Maran Haim Yosef David Azoulai, known as the HID"A, was born in Hebron, in 1727. His mother was the daughter of kabbalist Yosef Bieler, who had immigrated to Jerusalem from Europe during the Rabbi Yehuda Hassid Aliya. His father, Hacham Raphael Yitzhak Zerachia, was the son of kabbalist Abraham Azoulai and had immigrated to the Land of Israel from Persia.
The HID"A is said to have been almost been left for dead as a baby at the age of seven months, had not his grandmother felt the breath of life still within him; she picked him up, wrapped him in warm cotton sheets, and revived him.
Maran Haim Yosef David Azoulai learned Torah in Jerusalem from his principal teacher, Hacham Yonah Navon, author of the Nechepa BeKessef, and from Hacham Yitzhak Rappaport, at the yeshiva of Hacham Haim Benatar, who is known as the Or HaHaim. He later continued to study at the Beth El kabbalist yeshiva with Hacham Yom Tov Elghazi.
In 1755 he left the Land of Israel for the first time, as a rabbinic emissary to North Africa and Western Europe. He traveled a second time in 1770. During his stay in Tunis, in 1774, he learned of the death of his wife Rachel, mother of their four children. Upon his return to the Land of Israel, he remarried.
He undertook a third journey in 1781. Wherever he traveled, Maran Haim Yosef David Azoulai would examine the book collections he found in libraries and archives. He would find many books still in manuscript form, and copied parts of several of them in his books.
At the request of the Livorno community, Maran Haim Yosef David Azoulai settled in Livorno, Italy after completing his third journey, where he devoted most of his time to writing. Much of his work was published there.
Maran Haim Yosef David Azoulai passed away on 11 Adar, 5566 (1806) and was buried in Livorno. In 1960, following the initiative taken by Rishon LeZion Hacham Yitzhak Nissim and Hacham Elihu Touaf, his remains were brought to Israel and he was buried in Jerusalem's Har Hamenuhot cemetery by Hacham Mordecai Eliyahu.
Maran Haim Yosef David Azoulai authored over 80 works on a diversity of topics, including books on Halakha, commentary, and sermons, such as Birkei Yosef – on the Shulchan 'Aruch, Ahavat David – sermons, Petach Eina'im – on Aggadah in the Talmud, Makhzik Beracha – on topics pertaining to prayer, Kiseh Rachamim – on the Masechtot Ketanot, Zaru'a Yamin – on Tractate Avot, books on history and on his journeys, such as Shem Gedolim and Ma'agal Tov, and books of biblical commentary, such as Lechem Me'Shama'im and Chomat AN"CH.