JPL Logo JPL Presents

Kabbalah

Vital, Ḥayyim ben Joseph,Meir ben Chayyim Eisenstadt, and David ben Nathan Gruenhut. Sefer ha-gilgulim. Franḳfurṭ:,1684.

Hayyim ben Joseph Vital, 1543-1620.

This is the first modern printing of Sefer ha-Gilgulim(“The Book of Metamorphoses”), an excerpt of Vital’s vast Etz ha-Hayyim (“Tree of Life”), a compilation and interpretation of the renowned kabbalist Rabbi Isaac Luria’s Zohar-based teachings. Gilgulim deals with reincarnation, as well as personal improvement and forecasts of Jewish history.

The Safed-born Vital began studying Kabbalah, eventually becoming Luria’s foremost disciple. He then began a decades-long organization and interpretation of Luria’s manuscripts. Vital’s role as the chief formulator of Luria’s work makes him one of the most important influences on Kabbalah’s development.

Competing versions of Etz’s complete manuscript emerged during and after Vital’s lifetime. Ultimately, in 1653 Jacob Poppers, a Jerusalem kabbalist, combined them into a single manuscript that became the basis of a standard printed edition.

This edition of Gilgulim was the earliest part of that edition to be published. The Frankfurt rabbinate, opposed to Kabbalah, originally prevented its distribution. Fittingly for a book on reincarnation, the German Talmudist and Kabbalist Gruenhut subsequently republished it two years later, using a Christian printing house.