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ISAAC BEN SOLOMON LURIA (1534-1572)

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Originally appearing in Volume V17, Page 129 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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ISAAC BEN SOLOMON LURIA (1534-1572), Jewish mystic, was born in Jerusalem. From his German descent he was surnamed Ashkenazi (the German), and we find that epithet applied to him in a recently discovered document of date 1559. In that year Isaac Luria was living in Cairo and trading as a spice merchant with his headquarters in Alexandria. He had come to Egypt as a boy after his father's death, and was brought up by his wealthy maternal uncle Mordecai Francis. The boy, according to the legends which soon grew round his life, was a " wonder-child," and early displayed marvellous capacity. He married as a lad of fifteen, his bride being his cousin. For some time he continued his studies; later on when engaged in business there was no break in this respect. Two years after his marriage he became possessed of a copy of the Kabbalistic " Bible "—the Zohar of Moses de Leon (q.v.). In order to meditate on the mystic lore he withdrew to a hut by the Nile, returning home for the Sabbath. Luria afterwards gave to the Sabbath a mystic beauty such as it had never before possessed. Thus passed several years; he was still young, but his new mode of life produced its effects on a man of his imagination and saintly piety. He became a visionary. Elijah, who had been his godfather in his babyhood, now paid him frequent visits, initiating him into sublime truths. By night Luria's soul ascended to heaven and conversed with celestial teachers who had once been men of renown on earth. In 1566 at earliest Luria removed to Safed. This Palestinian town was in the 16th century the headquarters of the Kabbala. A large circle of Talmudists lived there; at their head Joseph Qaro, then over eighty years of age. Qaro's son married Luria's daughter, and Qaro rejoiced at the connexion, for he had a high opinion of Luria's learning. Mysticism is often the expression of a revolt against authority, but in Luria's case mysticism was not divorced from respect for tradition. After his arrival at Safed Luria lived at most six years, and died in 1572. But these years were momentous for Judaism. He established an extra-ordinary reputation; his personality had a winning attractiveness; and he founded a school of mystics who powerfully affected Judaism after the master's death. The Holy Spirit, we are told, rested on him, drawn to him by the usual means of the mysticsself-flogging, ablutions and penance. He had wonderful gifts of insight, and spoke to the birds. Miracles abounded. More soberly true is the statement that he went on long walks with enthusiastic disciples, whom he taught without books. Luria himself wrote no mystical works; what we know of his doctrines and habits comes chiefly from his Boswell, IJayim Vital. There was little of originality in Luria's doctrines; the theory of emanations, the double belief in the process of the Divine Essence See S. Schecher, Studies in Judaism, second series, pp. 251 seq. ; Jewish Encyclopedia, viii. 210; E. Worman in Revue des Etudes Juives, lvii. 281. (I. A.) 'LURISTAN, in the wider sense (as its name implies) the " Land of the Lurs," namely that part of western Persia which is bounded by Turkish territory on the west and extends for about 400 M. N.W.-S.E. from Kermanshah to Fars with a breadth of too to 14o m. It is chiefly mountainous, being intersected by numerous ranges running N.W.-S.E. The central range has many summits which are almost within the line of perpetual snow, rising to 13,000 ft. and more, and in it are the sources of Persia's most important rivers, as the Zayendeh-rud, Jarahi, Karun, Diz, Abi, Kerkheh. Between the higher ranges are many fertile plains and low hilly districts, well watered but comparatively little cultivated in consequence of intertribal feuds. The Lurs are thought' to be aboriginal Persians with a mixture of Semitic blood. Their language is a dialect of Persian and does not differ materially from Kurdish. Outwardly they are Mussulmans of the Shiah branch, but most of them show little veneration for either Prophet or Koran, and the religion of some of them seems to be a mixture of Ali-Illahism involving a belief in successive incarnations combined with mysterious, ancient, heathen rites. The northern part of Luristan, which was formerly known as Lurikuchik (little Luristan), is inhabited by the Feili Lurs and these are divided into the Pishkuh (cis-montane) Lurs in the east and Pushtkuh (ultra-montane) Lurs in the west adjoining Turkish territory. They number about 350,000. Little Luristan was governed by a race of independent princes of the Khurshidi dynasty, and called atabegs, from 1155 to the beginning of the 17th century when the last atabeg, Shah Verdi Khan, was re-moved by Shah Abbas I. and the government of the province given to Husain Khan, the chief of a rival tribe, with the title of vali in exchange for that of atabeg. The descendants of Husain Khan have retained the title but now govern only the Pushtkuh Lurs, to whom only the denomination of Feili is at present applied. The southern part of Luristan was formerly known as Lur i Buzurg (great Luristan) and is composed of the Bakhtiari division of the Arabistan province and the districts of the Mamasennis and Kuhgilus which belong to Fars. The Bakhtiaris number about 2oo,goo, the others 40,000. Great Luristan was an independent state under the Fazlevieh atabegs from i16o until 1424, and its capital was Idaj, now represented by mounds and ruins at Malamir 6o m. S.E. of Shushter.
End of Article: ISAAC BEN SOLOMON LURIA (1534-1572)
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