I Background of Italy in Late 15th Century A Three major components, each with different minhagim and educational traditions 1. Native Italians (Papal states and north central area) 2 Ashkenazic Jews from Germany and France (north) 3 Sephardic Jews in Kingdom of Naples B Italian Jewish communities very small but influential 1. Many of them had one or two prominent bankers who were vital for Italian commerce 2. Wealthy bankers helped develop Italian Jewish culture, reflecting the Humanist Renaissance approach to culture developing in Italy at the time a. Supported Jewish scholars and artists b. Established educational institutions or academies designed to prepare Italian Jewish gentleman, Haham Kollel, similar to Christian academies that trained the homo universalis, the Renaissance gentleman c. Italian Jewish curriculum integrated secular studies with Jewish studies. Similar Jewish curricula only in Spain and Provence. The secular studies consisted of the 7 liberal arts i) quadrivium (arithmetic, geometry, music/art and astronomy) ii) The trivium (grammar, logic and rhetoric) d. These liberal studies were pursued in application to both Hebrew and classical languages (Latin and Greek) C Rabbinic authority differed in the Ashkenazic and Sephardic traditions. Rabbi Judah and his father, Rabbi David, believed that rabbinic ordination by itself grants political authority to the rabbi wherever he may be. II Father, Rabbi Judah ben Yehiel Messer Leon A. Name Messer is short form of "mio serro" (My Lord) and Leon means lion, alluding to his name Judah . The honorary title of Messer was awarded to him by the German Emperor Frederick III during his visit to Italy. Only two other Jews are known to have held this title. B Early Years 1. He was born in Montecchio around 1420. His father Yehiel was a doctor so we assume his family was well off and that he received the typical Italian Jewish education of the elite,combining rabbinic training with secular disciplines 2 R. Judah was ordained as a rabbi and received a diploma in medicine when in his early 20s C Various Positions in Italian Jewish Communities 1 Headed yeshiva in Ancona in 1450s and then moved on to Bologna where he again conducted his Jewish academy. By ten years later he had moved on to Padua where he spent most of his time as a physician. 2 Moved on to Venice where he remained for short time. It was in Venice that his wife gave birth to his son David 3. By 1473 R. Judah had moved on to Mantua where he again operated his academy. 4 He spent his last years in Naples which he chose because of the privileges accorded to the Jews by the King of Naples 5. In each case, when he moved, his wealth, elevated status as rabbi and physician, and his academy moved with him. D. Highlights of his Career 1. Jewish Educator/Writer a. His academy combined secular and Jewish studies. b. In order to prepare proper curriculum R. Judah was lead to compose translations and several books that were used in his school i) Livenat haSapir (Sapphire Stone) grammar book ii) Miklal Yofi (Perfection of Beauty) a logic book iii) Noefet Zufim (Honeycomb's Flow) Hebrew rhetoric book, the first Hebrew book published while its author was still alive 2. Rabbinic Authority a. Held opinion that his decisions in one city, e.g., Ancona, were applicable to all the Italian Jewish communities b His decision banning the perush of the Ralbag on the Torah. In this case, he correctly perceived the great importance of the printing press, invented in 1454, and its future effect on learning in the Jewish community c) R. Judah considered himself to be the head of Italian Jewry and gave himself the title of Meor Hage'ulah (Light of the Exile) III Rabbi David ben Judah Messer Leon A. Early Years 1. Born in Venice about 1470. 2. Early education was from his father, first at home, and later in father's academy 3. Example of sample curriculum from R. Yohanan Alemanno, one of R. Judah's students and assumed to be similar to that in R. Judah's school 4. R. David was one of his father's best students. He received ordination at age of 18 (usually this was by 35-40 years old) 5. Because R. Judah viewed ordination as a source of political power, he refused to grant his son his own Smicha, but rather R. David was ordained by the other rabbis in R. Judah's academy 6. After his ordination he was sent to Padua where he studied with R. Judah of Minz who had established an Ashkenazi-style yeshiva there. R. David gained great proficiency in tosafot and Ashkenazic halachic codes. 