Born in Jerusalem and educated in Egypt, Isaac Luria (1534–1572), also known as the Arizal, was one of the foremost rabbinic thinkers of his day, and his kabbalistic theories formed the basis for virtually also subsequent Jewish mysticism. Yet he left behind no written works, and his teachings are known solely through the writings of his disciples. Any contemporary documents connected to him are therefore precious to historians, as Hanan Greenwood explains:
[T]he National Library of Israel has revealed a letter sent to the rabbi during his sojourn in Egypt in the 16th century that discusses everyday matters, providing new firsthand evidence about his life. . . . The writer, a man named David, wrote to Luria to enlist his support for an emissary who had been dispatched from Safed to raise money among Diaspora Jews for Jews living in the Holy Land. Although the kabbalist was known for his simple, even ascetic, lifestyle, he was an important figure whom Jews asked for advice, even on financial and national matters.
The letter was preserved because it had been used to bind another book, a common practice before the invention of cardboard. Bookbinders would take paper or vellum pages from worn-out volumes and stick them together into dense stacks that would serve as stiff enough material for book covers.
The National Library is making the letter to Luria public for the first time in honor of the late Jerusalem collector Ezra Gorodesky, who devoted his career to the painstaking work of picking apart the old bindings and revealing the treasures within.