Azariah dei Rossi

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Azariah dei Rossi
Bornc. 1511
Died1578 (aged 66–67)
Mantua, Duchy of Mantua, Holy Roman Empire

Azariah ben Moses dei Rossi (Hebrew: עזריה מן האדומים) was an Italian physician, Jewish rabbi, and scholar. He was born at Mantua in c. 1511; and died in 1578.[1] He was descended from an old Jewish family which, according to tradition, was brought by Titus from Jerusalem. He was known among Jews as Azariah min-Ha'adumim (Azariah of the Red Family), a play on his name as well as a possible allusion to the fact that he lived in Catholic Italy, Rome being regarded as a spiritual heir of Esau (Edom, from Hebrew `-d-m, red). Combining an insatiable desire for learning with remarkable mental power, Dei Rossi early in life became exceptionally proficient in Hebrew, Latin, and Italian literature. He became known for his critical thinking and erudition.[2] He studied simultaneously medicine, archeology, history, Greek and Roman antiquities, and Christian ecclesiastical history. When about the age of thirty he married and settled for a time at Ferrara. Later he was found at Ancona, Bologna, Sabbionetta, and again at Ferrara. In 1570 a terrible earthquake visited the last-named city and caused the death of about 200 persons. The house in which Dei Rossi lived was partly destroyed; but it happened that at the moment he and his wife were in their daughter's room, which remained uninjured. During the disturbances consequent upon the earthquake Dei Rossi lived in an outlying village, where he was thrown into association with a Christian scholar, who asked him if there existed a Hebrew translation of the Letter of Aristeas. Dei Rossi answered in the negative, but in twenty days he prepared the desired translation, which he entitled Hadrat Zekenim. His account of the earthquake, written shortly after, is entitled Kol Elohim; he regarded the earthquake as a visitation of God, and not merely as a natural phenomenon.

Dei Rossi referred to his hometown Mantua as a "happy city" as it was a safe haven or a creative mecca for Jews at the time.[3]

Me'or Enayim[edit]

Meor Einayim

He is known chiefly for his book Me'or Enayim (English, Light of the Eyes) in which he used critical methods to test the literal truth of the Aggadah, the non legalistic and narrative portions of the Talmud. His views were sharply criticised by Judah Loew ben Bezalel (the Maharal of Prague) in the latter's Be'er ha-Golah. Its publication sparked a vehement condemnation and controversy.[4] It is a work of historical research.[5] Joseph Caro demanded the book be burned.[6]

Dei Rossi's great work, Me'or Enayim ("Light of the Eyes") (Mantua, 1573-75; Berlin, 1794; Vienna, 1829; Vilna, 1863-66), includes the two works already mentioned and a third entitled Imre Binah. The latter is divided into four parts; the first part contains a survey of the Jews at the time of the Second Temple, narrates the origin of the Septuagint, points out the contradictions between some of the beliefs of the Talmudists and the proved results of scientific research, records the origin of the Jewish colonies in Alexandria and Cyrene, chronicles the wars of Simon bar Kokhba against the Romans, etc. Dei Rossi quotes from the writings of Philo, whose orthodoxy he questions. He criticizes him for having allegorized Biblical narratives of facts, and points out that the Alexandrian philosopher never gives the traditional interpretation of the Biblical text. (However, he also offers a possible defense of Philo, and reserves a final judgment.)[7]

In the second part Dei Rossi criticizes a number of the assertions of the Talmudists (some of the criticisms were already extant and many of his criticisms were repeated by later commentators), and gives explanations of various aggadic passages which can not be taken literally (as, for instance, the aggadah which attributes the death of Titus to a gnat which entered his brain while he was returning to Rome). The third part is devoted to a study of Jewish chronology and translations from the writings of Philo, Josephus, and others, with commentaries. His critique of Philo is novel and ahead of its time.[8] The fourth part deals with Jewish archeology, describing the shapes of the priestly garments and the glory of the Second Temple, and giving the history of Queen Helen and her two sons.

Attitude of his contemporaries[edit]

Dei Rossi's followed the burgeoning scientific method of inquiry in his work and did not rely solely upon tradition. But this way of dealing with subjects which the multitude reverenced as sacred called forth many criticisms on the part of his contemporaries. Prominent among his critics were Moses Provençal of Mantua (to whom Dei Rossi had submitted his work in manuscript), Isaac Finzi of Pesaro, and David Provençal, who endeavored to defend Philo. Dei Rossi appended to some copies of the Me'or Enayim an answer to the criticisms of Moses Provençal, and a dissertation entitled Tzedek Olamim, in which latter he refuted the arguments of Isaac Finzi. Later he wrote a special work entitled Matzref la-Kesef (published by Hirsch Filipowski at Edinburgh, 1854, and included by Zunz in the Vilna edition of the "Me'or"), in which he defended his "Yeme 'Olam" against its critics. Dei Rossi, however, also had to contend with those who considered his "Me'or 'Enayim" as a heretical work. Joseph Karo commissioned Elisha Gallico to draw up a decree to be distributed among all Jews, ordering that the "Me'or 'Enayim" be burned. But, Joseph Karo dying before it was ready for him to sign, the decree was not promulgated, and the rabbis of Mantua contented themselves with forbidding the reading of the work by Jews under twenty-five years of age.

