Leon, Messer Judah ben Jehiel

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LEON, MESSER JUDAH BEN JEHIEL (15th century), rabbi and author. The place and the year of Judah's birth are unknown. It is possible that his native city was Mantua, where he was the head of a yeshivah. He was a typical representative of the Jewish humanism of the Renaissance. Judah received a broad and thorough Jewish and general education; he studied classical Latin literature, and evinced a special interest in the Latin works of antiquity that had been rediscovered in his day, such as Quintilian's Institutio oratoria. He was familiar with Greek and Arabic literatures, however, only from translations. Although it has often been doubted, he seems to have been in possession of a medical diploma. The controversy between him and Joseph *Colon in Mantua split the Jewish community, and the duke of Mantua felt compelled to banish both adversaries from the city. M. Steinschneider surmises that the cause of the conflict was a question of halakhah, as to whether it was permissible to wear the garb of the Italian scholars, the cappa. Graetz saw the cause of the dispute in the clash between the strict orthodoxy of Colon and the progressive views of Judah. Both assumptions have been shown by M.A. Szulwas to be without foundation: Colon (Maharik, Resp. nos. 88, 149) did not at all forbid the wearing of the cappa; and the difference in their respective views could not have been so great, since in 1455 Judah sought to prohibit the study of *Levi b. Gershom's commentary on the Torah under threat of excommunication; he also attempted to impose on the Italian communities certain strict halakhic rules. Szulwas assumes that it was probably Judah's claim to be the authority for all communities in Italy that was the cause of his dispute with Colon 20 years later. The honorific title Messer appears to have been bestowed upon Judah either by the pope or by the emperor. He lived for some time in Venice (1472), Bologna, Ancona, and Naples (as early as 1480). In Naples, he was head of the yeshivah. The place and year of his death are unknown.

Judah wrote the following:

(1) Nofet ẓufim, a Hebrew rhetorical work based on the rhetorical rules of Aristotle (or his commentators), Cicero, and Quintilian (printed in Mantua before 1480, published again by A. Jellinek, 1863);

(2) Livnat ha-Sappir, a Hebrew grammar;

(3) Mikhlal Yofi, a compendium of Aristotelian logic;

(4) sermons for various occasions, composed in Ancona (Ms. Firkovich);

(5) medical treatises;

(6) prayers (Ms. Firkovich, which in part are included in some manuscripts of the Italian Jewish liturgy (e.g., in Ms. de Rossi 970);

(7) several circular letters (printed by Perreau and Stein-schneider in Kobak's Yeshurun);

(8) Shehitah and bedikah rules (Ms. Firkovich);

(9) a Latin work on medical subjects (mentioned by Judah's son, David);

(10) a supercommentary on Averroes' Middle Commentary to many books of Aristotle's Organon;

(11) a supercommentary like (10) on Aristotle's Physics, known only from information communicated by his son;

(12–13) commentaries on Aristotle's De Anima and Metaphysics (mentioned by Judah, but not extant);

(14) a commentary on Aristotle's Ethics, mentioned by Judah's grandson, Aaron (perhaps identical with the anonymous Ms. Leyden Warnerus no. 44);

(15) a commentary, preserved in many manuscripts, on Jedaiah Bedersi's Behinat Olam, probably by Judah; it was completed by his nephew, Mordecai b. David;

(16) a commentary on Maimonides' Moreh Nevukhim, entitled Moreh Ẓedek, said to have been in the possession of David Vital and to have been lost when Patros was captured;

(17) a commentary on the Pentateuch, apparently unfinished;

(18) observations on the first book of Avicenna's Canon; (19) tosafot to tractate Berakhot (in: Berakhah Meshulleshet (1883));

(20) Reshut to Barekhu (published in zhb, 19 (1916), 133). The commentary on the last chapter of Proverbs stems apparently not from Judah but from his son David.

Several letters (from the years 1468 and 1474), addressed by Abraham Farissol to Judah, are found in the manuscript de Rossi 145.


Gedaliah ibn Yaḥya, Shalshelet ha-Kabbalah (Venice, 1586), 62b; Dukes, in: Oẓar Neḥmad, 2 (1857), 104; Szulwas, in: Zion, 12 (1946/47), 17–23; G.B. de Rossi, Dizionario Storico degli Autori Ebrei, 2 (1802), 7–10; idem, Manuscripti Codices Hebraici, 1 (1803), 73f., 95–97; 3 (1803), 28 (no. 970), 153 (no. 1355/7); Loew, in: Ben Chananja, 6 (1863), 3–9; Bruell, ibid., 509–14, 527f.; Neubauer, in: Israelietische Letterbode, 10 (1884/85), 106–11 (Ger., Heb.); M. Stein-schneider, ibid., 12 (1886/87), 92–94; idem, in: Gesammelte Schriften, 1 (1925), 218–28; Schechter, in: rej, 24 (1892), 118–38; I. Husik, Judah Messer Leon's Commentary on the "Vetus Logica" (1906); Graetz, Hist, 4 (1894), 289–95; Roth, Italy, 203, 217; For list of Mss. see ej, 8 (1931), 1000f.

[Umberto (Moses David) Cassuto]