Thursday, June 15, 2006

Azaryah de Rossi - Print or Copy.

Professor Reuven Bonfil, a leading historian of Italian Jewry, published in 1991 a collection of the writings of Azaryah de Rossi or as he is known in Jewish sources, Azaryah min Ha’adumim (translation of Rossi). AdR famous as the first Jewish modern scholar was born in Mantoba, Italy (1511-1578) and was the author of “Meor Einayim”. This Sefer was attacked by contemporaries and supposedly banned by R. Yosef Karo, the author of the Shulchan Aruch. Professor Bonfil has a fascinating chapter on the opposition to the sefer and it reminds us of the contemporary bans, where aged Gedolim are manipulated by ba’alei machlokes and self-righteous sorts.

I am not about to present a biography but just was intrigued about a minor point. Although printed books of Jewish subjects were available at the time, it was still the practice for individuals to copy Seforim by hand. It was an exercise in calligraphy especially for the young, but even more important, it helped people memorize and familiarize themselves thoroughly with a Sefer. I wonder if such a practice would be reintroduced in our Yeshivos, whether we would get more knowledgeable grown ups.

If interested in the Meor Einayim it was translated into English by Joanna Weinberg titled Azariah de'Rossi - the Light of the Eyes and is available here:


  1. Joanna Weinberg's edition is great, and beautiful as well--but pricey!

    As for the question of whether copying texts is beneficial, I'm not sure it is (except for aiding in penmanship). First of all, many copyists are hardly aware of what they were copying. Some of the best Christian scribes are said to have been unable to even read!

    Without rules as in writing a sepher Torah, in which mechanisms are in place so that the scribe maintains awareness for what he is writing (and even then, only the particular word and individual letters being copied), it seems unlikely that copying Gemaras or whatever would accomplish anything. I'm afraid I think it would be a terrible bittul zeman. Although on a very limited scale it might be a wonderful exercise for kids to copy some passage of some length and then the teacher could compare them all and with the original and teach them a lesson about girsot.

    What book by Bonfil are you talking about, BTW?

  2. Kisvei R.Azariah min Ha'adumim.

    You are probably right for young children but I could not remember when i wrote the post nor can I now,but I seem to remember that some other medieval rabbonim copied earlier works routinely. They probably paid attention and learned. BTW just from the fact that Kisvei Yad have emmendations by the scribe, interpolations of pirushim and other such changes testify that not all of them were robots.

  3. I agree, I didn't mean to say that all of them were robots. But in general it seems that copying large texts is an exercise in rote. A number of interpolations which became incorporated into texts happened not because scribes were paying attention and willfully altered them, but because they were not--they sometimes copied marginal notes as if they were part of the text.

    In any event, its an interesting idea to think about simply because I can't really remember the last time a discussion about copying texts other than kisvei kodesh occurred. Maybe in the 16th century? :p

  4. jewishskeptic6/15/2006 10:23 AM

    I read the'Meor Einayim' in Hebrew.
    It's a most fascinating book,but certainly not an easy read(at least not in Hebrew).
    One must be well aquainted with Talmudic & midrashic literature to be able to understand him.
    The book is made up of several parts.The first one is a description of the earthquake in Itally that he experienced(mid.16th c.).
    Another part is a translation of "The Letter of Aristas" from Greek.(actually he translated it from Italian or Latin).This letters gives the history of the tranlation of the Septugent(targum Hashiv'im)
    In one of the parts he strongly attacks the Messianic fervor that engulfed the Jews of Italy at that time due the gimatria of שלה
    which is of course,the name of moshiach according to tradition,& its also the year of 1575 תשלה!
    The gematriot that the people had were very ingenious,much more so than the Chabad ones!...

    The main reason he was so attacked was because he wrote that the Chazal erred about the history of Persian era & thus omitted 166 of history!
    He also argued that when Chazal tell us about history,it should be considerd aggada & not taken seriously.
    That's why he was considerd by the Maharal a "mevazeh divrei Chazal".

    all in all,a most interesting book-if one has the stamina to go through it.

  5. The reason BY was unhappy was because he writes that whenever the issur was not perceived as great and people tended to not pay attention to it Chazal exxagerated by saying Ein lo helek le'olam haba and he used an example onanism.

    In fact one of the subsequent editions ommitted this part dueing the author's life to plcate the critics.

    S. don't ask me for a source because I sasw this in the late 7o's and have not looked for it since.