The "Me'or 'Enayim" attracted the attention of many Christian Hebraists, who translated parts of it into Latin.[9]

Dei Rossi was the author of a collection of poems (Venice, n.d.), among which are several of a liturgical character.

Joseph Jacobs and Isaac Broydé, "Ross, Azariah ben Moses dei". Jewish Encyclopedia (Funk and Wagnalls, 1901–1906) cite the following bibliography:


  1. ^ Weiss, Moshe (2004). A Brief History of the Jewish People. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 124. ISBN 9780742544024. The leading Torah scholar during the Italian Renaissance was Rabbi Azariah Rossi (1511–1578), who translated into Hebrew the letters of Aristotle, which contained discussions between Ptolemy II and the seventy Jewish elders who ...
  2. ^ Malkiel, David (2013). "The Artifact and Humanism in Medieval Jewish Thought". Jewish History. 27 (1): 21–40. doi:10.1007/s10835-012-9169-z. ISSN 0334-701X. JSTOR 24709729. S2CID 254594796.
  3. ^ "Introduction: "Under the Happy Shadow and Secure Protection"". Jewish Theatre Making in Mantua, 1520-1650: 1–32. 31 July 2022. doi:10.1017/9781641892513.002. ISBN 9781641892513.
  4. ^ Weinberg, Joanna (1978). "Azariah Dei Rossi: Towards a Reappraisal of the Last Years of His Life". Annali della Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa. Classe di Lettere e Filosofia. 8 (2): 493–511. ISSN 0392-095X. JSTOR 24304990.
  5. ^ Bonfil, Robert (1988). "How Golden was the Age of the Renaissance in Jewish Historiography?". History and Theory. 27 (4): 78–102. doi:10.2307/2504998. ISSN 0018-2656. JSTOR 2504998.
  6. ^ Whitfield, Stephen J. (2002). "Where They Burn Books..." Modern Judaism. 22 (3): 213–233. doi:10.1093/mj/22.3.213. ISSN 0276-1114. JSTOR 1396717.
  7. ^ Naomi G. Cohen, "Philo Judaeus and the True Torah Library"; Tradition: A Journal of Orthodox Jewish Thought 41(3), Fall 2008.
  8. ^ Weinberg, Joanna (1993). "An Apocryphal Source in the Me' or 'Enayim of Azariah de' Rossi". Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes. 56: 280–284. doi:10.2307/751378. ISSN 0075-4390. JSTOR 751378. S2CID 195051563.
  9. ^ Giulio Bartolocci translated ch. ix. and xxii., in his "Bibliotheca Magna Rabbinica"; Samuel Bochart, ch. xvi. and xxi., in his "Hierozoicon" (Leyden, 1712); Buxtorf, ch. ix., xlii., and lix., in his "Tractatus de Antiquitate Punctorum" (Basel, 1648); idem, ch. l. and lx., in his translation of the "Cuzari" (ib. 1660); idem, ch. lvi. and lviii., in his "Dissertatio de Letteris Hebraicis" (ib. 1662); Hottinger, ch. lvi., in his "Cippi Hebræi" (Heidelberg, 1662); Meyer, ch. viii., xiv., and xix., in his version of the "Seder 'Olam" (Amsterdam, 1699); Morin, ch. iii., v., vii., viii., ix., xix., xx., and xlviii., in his "Exercitationes Biblica" (Paris, 1638); Anton van Dale, ch. ix., in his "Dissertatio Super Aristeam" (Amsterdam, 1708); Voisin, ch. ii., viii., xv., xvi., xxii., xlv., li., lvi., lvii., and lix., in his edition of Raymund Martin's "Pugio Fidei" (Paris, 1651); Voorst, ch. xxiii., xxv., xxxiii., and xxxv., in his translation of the "Ẓemaḥ Dawid" (Leyden, 1644). Ch. xvi. has been translated into English by Raphall ("Hebrew Review and Magazine," ii. 170), and ch. lx. by Bishop Lowth, in the introduction to his translation of Isaiah (London, 1835).


  • Azariah de Rossi, The Light of the Eyes Translated from the Hebrew with an introduction and annotations by Joanna Weinberg (New Haven, Yale UP, 2001), 864 pp. (Yale Judaica 31).

External links[edit]

 This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainSinger, Isidore; et al., eds. (1901–1906). "ROSSI, AZARIAH BEN MOSES DEI". The Jewish Encyclopedia. New York: Funk & Wagnalls.