Colon, Joseph ben Solomon

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COLON, JOSEPH BEN SOLOMON (c. 1420–1480), Italian halakhist, surnamed Trabotto, also known as Maharik . Colon was raised in Savoyard, capital of Chambéry, where his family had migrated after the expulsion of the Jews from France (1394). Colon's primary teacher was his father, an eminent talmudist in his own right, though he mentions having studied under other scholars in Chambéry. In his early thirties he migrated to the Piedmont, where he maintained himself through a combination of teaching children and older students and occasional loan-banking. In the late 1450s he headed a yeshivah in Savigliano. Subsequently, we find him in Mestre (before 1467), Bologna, and Mantua (apparently from 1467). According to a report in Ibn Yaḥya's Shalshelet ha-Kabbalah, in Mantua he and *Judah b. Jehiel Messer Leon became involved in a dispute, as a result of which they were both banished by the authorities. Colon afterward moved to Pavia, where he continued to teach and write responsa until his death. From an early age, scholars from Germany, Turkey, and Italy sought his decisions on Jewish law. After his death his responsa were collected and have since been frequently reprinted and published (Venice, 1519 etc.). His decisions had massive influence upon all subsequent legal development. His influence is particularly notable in the Ashkenazi orbit, as reflected in Moses Isserles' glosses on the Shulḥan Arukh. Colon was the central pillar of later Italian halakhah, and there is scarcely an Italian rabbi of the 16th, 17th, and 18th century who does not quote him.

Colon's responsa are distinguished by his encyclopedic knowledge and methodical analysis of sources. He attempted to identify the basic principles underlying his sources and to elucidate the conceptual framework within which he rendered his rulings. His legal method also resembled the mode of analysis known as pilpul. Established custom played a unique place in his thinking and he defined its authority. In this context, he served as the defender of a uniquely French school of Ashkenazi law and lore. The Mishneh Torah of *Maimonides enjoyed a preeminent place in his writings. His extensive comments thereupon, scattered throughout his responsa and lecture notes, helped to set the agenda for later scholars. Colon's responsa are marked by tremendous deference to authorities of the past. Hesitating to decide between them, he resorted to methods of legal determination which removed or minimized this necessity (e.g., Halakhah ke-Batra'i). Possessed a strong sense of justice, he spoke out courageously against decisions that were widely accepted at that time, but that he deemed unjust. He also displayed great independence vis-`a-vis his contemporaries. Firmly, though respectfully, he reproved Israel *Bruna for overstepping the bounds of his authority. When a blood libel was made against some Jews of Regensburg, and the neighboring communities refused to be taxed for their ransom (although agreeing to make voluntary payments), Colon decided that it was their duty, to pay the tax. Colon's zeal for halakhic truth and integrity led him into a dispute with Moses b. Elijah *Capsali of Turkey. Having been wrongly informed that the latter had made grievous errors in decisions concerning marital law, Colon wrote to the leaders of the Constantinople community, threatening to place Capsali under a ban if he did not cancel his decisions and do public penance. This unprecedented attack on the rights of the community aroused a furor in Constantinople. Capsali answered the attack vehemently. Soon many of the leading rabbis of the day were embroiled in the dispute, which ended when Colon learned that he had been the victim of intrigue. With this discovery, Colon's remorse was as swift and thorough as had been his rebuke, and he did all within his power to make amends to the victim of his unjust attack, to the degree of sending his son Perez to travel to Constantinople and beg forgiveness of Capsali. In addition to his previously published responsa, new material under the title She'elot u-Teshuvot u-Fiskei ha-Maharik ha-Ḥadashim has been edited by E.D. Pines (19842). Colon was the author of a commentary on the Sefer Mitzvot Gadol of *Moses b. Jacob of Coucy, part of which was published in Munkacs (1899). A fuller edition was also published by E.D. Pines under the title, Hiddushe u-Ferushe Mahatrik (1984). His Seder ha-Get appeared in Judah Minz's She'elot u-Teshuvot (Venice, 1553). Other material has been published in various journals, while a significant amount remains in manuscript.


Marmorstein, in: Devir, 2 (1923), 213–243; H. Rabinowicz, "The Life and Times of Rabbi Joseph Colon" (doctoral diss., Univ. of London, 1947; idem, in: jjs, 6 (1955), 166–70; idem, in: jqr, 47 (1956/7), 336–44; idem, in: Historia Judaica, 22 (1960), 61–70; Tamar, in: Zion, 18 (1952/53), 127–35; Colorini, in: Annuario di studi Ebraici, 1 (1934), 169–82. add. bibliography: Freimann, in: Leket Yosher, 2 (1904), xxxiii, no. 61; S.A. Horodetzky, in: Le-Korot ha-Rabbanut (1914), 45–55; I.H. Weiss, Dor Dor ve-Dorshav, 5 (1924), 269–73; U. Cassutto, Encyclopædia Judaica, 5 (1930), 629–31; Rosenthal, in: Tarbiz, 34 (1965), 74–76; Ben-Hayyim, in: Moriah, 2 (1970), 67–69; Y. Yudelev, in: Sinai, 67 (1970), 321–23; A. Fuchs, "Historical Material in the Responsa of Rabbi Israel Bruna" (doctoral diss., Yeshivah University, 1974); idem, in: Zion, 37 (1972), 183–96; M. Güdemann, Geschichte des Erziehungswesens, trans. A. Friedberg, 3 (1972), 186–90; Green, in: Sinai, 79 (1976),147–63; Sh. Simonsohn, The History of the Jews in the Duchy of Mantua (1977), 704–5; idem, The Jews in the Duchy of Milan, 2 (1982), 749 n. 1826; Booksbaum, in: Shut u-Piskei Maharik ha-Ḥadashim, E.D. Pines (ed.) (1984), xix–xlviii; R. Segre, The Jews In Piedmont, 2 (1986), 284 n. 617; J. Woolf, "The Life and Responsa of Rabbi Joseph Colon ben Solomon Trabotto" (doctoral diss., Harvard University, 1991); idem, in: Sidra, 10 (1995), 57–60; idem, in: Tarbiz, 66 (1996), 1–15; idem, in: Italia, 13 (1997); idem, in: AJS Review, 25 (2000–2001) and idem, in: Be'erot Yitzhak (2005).

[Abraham Hirsch Rabinowitz /

Jeffrey R. Woolf (2nd ed.)]