Sefirotic Depiction, Divine Noesis, and Aristotelian Kabbalah: Abraham ben Meir de Balmes and Italian Renaissance Thought
In 1509, the famed Italian Jewish linguist and philosopher Abraham ben Meir de Balmes wrote a patently Averroean commentary on the kabbalistic hypostases known as the sefirot. This commentary is entitled Igeret ha-ʻaśiriyah, or Epistle of the Decad, and it is a prime example of an Aristotelian trend of kabbalistic interpretation within the Italian Renaissance. After briefly reconstructing and discussing the importance of de Balmes’s life and works, this article focuses on the Epistle of the Decad and its unique synthesis between kabbalah and Aristotelian concepts of intellection and divine noesis. Possible influences on de Balmes in the drafting of the Epistle are examined, as is the structure of the Epistle itself. Finally, detail is given to de Balmes’s casting of the sefirot as tziyyurim, or divine depictions. The article describes de Balmes’s Aristotelian sense of divine noesis through the medium of the sefirotic depictions as phantasms. This is contrasted with the Neoplatonic sense of some of his contemporaries, such as Isaac Abravanel and Yohanan Alemanno, which sees the sefirot as divine depictions in relation to Platonic Ideas. De Balmes’s unique Aristotelian portrayal hearkens back to a concept of ultimate unity and singularity in the godhead, with the sefirot as processes of human to divine cognition that allow for a cognitive unity with the divine.