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Bidding Information
Lot #    8465
Auction End Date    10/19/2004 1:52:00 PM (mm/dd/yyyy)
Title Information
Title (English)    Ceremonies et Coutumes Qui s'observent ...Juiss
Author    Leone de Modena
City    Paris
Publisher    Cellier
Publication Date    1684
Collection Information
Independent Item    This listing is an independent item not part of any collection
Description Information
   Second edition, two parts in one volume. [38], 229; 216, [5] pp., 140:77 mm., wide margins, light age staining. A very good copy bound in modern cloth boards.
   Translated form the original Italian.

Leone Modena (Judah Aryeh; sometimes called Leon da Modena; 15711648), Italian rabbi, scholar, and writer. On the expulsion of the Jews from Bologna in 1569 his father, Isaac, son of Mordecai Modena, moved to Ferrara, but during the earthquake of 1570 took refuge in Venice, where Leone was born. Leone was, however, brought up in Ferrara where he became known as an infant prodigy, reading the prophetical portion publicly in synagogue at the age of two-and-a-half and being able to translate passages of the Pentateuch into Italian at the age of three. He had the normal education of an Italian Jewish youth of good family at the time, not only in Hebrew and rabbinic studies, but also in versification, the Italian language, and Latin. At the age of nine he was sent away to study, his teachers including the poet-grammarian R. Samuel Archivolti at Padua. At 12 he translated passages from Ariosto's poem, Orlando Furioso, into Hebrew verse. At 13 he composed a poem which made sense whether read as Italian or as Hebrew, in memory of another teacher of his, Moses della Rocca. When his father's economic situation deteriorated, he was obliged to begin giving private lessons in 1589. In 1593 Modena was appointed elementary teacher and preacher (not at that time a position of highest dignity) in Venice, with which city he continued to be particularly associated to the end of his life. His sermons became famous in the city and often attracted distinguished gentile audiences. His rabbinical and talmudic knowledge was extensive, and his opinion was frequently consulted by learned contemporaries. A facile and prolific versifier, Modena was responsible for the majority of the epitaphs which figure on the tombstones of the Venetian cemetery at this period. He also wrote Italian prose and verse, and on occasion Latin. He was remarkably articulate; a large number of manuscripts in his clear and characteristic hand, composed in a limpid and vivacious Hebrew, have been preserved (including scores of letters and responsa). In consequence, more information about him and the details of his private life is available than on almost any other Jew of his age. These sources reveal a curiously contradictory type, whose learning was vitiated by serious defects of character. Modena frequented bad company and his sons were disreputable. Notwithstanding repeated vows of repentance he could not tear himself away from gambling; as a result he was perpetually on the verge of penury and had to recourse to all manner of expedients in order to earn a livelihood. In his revealing autobiography, Hayyei Yehudah, he naively lists 26 occupations to which he resorted from time to time, including brokerage, translating, writing letters and verses for others, arranging marriages, composing amulets and teaching their composition, and even writing sermons for others to deliver. He had some ability as a musician and acted as secretary and maestro di cappella of the musical academy which was established in the Venetian ghetto in 1632. Modena composed at least one "comedy" in Italian and acted in amateur theatrical performances. He even dabbled in alchemy, but the only practical result (notwithstanding his high hopes) was the death by lead-poisoning of his most promising son. On the other hand, he had a remarkable reputation among Christian scholars, who regarded him as the outstanding representative of Jewish learning of the day. He carried on a wide correspondence with them, and was mentioned with respect in their writings. His expert rabbinical opinions naturally reflect a liberality of outlook. He championed the introduction of the music of his friend Salomone de Rossi into the synagogue, defended the playing of ball games in the ghetto on the Sabbath, and did not object to going about bare-headed. However, he was not consistent. At times his writings are in diametrical opposition to his practices and sometimes irreconcilably contradict themselves, as when he both condemned and defended the playing of games of chance, and both championed and attacked the Kabbalah and mysticism.

His unstable character notwithstanding, Modena's contribution to Hebrew letters cannot be ignored. His autobiography, mentioned above, is the first frank, intimate autobiography to be written in Hebrew, and can be regarded as a classic of this genre. His sermons, collected in Midbar Yehudah, are also unrivalled examples of the rhetorical and homiletical art which developed in Renaissance Italy. Although not always original in content, they are consummate in form and influence later Hebrew homiletics. However Modena's main contribution to Hebrew literature was in polemics. In Magen ve-Zinnah he attacks systematically the views of Uriel da Costa, and defends the oral tradition and talmudic literature; the Kol Sakhal, on the other hand, which is attributed to him, makes the most bitter and complete case against oral tradition to be written in Hebrew until the Reform movement of the 19th century, when many of the arguments were repeated. In Ari Nohem Modena followed the tradition of anti-kabbalistic polemic started in Italy by R. Elijah Delmedigo in the 15th century, but his criticism of the Zohar and of R. Isaac Luria and his school is much more systematic and complete than the writings of his predecessors. Many of his arguments refuting the authenticity of R. Simeon Bar Yohai's authorship of the Zohar serve modern scholars. His Magen va-Herev is one of the most effective anti-Christian polemics to be written in Hebrew (even in the incomplete form in which the work has been preserved). Modena used contemporary scientific and historical critical methods, as well as traditional exegesis, to show the superficiality of the Christian interpretation of Scripture and the illogicalities in its dogma. Modena regarded his life as a failure, especially because he felt that he had lost the battle against his own shortcomings. However, his literary achievements disprove his own evaluation.

Modena's published writings, many of them embodying the word aryeh ("lion") or Yehudah in the title in reference to his name, include: Beit Lehem Yehudah, an index to the Ein Ya'akov (Venice, 1625); Bat Yehudah (Venice, 1635, subsequently incorporated in the Ein Ya'akov, to which it is a supplement); Zemah Zaddik, a translation of the Italian ethical work Fior di Virt - (Venice, 1600); Galut Yehudah (Novo dittionario hebraico e italiano; Venice, 1612; Padua, 1640); Midbar Yehudah, sermons (Venice, 1602); Lev Aryeh, mnemotechnical (Venice, 1612); Sur me-Ra, against gambling (Venice, 1595); Hayyei Yehudah, autobiography (see above; ed. A. Kahana, Zhitomir, 1911); Historia de' riti Ebraici (in Italian), written at the request of the English ambassador in Venice for presentation to King James I (Paris, 1637: many further editions and translations); Magen va-Herev, anti-Christian polemic (see above; ed. S. Simonsohn, Jerusalem, 1960); Ziknei Yehuda, responsa (ed. S. Simonsohn, Jerusalem, 1956); Magen ve-Zinnah (see above; ed. A. Geiger, Breslau, 1856); Sha'agat Aryeh, a refutation of an attack on Jewish tradition, and Kol Sakhal (see above, ascribed to a Spanish Jew of the 16th century - whether or not it was actually written by Modena has long been discussed (both published under the title Behinat ha-Kabbalah, by I. S. Reggio, Gorizia, 1852). A complete bibliography of his writings, both published and unpublished, may be found in S. Simonsohn's introduction to the Ziknei Yehudah and in Cassuto's article (in RMI, 8 (1933), 13242).

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Listing Classification
17th Century:    Checked
France:    Checked
Customs:    Checked
History:    Checked
Language:    French
Manuscript Type
Kind of Judaica