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Levi (Bet ha-Levi), Solomon (II) ben Isaac


LEVI (Bet ha-Levi ), SOLOMON (II) BEN ISAAC (1532–1600), rabbi, commentator, author, and community leader. Solomon was a member of the Bet ha-*Levi family which originated from Portugal. He was born in Salonika. His life and activity can be divided into two main periods. During the first period, until approximately 1568, supported by his wealthy father, he was able to devote himself to study and to writing. He studied Talmud and codes in the yeshivah of Joseph ibn *Lev in Salonika, and secular studies and philosophy from private teachers. He gained a proficiency in various languages, and when only 13 years of age, composed a dialogue in Spanish. He seems also to have had a knowledge of Latin. At about the age of 30, he began to study Kabbalah. He married in 1553; two of his sons, Isaac (ii) b. Solomon *Levi (Bet ha-Levi) and Joseph, and a daughter, who married Aaron *Sasson, are known. He wrote commentaries to various books of the Bible (including Ḥeshek Shelomo, on Isaiah, Salonika, 1600), on Avot (Lev Avot, Salonika, 1565), and on the aggadot of the Talmud (Leḥem Shelomo, Venice, 1597). The draft of a work on geography and one dealing with the genealogy and position of the levites, talmudic novellae, and many of his poems are still extant in manuscript. He wrote more than 20 works and commentaries on many aspects of Jewish studies.

During the second period, from 1568, he was appointed rabbi of Üsküb (Skoplje), Yugoslavia, and devoted himself assiduously to community affairs there. In c. 1571, after his father's death, he returned to Salonika where he was appointed rabbi to the Provençal congregation. Two years later his rabbinate was extended to include that of the Évora congregation, one of the most prestigious in Salonika. He served as rabbi of both these congregations as well as head of the Évora congregation's yeshivah until his death. He delivered sermons (some of which were published in Divrei Shelomo, Venice, 1596) which attracted a large attendance, including the notable members of the congregations, and his name appears as a signatory on the haskamot ("resolutions") signed by the religious leaders of the community. He also wrote responsa to communities in Greece and throughout the Balkans (some of which are still preserved in manuscript). He wrote up talmudic novellae on topics which had evolved from the studies in the yeshivah and wrote marginal notes on such works as the Arba'ah Turim, the Midrash Rabbah, etc. Toward the end of his life, at his sons' urging, he began to collect and edit his writings, but died before he could finish.

Solomon was an unusual person who was imbued with a sense of mission. He possessed comprehensive knowledge, a fine style, and rhetorical ability, and was a dynamic personality. A man of considerable wealth, he consciously regarded himself as a communal leader, but on more than one occasion went out of his way to defend the community against wealthy members and various leaders who attempted, in his opinion, to exploit their positions in their own interests. He had a large library both of printed works and manuscripts, some on parchment (many of which have been preserved). His ramified, scholarly, and honored family basked in the light of his patriarchal figure. His influence in Salonika was inestimable, and his contemporaries referred to him with veneration. They accorded him the title of "the great rabbi," "the chief rabbi." Solomon regarded communal leadership as the duty of scholars, and his writings reveal that he was alive to the local and contemporary conditions. One can detect in his writings the changes and developments which took place in his personality, especially in his subsequent editing and amendments of his earlier works. His great vitality and his multifaceted personality reveal an encyclopedist, the product of a superb education. These qualities made possible and brought about his great influence on his surroundings from his youth. Combined with his independent means, they made it possible for him to become one of the outstanding leaders of Salonika Jewry in the 16th century.


A. Geiger (ed.), Melo Ḥofnayim (1840), 22 (Heb. part); J. Reifmann, in: Ha-Maggid, 3 (1859), 151; E. Carmoly, in: Ben Chananja, 5 (1862), 67; Steinschneider, Cat Bod, 2363, no. 6944; idem, Uebersetzungen, 88, 110–1, 228; D. Pipano, in: Abraham le-Bet ha-Levi, Ein Mishpat (1897), introd.; Rosanes, Togarmah, 2 (1937–8), 108–10; I.S. Emmanuel, Histoire des Israélites de Salonique (1936), 188–91; idem, Maẓẓevot Saloniki, 1 (1963), 178–9, no. 407; J. Hacker, in: Zion, 34 (1969), 43–89; idem, in: Tarbiz, 39 (1970), 195–213.

[Joseph Hacker]

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