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Kabbalah, also spelled Qabalah or Cabala, is the term traditionally used to describe the mystic and secret teachings in Judaism. The word kabbalah is derived from the Hebrew root kbl meaning ‘to receive’. In rabbinic literature kabbalah referred to any tradition received orally. Its definition changed around the 10th century CE when it started to refer more specifically to a secret form of received Jewish tradition that dealt with issues relating to the Divine names.
By the 13th century CE, as the word kabbalah became more widespread in literary sources, its significance – secret knowledge or understanding – imposed itself as the principal meaning of the term. This type of hidden wisdom that has been conveyed over the centuries, attempts to clarify the relationship between the Divine and earthly worlds.
Abraham ben Samuel Abulafia (1240-after 1291 CE) was the founder of prophetic Kabbalah, a mystical system that enabled the individual to reach a state of union with God, which he categorized as prophecy. Sefer Sitre Torah (Book of the Secrets of the Torah), which Abulafia completed in 1280 CE, is essentially a commentary on Maimonides’ philosophical masterwork Guide to the Perplexed.
This parchment manuscript is a 15th-century CE copy of Sefer Sitre Torah. The anonymous scribe penned the text in two columns in a tidy semi-cursive Italian manner of Hebrew writing. Note the wide outer and lower margins of the leaves – a common characteristic in medieval manuscripts, which allowed space for the addition of comments, notes, and other types of annotations. The provenance of the manuscript is elusive, as some of the former owners’ inscriptions are undated and partially illegible.
Browse through the entire manuscript on the Digitised Manuscripts website.