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Naphtali ben Jacob Elhanan Bacharach

Naphtali ben Jacob Elhanan Bacharach was a kabbalist who lived in the first half of the 17th century. The dates of his birth and death are unknown. Bacharach was born in Frankfurt, but also spent some years in Poland with the kabbalists before he returned to his home town, and in 1648 he published his comprehensive book Emek ha-Melekh ("The King's Valley"), one of the most important kabbalistic works. The book contains a wide and systematic presentation of theology according to the Lurianic Kabbalah. It was based on many authorities, but relied mainly on Israel *Sarug's version presented in his book Limmudei Aẓilut (1897), which Bacharach included almost in its entirety into his own book with hardly an acknowledgment of the fact. Bacharach's claims that he brought back the sources of Luria's Kabbalah with him from Ereẓ Israel, where he supposedly lived for some time, do not deserve credit. He also accused Joseph Solomon *Delmedigo who he claimed had been his pupil, of transcribing kabbalistic manuscripts which were in Bacharach's possession, and then publishing them, with noticeable distortions, in his books Ta'alumot Ḥokhmah (1629) and Novelot Ḥokhmah (1631). However, the contrary seems much more likely; that it was Bacharach who culled from Delmedigo's work as well as from many other sources without acknowledging them. While Delmedigo's interest lay in the abstract philosophical aspect of Kabbalah, which he attempted to explain to himself, Bacharach appears as an enthusiastic and fanatical kabbalist, with a special flair for the mystical and non-philosophical traits of Kabbalah – in Isaac Luria's Kabbalah as well as in the Kabbalah of the early kabbalists. This accounts for the strong emphasis given to such elements as the doctrine of the Sitra Aḥra ("Other Side" – the Evil) and demonology. He wove the old kabbalistic themes together with the later ones in an elaborately detailed style. Without referring to Sarug, who is his most important source, Bacharach claims to derive his teachings from the books of Ḥayyim *Vital, although important chapters of his doctrine, such as his version of the doctrine of Ẓimẓum ("Withdrawal") and all it entails, are completely foreign to Vital's writings. The merger of both these traditions characterizes this book, written with talent and clarity. Bacharach also borrowed liberally from certain parts of the book Shefa Tal by R. Shabbetai Sheftel *Horowitz (1612). His style is pervaded by messianic tension. The book Emek ha-Melekh had a great impact on the development of the late Kabbalah. It was widely recognized as an authoritative source on the doctrine of Isaac Luria and kabbalists from many countries, especially Ashkenazim, the great Ḥabad Ḥasidim, and the school of the Gaon *Elijah b. Solomon Zalman of Vilna, quoted him extensively. His influence is also noticeable in Shabbatean literature, in Moses Ḥayyim *Luzzatto's system of Kabbalah, and in the book Kelaḥ [138] Pitḥei Ḥokhmah. On the other hand, strong criticism of the book was soon expressed. Already in 1655, Ḥayyim ha-Kohen of Aleppo, a disciple of Ḥayyim Vital, in the introduction to his book Mekor Ḥayyim (1655), protested against Bacharach's claim of being the true interpreter of Luria's doctrine. The protests of Benjamin ha-Levi in his approbation to Zot Ḥukkat ha-Torah by Abraham *Ḥazkuni (1659), and of the preacher Berechiah Berach, in his introduction to Zera Berakh (2nd part, 1662), against misrepresentations of Luria's Kabbalah were also intended for Bacharach. Moses *Ḥagiz says in Shever Poshe'im (1714) that Emek ha-Melekh is called Emek ha-Bakha ("Valley of Weeping"). Isaiah Bassan complains to M.Ḥ. Luzzatto about the numerous translations of chapters from Emek ha-Melekh in Latin referring to the Kabbalah Denudata by *Knorr von Rosenroth "which were among the important causes of prolonging our exile" (Iggerot Shadal, 29). Ḥ.J.D. *Azulai also wrote: "I have heard that no genuine writings got into his (Bacharach's) hands… therefore the initiated refrain from reading either it or the Novelot Ḥokhmah." In Emek ha-Melekh there is a reference to many other books by Bacharach concerning aspects of the kabbalist doctrine. Of these only a part of the Gan ha-Melekh on the Zohar is extant in an Oxford manuscript.


Azulai, 2 (1852), 114 no. 406; G. Scholem, in: KS, 30 (1954/55), 413; Scholem, Shabbetai Ẓevi, 54–56; M. Horovitz, Frankfurter Rabbinen, 2 (1883), 41–45.

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.