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Morpurgo, Rachel Luzzatto


MORPURGO, RACHEL LUZZATTO (1790–1871), Italian Hebraist and Hebrew poet. Morpurgo was born in Trieste and educated at home in Hebrew classics and secular subjects with her brother David and her younger cousin, Samuel David *Luzzatto (1800–1865), who became a prominent figure in modern Jewish thought and Hebrew literature, known as Shadal. Shadal credited Rachel with a major role in influencing his love for Jewish learning in general and Hebrew poetry in particular. In 1819, when she was 29 years old, Rachel married Jacob Morpurgo, a businessman from Gorzia, despite objections from her family. Devoted to serving her husband, who disapproved of her studies and literary efforts, and eventually the mother of three sons and a daughter, Morpurgo could only write late at night and on Rosh Ḥodesh. In 1847, 30 years after its inception, Shadal published their poetic exchange in Kokhavei Yitzhak, a journal devoted to modern Hebrew literature and enlightenment. Even her husband was proud of the recognition she now received for her talent. Some enlightened readers refused to accept that her Hebrew poems were actually written by a woman; others praised her for rising above women's ordinary activities and called her "Queen of the Hebrew Versifiers." Her letters and poems, in both Hebrew and Aramaic, invoke the matriarchs as well as the patriarchs, the hope for a return to Temple sacrifices in Jerusalem, a rare Hebrew description of a relationship between women, and the burdens of raising her own children. She also expresses her trepidation as a woman entering the literary realm of men. At the age of 65 she offered to work as a servant for Moses *Montefiore and his wife, Judith, passing through Italy on their way to Palestine. Morpurgo regularly signed herself as "The Worm," or "Rimah," the initials of Rachel Morpugo Ha-Ketanah (in Hebrew, "Little Rachel Morpurgo"), expressions of modesty often employed by prominent rabbis. Rachel Morpurgo's poetry, which was translated into several European languages, was included in a few anthologies of modern Hebrew poetry and is remembered in some of the histories of modern Hebrew literature. Critical emphasis is often on her novelty and uniqueness as the first female modern Hebrew poet. Rachel Morpurgo's Hebrew writings were published in Ugav Rahel: Shirim ve-Iggerot, ed. Vittorio (Isaac Ḥayyim) Castiglione (Cracow: Yosef Fisher, 1891; ed. Y. Zemora, Tel Aviv: Mahberot Lesifrut, 1943); and in English in Nina Salaman, Rahel Morpurgo and the Contemporary Hebrew Poets in Italy (London: George Allen & Unwin Ltd., 1924).


H. Adelman, "Finding Women's Voices in Italian Jewish Literature," in: J. Baskin (ed.), Women of the Word: Jewish Women and Jewish Writing. (1994), 50–69; Y. Levine-Katz, "Rachel Morpurgo," in: Judaism 49 (2000), 13–29.

[Howard Tzvi Adelman (2nd ed.)]

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