Luzzatto, Simone ben Isaac Simḥah

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LUZZATTO, SIMONE BEN ISAAC SIMḤAH (1583–1663), Italian rabbi and author. He was born, probably in Venice, of a well-to-do family of German origin already established in the region for many generations. Luzzatto was ordained in 1606 and served as rabbi in Venice for 57 years. The affluent circumstances of his family made it unnecessary for him to waste his energies in miscellaneous work to supplement his livelihood, as was the case with his contemporary and associate Leon *Modena, after whose death in 1648 he became senior rabbi of the community. Unlike Modena he objected to the presence of gentiles at his sermons in the synagogue, though he had some non-Jewish pupils, including, for a month in 1646, the French mystic Charles de Valliquierville. Luzzatto was one of seven members of the yeshivah kelalit of Venice. He became head of this rabbinic council in 1648, after the death of Modena. Shortly after this, he became involved in a drawn-out dispute with the lay leaders of the community over the question of rabbinical ordination, on which he insisted in having a deciding voice. Among his responsa was one (no longer preserved) which permitted travel by gondola in Venice on the Sabbath. His work Socrate ovvero dell'humano sapere, dedicated to the Doge (1651), written in dialogue form with Socrates as the principle interlocutor, is an attempt to demonstrate that human reason is impotent unless assisted by revelation. There is nothing specifically Jewish about this work, which shows a considerable degree of competence in philosophy and in classical literature (though not in Greek), and is a remarkable exemplification of the degree of culture prevailing at this time in the Italian ghettos. His most important publication, however, was his work Discorso circa il stato de gl' hebrei et in particolar dimoranti nell'inclita città di Venetia (1638), in which he put forward reasoned arguments for the toleration of the Jews especially on economic grounds, given their role in international trade. He argued that they performed functions that could be achieved by no other element, while on the other hand, unlike foreign merchants, they were completely under the control of the government and would not transfer their profits outside the state. This was the first apologetic work of its type and the first in which economic arguments were brought forward systematically in order to advocate the toleration of the Jews, their retention of residential rights, and their unique commercial privileges. It is difficult to know if Luzzatto actually believed all of his arguments or just used them to defend the Jews of Venice and to strengthen his case. Of note is his refutation of Tacitus' view of the Jews. Indeed, since he devotes a major portion of the Discorso to his argument, it must be viewed as a rebuttal of contemporary political thought even more than a work of apologetics. Luzzatto emphasizes the decisive role of the Jewish community of Venice in the development of the city. A reply to the work was published by the Christian priest Melchior Palontritti under the title Breve Risposta a Simone Luzzatto (1642). A Hebrew translation was published in Jerusalem in 1950; and an English translation was prepared early in the 18th century by the English deist John *Toland (though not published), who used Luzzatto's arguments lavishly in his book of 1714 advocating the naturalization of the Jews. It is now known that the book was written at great speed when a dangerous crisis developed for the Venetian Jews owing to the discovery of large-scale commercial frauds in which some leading families were implicated.

Luzzatto also wrote an Italian treatise in which he vindicated the authority of tradition and of the Oral Law (now lost, but referred to by Samuel Aboab in his responsa, Devar Shmuel (1702), n. 152). He is said to have also written Trattato delle opinioni o dogmi degli ebrei e dei riti loro principali (Fuerst, Bibliotheca, 284) and, together with Leone de Modena, a work on the Karaites (Wolff, Bibliotheca, vol. 3, 347). He is also reputed to have had considerable competence as a mathematician. Luzzatto's pupil, the apostate Giulio Morosini, reports in his Via della Fede several instances of his liberal mind and outspokenness in matters of religion, shown for example when in 1649 he arbitrated a dispute between two former Marranos about the "seventy weeks" of Daniel. He is also said to have spoken contemptuously of the Kabbalah and to have disbelieved in the preservation of the Lost Ten Tribes. Christian contemporaries, misunderstanding his freedom of spirit, reported that he was prevented by force from embracing Christianity on his deathbed.


S.D. Luzzatto, Autobiografia… (1882), 12–17, 33–36; Y.F. Baer, Galut (1947), 83–92; L. Blau, Leo Modenas Briefe und Schriftstuecke (1907), index; S. Luzzatto, Ma'amar al Yehudei Veneẓyah (1951), prefaces by Bachi and Szulwas; In Memoria di A. Sacerdoti (1936), 99–113; C. Roth, Venice (1930), 227–31; F. Secret, Kabbalistes Chrétiens de la Renaissance (1964), 328; Szulwas, in: huca, 22 (1949), 18–20 (Heb. pt.); Steinschneider, in: mgwj, 43 (1899), 418f. add. bibliography: B. Ravid, Economics and Toleration in Seventeenth Century Venice: The Background and Context of the Discorso of Simone Luzzatto (1978); idem, in: Mystics, Philosophers, and Politicians; Essays in Jewish Intellectual History in Honor of Alexander Altmann (1982), 159–180; idem, in: ajs Review, 7/8 (1983), 301–51; B. Septimus, in: Jewish Thought in the Seventeenth Century (1987), 399–433; I. Barzilay, in: Jewish Social Studies, 31 (1969), 75–81; L. Roubey, in: Journalof Reform Judaism, 4 (1981), 57–63; A. Melamed, in: Studies in Medieval Jewish History and Literature, 2 (1984), 143–70; idem, in: Gli Ebrei e Venezia, secoli xiv-xviii; atti del Convegno internazionale… Venezia, giugno (1983), 507–25; website:

[Cecil Roth /

David Derovan (2nd ed.)]