Provençal, Moses ben Abraham

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PROVENÇAL, MOSES BEN ABRAHAM (1503–1575), rabbi. He is sometimes referred to as Moses da Rosa from the town near Vicenza in which he was apparently born. Brother of David *Provençal, Moses was considered one of the greatest talmudists and one of the most illustrious scholars of Italian Jewry in the Renaissance period. For many decades he was rabbi of the Italian community of Mantua, which therefore became a center of talmudic study. Rabbis turned to him from all over Italy and beyond with halakhic problems. With the Catholic Counter-Reformation a sociocultural ferment was set off in Italy, which spread even to the ghettos, with the result that zealous rabbis began to persecute such liberally minded scholars as Moses. Matters reached a head when Moses introduced a new formula for the *Havdalah when a festival immediately followed the Sabbath. The innovation so aroused the wrath of Meir *Katzenellenbogen of Padua and Moses Basilea that they secured his expulsion from office, although for some unknown reason they later repealed the ban. Another ruling, in which he invalidated Samuel Venturozzo's divorce of his wife, the daughter of Joseph Tamari, on the grounds of its having been given under duress – brought down upon him the censure of many Italian rabbis. He appealed with the help of the Court impresario Judah Leone *Sommo to Duke Guglielmo, who granted him a hearing before an impartial rabbinical tribunal. In 1566 he was banned by the rabbis of Venice from holding office for three years. Rabbis in Turkey and Greece also associated themselves with the ban, and even the scholars of Safed entered into the controversy. Moses *Trani supported the excommunication, but many of the outstanding rabbis of Safed, including almost certainly Joseph *Caro, supported Provençal. This was apparently the reason that his second dismissal also was not implemented, since he continued to act as rabbi of Mantua until his death. In 1560 he was asked to decide on the permissibility of playing tennis on the Sabbath. In his reply, which sheds much valuable information on the development of the game, he permitted tennis on the Sabbath provided that there was no betting, that rackets were not used, and it was not played at the time of the sermon. The approbation he gave to the Mantua (1558–60) edition of the Zohar shows him to have been in favor of the publication of kabbalistic works, which was the subject of a dispute in Italy at the time.

Moses' works include: Be'ur Inyan Shenei Kavvim, a dissertation on the Theorem of Apollonius, on two straight lines which never meet, which is discussed by Maimonides and published in the Sabionetta (1553) edition of Maimonides' Guide of the Perplexed. His commentary on this dissertation was translated into Italian by Joseph Shalit (Mantua, 1550) and from Italian into Latin with a commentary by F. Barocius (Venice, 1586); Elleh ha-Devarim, and a commentary, Be'ur Zeh Yaẓa Rishonah (Mantua, 1566), on the Tamari-Venturozzo divorce; Hassagot ("notes") to Me'or Einayim (Mantua, 1573) of Azariah dei Rossi, published at the end of the book; Be-Shem Kadmon (Venice, 1596), abridged rules of Hebrew grammar in poetic form; responsa published in various works. Moses' major literary legacy, responsa, and commentaries on various tractates of the Talmud, and a commentary to Maimonides' Guide of the Perplexed are almost entirely unpublished.


Rivkind, in: Tarbiz, 4 (1933), 366–76; C. Roth, Jews in the Renaissance (1959), 28–29, 236, 266; R.W. Henderson in: jqr, 26 (1935/36), 1–6; Benayahu, in: Rabbi Yosef Caro, ed. by Y. Raphael (1969), 304–5; S. Simonsohn, in: Tarbiz, 28 (1958), 381–92; idem, Toledot ha-Yehudim be-Dukkasut Mantovah, 2 vols. (1962–64), index; I. Tishby, in: Perakim, 1 (1967–68), 140: E. Kupfer, in: Sinai, 63 (1968), 137–60; idem, in: Tarbiz, 38 (1969), 54–60.

[Abraham David]

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Provençal, Moses ben Abraham

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