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Miscellanies: S. D. Luzzatto Suggested as Haham, 1853

A. Schischa

<plain_text><page sequence="1">S. D. Luzzatto suggested as Haham, 1853 A. SCHISCHA Haham Raphael Meldola died in London in 1828,1 but the office of Haham at Be vis Marks was not filled for the next 38 years.2 It might have taken even longer, but for the fact that in 1865 the Yehidim forced the issue and the Mahamad almost perforce agreed that the time had come to fill the post. The ultimate result was the appointment of the Chief Rabbi of Naples, Dr. Benjamin Artom, as the Haham of London.3 Neither of the two chroniclers of the fortunes of Bevis Marks4 was apparently aware that already in 1853 strong voices were heard which favoured an early appointment, and that at least two prominent Elders of the community expressed these views. Indeed, that such views should have been expressed is not surprising?surprising is the person they put forward as being suitable for the position? namely, Samuel David Luzzatto, of Padua, Italy. Luzzatto, better known in Hebrew literature by the initials of his name, V^ttf, ShaDal, was one of the prominent personalities of the Wissenschaft des Judenthums, and by any measure the best-known Jewish scholar of Italy of his time. His scholastic interests ranged far and wide?medieval Jewish poetry, Maimonides, Hebrew grammar, the liturgy, and above all Biblical studies and translations.5 The Hebrew Review and Magazine for Jewish Literature, which appeared in London in 1860, under the editor? ship of M. H. Bresslau, printed in its columns Luzzatto's Autobiography.6 It is the only bio graphy of a living scholar which Bresslau printed in his magazine; all others?they were many?were of sages of times gone by.7 In the issue of 9 March 1860 (page 333), he thought it appropriate to publish a short note by an anonymous contributor8 which sheds light on this interesting episode in the life of the community. In the introduction to the letter by ShaDal he was about to publish he wrote: 'When it was contemplated by the ancient Sephardim Synagogue in London, in the year 1853, to appoint a Chief Rabbi, two respected members of the Elders of the Synagogue wrote to R. S. D. Luzzatto, who resides at Padua, inquiring whether he would accept the high office. The following was the reply, for the original of which we are indebted to a subscriber9. translated by one B.H.A. from the German, which was published in the Jahrbuch of Busch, Vienna, 1848. It relates only to the first 20 years of his life. Luzzatto continued his story in Hamaggid, 1858. Another version was published posthumously by his son, Dr. I. Luzzatto: Autobiografia di S. D. Luzzatto, etc., Padova, 1882. Luzzatto was rather forthcoming with biographical details in his letters to friends, in the introductions to his many books, in occasional poems, etc.; all these were skilfully gathered together and published as a reconstructed autobiography by Dr. M. A. Shulwas, j^pID D^tt, in rVP&amp;Vn, vol. 5, pt. l-2, New York, Yeshiva University, 1951, pp. 1-116. 1 See Dr. Richard D. Barnett, 'Haham Meldola and Hazan de Sola', Transactions J.H.S.E., Vol. XXII (ed. J. M. Shaftesley, London, 1968), p. 9. 2 Albert M. Hyamson, The Sephardim of England, London 1951, p. 255. 3 Hyamson, ibid., pp. 342/343. 4 Haham Dr. Moses Gaster, History of the Ancient Synagogue of the Spanish and Portuguese Jews. . . . 1701-1901, London, 1901. Hyamson, op. cit. 5 His life is well documented?see all reference books; as to his bibliography, see S. Shunami, Bibliography of Jewish Bibliographies, 2nd ed., Jeru? salem, 1965, s.v. 6 It appeared in serial form in the issues between 13 Jan. and 14 Feb. 1860. This autobiography was 7 Life of R. Saadia Gaon, by R. S. L. Rapoport; Don Isaac Abarbanel; R. Abraham ben David, etc. 8 It is Bresslau himself. 