7. It is in Padua that he is assumed to have been introduced to Kabbalah, awayfrom his father's academy, probably through his association with the Kabbalist R. Elijah del Medigo who was in Padua at the time. "I engaged in Kabbalah for many years and I have seen its mysterious and difficult book ever since I was 18 year old... Though most philosophers and physicians rejected the science, I do not share their view. For all sciences...are compatible with one another " 8. It is likely that while in Padua he furthered his medical studies. 9. During this time R. David wrote to R. David Provenzali of Naples asking about the status of secular science within traditional Judaism "Were these (secular disciplines ) desired or rejected by our sages?" R. Provenzali, typical of the educated Italian Jew, responded that each of the 7 liberal arts was praised and appreciated by the sages who embraced them wholeheartedly : (Sh'ayin safek sh'kall chacma mai'hashevah chochmos hamidi'ut hen mshubachot v'na'arachot b'iny'inai chochmaynu vahavu otah ahava g'murah.) He encouraged R. David to continue his secular study while affirming the superiority of Torah study over all other intellectual pursuits. 10. R. David left Padua for Florence where he remained for a few years. Here he furthered his interests in various aspects of secular studies that were developing through the Renaissance Humanism movement (grammar, poetry, music, etc.). He was influenced in these areas of study by non-Jews such as Pico della Mirandello and in Kabbalah by R. Yohanan Alemanno. 11. R. David returned to Naples and his father's house in about 1492 where he taught in his father's academy and served as a doctor. This was also the time that exiles from Spain were welcomed into the country. 12. Naples was good for Jews until the ruler Ferrante I died in 1494 which brought on an invasion by France. By early 1495 the army of Charles VIII of France conquered Naples and the Jews were attacked. Most of the Jews escaped to the Ottoman Empire which is where R. David went. B. Rabbi David in the Ottoman Empire 1. Unhappy Status in Istanbul a. He thought of himself as nobleman among the nobles of the land (atzil matzilai ha'aretz); however because he had no money he wasn't regarded as such b. His medical practice wasn't as successful as in Naples so he was forced to support himself as a rabbi. c. In addition, he attempted to obtain financial support from a patroness in Italy, who is assumed to be Laura, wife of Samuel ben Yehiel of Pisa (rich banker) d. He did this by writing a book entitled Shevah Ha'nashim (In Praise of Women) which is a commentary on Proverbs 31, Eshet Hayil i) In it R. David uses many classical, i.e., non-Jewish sources so he first has to defend his use of these sources ii) R. David held that because Torah is the revelation of divine wisdom, it contains in essence all branches of human knowledge. R. David emphasizes that the sequence of study is critical, that a Jew should first master the Torah before proceeding to secular studies, and he gives many examples in Bible and Talmud of the wisdom possessed by rabbis/leaders. iii) R. David exemplified Jewish humanism, an approach viewing the humanities as necessary studies for attaining religious perfection. He applies this to the ideal woman. To him, the illustration of exemplary women in the Bible, and also in non- Jewish mythology, are references to real women. He rejects their Biblical interpre- tation along allegorical lines. He views the Eshet Hayil as a practical guide for the proper conduct of the ideal woman B. Controversy with Istanbul Rabbis 1. Haham Bashi of Istanbul was R. Eliyahu Capsali, chief of the Romaniot community who had been rabbi in Istanbul for more than 30 years and had welcomed the large influx of Sephardic Jews in 1492 with open arms 2. In 1497 the rabbinic leaders of the Sephardic congregations publicly challenged R. Capsali over the issue of wearing the suddar, an overcoat that had been worn in Spain. R. Capsali had ruled that it shouldn't be worn because it violated the principle of imitating non-Jews in public. 3. The Sephardic rabbis upheld R. Capsali's authority to issue the decree, but opposed the specifics of his ruling. 4. R. David was asked to support R. Capsali. After some time he did, writing a spirited defense of the action. To him it exemplified the views of himself and his father regarding authority of the recognized rabbinic seat 5. R. Capsali died soon after but by then R. David had alienated the Sephardic rabbis of Istanbul who were growing in importance as their congregations increased in size and influence. Combined with R. David's view that scholarly pursuits were not highly valued among the Jews of Istanbul, it is not surprising that he left Istanbul. C. Controversy Over Maimonides in Salonika 1. R. David's next stop was Salonika where he functioned as the Marbitz Torah of the congregation of Jews from Calabria (southern tip of Italy). He succeeded R. Yaakov ibn