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Benjamin Ze'ev ben Mattathias of Arta


BENJAMIN ZE'EV BEN MATTATHIAS OF ARTA (early 16th century), dayyan and halakhist. He first engaged in business but later became a member of the bet din at Arta (Epirus). After living at Larissa (1528) and Corfu (1530), Benjamin Ze'ev settled in Venice; but toward the end of his life returned to Arta (1538). As a result of his lenient decisions on an agunah, Benjamin Ze'ev was severely criticized by David ha-Kohen, Joseph Taitaẓak, and others. He replied in his Binyamin Ze'ev, containing 450 legal decisions and responsa, completed in 1534 at Venice, where it was published five years later. It constitutes an important source for a knowledge of the economic conditions and religious life of the Jews of Greece, Turkey, and Asia Minor. His legal decisions reflect his independence in halakhic matters, which led to the opposition of German and Italian rabbis to his book. He was hostile to Marranos who willingly "follow the laws of the Gentiles and transgress all the commandments of the Torah," and stated that "they are less than the Gentiles" (Binyamin Ze'ev, 203, end). Contemporaries, such as Isaac Gershon of Venice and David ha-Kohen, questioned his authority in legal decisions; while Solomon Luria (Yam shel Shelomo, bk 78) expressly states that "no one should follow Benjamin Ze'ev, unless he has made a thorough study of the relevant talmudic passages and the halakhic authorities." Several prominent rabbis, among them the rabbis of Salonika, agreed with Benjamin. Following the intensification of the dispute between Benjamin and his opponents at Arta (1530), the views of the Italian rabbis were sought by both sides. Some, including Azriel Diena (Dayyena), favored Benjamin Ze'ev's dismissal from the rabbinate. The dispute continued until 1532, but Benjamin nevertheless continued as rabbi at Arta after that date. His son Mattathias, who died in 1541, wrote a poem to mark the completion of his father's book (Binyamin Ze'ev, 573a).


Graetz, Gesch, 8 (c. 19004), 70, 443–7; Bruell, Jahrbuecher, 1 (1874), 88–90; Rosanes, Togarmah, 1 (1930), 114, 155–8; Assaf, in: ks, 15 (1938/39), 113–9.

[Yehoshua Horowitz]

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