9 In the nine parts of 7"TO JTHJlN, published by S. E. Greber, Jaroslau, 1882 et seq., neither the present letter nor the one mentioned in the course of this letter by ShaDaL as having been written to Solomon Almosnino has been published?and I have not found any mention of this episode in any of the letters of ShaDaL of the period. I have not been able to consult the two volumes of Italian letters published in Epistolario Italiano Francese Latino di Samuel David Luzzatto da Trieste (pubblicato da' suoi figli), 2 vols., Padova, 1890. 143</page><page sequence="2">144 A. Schischa The letter then follows thus: 'Padua, Dec. 23, 1853. 'Respected Sir,?The serious malady which for many months has threatened the life of my son, hitherto prevented me from replying to your letter of November last, and to that of Mr.-' Then follows the body of the letter in the original Hebrew. The text is as follows: ?a # m:** otc6 ayoa ywrb ?aann *6i # ??? *sn rnarpo nnaan ??rfv nw m *a iSba two w?w *a-&gt;pa toi* *a^&gt; toa ? ? naa }w own ^in *a*o / inwaiD ircwa nw?vm *n*reD tok to *ar?c *aam #*ntoa jj^ki 'n Dt?a nsaa* hotk hd toa #mM?o?i inSnpa cnpa irrcfc *b Knpb i^ya jri a?aa nyan*&amp; aa *ax\ # w?!i *6 jvVaa? ns^i * nap a*a p *aai ?nana naai na ?amaa x&gt;k iwan top^&gt; toia *6vniaa ?im okd ?a?ya np*n n*?to?d nna og; m vapw&amp;t n naion 0?najnw ??n ne&gt;? nrnio uatyi #ryjto *vya an nny ntoA tov *6 r fm6 ?nS&gt;n itaipo nwh tov &gt;Vi*o # n*rai :n?m nat? -ny may *iy impd toi Dito&gt; iivai Dito? nnx # 'n im ip?n ?am nny nm ?*i ?nn itoa ao dvm fnnss no nvan P?aai itp&amp;aa # ?ito&gt; [ton? =3 to :idk?? nn #t?? From this we gather that ShaDal firmly declined the honour offered to him. He thought his age?he was then 53?was against accept? ing the appointment, and so was his lack of knowledge of the English language. As a further reason for refusing the candidacy he gave his large family; he was the father of four sons and two daughters.10 This reason is rather puzzling?and the possible explanation may be that whoever had written to him may have mentioned something of the dire financial state in which the Sephardim of London were at that time.11 Luzzatto may have thought that those who extended the invitation to him should be aware of the commitment they might have undertaken. However, while he declined the offer, he had nevertheless a suggestion to make, a suggestion he had already made in a previous communica? tion to Solomon Almosnino, the Secretary of Bevis Marks, that Dr. Moses Ehrenreich should be nominated Haham. Ehrenreich, a native of Brody, in Galicia, studied under Luzzatto in Padua, and became one of his closest friends. He collaborated with his teacher in the translation of the Bible into Italian. He was married to the daughter of I. S. Reggio, and at the time Luzzatto wrote his letter, he was Chief Rabbi of Modena. He ultimately became Chief Rabbi of Rome, where he died in 1899.12 It is futile to speculate13 on how the fortunes of the London Sephardi community would have developed had Luzzatto been elected Haham but it makes one think. 10 Cf. Genealogical table at end of Autobiografia (see note 6). Philossena (Filoxene), the son who caused him the anguish, died on 25 Jan. 1854. 11 Cf. Hyamson in chapters dealing with the interregnum 1828 to 1866. 12 Jewish Enc., s.v. Ehrenreich, Moses. 13 It is just as futile to speculate about the identity of Luzzatto's two unnamed correspondents, but it is nevertheless tempting to surmise, from their standing, connections, and qualifications, that they might have been Sir Moses Montefiore and Moses Mocatta.</page></plain_text>

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