Menahem Azariah da Fano
(1548 – 1620)
Menahem Azariah da Fano was an Italian rabbi and kabbalist. The scion of a wealthy family and a prolific author, he was a recognized authority on rabbinic law and the foremost exponent in the West of the kabbalistic system of Moses *Cordovero. Under the influence of Israel *Sarug, who during his stay in Italy spread the knowledge of the mystical system of Isaac *Luria, Menahem Azariah became an admirer of the latter, though without departing from the system of Moses Cordovero. A pupil of R. Ishmael Hanina of Valmontone in Ferrara, he was active in Ferrara, Venice, Reggio, and Mantua. Together with his brothers he aided the victims of the earthquake of 1570. He was a patron of Jewish learning, contributing funds for the publication of such works as Cordovero's Pardes Rimmonim (Salonika, 1584) and Joseph Caro's commentary Kesef Mishneh (Venice, 1574–76) on Maimonides' Code.
Fano's fame as a talmudist is borne out by the collection of 130 responsa bearing his name which was published in 1600 in Venice and in 1788 in Dyhernfurth. His style of writing was precise and he displayed considerable originality in the views he expressed. He enjoyed great popularity as a teacher, attracting students from far and wide, from Germany as well as Italy. One of his disciples compared him to an angel of God in appearance. His gentleness and humility showed themselves in his refusal to answer adverse criticism leveled against him by a contemporary scholar on account of certain statements he made with regard to the ritual of the lulav on the festival of Tabernacles. Amadeo Recanati dedicated to him his Italian translation of Maimonides' Guide of the Perplexed; Isaiah *Horowitz praised his theological treatise Yonat Elem (Amsterdam, 1648) saying of it, "the overwhelming majority of hiswords, and perhaps all of them, are true, and his Torah is true" (introduction to Novelot Ḥokhmah (Basle, 1631) by Joseph *Delmedigo). Seventeen of his works have been published. These include a summary of the legal decisions of Isaac *Alfasi and his own major work on the Kabbalah, entitled Asarah Ma'amarot (only parts have been printed, Venice, 1597); Kanfei Yonah (Korzec, 1786), a kabbalistic work on prayer; and Gilgulei Neshamot (Prague, 1688) on the transmigration of the soul. Many of his kabbalistic interpretations must have been made for the first time in the course of sermons delivered by him. Extant in manuscript are liturgical poems, elegies, comments on the teachings of Isaac Luria, and a voluminous correspondence. He died in Mantua.
L. Woidislawski, Toledot Rabbenu Menahem Azaryah mi-Fano (1903); S. Simonsohn, Toledot ha-Yehudim be-Dukkasut Mantovah (1964), 665, index, S.V.; M.A. Szulwas, Hayyei ha-Yehudim be-Italyah bi-Tekufat ha-Renaissance (1955) 196, 220.
Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.