Sunday, 12 May 2013

The Gate of the Stars: Introduction and charts.

The Gate of the Stars: An Introduction
Rabbi Yosef M. Cohen ©2012
The present treatise, The Gate of the Stars (Shaar HaKochavim שער הככבים), is from a manuscript1 personally written by Rabbi Chaim Vital2. The manuscript is a personal diary of sorts on various topics including medicine, alchemy and magic. As this manuscript was most probably never intended to be published, it does not have a title, but is commonly referred to as Sefer HaRefuot (ספר הרפואות) or Sefer HaPeulot (ספר הפעולות).
            Throughout the manuscript, Vital draws on a large cultural database for his sources3, including the Turks, Christians, Persia and Hodu (India) among others. The “Ishmaelites” are mentioned at least five times, including the “Arabs that dwell in the desert” (Bedouins). Although Vital does not attribute his source for the Gate of the Stars, the treatises’ Arabic source is quite evident. Internal evidence4 reveals that this was most likely a short excerpt of a longer treatise Vital copied from. The inclusion of Arabic magic in a almost completely all Jewish selection of magic should not be surprising. The inter-cultural exchange between oriental Jews and their Arab neighbors has been long enduring. Jews copied Arabic magic into Judeo-Arabic and included it in their works5. Likewise, Arab mystics borrowed and translated Jewish magic and esoteric writings into Arabic6,7.
            This is the first English translation of Gate of the Stars, and it my hope that it will allow all scholars and interested individuals to explore a glimpse into Jewish-Arabic magic




1       Institute of Microfilmed Hebrew Manuscripts, Jerusalem number: 42440. See  

2       Safed, Israel 1542-1620. A master Kabbalist and main student of Rabbi Isaac Luria (The Arizal).

3       The majority of sources are earlier Rabbis, Kabbalists and other Jewish works.

4       The end of the treatise refers to “the aforementioned 472 names” which was not presented earlier.

5       For example, see Goodman, H. (1999). Geomancy texts of Rabbi Shalom Shabbazi. Proceedings of the Second International Congress, Institute of Semitic Studies, Princeton University, 33-40. See also Freidländer, I. (1907). A Muhammedan book on augury in Hebrew characters. Jewish Quarterly Review (19) 84-103.

6       For example, the Sword of Moses and Sefer HaRazim. See Bohak, G., Harari, Y., & Shaked, S. (2011). 14: An Arabic Version of “The Sword of Moses”. In Continuity and innovation in the magical tradition. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill.

7       See Bohak, G. (2008). Ancient Jewish magic: A history. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 272-274 for an excellent example of how magic shifted back and forth between Jews and Arabs.



 As promised, I prepared two comparative charts of the names found in the treatise and the regular names of the angels most likely to be found in Arabic manuscripts. 


Shaar Ha-Kochavim Charts by Mihai Vartejaru

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