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Kanah and Peliyah, Books of

KANAH AND PELIYAH, BOOKS OF, two of the most important compositions of pre-Safedian *Kabbalah. The former is a lengthy commentary on the commandments, the latter a commentary on the first chapters of Genesis. Though different from the literary point of view, the two books have been confused by many kabbalists, the title Kanah being attributed to both. Written by the same kabbalist, they were attributed to members of the family of the famous tannaitic figure R. *Nehunyah ben ha-Kanah, to whom some other kabbalistic writing had been attributed previously. The author introduces three generations of this family, who discuss and exchange among themselves kabbalistic ideas. The main assumption of the author is the superiority of Kabbalah, which contains the most important clues for understanding Judaism.

For many years the books were thought to have been composed in Spain, but findings of Kushnir-Oron and Ta-Shma established the Byzantine background of the books, presumably at the end of the 14th century. A study of the sources demonstrates that the anonymous kabbalist drew on a huge variety of kabbalistic sources starting from early Kabbalah, the book of the Zohar, prophetic Kabbalah, R. Joseph Gikatilla, R. Menahem Recanati, and R. Joseph b. Shalom Ashkenazi. Especially important is the impact of Sefer ha-Temunah and the kabbalistic thought in writings from its circle, plausibly produced in mid-14th century Byzantium. Also the appropriation of Heikhalot poems, late Midrashim, and Ashkenazi sources is detectable. Many of these sources were copied verbatim or with slight changes and interpolations. Despite the highly eclectic nature of these books, the recasting of the sources in a dialogue form, which uses many parables, was helpful in introducing the variety of ideas appropriated by the author to wider and variegated audiences. Together with writings from the Temunah circle, the books of Kanah and Peliyah are cornerstones of Byzantine Kabbalah as a divergent school from the Spanish center of Kabbalah, and contributed a special blend of views which underscore transmigration and cosmic cycles (shemittot), surmising that the present eon is one of stern judgment, and show special interest in Hebrew letters and divine names.

The books contain ideas stemming from earlier sources which deviate from the consensus of the main kabbalistic schools in Spain. On the other hand, they express critical attitudes toward students of Halakhah, depicted as immersed in the study of Jewish law, but enjoying a good life instead of fasting and preaching to the Jews about their plight in exile. The style of admonition and the frequent appearance of Elijah, who teaches supernal secrets, permeate the two compositions and had an impact on later writings. Because of the recurring concern with messianism and eschatology – again following earlier kabbalistic sources – the books have been seen as a very reliable source because of their mooted early date. The computation of the year of arrival of the Messiah as 1490 evoked special interest after the expulsion of the Jews from Spain.

The impact of the books on the further development of Kabbalah has been quite substantial. They were canonized already at the beginning of the 16th century, and their influence is discernible among Spanish kabbalists who were expelled from Spain and others. The most important names in this context are Johanan *Alemanno, *Moses of Kiev, Solomon *Molcho, Joseph *Caro, Solomon ha-Levi *Alkabez, Meir ibn Gabbai, Moses *Cordovero, David ibn Zimra, *Shabbetai Ẓevi and other Shabbatean figures, and some in early Hasidism. Some of its more radical ideas contributed to the rejection of the books by other kabbalists, like R. Isaac *Luria.

Sefer ha-Kanah was published in part in 1617 in Prague, in 1730 in Wilharsdorf, in 1786 in Poritsk, and in 1894 in Cracow, and in 1974 in Jerusalem. Sefer ha-Peliyah was published twice, in 1784 in Koretz and in 1884 in Premislany.


M. Benayahu, The Sabbatean Movement in Greece (Heb., 1971–1977), 350–354; T. Fishman, "A Kabbalistic Perspective on Gender-Specific Commandments: On the Interplay of Symbols and Society," in: AJS Review, 17:2 (1992), 199–245; M. Oron, "The Introduction to Sefer ha-Peliyah," in: Koveẓal-Yad Jubilee Volume, 2 (1989), 273–95; M. Kushnir-Oron, "The Sefer Ha-Peli'ah and Sefer Ha-Kanah: Their Kabbalistic Principles, Social and Religious Criticism and Literary Composition" (Heb., Ph. D. Thesis, Hebrew University, Jerusalem, 1980); S.A. Horodezky, Ha-Mistorin be-Yisrael, 4 (1952), 341–88, M. Idel, "Saturn and Sabbatai Tzevi: A New Approach to Sabbateanism," in: P. Schaefer and M. Cohen, Toward the Millennium, Messianic Expectations from the Bible to Waco (1998), 173–202; I. Ta-Shma, "Where Have the Books Kanah and Peliyah Been Composed?" in: Sefer Jacob Katz (1980), 56–63 (Heb.).