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AẒILUT (Heb. אֲצִילוּת), a short treatise schematizing the theories of the older Kabbalah, written in the style of a baraita. The significance and age of this small volume are matters of controversy. In various passages the author appears as Elijah b. Joseph, but further on, with reference to a Midrash on the name Elijah (Ex. R. 40), also as Jaareshiah b. Joseph, Zechariah b. Joseph, and Jeroham b. Joseph. According to A. *Jellinek (see bibliography) the reference is to the prophet Elijah who thus appears as the pseudepigraphical author of the book. Jellinek's opinion, adopted by D. *Neumark , was that it was written by Jacob *Nazir , to whom, according to old traditions, the prophet Elijah first disclosed the Kabbalah; in consequence, Jellinek dates it to the first half of the 12th century. The definite statement, "ben Joseph," in connection with the prophet Elijah, whose father is never mentioned by name, is quite inexplicable, as well as the whole of the style which nowhere gives the impression of a revelation from on high. It points rather to a certain person of that name. The factual author, Elijah b. Joseph, was manifestly fond of replacing his name by synonyms, as is often done by Abraham *Abulafia . Jellinek thought that he had found a quotation from the book in a *piyyut by Jacob *Tam , but the relevant passage is already found in the Heikhalot.

The treatise contains general thoughts on esoteric doctrines, a great deal about *angelology and *demonology , as well as the teaching of the four worlds: Aẓilut, the world of divine emanation (pleroma); Beri'ah, the world of the throne and the seven palaces; Yeẓirah, the world of the divine chariot ( *Merkabah ) and the ten angel choirs; Asiyyah, the world of the lower angels and the good and evil spirits, which here, however, is not in any way identical with the terrestrial sensual world. Finally, in connection with I Chronicles 29:11, the system of the ten Sefirot conceived both as modes and instruments of divine activity is developed. An explanation of the relationship of the ten Sefirot to the four worlds is not given. Neumark (see bibliography) considered the book to be "the first classic of the Kabbalah" which supplied the pattern for the book *Bahir . P. *Bloch (see bibliography) discerned the superficial nature of the book's schematization and dated it in the first half of the 13th century (as did Karppe). The work was not significant for the development of Kabbalah; it came into being most probably at the end of the 13th or the beginning of the 14th century. The linguistic usage and terminology of the work are certainly influenced by the *Zohar and even by its latest parts. From it, for instance, come the use of אוליפנא (olifna) in the sense of "we learn" instead of "we teach," the names of the seven palaces of the world of creation, and the description of the four worlds which corresponds exactly with that of the Ra'aya Meheimna (Zohar, 2, 43). Noteworthy, in connection with the corresponding theme in the Zohar, is also the teaching that "Darkness," the veiled power of the demonic which punishes evildoers, is none other than the rudiment of the destroyed primeval worlds left by the withdrawal of the divine light. The angelology, and especially the demonology of the book also point decisively to the period around 1300. The stress laid here on the secrecy of the teaching is no proof of the early date of the book but accords with the literary style of the older Kabbalah well into the 14th century.

The work Aẓilut does not appear in kabbalistic literature and is nowhere quoted; nor is any manuscript of it now in existence. Abraham, son of *Elijah b. Solomon Zalman , the Gaon of Vilna, first published it in 1802 from a manuscript (now lost; at the end of the edition of the Aggadat Bereshit). Isaac Chower wrote a commentary to it, entitled Ginzei Meromim, which was published by N.H. Herzog in Yalkut ha-Ro'im (1885, p. 11–39). The text was published by Jellinek in his Auswahl kabbalistischer Mystik (1853).


A. Jellinek, Auswahl kabbalistischer Mystik (1853), 1–9 (Germ. sec.), 1–8 (Heb. sec.); P. Bloch, Geschichte der Entwickelung der Kabbalah und der juedischen Religionsphilosophie (1894), 45; S. Karppe, Etude sur les Origines et la Nature du Zohar (1901), 251–5; D. Neumark, Geschichte der juedischen Philosophie des Mittelalters, 1 (1907), 195–7; idem, Toledot ha-Filosofyah be-Yisrael, 1 (1921), 179–81, 260f.

[Gershom Scholem]

Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.