Frances, Immanuel ben David

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FRANCES, IMMANUEL BEN DAVID (1618–c. 1710), Hebrew poet. Born in Leghorn, he was educated by his father David, his brother Jacob *Frances, and especially by R. Joseph Fermo. Immanuel's life was filled with difficulties; not only was he forced to wander from one town to another to earn a living, but a succession of misfortunes befell him. His beloved father died in 1640, and his wife and two children in 1654. In 1657, he married Miriam, the daughter of R. Mordecai Visino, but both she and the son she bore him died in 1667. The same year saw the death of his brother, Jacob, to whom Immanuel was deeply attached, and together with whom he had fought against the supporters of Kabbalah. In his solitude, he devoted himself entirely to his literary work and to his activities as rabbi in Florence. In these he found his sole consolation for the remainder of his life.

His poetic work may be divided into three periods. The first extends from 1643 to 1660, when he was under the influence of two of Italy's most popular poets, Tasso and Guarini. At this time he wrote his love poems and his debates on women (Vikku'aḥ Itti'el ve-Ukhal), and rabbis (Vikku'aḥ Rekhav u-Va'anah), to which he appended satirical epigrams. The dramatic form he employed suited the literary style he had adopted to attack the corruption in contemporary Jewish society. From a traditional point of view he censured poets like Immanuel of Rome who introduced in their works frivolities and "prurient poems." During the second period, from 1664 to 1667, Immanuel, together with his brother Jacob, waged a literary war against Shabbetai Ẓevi, Nathan of Gaza, and their messianic movement, in which he saw a threat to the Jewish people: mysticism was in their opinion taking the place of the Halakhah. His book of satirical poems, Ẓevi Muddaḥ ("The Banished Gazelle [Ẓevi]"), belongs to this period and is the choicest of his literary work. The poems were published by M. Mortara (in Kobez al jad, 1 (1885), 99–131). A few poems have been translated into English: see Simonsohn (1977), 609–10, and Carmi (1981), 500–4. In the final period, from 1670 until after 1685, the poet adapted his religious poetry for use in synagogue services, giving it a dramatic and recitative character. He even wrote some poems in Latin that have not been preserved. While the poet preferred to use the Spanish-Arabic meter, he also introduced into his Hebrew poetry the terza rima and the ottava rima of Italian prosody. His poetic works were edited by S. Bernstein in 1932 under the title Divan le-R. Immanu'el b. David Frances. His work Metek Sefatayim, written in 1667 during a period of residence in Algiers, deals with various aspects of poetry and rhetoric. It was published in 1892 by H. Brody and deserves a new critical edition including all the new material that is known today; most of it has been translated into Spanish (del Valle, 1988).


M. Hartmann, Die hebraeische Verskunst nach dem Metek Sefatajim des Immanuel Fransis und anderen Werken juedischer Metriker (Berlin, 1894); Davidson, Oẓar, 4 (1933), 459; s.v.Immanuel Frances (ben David); Waxman, Literature, 2 (1960), 83–88. add. bibliography: M. Schulvass, The Jews in the World of the Renaissance (1973), 217; S. Simonsohn, History of the Jews in the Duchy of Mantua (1977), 617, 632, 710; T. Carmi (ed.), The Penguin Book of Hebrew Verse (1981), 500–4; A. Rathaus, in: Annuario di Studi Ebraici, 11 (1988), 159–73; Del Valle, El divan poético de Dunash ben Labrat (1988), 428–59.

[Yonah David]

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Frances, Immanuel ben David

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