Rabbi Shim’on Bar Yo’hay
Born in Galilee and died in Meron, Israel during the 2nd century.
Rabbi Shim’on Bar Yo’hay was a disciple of Rabbi Akiva. To escape the Romans, he went into hiding with his son Rabbi El’azar into a cave for thirteen years. During this time, he composed the Zohar, which is the esoteric and mystical explanation of the Torah, and the base for most of the Kabbalah writings.
Rabbi Moshe Ben Na’hman (Na’hmanides) – Ramban
Born in Gerona in 1195, died in Israel 1270Like Rambam before him, Na’hmanides was both a physician and a great Torah scholar. However, unlike the Rambam, he was also knowledgeable in the Zohar and Kabbalah and wrote a mystical commentary on the Torah. The Ari Z’al had confirmed the depth and reliability of the mystical portion of Ramban’s Torah commentary
Na’hmanides also declared that it is a Mitsva to live in Israel. He moved and lived there until the end of his life.
Rabbi Moshe de Leon
Born in Spain 1240 – 1305
Rabbi Moshe de Leon published the manuscripts of the Zohar that had come into his possession. Some accredited him with its authorship as well, but none of the main Kabbalists agree with that.
Rabbi Abraham Abul’afia
Born in Saragossa in 1240, died in Greece after 1291.
Rabbi Abraham Abul’afia is the precursor of what is called the “Prophetical Kabbalah” where combinations and permutations of Autiot (letters), numerals and Nikud (vowels) are symbols that explain and disclose the deepest esoteric meanings. Some of his best known works are “Sefer ha-Ot” and “Imre Shefer”.
Rabbi Yosef Gikatila
Born Castille in 1248 – 1310
Between 1272 and 1274, Rabbi Yosef Gikatila studied with Rabbi Abraham Abul’afia, who praised him as his most successful student. He wrote “Ginat Egoz”, “Shaarei Orah”, “Shaarei Tzedek”, and “Shaar HaNikud”. He was apparently friendly with Moshe de Leon.
Rabbi Moshe Kordovero
Born in 1522, died in Tsfat in 1570.
Rabbi Moshe Kordovero was the founder of the Kabbalah academy in Tsfat. One of his best known student was Rabbi ‘Haim Vital. He foresaw the coming of the teachings of the Ari Z’al and admitted in advance their truthfulness. Some of his main works are “Tomer Deborah”,”Pardes Rimonim”, and “Or Yakar”.
Ari Z’al – Rabbi Its’hak Luria Ashkenazi
Born in Jerusalem in 1534, died in 1572 in Tsfat.
The Ari Z’al, Rabbi Its’hak Luria Ashkenazi was the leading Kabbalist in Tsfat; he explained and clarified all the main concepts of the Kabbalah. He also made innovations in the explanation of the Sephirot and Partsufim (configurations). He is the author of the corpus “Kitve HaAri”, which contains all his works in the style of Sha’are (entrances). His main works are the “Ets ‘Haim”, “Sha’ar Hagilgulim”, “Sha’ar Hakavanot”.
Rabbi Meir Poppers
Died in Israel in 1622.
Rabbi Meir Poppers was one of the important Kabbalists in the circle of the Ari Z’al. He is best known for putting in order Rabbi ‘Haim Vital’s manuscripts of the teachings of the Ari Z’al and printing them. Rabbi Meir himself wrote several important Kabbalistic works.
Rabbi Shmuel Vital
Born in Damascus, died in Egypt in the 17th century
Rabbi Shmuel Vital was the son of Rabbi ‘Haim Vital. He had inherited many of his father’s manuscripts of the Kabbalistic teachings of the Ari Z’al. He arranged these into eight categories, known as the Shmoneh She’arim (eight gates). He also wrote several Kabbalistic works of his own.
