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On the acronym GRA and other related and unrelated matters

Dr. Bryan Griffith Dobbs

Traditional [Orthodox is the self-applied term for the past two hundred years] Jewish sources refer to well-known and highly respected individuals by acronyms.  Thus, RAbbi Moses Be[=A]n Maimon is the RAMBAM and RAbbi Moses Be[=A]n Nachman is the RAMBAN or Nachmanides to use the Hellenistic form.  Similarly Isaac Luria is refer to as the ARI or Adonenu [=Our Lord] Rebbenu [=Our Teacher] Itzhak.  [There are at least 3 other explanations for ARI that I am aware of.]  'Ari' is the Hebrew word for 'lion' and so Luria is frequently called the Holy Lion.  The abbreviation z"l, standing for the Hebrew words 'of blessed memory' are occasionally appended to a name and thus your degree of 'orthodoxy' and hasidic in-groupishness may be determined by whether you refer to Luria or the Ari or the Arizal.

The GRA is Elijah, the Gaon of Vilna, the great talmudist and opponent of hasidism and the greatest kabbalist of his age [1720-1797].  The title of Gaon [the Judaic equivalent of Ayatollah in Islam] was conferred on him for the depth and thoroughness of his knowledge.  The title itself had been in disuse for more than half a dozen centuries.  The Gaon Rabbi E[=A]liyahu in 1772 pronounced the excommunication of the hasidic followers of the Baal Shem Tov, whom he accused of heresy.  The irony is that it is the descendants of those who were excommunicated who are now the most scrupulous practitioners off talmudic study and of kabbalah as filtered through the optics of chassidut.  The excommunicated group [a ban long-since rescinded] has by and large appropriated the study of kabbalah within the context of Judaism lived daily and considers secular and/or non-hasidic scholars to be in their turn heretical.  There seems to be a constant search for door stoops.

In passing, the best current edition/translation of the SEFER YETZIRAH, edited by Aryeh Kaplan z"l uses the Gra emendation of the Ari text.

posted on the Donmeh forum
Sun, 06 Jun 1999
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page uploaded 18 June 1999