Remaking a Kabbalist: Manuscript and Print Cultures in Early Modern Italy

Eugene D. Matanky*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The dissemination of Safedian Kabbalah in late sixteenth- and early seventeenth-century Italy represents a critical turning point in the history of modern Kabbalah. Several scholars have discussed the place of Kabbalah in Italy from a wide range of perspectives, some more interested in broader intellectual-cultural shifts, while others were more intrigued by the internal development of Kabbalah—specifically, the relationship between Cordoverean Kabbalah and Lurianic Kabbalah. However, the place of manuscript and print cultures has been largely absent. This article suggests that focusing on this element will provide a clearer understanding of the place of Kabbalah—and its specific form—within various prominent intellectual-cultural circles of this period. Focusing on the material transmission of Safedian Kabbalah demonstrates that an important shift occurred with its importation, via Menaḥem Azariah da Fano (1548–1620). Fano popularized and regulated Safedian Kabbalah by printing its simpler Cordoverean forms, while simultaneously restricting the accessibility of its more complex aspects, found in Cordoverean and Lurianic forms, to his disciples. Being a kabbalist now meant being a specialist—editing, copying, arranging, and collecting the various Safedian manuscripts, especially those of Lurianic Kabbalah. While others—whether they be polymaths, preachers, or learned Jews—had access only to its printed forms. Aaron Berakhiah of Modena (d. 1639), Fano’s ardent disciple, brought this shift to its climax in his kabbalistic polemic with Joseph Karmi, which played out in religious court.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)63-91
Number of pages29
JournalJewish History
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - Jun 2022


  • Book history
  • Cordoverean Kabbalah
  • Early modern Italy
  • Knowledge transmission
  • Lurianic Kabbalah
  • Sociology of knowledge


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