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Luzzatto, Samuel David

LUZZATTO, SAMUEL DAVID (often referred to by the acronym of SHaDaL or SHeDaL; 1800–1865), Italian scholar, philosopher, Bible commentator, and translator. His father, Hezekiah, was an artisan at Trieste and a scholarly Jew who could claim descent from a long line of scholars (see *Luzzatto family). He wrote his first Hebrew poem at the age of nine. His mother died when he was 13 and his father's pecuniary status declined seriously making it necessary for the young Luzzatto to assist his father in his work. His own wife died after a long illness, and he eventually married her sister. He survived two of his children – one Philoxenus (or Filosseno), had been a young man of especially great promise. Samuel David's translation of the Ashkenazi prayer book into Italian appeared in 1821/22, and that of the Italian rite in 1829. He established a regular correspondence with the Jewish scholar, Isaac Samuel *Reggio, and through the efforts of the latter, Luzzatto was appointed professor of the newly established rabbinical college of Padua in 1829. There he spent the rest of his life teaching Bible, philology, philosophy, and Jewish history. His versatility and the scope of his learning are best seen in the mass of letters written to all the outstanding Jewish savants of the day – to *Geiger, *Zunz, *Rapoport, *Steinschneider, and others. Almost 700 of these letters were published and many run into several pages; some are in themselves dissertations. He wrote a Hebrew commentary on the Pentateuch (5 vols., with Italian translation, 1871–76; new ed. by P. Schlesinger, 1965) and the Haftarot, on the Book of Isaiah (together with a translation into Italian, 1845–97; new ed. by P. Schlesinger and completed by A.M. Hovev, 1970), on Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Proverbs, and Job and a long dissertation in Hebrew on Ecclesiastes (1876; repr. 1969). It is in this type of work that his attitude to Judaism is revealed. He was a traditionalist and had a great veneration for Rashi in particular. His antagonism toward Abraham Ibn Ezra is asserted boldly in his letters and Bible commentaries. He maintained that his own dislike for Ibn Ezra did not stem so much from the latter's departure from tradition as from his insincerity (see: Letters nos. 83, 242, 272, 275, and 543). Luzzatto had his grievances against Maimonides too, but in the case of the latter his language is more restrained. Luzzatto, as he himself wrote, divided seekers of truth into two groups – those who follow Rashi and Samuel b. Meir and those who are the disciples of Maimonides and Ibn Ezra (Letters nos. 272 and 275). His own commentary on the Pentateuch is not fundamentalist, and whereas he himself did not take the first chapters of Genesis literally, he criticizes those who treat them as an allegory (Letters no. 83). He believed them to be meant as model lessons from which we are to derive moral and ethical values. In his writings, he readily quotes the views of his pupils, mentioning their names when so doing. Although denying the Solomonic authorship of Ecclesiastes he upholds the unity of the Book of Isaiah. He maintained a firm belief in revelation and treated the text of the Torah with sacred regard although he occasionally allowed himself to depart from the traditional phrasing of the words as reflected in the Masorah and the Talmud. A natural corollary of his attitude to the classical authorities is Luzzatto's high regard for the Aramaic translation of Onkelos to which he devoted his Ohev Ger (the "Lover of the Proselyte," 1830), an allusion to the conversion of Onkelos to Judaism. He named his son Philoxenus (the Latin equivalent of Ohev Ger). He divided the work into two parts. The first demonstrates the method of Onkelos when the latter seems to depart from the literal translation of a text, especially when he wants to avoid anthropomorphisms. The second part of Ohev Ger deals with matters of text and is technical.

