CAJS Rar Ms 481: A Kabbalistic and Polemical Manuscript Fragment from 1605 Egypt, with Provenance

CAJS Rar Ms 481, Ḳunṭres Imre emet with Ṿikuaḥ ‘al ha-R.M. di Lonzano, was recently acquired at auction, thanks to the support of the Elis and Ruth Douer Endowed Fund for Judaica Collections.

I cataloged a manuscript fragment (or, what originally appeared to be a fragment) of a polemical nature, dated to the first decade in the 17th century in Egypt. The manuscript contains writing from possibly a number of hands, and may have even been partially a letter written by a scribe or transcribed by a scribe for a response, as is the nature of polemics.

David Roberts (1796-1824), The Gate of Metwaley, (Cairo). Wikimedia Commons. For illustrative purposes.

The manuscript is 7 folios, unbound but sewn into a gathering. There are two (at least) scribal hands, already identified by Mosheh Hillel in “Ginze nistarot,” in Meḳabtsi’el vol. 38 (Ṭevet 5772), 55-88. Hillel also transcribes the manuscript.

Folio 1v, written by a different scribe (with an obvious ink-spill, with the appearance of an attempt to lift the spilled ink).
Folio 1r, written by a scribe (the text being selections of R. Menaḥem ben Judah de Lonzano, Imre emet)

The opening text covering the first three folios of the manuscript is selections from the work Imre emet by R. Menaḥem ben Judah de Lonzano (b. Italy 1550 – d. Jerusalem 1626). The purpose of the part of the work present in the manuscript is to argue against elements in the Kabbalistic writing of R. Ḥayyim ben Joseph Ṿital (b. Calabria 1543 – d. Damascus 1620).

The following part of the manuscript are four folios of rebuttal to the claims of the writing in the first folios, and they are authored by R. Avraham Monson (b. North Africa? ca. 1555 – d. Istanbul 1619), who was known as a student of R. Bezalel ben Abraham Ashkenazi and a contemporary of R. Joseph Ibn Ṭabūl in Egypt. According to all surveys of this manuscript, the script is in R. Monson’s hand, and the scholar Yosef Avivi’s description of the manuscript (now in my curatorial files) states that this is the only extant text of R. Monson’s rebuttal to R. de Lonzano’s Ḳunṭres Imre emet.

R. Avraham Monson’s handwriting.

Being that it is the only copy of this writing, I had to supply a title, which I gave as ויכוח על הר”מ די לונזאנו \ מונסון, אברהם (Ṿikuaḥ ‘al ha-R.M. di Lonzano / Monson, Avraham). One of the reasons why I chose the title Ṿikuaḥ, or polemic, was because I determined that the text of Imre emet is limited only to those elements which were argued on by R. Monson in the subsequent writing, therefore making it a pointed response to R. de Lonzano and not a dissertation of the topic. Also, R. Monson makes reference in the text to earlier polemical correspondence to R. de Lonzano, and I learned from this that it was likely once part of a series of letters for R. Monson to argue against R. de Lonzano.

Provenance of the manuscript: R. Hayyim Yosef David Azulai in North Egypt

The manuscript has a special mention of provenance which I discovered through reading the letter of Avivi. R. Hayim Yosef David Azulai (b. Jerusalem 1724 – d. Livorno 1806), known by his acronym of Ḥida, discovered this manuscript in Egypt during his travels.

R. Hayyim Yosef David Azulai (1724-1806). Wikimedia Commons.

I wrote the “provenance note” in the catalog as follows: Azulai (see source below) records viewing this manuscript during one of his trips through Egypt during the second half of the 18th century: ” ṿe-ra’iti ḳunṭres k.t.y. (ketav yad) she-nitṿakeaḥ ‘im M.h.r.m. di Lonzano ‘al S.[efer] Imre emet she-ḥiber le-haśig ‘al m.h.r.ḥ.ṿ (m’orenu ha’-rav Ḥayyim Ṿiṭal)… be-ḥokhmat ha-emet ṿe-khu[le].” Likely, this occurred during his second trip through Egypt beginning Ḥeshvan to Iyyar 5533 (November-April 1772-3), as Azulai encountered Jewish communities in northern Egypt during this trip, including Alexandria and Bilbeis; being that the manuscript for Azulai’s diary is incomplete for the Egyptian portion of his 1772-3 travels, the location where he viewed the manuscript cannot be determined; see: Azulai, Ḥayyim Yosef David, Ma’agal Ṭov, ed. Freimann (Berlin: Meḳitse Nirdamim, 1921), p. 49-51, and the editor’s introduction.

Entry of R. Avraham Monson in R. Hayim Y.D. Azulai’s ‘Shem ha-Gedolim’

Here is R. Azulai’s diary, with the portion of the Egyptian itinerary missing.

Entry in the diary for the 1772-3 trip, with the missing portion of the manuscript signified by the three dots.

In closing, I used R. Azulai’s title as my title as the manuscript was first cataloged: Ṿikuaḥ ‘al ha-R.M. di Lonzano. This links the author/title and subject matter with the distinguished viewing and documentation by R. Azulai to my own cataloging work at the Special Collections.

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