Ba’al Shem Tov
Rabbi Israel Ben Eliezer
Born in 1698 in Russia, died in Ukraine in 1760
Ba’al Shem Tov was the founder of the ‘Hassidic movement. He declared the whole universe, mind, and matter to be a manifestation of G-od, and that whoever maintains that this life is worthless is in error. It is worth a great deal; only one must know how to use it properly. A living legend, the Ba’al Shem Tov spent most of his time in worship, serving G-od, teaching his disciples, and giving blessings to the thousands that came to see him.
One of his favorite sayings was that no man has sunk too low to be able to raise himself to G-od.
Rabbi Moshe ‘Haim Luzzatto – Ram’hal
Born in Padua, Italy in 1707, died in Israel in 1746.
Rabbi Moshe ‘Haim Luzzatto showed at an early age an exceptional talent for the study of Kabbalah. It is said that when he was only fourteen, he already knew all the Kabbalah of the Ari Z’al by heart, and nobody knew about it, not even his parents. He was a very prolific writer and wrote on all aspects of the Torah and the Kabbalah. Some of his main works are “Kala’h Pit’he ’Hokhma” ,“Klalut Hailan”, and “Adir Bamaron”.
Rabbi Eliyahu of Vilna – The Gaon of Vilna
Born in Vilna, Lithuania, died in Vilna in 1797.
Rabbi Eliyahu of Vilna was one of the main leaders of the Mitnagdim (opponents to the ‘Hasidic movement). He is considered to be one of the greatest Torah scholars and Kabbalists of the past two centuries. Among his works on the Kabbalah are “Kitvei HaGra Be’eniene Kabbalah”
Rabbi Shalom Shar’abi – The Rashash
Born in Shar’ab, Yemen in 1720, died in Jerusalem in 1777.
After leaving Yemen, Rabbi Shalom Shar’abi joined the Yeshiva of the Mekubalim “Beth El” in Jerusalem. He is known as the “Master of the Kavanot”. His “Siddur HaRashash” is the Siddur (prayer book) used by some Kabbalists in their everyday prayers, and is based on the Kavanot of the Ari Z’al.
Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi – The Alter Rebbe
Born in Russia, 1745, died in Russia in 1813.
Rabbi S. Zalman of Liadi is also called “Baal HaTanya”, he is the founder of the ‘Habad – Lubavitch movement and was a descendant of the Maharal of Prague. He studied under the Maggid of Mezritch the writings of the Ari, and composed the “Tanya”.
Rabbi Na’hman of Breslev
Born in Russia in 1772, died in Uman, Russia in 1811
Rabbi Na’hman was the great grandson of the Ba’al Shem Tov. He gave great importance to “Dvekut” (attachment to G-od) and pure joy. Some of his main works are “Likutey Moharan”, “Tikun HaKlali”, and his well known stories and fables.
Rabbi Ya’acov Abe’htsera
Born in Morocco in 1808, died in Dimanhur, Egypt, 1880.
Rabbi Ya’acov was a Kabbalist renowned for his piety and for performing miracles. He composed works on all facets of the Torah, including important commentaries on the Kabbalistic explanation of the Torah. Some of his main works are “Makhsof HaLavan” and “Pitu’he ‘Hotam”.
Rabbi Yosef ‘Haim – Ben Ish ‘Hai,
Born and died in Iraq 1834 – 1909
Ben Ish ‘Hai was a prolific author who wrote at incredible speed. It is known that he would finish writing a complete page before the ink at the top of the page had dried. He explained the Halakhot (laws) on the Kabbalistic level but in an accessible language.
Rabbi Yehudah Ashlag
Born in Poland 1886, died in Israel in 1955.
Rabbi Yehudah Ashlag was one of the main contemporary Kabbalists. His main work is the translation of all the Zohar from Aramaic to Hebrew called “HaSulam” and “Talmud ‘Eser HaSephirot”
Each one of these great Kabbalah scholars brought his own explanations and innovations to this marvelous science. Altogether, they left a wealth of writings on the Kabbalah that we hope will one day be more available to the serious learner and seeker of the true Kabbalah.