Oraḥ tsadikim (The Way of the Righteous), by Simḥah Yitsḥak Luzki. Crimea, ca. 1800. (The Library of The Jewish Theological Seminary)

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Luzki, Simḥah Yitsḥak ben Mosheh

(1716–1760), prominent eighteenth-century Karaite scholar and spiritual leader; also known as the Karaite Rashi and ‘Olam Tsa‘ir (meaning microcosm; from an acronym based on the gimatriyah, or mystical substitution of numerical values for the Hebrew letters of his name). Simḥah Yitsḥak Luzki (Lutski) lived in Łuck (Lutsk) until 1754, when the wealthy patron Mordekhai ben Berakhah, one of the leaders of the local community in Chufut-Kale, invited him to become head of that community’s study house, and Luzki taught there for the rest of his life.

In addition to his teaching activities, Luzki transcribed rare Karaite manuscripts and wrote as many as 24 books on topics such as Karaite halakhah (especially laws of ritual slaughter and the calendar), and the history of the schism between Rabbinism and Karaism; he also produced an exegesis of Karaite texts. His book Me’irat ‘enayim (The Light of the Eyes; 1750) is a compilation of halakhah, commentaries, and historiography, and contains a historical and bibliographical account of Karaism in its second part. This important work is a source of rich bibliographical material, as it includes a list of Karaite books from different periods and communities, as well as names and biographical details of their authors. Without taking a critical approach, Luzki introduced the traditional apologetic Karaite claim that the split between Rabbinism and Karaism began during the first Temple period with the division of the Jewish state into two kingdoms.

Luzki also wrote about Kabbalah, philosophy, and theology. He asserts that he was forced to study Kabbalah from books because of the unwillingness of Rabbinite Jews to teach him. In six treatises on this subject, Luzki explains the main concepts of the Lurianic Kabbalah, including notations about various worlds, sefirot (divine emanations), divine names, and Hebrew letters. Though his studies are not innovative, his works are original in their very attempt to make Kabbalah acceptable to Karaites. Luzki also composed dozens of piyutim (liturgical poems) and a number of prayers, some of which were incorporated into the Karaite prayer book.

Luzki knew about modern science, but he rejected it as speculative and relied instead on Aristotle and Ptolemy for his understanding of physics and astronomy. Most of his philosophical and theological views were based on medieval science, features of which he combined with aspects of Lurianic Kabbalah.

Luzki acquired his knowledge from numerous Rabbinite sources (including Maimonides, Rashi, Sa‘adyah Gaon, Ibn Ezra, Naḥmanides, Solomon ibn Gabirol, Yehudah Ha-Levi, and Ḥasda’i Crescas), which he often quoted in his works. He followed the older Karaite trend of understanding most rabbinic literature as “the words of our forefathers.” Luzki also cited such non-Jewish sources as Plato, Aristotle, Seneca, and the Arab scholars al-Ghazālī and al-Tabrīzī.

Suggested Reading

Fred Astren, “Karaite Historiography and Historical Consciousness,” in Karaite Judaism: A Guide to its History and Literary Sources, ed. Meira Polliack, pp. 55–64. (Leiden and Boston, 2003); Daniel J. Lasker, “The Life and Works of Simhah Isaac Lutski—A Preliminary Intellectual Profile of an Eighteenth-Century Volhynian Karaite,” in Eastern European Karaites in the Last Generations, ed. Dan Shapira (forthcoming).