Ashkenazi, Eliezer ben Elijah the Physician

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ASHKENAZI, ELIEZER BEN ELIJAH THE PHYSICIAN (1513–1586), rabbi and exegete. Eliezer's activities covered many of the Jewish centers of the 16th century. The influential position he held in widely scattered communities indicates the basic unity of Jewish society and culture in the period. A pupil of Joseph b. Solomon *Taitaẓak in Salonika, Eliezer went to Egypt when he was 26, and officiated as rabbi. *Elijah of Pesaro said he "judged all the community of Egypt for 22 years." While there, Eliezer was in contact with the *Safed community and its sages, including Joseph *Caro, who respected and consulted him. In 1561 Eliezer was compelled to leave Egypt, and settled at Famagusta in Cyprus. Elijah of Pesaro, who met him there in 1563, describes him as "well-versed in 12 languages… a sage in many general sciences and in the Talmud… he is wealthy." Azariah dei *Rossi called Eliezer "the greatest of the generation." In 1563 Eliezer was in *Venice; the following year he traveled to Prague, returned for a few years to Famagusta, and again went to Venice. From there he went to Cremona where in 1576 he published his commentary Yosef Lekaḥ on the book of Esther, dedicated to Joseph *Nasi. The same year he was invited to Poland as rabbi of Poznan; he was subsequently called to Gniezno, and thence to Cracow, where he died. In Poland his answers to legal queries were accepted as authoritative. Impartial in his decisions, he denied his support to the brother-in-law of Moses *Isserles, Joseph *Katz, who had referred to Eliezer in a discussion with his own pupils. Eliezer's main work, Ma'aseh Adonai, a commentary on the Torah, was completed in Gniezno in 1580 and printed in Venice in 1583. It follows the rationalist trend in rabbinical scholarship, calling for freedom in exegesis of the Scriptures: "Each and every one of us, our descendants too, to the end of all generations… is obliged to search for the meaning of the words of the Torah… to accept the truth from whoever says it, after we have understood it. Let us not permit the opinion of someone else – even if of an earlier generation – to hinder us from research… Research and choose: for that you have been created and reason has been given you from heaven" (Ma'aseh Adonai, 169). Eliezer suggests that irrational elements in Jewish tradition had accrued through copyists' errors, misunderstandings, and misreadings, or had been precipitated in times of trouble and expulsions, or even inserted by ill-disposed persons. In Joseph Solomon *Delmedigo's estimation "the Ma'aseh Adonai should be read in its entirety." He also records that Eliezer wrote a supercommentary on *Naḥmanides' commentary on the Torah and "a thousand refutations of the Beit Yosef" of Joseph Caro. Eliezer also wrote seliḥot and piyyutim printed at Cracow and in Lublin (1618). His glosses on the code of *Mordecai b. Hillel are included in Gedulat Mordekhai (Hanau, 1593).


I.M. Jost, in: Jahrbuch fuer die Geschichte der Juden (1861), 30 ff.; H.H. Ben-Sasson, Hagut ve-Hanhagah (1959), index.

[Haim Hillel Ben-Sasson]

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Ashkenazi, Eliezer ben Elijah the Physician

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