Habib, author of Ein Yaakov, in this post. 2. Each congregation had three rabbinic functionaries: a) Marbitz Torah who was the congregation's teacher of Torah b) Rabbi who headed its yeshiva and c) Dayan who acted as judge in religious matters 3. Salonika at that time had a large number of Sephardic scholars who made it conducive for R. David to pursue his own scholarly activities 4. In Salonika he wrote his major work, Ein Ha'Kore, a commentary on the Rambam's Guide for the Perplexed. As the symbol of the philosophic approach to Judaism, Rambam was often attacked. This was especially true when Jews from communities that held philosophy in high esteem encountered those from communities who did not. This was the situation in of the Ottoman Empire at that time which attracted Jews from all over. Such disputes over the Rambam/philosophic view were even more likely to erupt during times of catastrophe, such as the Expulsion from Spain 5. In R. David's time there were men like R. Meir ibn Gabbai and his own former student R. Meir ibn Verga who began to criticize the Rambam. To set the record straight about the enormous positive impact the Rambam had on Judaism, R. David wrote his Ein Ha'Kore (Eye of the Reader) 6. R. David shows Rambam not a radical who replaced Jewish revealed laws with pagan logic, but one who defended Judaism against Aristotelian philosophy by turning it against itself. R. David viewed Rambam as one who elevated Judaism to higher plane by showing Judaism is Truth, yet recognizing that human reason, without Divine revelation, cannot demonstrate the entire Truth 7. With the publication and acclaim of Ein Ha'Kore R. David's fame spread throughout Ottoman Jewish world and communities pursued him. D. Defense of Rabbinic Authority in Valona 1. Although he spent some time on the island of Corfu, the Italian Jewish community of Valona pursued him and ultimately got him as their rabbi. Valona (known as Avilona in Hebrew) today is Vlore, Albania, is ~180 miles due west of Salonika on the Adriatic Sea. 2. Jewish community of Valona had 4 components: largest was the Italian (Apulia, southern Italy), some Sephardim (from Castile and Catalonia in Spain and Portugal) and a few Romaniots. By 1510 R. David was the chief rabbi of the city giving Shabbat sermons in all four synagogues. Later he was able to unify the Spanish (Catalan) and Portuguese into a single Sephardic congregation. 3. During his 2nd year, when he served only the Apulians, controversy arose. a. The Portuguese walked out of the unified Sephardic congregation. The bylaws of this congregation indicated that any act of secession would warrant herem, excommunication from the entire Jewish community. b.The Spanish, Catalans and Castilians, remained behind and appealed to R. David to assist them. R. David issued a comprehensive legal opinion concerning excommunication as a proper response for seceding from a congregation. R. David was against the excommun- ication. It was the first written opinion on this subject which was to occur many more times: internal conflict within an immigrant Jewish community, with various groups trying to maintain their own identity. This written opinion has been studied and expanded upon by rabbis over the generations c. A wealthy Portuguese physician Don Solomon Krisanti took action to bring the two groups together. He had recovered from an illness, and in gratitude he tried to get the two groups together on the evening of Yom Kipur at time of Kol Nidre, when forgiveness is asked for transgressions during the previous year. d. Krisanti suggested that during Kol Nidre R. David preside over an annulment of the Sephardic congregation's excommunication of the Portuguese. The Sephardim rejected this so Krisanti appealed to R. David again, this time asking him to use his personal authority. e. R. David preferred to convene a Bet Din on Yom Kippur morning, selecting the cantors of the Catalans and of the Apulians to serve with him. First Krisanti appeared to present the case of the Portuguese, and then the Castilians were summoned. The Castilian leaders, including Meir ibn Verga and R. Abrahm Collier refused to appear. This challenge to R. David's authority was too much. He personally summoned R. Meir ibn Verga to appear at R. David's synagogue for a public apology, but ibn Verga refused. By now the controversy had disrupted much of the day of Yom Kippur and the other Castillian leaders had had enough. They dragged ibn Verga to R. David's synagogue and there he and R. Abraham Collier publicly apologized, ending the controversy. 4. Sometime afterwards R. David left Valona, for Salonika where he wrote his last book, Tehillah L'David, (Glory to David) a vast summary of Jewish theology on the scale of an encyclopedia.