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Leon, Messer David ben Judah


LEON, MESSER DAVID BEN JUDAH (1470/72?–1526?), rabbi and religious philosopher. Born in Mantua, Italy, Leon studied in his father's yeshivah in Naples, where he was ordained at the age of 18 by French and German rabbis. He then went to the yeshivah of Judah Minz in Padua. In 1494 he was living in Florence, about 1505 moved to Salonika, and about 1512 was appointed rabbi of Valona, Albania. In this town there were many disputes between the various communities because of the desire of the exiles from Spain and Portugal to impose their customs on the existing communities. He became involved in these disputes, and in one of them excommunicated his opponent, Meir ibn Verga. On the night of the Day of Atonement, during a fierce quarrel between the various communities, he was insulted and banned two scholars among the heads of the community who opposed him. His ruling, which attempted to justify his action and prove that the ban was legally in force, was published under the title Kevod Ḥakhamim (ed. by S. Bernfeld, 1899). There is, however, a conjecture that a great part of this work was taken from the responsa of Joseph *Colon (Venice, 1519, ed. no. 170). As a result of these disputes, he returned to Salonika where he died.

Leon combined vast erudition in Jewish subjects with a comprehensive knowledge of general culture, particularly in philosophy. In the study of Torah he preferred the method of the rabbis of Germany and France to the methods of the rabbis of Spain. An admirer of Maimonides, Leon, in those of his works that have remained unpublished, Magen David (dealing with the problem of the nature of the *Sefirot and compiled apparently before 1506) and Ein ha-Kore (a commentary on the Guide of the Perplexed), defended Maimonides' philosophical method and attempted to answer the complaints of his critics. He was opposed to Levi b. Gershom and Isaac Abrabanel, mainly because their views differed from those of Maimonides. His combination of general culture with values originating from Jewish religion and culture is reflected in his query to Jacob b. David *Provençal "on the view of the sages of the Talmud in the study of the natural sciences, logic, philosophy, and medicine." The reply (published in the collection Divrei Ḥakhamim (1849), 63–74, of Eliezer Ashkenazi), that "each one of the seven sciences is praiseworthy and valued in the eyes of our sages," addressed him as one who would produce "fruit from the tree, but not forsake the root in order to take hold of the husk." Apparently Leon also engaged in Kabbalah. He stated that although his father refused to allow him to engage in it "because of his tender age," he studied Kabbalah in secret. Among his other works worthy of mention are Tehillah le-David (Constantinople, 1577), on religious philosophy, published by his grandson Aaron Leon; Sod ha-Gemul; and his rulings and responsa, and letters and poems (some also in Latin) – most of which are still in manuscript.


L. Zunz, Kerem Ḥemed, 5 (1841), 139; Michael, Or, no. 727; J. Schechter, in: rej, 24 (1892), 118–38; M. Steinschneider, in: mgwj, 42 (1898), 263; idem, in: Festschrift … A. Berliner (1903), 353; idem, Gesammelte Schriften, 1 (1925), 219f.; Rosanes, Togarmah, 1 (19302), 79, 85–88, 110–3; Assaf, Mekorot, 2 (1931), 99–101; G. Scholem, in: KS, 9 (1932–33), 258; D. Tamar, ibid., 26 (1949/50), 96–100.

[Yehoshua Horowitz]

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