There were many notable Italian Jewish families throughout history. One of the more famous ones was the Luzzatto family, which included many important scholars and rabbis. According to family lore, the Luzzattos originated in the city of Lausitz in Germany before they migrated to Italy in the mid-15th century. Members of the family settled first in Venice, and then in various cities throughout the peninsula.
Three members of this illustrious family are represented in Columbia’s manuscript collection.
The most famous member of the family is probably Moshe Hayim Luzzatto (RaMHaL, 1707-1746), well-known for his ethical composition Mesilat Yesharim, which directs the reader through specific paths to spiritual perfection. In addition, RaMHaL wrote on rhetoric, and Columbia’s 1727 edition of Sefer Leshon Limudim includes notes by a previous owner, Giuseppe Almanzi, which correct the edition based on RaMHaL’s original manuscript.
In a previous post, we discussed a manuscript created and illustrated by another member of the Luzzatto family, Israel David, in the early 19th century. Israel David was an expert on the laws of ritual slaughter (shehita), and he illustrated a manuscript imparting his knowledge to others.
The most well-represented Luzzatto in our manuscript collection is Samuel David Luzzatto, also known as SHaDaL. SHaDaL was a scholar and a poet, a book collector and a teacher at the rabbinical school at Padua. Many of his students became important rabbis throughout Italy.
Interestingly, most of the SHaDaL manuscripts at Columbia do not come from the collection of his friend Guisippe Almanzi (which came to Columbia via Temple Emanu-el in 1892) but from a major purchase of manuscripts by Professor Salo Baron in 1933-4, which firmly established Columbia’s collection as one of the foremost in the country to this day.
SHaDaL wrote a number of translations and commentaries of various parts of the Bible; Columbia’s collection contains his Italian introduction to the Pentateuch (1829), his commentary on Leviticus and Deutoronomy of the Pentateuch, Esegesi di Geremia (on Jeremiah), a commentary on the book of Ezekiel, (c.1850) Divre Kohelet (1821), and Prolusione, or lectures on the Bible, all of which are written in SHaDaL’s own hand. SHaDaL’s work was heavily focused on Hebrew grammar, and an autograph with “early redactions of several dissertations on theology and Aramaic grammar” (1835) that we acquired in 2014 shows that his studies were by no means limited to the Hebrew language.
Additional manuscripts by SHaDaL in the collection include Proposizioni relative al corso esegetico, (1843) a miscellany of twenty-five questions and answers with regard to Luzzatto’s previously published exegesis and a response of Luzzato to a declaration of the Reform movement (Societa di Riforma) which was published in Gazzetta Universale on August 3, 1843. In 1976, Morris Margolies was able to complete his Columbia dissertation on Shemu’el David Luzzatto, in part thanks to the collections at his alma mater.
Our most recent acquisition of SHaDaL material is a letter from SHaDal to Max Letteris which strongly opposed an article written by Letteris which presented Barukh/Benedict Spinoza in a positive light.
The many Luzzatto documents in the collection leave room for further research, and – who knows – perhaps there are further family members yet to be discovered!