Moshe Chaim Luzzatto

RaMHaL, רמח"ל Moshe Chaim Luzzatto

Wall painting in Acre, Israel
Not to be confused with Samuel David Luzzatto.
Tziyun (gravemark), or more likely the cenotaph of the Ramhal in Tiberias, ir hakodesh (holy city), Israel.

Moshe Chaim Luzzatto (Hebrew: משה חיים לוצאטו, also Moses Chaim, Moses Hayyim, also Luzzato) (1707 in Padua – 16 May 1746 in Acre (26 Iyar 5506)), also known by the Hebrew acronym RaMCHaL (or RaMHaL, רמח"ל), was a prominent Italian Jewish rabbi, kabbalist, and philosopher.


Born in Padua, he received classical Jewish and Italian education, showing a predilection for literature at a very early age. He may have attended the University of Padua and certainly associated with a group of students there, known to dabble in mysticism and alchemy. With his vast knowledge in religious lore, the arts, and science, he quickly became the dominant figure in that group. His writings demonstrate mastery of the Tanakh, the Talmud, and the rabbinical commentaries and codes of Jewish law.

The turning point in Luzzatto's life came at the age of twenty, when he received direct instruction from an angel (known as a maggid). While stories of such encounters with celestial entities were not unknown in kabbalistic circles, it was unheard of for someone of such a young age. His peers were enthralled by his written accounts of these "Divine lessons", but the leading Italian rabbinical authorities were highly suspicious and threatened to excommunicate him. Just one hundred years earlier another young mystic, Shabbatai Zvi (1626–1676), had rocked the Jewish world by claiming to be the Messiah. Although, at one point, Zvi had convinced many European and Middle Eastern rabbis of his claim, the episode ended with him recanting and converting to Islam. The global Jewish community was still reeling from that, and the similarities between Luzzatto's writings and Zvi's were perceived as being particularly dangerous and heretical.

These writings, only some of which have survived, are often misunderstood to describe a belief that the Ramchal and his followers were key figures in a messianic drama that was about to take place. In this contentious interpretation, he identified one of his followers as the Messiah, son of David, and assumed for himself the role of Moses, claiming that he was that biblical figure's reincarnation.

After threats of excommunication and many arguments, Luzzatto finally came to an understanding with many of the Rabbanim (prominent rabbis), including his decision not to write the maggid's lessons or teach mysticism. In 1735, Luzzatto left Italy for Amsterdam, believing that in the more liberal environment there, he would be able to pursue his mystical interests. Passing through Germany, he appealed to the local rabbinical authorities to protect him from the threats of the Italian rabbis. They refused and forced him to sign a document stating that all the teachings of the maggid were false.

Most of his writings were burned, though some did survive. From the Zoharic writings, the 70 Tikkunim Hadashim re-appeared in 1958 against all odds, in the main library of Oxford. "Arrangements" of thoughts, these Tikkunim expose 70 different essential uses of the last verse of the Humash (the five books of Moses).

Supposedly taught word-by-word in Aramaic by Luzzatto's "Maggid," they parallel the Tikunei haZohar ("Rectifications of the Zohar") of Rabbi Simeon bar Yochai, the Rashbi, which expose the 70 fundamental understandings of the first verse of the `Houmash (Books of Moses).


When Luzzatto finally reached Amsterdam, he was able to pursue his studies of the Kabbalah relatively unhindered. Earning a living as a diamond cutter, he continued writing but refused to teach. It was in this period that he wrote his magnum opus the Mesillat Yesharim (1740), essentially an ethical treatise but with certain mystical underpinnings. The book presents a step-by-step process by which every person can overcome the inclination to sin and might eventually experience a divine inspiration similar to prophecy. Another prominent work, Derekh Hashem (The Way of God) is a philosophical text about God's purpose in Creation, justice, and ethics. The same concepts are discussed in a shorter book called Maamar HaIkarim (the English translation of this book is now available on the Web with the title "Essay on Fundamentals"). Da'at Tevunot ("The Knowing Heart") also found its existence in the Dutch city as the missing link between rationality and Kabbalah, a dialogue between the intellect and the soul. On the other hand, Derech Tevunot ("The Way of Understanding") introduces the logic which structures Talmudic debates as a means to understanding the world.

