Comtino, Mordecai ben Eliezer

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COMTINO, MORDECAI BEN ELIEZER (1420–d. before 1487), Bible commentator, philosopher, philologist, astronomer, and mathematician. Born in Constantinople, Comtino studied religion and philosophy under Hanokh Saporta, a distinguished Catalonian scholar. Comtino was one of the leaders of the Hebrew cultural movement that flowered in Constantinople. He considered the dissemination of general knowledge his major task. Of those who thought that learning should be confined to the Talmud, he said: "The Talmud will be of no use to them and they will not comprehend it unless they study all sciences… including exact expression, which is logic and helps us to understand the meaning of the words of the Talmud." Like most enlightened Jewish scholars of his age, he was an admirer of Maimonides and Abraham ibn Ezra; he regarded the latter as an ideal man, and wrote commentaries to most of his works. However, he did not hesitate to criticize Ibn Ezra's opinions, and to those who regarded such criticism as an insult to the "greatest of the commentators," his reply was that even a man of Ibn Ezra's caliber is capable of error. Comtino followed in the footsteps of his teacher Saporta in seeking to spread religious and secular knowledge among both the Rabbanite and Karaite Jews; he did not regard the latter as outcasts or enemies. In this he influenced the attitude of R. Elijah *Mizrahi, one of his most eminent students (see Mizrahi's responsa, no. 57). The Karaite sages in Turkey, such as Elijah *Bashyazi and Caleb *Afendopolo, were also among his pupils. In the 1450s, when the plague broke out in Constantinople, Comtino fled to Adrianople and remained there for a while, teaching such disciples as the Ashkenazi rabbi Isaac Ẓarfati. He had a reputation as a sage and astrologer also among non-Jews, who sometimes consulted him.

Comtino wrote many books and treatises in Hebrew on mathematics and astronomy, the manuscripts of which are to be found in the Leningrad, Parma, Paris, London, and Cambridge libraries. They include Sefer ha-Ḥeshbon ve-ha-Middot, on arithmetic and geometry; Perush Luḥot Paras ("Interpretation of the Persian Tables"), essays on the construction of astronomical instruments; Tikkun Keli ha-Ẓefiḥah, on the construction of the sundial; a commentary on Euclid; Sefer ha-Tekhunah ("The Book of Astronomy"); Ma'amar al Likkui ha-Levanah…, on "lunar and solar eclipse as seen in nature, based on philosophy and the natural sciences"; a commentary on Maimonides' work on logic, Millot ha-Higgayon; a commentary on Abraham ibn Ezra's Yesod Mora; a commentary on Ibn Ezra's Sefer ha-Shem ("Book on the Divine Names"); a commentary on Ibn Ezra's Sefer ha-Eḥad ("Book of the Unity"); a commentary on Aristotles' Metaphysics; Iggeret Senapir ve-Kaskeset, on clean and unclean fish; and Keter Torah, or Kelil Yofi, a commentary on the Pentateuch, in which Comtino reveals himself as a scholar of wide erudition, a liberal thinker, and an unbiased critic. R. Shabbetai b. Malkiel wrote a criticism of the last-mentioned work, to which Comtino wrote a reply (Teshuvot al Hassagot R. Shabbetai Kohen). Two of his piyyutim were published by Solomon b. Mazal Tov in Shirim u-Zemirot ve-Tishbaḥot (Constantinople, 1545–48, 127, 220), and were adopted in the Karaite prayer book.


Gurland, in: Talpioth, 1 (1895), 1–34 (special pagination in Toledot Anshei Shem section); I. Zinberg, Toledot Sifrut Yisrael, 3 (1958), 16–24, 339f.; Rosanes, Togarmah, 1 (1930), 25–32; Obadiah, in: Sinai, 6 (1940), 76–80; Silberberg, in: jjlg, 3 (1905), 277–92; N. Ben-Menahem, in: Hadorom, 27 (1968), 211–20.

[Ephraim Kupfer]