Rieti, Moses ben Isaac da

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RIETI, MOSES BEN ISAAC DA (1388–after 1460), Italian scholar, physician, and poet. He was born in Rieti. He devoted himself to medicine and philosophy, practicing as a physician in his home town until the death of his father (1422). Under the papacy of Eugene iv, he went to Rome where he held the position of chief rabbi to the local community, and later became private physician to Pope Pius ii. His first literary work is the poem Iggeret Ya'ar ha-Levanon, an epic describing the decorations and vessels in the Temple (Parma, de Rossi Ms. 1394/2).

At the age of 24, Rieti wrote his most important work, Mikdash Me'at, after the fashion of Dante's Divine Comedy, and influenced by the philosophical work of Solomon ibn *Gabirol. Written in a rhetorical rather than poetic style, it is in many ways comparable to Dante's Paradise. The work consists of two parts. The first, Ḥelek ha-Ulam. is subdivided into five chapters and contains 435 strophes. It opens with the author's prayer resembling Dante's "Invocation", in which he introduces himself and his work. Then, in the form of a parody, he reviews Maimonides' 13 Principles of Faith, and the number of sciences and their ramifications according to Averroes, Avicenna, Ghazali, Alfarabi, and Maimonides, the Isagoge of Porfirio, and the commentary of Averroes, as well as Aristotle's Book of Categories with the commentaries of Averroes and Levi b. Gershom. The second part, Ḥelek ha-Heikhal, consisting of eight chapters containing 615 strophes, gives a description of the Celestial Court, where the patriarchs, the prophets, and the nation's saints occupy places of honor. In Me'on ha-Sho'alim he addresses a personal prayer to Moses, begging for a speedy redemption. Ir Elohim ("The City of God") reviews all the biblical figures, while Oniyyot ha-Nefesh presents the Mishnah and the Talmud, omitting not a single one of the tanna'im, amoraim, geonim, and their pupils' pupils, down to the rabbis of his own time. The thematic variety and harmonious poetic form made these works a treasure of Hebrew literature. The author himself was referred to as the "Hebrew Dante" and "Master of Poets", titles which suited neither the author nor his work. The complete text of Mikdash Me'at was published in 1851 by J. Goldenthal, with an introduction in Italian and Hebrew. Rieti lived to see parts of his poetic work sung in the synagogues of Italy. Some parts of Mikdash Me'at were even translated into Italian, while Me'onha-Sho'alim was translated by Eliezer Maẓli'aḥ b. Abraham Kohen (Venice, c. 1585), Deborah Ascarelli (Venice, 1601–02), and Samuel de Castel Nuovo (Venice, 1609). At the end of his life, Moses abandoned poetry and devoted himself entirely to philosophy and apologetics. His last poetic work was an elegy in memory of his wife.


Zunz, in: wzjt, 2 (1836), 321–6; L. Dukes: Ehrensaeulen und Denksteine… (1837), 50; Carmoly, in: Israelitische Annalen, 1 (1839), 55, 63; idem, in: Literaturblatt des Orients, 2 (1841), 234–5; Steinschneider, Cat Bod, no. 6548; Steinschneider, Uebersetzungen, 28–29, 76–77, 462, 660; A. Berliner, Geschichte der Juden in Rom, 2 (1893), 121; Guedemann, Gesch Erz, 2 (1884), 127; Vogelstein-Rieger, 2 (1895), 68–74ff.; Rhine, in: jqr, 1 (1910/11), 348–50; Milano, Italia, 657–8; Davidson, Oẓar, 4 (1933), 450; J. Goldenthal, Il Dante Ebreo (1851); G. Karpeles, Geschichte der juedischen Literatur, 2 (19213), 745ff.; I. Reggio, in: Bikkurei ha-Ittim, 9 (1829), 14; M.A. Shulwass, Hayyei ha-Yehudim be-Italyah… (1956), index.

[Yonah David]