Farissol, Abraham ben Mordecai

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FARISSOL, ABRAHAM BEN MORDECAI (c. 1451–c. 1525), Bible commentator, geographer, and polemicist. Born in Avignon, Abraham spent most of his life in Ferrara, Italy, where he did most of his work, and in Mantua. He served as a cantor, and for many years as a copyist, a task he performed with great devotion and care. It seems that he was highly regarded by the Jews of Ferrara, for they chose him to represent Judaism before the duke of Ferrara in a religious dispute with two Dominican monks. Farissol's main works are (1) Pirhei Shoshannim, a short commentary on the Torah, which was never printed but is extant in manuscript; a commentary on Ecclesiastes, also in manuscript; and a commentary on the Book of Job, printed in the Bomberg Bible (Venice 1516–17). (2) Magen Avraham, a work dedicated to the defense of Judaism in religious disputes, and containing in two separate chapters, polemical attacks against Christianity and Islam. Most of the work is basedupon the writings of earlier medieval Hebrew polemicists, but parts were influenced by the author's own experience in the dispute in Ferrara. The work is still extant in manuscript. (3) Iggeret Orḥot Olam, his most famous and most important work, is the first modern Hebrew work on geography (Ferrara 1524; Venice 1586; and many subsequent printings). Each of its 30 chapters deals with a certain geographical area or subject. In addition, many cosmological and historical matters are also treated. The author collected all the evidence he could regarding Jewish settlements in each country. The inclusion of a description of the New World makes Farissol the first Hebrew writer to deal in detail with the newly-discovered America. The 14th chapter of Iggeret Orḥot Olam, which deals mainly with the settlements of the *Ten Lost Tribes, is of special interest. According to Farissol's introduction to this chapter, it is clear that what moved him to undertake this investigation was the appearance in Italy in 1523 of David *Reuveni, many of whose descriptions are included in this work.


Steinschneider, Cat Bod, 689–90; Benjacob, Ozar, 9 no. 189, 296 no. 490; Graetz, Hist, 4 (1894), 411–3; Waxman, Literature, 2 (19602), 485–7, 556.