One major rabbinic contemporary who praised Luzzatto's writing was Rabbi Eliyahu of Vilna, the Vilna Gaon (1720–1797), who was considered to be the most authoritative Torah sage of the modern era as well as a great kabbalist himself. He was reputed to have said after reading the Mesillat Yesharim, that were Luzzatto still alive, he would have walked from Vilna to learn at Luzzatto's feet;[1][2] He stated that having read the work, the first ten chapters contained not a superfluous word. Among some Jewish intellectuals of that time this was considered to be one of the highest praises that one sage could grant another.[3]

Luzzatto also wrote poetry and drama. Although most of it is seemingly secular, some scholars claim to have identified mystical undertones in this body of work as well. His writing is strongly influenced by the Jewish poets of Spain and by contemporary Italian authors.[4]

The cantor of the Sephardic synagogue in Amsterdam, Abraham Caceres, worked with Luzzatto to set several of his poems to music.[5][6]


Frustrated by his inability to teach kabbalah, Luzzatto left Amsterdam for the Holy Land in 1743, settling in Acre. Three years later, he and his family died in a plague.


Burial site

Though it is accepted by scholars that his tomb is in Kafr Yasif, where some assume to have identified it, his burial place is traditionally said to be near the Talmudic sage Rabbi Akiva in Tiberias, northern Israel. Probably also because Kafr Yasif is now an Arab town while Tiberias is Jewish, the Tiberias tomb is the destination of almost all of the pilgrims seeking his final resting place.

Synagogue in Acre

Luzzato's original synagogue in Akko was razed by the city's Bedouin ruler Zahir al-Umar in 1758, who built a mosque on top of it. In its place, the Jews of Akko received a small building north of the mosque which still functions as a synagogue and bears the name of the Ramchal.[7]

Religious writings

A century after his death, Luzzatto was rediscovered by the Mussar Movement, which adopted his ethical works. It was the great Torah ethicist, Rabbi Yisrael Salanter (1810–1883) who placed the Messilat Yesharim at the heart of the Mussar (ethics) curriculum of the major yeshivot of Eastern Europe.

Secular literary legacy

The Hebrew writers of the Haskalah, the Jewish expression of the Enlightenment, greatly admired Luzatto's secular writings and deemed him the founder of modern Hebrew literature. His cousin, the poet Ephraim Luzzatto (1729–1792), also exerted genuine influence on the first stirrings of modern Hebrew poetry.


These are some of the other books that RaMChaL wrote:[8]

See also


  1. Rietti, Rabbi Jonathan, "Deepening one's relationship with God" lecture series, audio format
  2. Luzzatto, Moshe Hayyim (1997), The Way of God (Hebrew: Derech Hashem) (Sixth, corrected edition, 1998), Jerusalem, Feldheim Publishers, p 15, ISBN 978-0-87306-344-9
  3. needs citations
  4. needs citations
  5. Alfred Sendrey The music of the Jews in the Diaspora (up to 1800) 1971 "... Moses Hayyim Luzzatto, who lived in Amsterdam from 1736 to 1743, wrote the poems and Abraham Caceres the music."
  6. Journal of synagogue music: 5 - 3 Cantors Assembly of America - 1974 "In the texts of poems composed for this occasion by the Amsterdam rabbis Isaac Aboab da Fonseca [...] later set to music by Abraham Caceres, also appears in this important musical manuscript, on fol. l5b-l6a..."
  8. "Ramchal". Retrieved 2013-03-30.
Wikiquote has quotations related to: Moshe Chaim Luzzatto
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Moshe Chaim Luzzatto.
This article is issued from Wikipedia - version of the 10/27/2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.