Vital, David ben Solomon

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VITAL, DAVID BEN SOLOMON (first half of 16th century), rabbi, preacher and paytan, often called Ha-Rofe ("the doctor"). It is conjectured that David Vital was born before 1492 in Toledo (or southern Italy) and was among the Spanish exiles (or those leaving Calabria) who went to Turkey and Greece, eventually settling in Patras. During the Turco-Venetian war (1532), the community of Patras was severely affected and Vital's house was destroyed and his library and works lost. He moved to Arta, where he was apparently accepted as a halakhic authority, and remained there for the rest of his life. In 1534 he signed, together with the local rabbis, takkanot designed to preserve order and modesty in the town. He died apparently after 1536.

Vital was the son-in-law – and perhaps the pupil – of *David b. Ḥayyim of Corfu, whose responsa he collected and for which he prepared a table of contents. He corresponded on halakhah with many contemporary scholars, including Jacob Tam ibn Yaḥya (Responsa Oholei Tam in Tummat Yesharim (Venice, 1622), 81d–83d) and Meir *Katzenellenbogen of Padua, who writes eulogistically "that our father Abraham has in you a son of such caliber that if, God forfend, the Torah were to be forgotten in Israel, you could restore it through your dialectic" (Responsa Maharam Padua, no. 31).

Vital composed rhymed verse on halakhic and theological topics, which reveal his mastery both of Talmud and posekim, grammar and poetry. They include Keter Torah (Constantinople, 1536), a rhymed summary of the 613 commandments, in accordance with the enumeration of Maimonides, plus the seven rabbinical commandments (hence the title, the numerical value of keter being 620). He based himself upon the tradition that the 620 letters of the Ten Commandments hint at the 620 commandments. The work is regarded as a succinct commentary on the Sefer ha-Mitzvot of Maimonides, in that each commandment begins with Maimonides' formulation and concludes with an explanation of it, which sometimes even includes a reply to the critics of Maimonides. Another work is an alphabetic rhymed work on the examination of the lung of an animal after sheḥitah in accordance with the view of Maimonides, which appears as an appendix to the Zivḥei Teru'ah (Leghorn, 1872). Mikhtam le-David (Venice, 1546/7) is a composition intended to prove that the 13 Principles of the Faith are deduced from the Shema (translated into Latin by J.H. Wolf in 1726), to which are appended piyyutim, supplicatory prayers and poems, including a supplication consisting of 1,000 words, each word beginning with the letter "he." Shirei David (1882) is a work on grammar, the intercalation of the calendar, and some biblical expositions.


Zunz, Gesch, 231; Zunz, Lit Poesie, 533f.; Fuerst, Bibliotheca, 3 (1863), 481f.; Michael, Or, no. 714; Ghirondi-Neppi, 83 no. 13; S.M. Chones, Toledot ha-Posekim (1910), 313; Rosanes, Togarmah, 2 (1937–382), 42–44; C. Tchernowitz, Toledot ha-Posekim, 2 (1947), 291–3; H. Friedenwald, Jews and Medicine, 2 (1944), 768f.

[Yehoshua Horowitz]