Finzi-Norsa Controversy

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FINZI-NORSA CONTROVERSY , Italian Jewish cause célèbre in the early part of the 16th century. Immanuel Norsa of Ferrara, reputed to be the second wealthiest Jew in Italy, was partner in a loan bank with Abraham Raphael Finzi of Bologna, who had suffered serious reverses in his other business interests. Although relations between the two men were strengthened by marriages between their children, it was still charged by Finzi's friends that directly or indirectly, Norsa had caused Finzi the loss of 5,000 gold florins. Since his partnership with Norsa was Finzi's only asset, he was compelled to dispose of it to satisfy his creditors. The wealthy Samuel da Pisa, Norsa's brother-in-law, agreed to buy out Finzi's share. However, due to Norsa's opposition, he reneged on the proposed transaction.

The creditors continued to press Finzi, who realized that Norsa would thwart any advantageous sale; Finzi was forced to accede to Norsa's conditions and let him have all the partnership rights at his own price. It is claimed that Norsa paid him only one-sixth the actual value. However, before Finzi went to Ravenna to conclude the sale, he made a moda'ah ("declaration") at Bologna before witnesses, on February 28, 1507, that he was only selling to Norsa under duress, and that all the statements he would make to Norsa to the effect that the sale was carried out with good will and without compulsion were in consequence null and void. He also retained all rights to sue his former partner in court at a more opportune time. About 12 years later, this document was submitted to a court of three rabbinical judges in Bologna. Finzi brought five witnesses to prove the power of Norsa in Ferrara and the impossibility of getting judgment against him in the latter's home town. The court granted him a change of venue and decided that the case should be tried before an impartial court outside Ferrara. Norsa refused to abide by this decision and insisted upon having the litigation in his city.

A vehement and vituperative controversy soon ensued solely on the validity of venue granted to Finzi. Norsa was supported by his local rabbis, particularly David Pizzighettone and by Abraham *Minz; Finzi was supported by almost all the Italian rabbinate, including Bendit Axelrod b. Eleazar, the head of the Venetian rabbinate, Israel b. Jehiel Isserlein of Rome, and Jehiel Trabotto b. Azriel of Pesaro. Above all, the famed Jacob *Pollak of Poland backed Finzi and finally excommunicated Abraham Minz for his role in aggravating the controversy. Finally, Norsa had to yield and appeared before an outside impartial court. No record of the decision reached on the monetary issue has been preserved.


Marx, in: Abhandlungen … Hirsch Perez Chajes (1933), 149–93 (Eng.).

[Aaron Rothkoff]