Moscato, Judah ben Joseph

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MOSCATO, JUDAH BEN JOSEPH (c. 1530–c. 1593), one of the most important rabbis, authors, and preachers of the Italian Jewish Renaissance. He was forced to leave his native town Osimo when the Jews were expelled from the main places in the papal states by Pope Pius v in 1569. Moscato went to Mantua, at that time one of the great centers of Jewish culture and scholarship in Italy. It seems that, not long after his arrival in the city, he became the official preacher of the Mantua community and in 1587 was nominated to the post of chief rabbi.

Spheres of Interest

Moscato's range of learning and knowledge extended over all fields of cultural interest to Jews of the Renaissance, and he was better versed in them than most of his contemporaries. Besides being steeped in Jewish traditional culture, rabbinic literature, and aggadah, he was at home in Jewish medieval philosophy and was also familiar with classical philosophy; he was especially an advocate of Plato and of the medieval neoplatonists and Arab philosophies. Philosophic in his outlook, Moscato was, nevertheless, familiar with the Kabbalah which had become popular in the late 16th century and had begun to influence Italian Jewish intellectuals. His approach to a number of subjects, especially ethics and prayer, was distinctly mystical: he often quotes from the *Zohar, frequently using its ideas without mentioning the source. He also quotes Moses *Cordovero, mostly from his Pardes Rimmonim. Moscato's educational and cultural horizons extended to such secular sciences and disciplines as medicine, music, astronomy, and especially classical rhetoric. In all these fields, he quotes from the classical masters, as well as from medieval works. He was acquainted with a number of contemporary Italian non-Jewish writers, such as Pico della Mirandola, whom he quotes in his Nefuẓot Yehudah (sermon 8, fol. 23c), even supporting a number of obviously christological passages. Moscato, explaining his reliance on non-Jewish sources and his frequent reference to them, states that all the great philosophers had been disciples of ancient Jewish kings and prophets; that philosophy, a Jewish science which was part of Israel's ancient culture, had been lost during the long period of exile and was preserved only in the writings of the non-Jewish students of Jewish teachers. This idea, in vogue from the 13th century, came to explain the existence of non-Jewish philosophy in religious Jewish works. Moscato used it effectively; in his sermon on music, for instance (Nefuẓot Yehudah, sermon 1), he argues in detail that the fundamental concepts of Renaissance music were based on the terms and formulas found in the Psalms, and concludes that King David was the inventor and teacher of the discipline of music, even though in Moscato's times the terms and forms were known in Latin and in Italian.

Moscato's Works

The spirit of the Jewish Renaissance is reflected in Moscato's two major works, Kol Yehudah and Nefuẓot Yehudah. The former (Venice, 1594) is a commentary on *Judah Halevi's Kuzari, which became one of the major influences in 16th-century Jewish ideology in Italy and elsewhere. Moscato's exegesis was a motivating factor in the process and reflected the new interest taken in this author. In his commentary, Moscato also based himself on the writings of other Jewish philosophers who were little read or studied at the time, such as *Philo.

Moscato's second major work, Nefuẓot Yehudah (Venice, 1589), is a collection of sermons preached in Mantua on the major holidays, on the special Sabbaths, at weddings, and at funerals. The sermons, 52 in number, correspond to the number of weeks in a year, signifying a full cycle, even though the sermons were not delivered weekly. Moscato's sermons may be described as a revolutionary innovation in Hebrew homiletic literature. None before him and very few, if any, after him achieved such a high degree of aestheticism in the genre. His sermons clearly reveal the influence of the Renaissance on the dialectic method of Hebrew homiletics. His main purpose was not to teach or educate, but to give aesthetic pleasure to his listeners – the actual congregation sitting before him. His sermons were, therefore, not written to be published as a book; it is rather their oral delivery which is reflected at every point. It is possible that Moscato preached both in Hebrew and in Italian, for it is known that many non-Jewish scholars came to listen to his sermons. However, the sermons collected in Nefuẓot Yehudah were undoubtedly delivered in Hebrew on special occasions; this fact is sometimes referred to directly, sometimes is reflected in the contents. Moscato's great achievement in the field of rhetoric and homiletics lies in the fact that, even though his primary aim was to please his listeners, he also succeeded in being instructive, and in developing some ideas, original either in content or in formulation. He drew on his vast knowledge of philosophy and of the Kabbalah in order to develop ethical ideas and to interpret them in a new way so that they might be acceptable to Jewish culture in Renaissance Italy (see *Preaching). Many of the great preachers in Italy who came after him, including Azariah *Figo (Picho) and Leone *Modena, applied Moscato's ideas and methods of preaching, creating thus a new school in homiletics.

Besides these two major works, Moscato also wrote some poetry: a prayer for rain to be recited in time of drought, composed in 1590; a dirge on the death of R. Joseph *Caro; a dirge on the death of the Duchess of Savoy; and a few other poems. Certain of his exegetical works, mentioned in his known works, have not survived.


I. Bettan, Studies in Jewish Preaching (1939), 192–225; idem, in: huca, 6 (1929), 297–326; A. Apfelbaum, Toledot ha-Ga'on Rabbi Yehudah Moscato (1900); S. Simonsohn, Toledot ha-Yehudim be-Dukkasut Mantovah, 2 (1964), index; C. Roth, Jews in the Renaissance (1959), index.

[Joseph Dan]

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