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Miscellanies: Two Livornese Jews in England

Cecil Roth

<plain_text><page sequence="1">TWO LIVORNESE JEWS IN ENGLAND : MICHAEL BOLAFFI, MUSICIAN, AND HAYIM VITA BOLAFFEY, LINGUIST For some time past I have frequently, in widely different connections, come across the name of Michael (Michele) Bolaffi, who lived for a time in England and may be added to the roll of Anglo-Jewish worthies. He seems to have been an interesting if not important figure, and it seems worth while to put together the outstanding data about his life and career. The Bolaffi family, presumably of Levantine descent (the name is a variant of the more familiar AbulafBia) seems to have entered Italy through Leghorn : I possess in manuscript a prayer recited here imploring God to influence the heart of Moses Daniel Bolaffi (perhaps a renegade) so that he would grant a divorce to his wife ! Michael Bolaffi was a musician. When the new Synagogue according to the Italian rite was dedicated in Florence in 1793, a Cantata under the title Simhat Mizvah (elegantly printed in red and black) was presented to celebrate the occasion. The</page><page sequence="2">224 MISCELLANIES words were by the Rabbi, Daniel Terni : and we are informed that the composer of the music " to rejoice God and man " was " the head of the musicians and players, the eminent Michael Bolaffi, son of holy sires ". He had pretensions too as a littera? teur, translating into Italian from the French Voltaire's Henriade (1816) and J. de Lille's work on the Immortality of the Soul ; and from the Hebrew Ibn Gabirol's great poem Keter Malkhuth, under the somewhat intimidating title Teodia, 0 sia Inno filosofico a Dio ? Traduzione di M. Bolaffi (Leghorn, 1809). During the Napoleonic Wars there were at intervals very close relations between England and Leghorn, where we know that the English singer John Braham once visited Admiral Nelson. This might conceivably be responsible for the next trans? formation ; for in this same year, 1809, Bolaffi blossoms out in England as " Musical Director to the Duke of Cambridge ", son of George III. Here he published in this year a sonnet for voice and pianoforte in memory of Haydn. The Duke's musical interests (at least in Bolaffii) were not sustained, and later we find Bolaffi back in Leghorn. When in 1825 the pupils of the communal school, Or Torah, were put through their paces at the annual examination (the programme of which was expansively printed), they had to recite various specially composed poems, and we are informed that these, " put to music by Professor Sig. M. Bolaffi, will be sung with full orchestra by the pupils of the Institute, under his direction." He was still living some ten years later, when he composed an extremely charming setting to Psalm cxxi, which is still sung in the Florence Synagogue (at least) on the festivals of Pentecost and Tabernacles.1 I suspect Michael Bolaffi to have had some sort of family connection with Hayim Vita Bolaffey, also of Italian origin, whose career in England seems to have been longer, more varied, and less respectable. When the latter came to England I do not know, nor his object in coming : but he was a brother-in-law of Raphael Meldola, appointed Rabbi of the Spanish and Portuguese synagogue in London in 1806, and may conceivably have come from Leghorn to London with him, as his first traces are about the same year. He seems to have set up as tutor in Hebrew at Eton and at Oxford. In 1820 he published two grammatical works : The Aleph-Beth, or the first step to the Hebrew Language (London, n.d., 36 pp. ; the date is apparent from the advertisements in the work) : and An Easy grammar of the primaeval language, commonly called Hebrew (pp. xvi, 492, London, 1820). Later he appears as tame Hebraist to the eccentric Rachel Fanny Antonina Lee, soi disante Baroness Despenser, and trans? lated her absurd Circular Epistle to the Hebrews into Hebrew, his version appearing with the original (London, 1822). But he very soon quarrelled with his patroness, an unedifying exchange of recriminations taking place, in the course of which he was accused of apostacy (he was once, she said, a Roman Catholic Priest), theft, and other misdemeanours (the Baroness' Declaration about Bolaffey's conduct [4 pp., London, 1824], is amusing, if nothing more). The accusations were certainly exaggerated, as about this time Bolaffey had produced an anthem to be recited by the boys belonging to the congregational school of the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue (Hebrew and 1 A letter of 1817 from Michael Bolaffey (sic.) to Raphael Meldola was exhibited at the Anglo* Jewish Historical Exhibition of 1887.</page><page sequence="3">alexander raphael, m.p. 225 English : pp. 2, London, 1820?) and in 1825 translated into English the form of service composed by his brother-in-law, Haham Meldola, for the anniversary of the dedication of the Bevis Marks Synagogue.1 Signor H. V. Bolaffey, " teacher of languages at Oxford," died on 13th March, 1836. Cecil Roth. 1 I suspect but cannot demonstrate that Hayim Vita BolafFey is identical with Hannanel Abo lafiiah, teacher of languages, who was born in Florence in 1779, and came to England with his wife Grace in 1798, details of whom and whose family may be found in the muniments of the Spanish and Portuguese synagogue in London.</page></plain_text>