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Lerma, Judah ben Samuel


LERMA, JUDAH BEN SAMUEL (middle of the 16th century), scholar of Spanish origin living in Italy. The years of Lerma's birth and death are unknown, and all the information on him relates to the years 1553–56. The place and scope of his activity are also not clear, but apparently he never held an official rabbinical post. He states that he attempted to amass wealth but lost all that he possessed. He also complains, as do other contemporary scholars in Italy, that the attitude of the public to him was not as it should be toward a scholar. He is frequently confused with Judah Lerma of Belgrade, author of the Peletat Bat Yehudah, but it is doubtful if there was even a family relationship between them. Some think he was the son of Samuel Lerma, the copyist in 1536 of the manuscript glosses on the Mishnah. He wrote Leḥem Yehudah, a commentary to Avot. The first edition was published in Venice in 1553, but was consigned to the flames in the same year, with the burning of the Talmud (see Burning of *Talmud). A second edition was published in the following year in Sabbioneta, but there are conspicuous differences between the two editions, especially in the first half. He also wrote a commentary on the Book of Job which is frequently quoted in both editions of the Lehem Yehudah, and there are also fragments of aggadah with a commentary extant in manuscript. His commentary to Avot is quoted in the various 16th-century anthologies of commentaries to Avot.

Lerma was a philosopher who followed the Spanish Jewish philosophers, from whom he derived his theories and views. His approach is on the whole moderate and conservative. His main sources, besides the talmudic and midrashic literature and Maimonides, are Joseph Albo, Isaac Abrabanel, and in particular Isaac Arama. Lerma had no direct knowledge of the writings of non-Jewish thinkers and was also most sparing in the use of other Jewish speculative and literary works. His method of writing is nearer in style and form to talmudic than to the philosophical literature (particularly in the second edition). He is more interested in using his sources as the basis of his own views than in explaining the literal meaning of the tractate. Although original neither in his ideas nor in his manner of expressing them, Lerma's views about the influence of the stars upon the world and man, and about predestination in its relation to man's religious autonomy and the Commandments are interesting and unique in content, form, and scope (in both editions). These views met with the opposition of his contemporaries despite their moderate approach. There is a note of arrogance in his work. He frequently disputes the views of earlier authorities and even expressed himself to the effect that the person studying his work "would have no need of any other commentator."


Steinschneider, Cat Bod, 1337, no. 5737; E. Carmoly, Divrei ha-Yamim li-Venei Yaḥya (1850), 35, n. 109; Epstein, Mishnah, 1286–87.

[Joseph Hacker]

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