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Bible Encyclopedias

The 1901 Jewish Encyclopedia

Cohen, Naphtali

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Russo-German rabbi and cabalist born in 1649 at Ostrowo in the Ukraine died at Constantinople Dec. 20, 1718. He belonged to a family of rabbis in Ostrowo, whither his father, Isaac Cohen, had fled during the Cossack war. In 1663 Cohen fell into the hands of the Tatars, who kept him in servitude for several years. Escaping, he returned to Ostrowo, and was chosen to succeed his father as rabbi. In 1690 he was called to Posen, where he officiated as chief rabb1till 1704. There he devoted himself to the Cabala, and collected a large library of cabalistic literature.

Naphtali Cohen.
In 1704 he was called to Frankfort-on-the-Main. On the occasion of a fire which, breaking out in his house on Jan. 14, 1711, spread to and consumed the entire Jewish quarter, it was charged that, relying on the efficacy of his cabalistic charms, he had prevented the extinction of the fire by the ordinary means. He was arrested and thrown into prison, and regained his liberty only upon renouncing his office. He then went to Prague, where many members of his family lived. There another misfortune, which embittered his life more than the loss of his wealth and position, befell him. The Shabbethaian cabalist Nehemiah Ḥ ayyun appeared in Prague, declaring himself a preacher or an emissary from Palestine, and by his duplicity gained the confidence of the credulous Cohen. Being a believer in practical Cabala, Cohen found no fault with Ḥ ayyun, even when the latter began to sell amulets. It is not astonishing, therefore, that when Ḥ ayyun asked for an approbation for his mystical work "Mehemnuta de Kula," Cohen, to whom he had prudently submitted only the main text, but not the commentaries which accompanied it, and in which the author openly professed the doctrine of the Trinity, readily granted it, and gave him a glowing recommendation. Provided with this and with other recommendations secured in the same way, Ḥ ayyun traveled throughout Moravia and Silesia, propagating everywhere his Shabbethaian teachings.

Cohen soon discovered his mistake, and endeavored, but without success, to recover his approbation, although he did not as yet realize the full import of the book. It was in 1713, while Cohen was staying at Breslau (where he acted as a rabbi until 1716), that Ḥ akam Ẓ ebi Ashkenazi of Amsterdam informed him of its tenets. Cohen thereupon acted rigorously. He launched a ban against the author and his book, and became one of the most zealous supporters of Ḥ akam Ẓ ebi in his campaign against Ḥ ayyun.

In 1715 Cohen went to see August II., King of Poland, to secure reinstatement in his former rabbinate of Posen, at that time vacant but failed because of the opposition of the leaders of the community. He then returned to the Ukraine, and in 1718 started for the Holy Land, but died on the way at Constantinople.

Cohen was the author of the following works: "Birkat Adonai" (Blessing of the Lord), a commentary on Berakot, with an introduction on the corelation of the Mishnaic tractates, having the subtitle "Semikut Ḥ akamim" (Connection of the Wise), Frankfort-on-the-Main, 1702 (Cohen was so proud of this work that he ordered it to be buried with him) "Meshek ha-Zera' " (Sowing of the Seed), commentary on the Mishnaic order Zeraim (not published) "Pi Yesharim" (Mouth of the Righteous), a cabalistic introduction to Genesis, Frankfort-on-the-Main, 1702 "Sefer Bet Raḥ el" (Book of the House of Rachel), quoted in his will, probably identical with "Tefillat Bet Raḥ el" (Prayer of the House of Rachel), published at Amsterdam in 1741.

Cohen also edited a number of prayer-books, including "Seliḥ ot" (Penitential Prayers), with a commentary, Frankfort-on-the-Main, 1702 prayers for the Society for Burial, ib. , n.d. a prayer for the staying of the plague, Prague, 1713 and an ode on a Sefer Torah donated by Baruch Austerlitz. He also wrote an epistle directed against Nehemiah Ḥ ayyun. Cohen's ethical will, "Ẓ awwa' ah," is replete with lofty moral instructions (Berlin, 1729).

Bibliography : Azulai, Shem ha-Gedolim , p. 14 E. Carmoly, Revue Orientale , 3:312 et seq. Grä tz, Gesch. 10:314, 326 Jost, Gesch. der Israeliten , 8:305 et seq. Steinschneider, Cat. Bodl. cols. 2025-2026: Wolf, Bibl. Hebr. i., No. 1718 Zunz, Literaturgesch . p. 429 Brann, in Grä tz Jubelschrift , p. 232 Kaufmann, in Rev. Etudes Juives , 36:250 et seq. K. A. R.

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Bibliography Information
Singer, Isidore, Ph.D, Projector and Managing Editor. Entry for 'Cohen, Naphtali'. 1901 The Jewish Encyclopedia. 1901.

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