Levi, David

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LEVI, DAVID (1742–1801), English Hebraist and polemicist. Born in London and intended by his parents to be a rabbi, Levi instead was apprenticed to a cobbler, and later worked as a hatter. However, he continued to pursue Jewish studies and interests. He published new translations of the Pentateuch for synagogal use (1787), of the Sephardi liturgy (6 vols., 1789–93), and the Ashkenazi (1794–96); and Lingua Sacra (1785–87), a Hebrew grammar and dictionary. He also wrote Rites and Ceremonies of the Jews (1783). Levi was the first Jew to write, in English, polemics in defense of Jews and Judaism. In his Letters to Dr. Priestley (1787) he rejected the attempts of the noted scholar Joseph Priestley to convert Jews to Christianity. In the same vein, he answered Thomas Paine's attacks on the Bible and the authenticity of prophecy (Letters to Thomas Paine in Answer to his "Age of Reason," 1797). He also opposed millennarian theories in Letters to Nathaniel Brassey Halhed in Answer to His Testimony of the Authenticity of the Prophecies of Richard Brothers and His Pretended Mission to Recall the Jews (1795). Levi's whole life was a struggle to devote himself to scholarship in spite of poverty, and he was ultimately given a small pension by a group of supporters headed by the *Goldsmids.


S. Singer, in: jhset, 3 (1896), 55–71; J. Picciotto, Sketches of Anglo-Jewish History (19562), 219–20, 243, 270; C. Roth, Great Synagogue (1950), 148–9; Roth, Mag Bibl, index; dnb, s.v.; S. Daiches, in: jhsem, 4 (1942), 28–32. add. bibliography: odnb online; R.H. Popkin, "David Levi, Anglo-Jewish Theologian," in: Jewish Quarterly Review, 87 (1996), 79–101; Katz, England, 296–300, index.

[Jacob Rothschild]