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Ostropoler, Samson ben Pesaḥ

OSTROPOLER, SAMSON BEN PESAḤ (d. 1648), kabbalist. No details are known about Ostropoler's life except those few that can be deduced from his own writings. During his lifetime, in the second quarter of the 17th century, he became widely known throughout Poland as the greatest kabbalist in the country, and the tradition about his outstanding rank lived on for several generations after his death. Considered one of the principal proponents of Lurianic Kabbalah in Poland, he corresponded with many kabbalists of his day. While serving as preacher and Maggid in Polonnoye (Volhynia), he died a martyr's death at the head of the Jewish community (July 22, 1648) during the *Chmielnicki massacres. None of his writings was published during his lifetime and it is not until the following generation that scattered quotations in his name are found in various kabbalistic books. In 1653 Ẓevi Horowitz (or Hurwitz) ha-Levi copied in Grodno a collection of Ostropoler's kabbalistic notes (preserved in Ms. Oxford Neubauer Cat. Bod. no. 1793). His grandson incorporated this collection into his commentary on the Zohar, Aspaklarya Me'irah (Fuerth, 1776), dispersing it throughout many passages; only some portions were omitted. Moses Meinsters from Vienna published (Amsterdam, 1687) a small pamphlet containing Ketavim by Ostropoler. In 1709 the latter's nephew published in Zolkiew the book Karnayim with Ostropoler's commentary, Dan Yadin, and another batch of collectanea (likkutim) from his papers which also contained some of his letters on kabbalistic matters. Karnayim, attributed by Ostropoler to an unknown Aaron from the unknown city of Kardina, consists mainly of extremely obscure hints which are so cleverly expounded in the commentary that during the 18th century it was suggested that the book and the commentary were written by the same man. An analysis of all Ostropoler's remaining writings makes this virtually certain.

Ostropoler lived in a world of numerological mysticism and was deeply concerned with demonology, on which his writings abound in the most extraordinary statements. In the main his frequent references to Lurianic writings have no basis in Ḥayyim *Vital's texts and are only loosely connected with Israel *Sarug's brand of Lurianism. Many other quotations are equally fictitious, imitating Moses *Botarel's methods in his commentary on Sefer Yeẓirah. Ostropoler was apparently closely connected with two of his kabbalistic contemporaries, Nathan Shapira in Cracow and Aryeh Loew Prilik, who had similar interests but did not employ pseudepigraphy. Whereas the Lurianic writings speak of the power of evil, the kelippot, at great length but in a general, impersonal manner, Ostropoler liked to give each and every one special and previously unknown names, many of them obviously constructed on numerological principles. There is no doubt that he presents a psychological enigma. Anti-Christian and elaborate messianic hints appear in his writings. His main work, which is often referred to, was a commentary to the Zohar, Maḥaneh Dan, but no trace of this has been found. The unique character of Ostropoler's writings led to their being widely quoted in later kabbalistic literature, and they were reprinted several times. Two other commentaries on Karnayim were published, one by Eliezer Fischel from Stryzow (Zhitomir, 1805) denouncing those who suspected Ostropoler of being the author, and one by Samuel Samama of Tunis (Leghorn, 1825).


Nathan Hanover, Yeven Meẓulah (Venice, 1653), 7a; N. Bruell, in: Oẓar ha-Sifrut, 4 (1888), 468–72; G. Scholem, in: Revue de l'Histoire des Religions, 143 (1953), 37–39.