Introduction to the Book of Creation (Sefer Yezira)

The Text

According to the valuable discussion of this text in Encyclopædia Judaica (Jerusalem: 1971) volume 16, columns 782–788 by the pioneer of studies in Jewish mysticism Gershom Scholem,

…the main part of Sefer Yezira…was written between the third and sixth centuries, apparently in Palestine by a devout Jew with leanings to mysticism, whose aim was speculative and magical rather than ecstatic. The author, who endeavored to “Judaize” non-Jewish speculations which suited his spirit, presents a parallel path to Jewish ecstatic Gnosis of the Heikhalot type of literature, which has its roots in the same period.
The reader is referred to this article, as well as the bibliography offered by Scholem. You will find there a discussion of the cosmology of this book, which will somewhat elucidate this obscure text. It may be mentioned that the word translated creation is not from the root of the word used in the first verse of Genesis, but rather from the root that occurs later in the second account of creation in Genesis 2.7. Hence the word yezirah is sometimes translated “formation” rather than “creation”.

The Translation

The Sefardic Jewish community of Bombay (Mumbai), consisted largely of Baghdadi Jews who had moved to India for better commercial opportunities. Poona (Pune) served as a summer residence for wealthy Jews, and the Hebrew printing press was founded there in 1870, publishing books in Hebrew and Judeo-Arabic. They had a traditional interest in Kabbala, and this translation of the Hebrew book was prepared to satisfy this interest. The translation is interlinear, giving the original followed by the translation line by line. Only the Arabic rendering is given here, and this explains why the page and line references contain only alternate lines. The title page (referenced as page zero, since it is unnumbered) is entirely in English, the predominant language in India at that time. The price of the book is given as 8 annas, i.e. one-half of a rupee.

Scholem mentions translations into Latin, English, German, French, Italian, Hungarian, and Czech. He was apparently unaware of this Judeo-Arabic translation, but he does refer to the Arabic commentary on the book by R. Saadiah Gaon (early tenth century C.E.)

An English translation of the text (not free of misprints) may be seen at www.psyche.com/psyche/txt/scholem_sy.html


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