Luzzatto's philosophy may be compared with that of Judah Halevi. "I esteem Maimonides very greatly" he wrote (Letters no. 83), "but Moses the Lawgiver never dreamed of philosophy and the dreams of Aristotle." He lists his objections to the Guide of Maimonides and to some remarks in Sefer ha-Madda and to others in Maimonides' commentary on Mishnah Sanhedrin (ch. Ḥelek) and in the Shemonah Perakim (commentary on Avot). He was opposed to Maimonides' enumeration and formulation of the 13 principles of faith and his condemnation of those who did not subscribe to these (Letters no. 238). Luzzatto's attitude to Greek philosophy was negative and even hostile, and his negative views on Kabbalah are found in his Vikku'aḥ al Ḥokhmat ha-Kabbalah (1852). He blames rationalistic philosophy for having brought about – as a reaction – the flowering of Kabbalah and mysticism. As for the Zohar, he rejected the authorship of Simeon b. Yoḥai as did Jacob *Emden and Leone *Modena before him, and Luzzatto was apparently influenced by the latter's Ari Nohem (1840). Luzzatto's religious thinking does not rest at the rejection of "atticism" – Hellenism – as diametrically opposed to Judaism, and of a moral rationalism as represented in the Middle Ages by Maimonides and in modern times by Kant. For him the idolizing of "progress" and the utilitarianism which speaks from the craving for (outer but not inner) emancipation of modern Jewry were the very antithesis of free Jewish thinking and living. He had nothing but contempt for the rotten European civilization. In his theological writings, most of them published lectures such as Teologia Morale israelitica (1862; English translation by S. Morais in Jewish Index, 1872) and in his Yesodei ha-Torah (1880; repr. 1947; English translation by N.H. Rosenbloom, Foundations of the Torah, 1965) as well as in his letters, he develops his own positive system of Jewish theology and religious philosophy, based on the firm belief in revelation, tradition, and the election of Israel. These he wants to see protected from the prevailing winds of Christian-Protestant criticism and an evolutionary historical relativism. The Torah and the Commandments must not be rationalized and submitted to such relativism, nor can one separate morality from religion. They both flow from the same innate human quality of ḥemlah (empathy). The Jewish people is both the carrier and guarantor of this revealed, national religion which embodies its own universalism and humanitarianism. Hebrew language and literature, the main object of Luzzatto's scholarly work, help to foster and deepen Jewish spirit and loyalties. This romantic and nationalistic conception of Judaism embraces a sort of religious Zionism, while rejecting the "false holiness" of the idle ḥalukkah Jew. Luzzatto wants the youth of the yishuv to return to the soil and the soil of the Holy Land to its former productivity. This conception is apparent in his liturgical researches, in particular by his edition of the Maḥzor Roma which he provided with a comprehensive introduction (1856; new edition of the introduction by E.D. Goldschmidt, 1966).

Luzzatto also edited the medieval chronicle Seder Tanna'im ve-Amora'im (1839); and the prolegomena to an edition of *Joseph ha-Kohen's Emek ha-Bakha (1852), ostensibly by M. Letteris, are essentially Luzzatto's work. He also did pioneering work in his editions of Judah Halevi's poetry (Betulat Bat Yehudah, 1840; Diwan Rabbi Judah Halevi, 1, 1864) and his anthology of medieval Hebrew poetry (Tal Orot, 1881) and thus contributed greatly to the revival of interest in medieval Hebrew poetry. His own Hebrew poetry had great merit. The same intimate acquaintance with and fine feeling for the Hebrew language, the result of intensive biblical studies, helped Luzzatto with his linguistic and grammatical researches (see Prolegomeni ad una grammatica ragionata della lingua ebraica (1836; Prolegomena to a Grammar of the Hebrew Language, 1896); Grammatica della lingua ebraica (1853–69; Hebrew, 1901); Elementi grammaticali del caldeo biblico… (1865; Grammar of the Biblical Chaldaic Language…, 1876)). Of bibliographical importance are his Opere del De Rossi (18682) and Yad Yosef (1864), a catalog of the Almanzi collection. Luzzatto also published Avnei Zikkaron, on the Hebrew tombstone inscriptions of Toledo (1841), being the first to treat epitaphs as an important primary source for Jewish historical research. An autobiography of Luzzatto appeared in 1882 (Hebrew in Ha-Maggid, 1858–62; German, 1882), and memorial volumes in Italian (Commemorazione…, 1901) and in German (Luzzatto-Gedenkbuch, 1900). There are a number of collections of his articles such as Beit ha-Oẓar (3 vols., 1847, 1888, 1889) and Peninei Shadal (1888); but much of his scholarly work remains scattered over various periodicals, pamphlets, works of other authors, and much has never been published. An edition of all his Hebrew writings was begun in 1913 (Ketavim Ivriyyim) but was not completed.


I. Luzzatto, Catalogo ragionato con riferimenti agli altri suoi scritti e inediti (1881); S. Baron, in: Sefer Assaf (1953), 40–63; N. Rosenbloom, Luzzatto's Ethico-Psychological Interpretation of Judaism (1965); S. Werses, in: Me'assef le-Divrei Bikkoret ve-Hagut, 5–6 (1965), 703–15; D. Rudavsky, in: Tradition, 7 (1965), no. 3, 21–44; Samuel David Luzzatto 18001865. Exhibition on the Occasion of the 100th Anniversary of his Death, arranged by B. Yaron, Catalog (Heb. and Eng., Jerusalem, 1966); RMI, 32 (1966), no. 9–10 (all articles dedicated to studies of Luzzatto); S. Morais, Italian Hebrew Literature (1926), 78–152.