a
combination of mystic divine names — from an aged Kabbalist
and turned the art to his own profit. As a result of this illegitimate
use, he died at an early age. “Even though one finds someone to
teach him this art, he should not use it for personal profit,” writes
Another type of anecdote encountered in
Shem ha-Gedolim
that which points up the greatness of some particular book and
emphasizes a virtue. Thus, Azulai transcribes a story he heard
about the
Shulhan Arukh.
In the age of Joseph Karo, there was
need for a comprehensive code. Three men were capable of
producing such a code: Joseph b. Levi Habib, Joseph Taitazak
and Joseph Karo. I t was decreed in Heaven that the book be
written by Joseph Karo because of the latter’s deep humility.
Further, no less than two hundred rabbis approved of Karo’s
method of accepting the Halakhic decisions of Alfasi, Maimonides,
and Asher B. Yehiel.
The universal esteem in which Rashi’s commentary of the
Pentateuch was held is reflected in the following story retold by
Azulai. Rashi observed six hundred and thirteen fasts before he
began to write his commentary. His grandson, Rabbenu Tam, is
once reported to have said: “ I could duplicate my grandfather’s
commentary on the Talmud but not his commentary on the
Pentateuch.” May we paraphrase this tribute and say that others
conceivably could have duplicated
Shem ha-Gedolim
as a die-
tionary of Jewish literature, but no one could have written a book
quite like this melange of history, bibliography, Halakhah, mys-
ticism, folklore and literary curiosities produced by Azulai.