By: Giuseppe Jare
A notable family of Jews that settled in Italy in the second half of the sixteenth century, and occupied an important position in the history of literature and of science. Its prominence originated with three brothers, Jehiel, Vitale, and Moses, who dwelt in the city of Spoleto, where they distinguished themselves in the practise of medicine, and also pursued the study of philosophy. Both Vitale and Moses are favorably mentioned in Tiraboschi's "Storia della Letteratura Italiana."
Bonajuto (Azriel Pethahiah) Alatino was not only a distinguished physician, but he also acquired no inconsiderable reputation as a rabbi, which office he accepted in 1600. His notes upon the "Shulḥan 'Aruk" are quoted as authoritative ("PisḲe Recanati ha-Aḥaronim," xxiv.). He also showed himself a valiant defender of the faith by advocating the Jewish side in a public debate on the immutability of the Mosaic law. This disputation, which took place in April, 1617, was ordered by the pontifical legate in Ferrara; and Alatino's opponent was the Jesuit Alfonso Ceracciolo. When the writer of the present article first published this debate, "Wikkuaḥ 'al Niẓḥiyut ha-Torah" (Debate on the Eternity of the Law), Leghorn, 1876, he was not able to identify the learned Israelite, but a few years later, when he removed to Ferrara, he had the good fortune to find another copy of the manuscript, upon which was noted "A Debate held at Ferrara by the learned physician Rabbi Azriel Alatino " (The memory of the righteous be blessed!). In 1621 Alatino was a member of a delegation sent by the Jewish community of Ferrara to the legate, with the view of preventing the closing of the Ghetto.
Nepi-Ghirondi ("Toledot Gedole Yisrael," p. 290), the authority here, referring to Alatino's death by the formula , mentions among his works one under the title "Torat ha-MuḲẓeh," dealing with the laws of Sabbath and festivals, and a pesaḲ (rabbinical decision), in which he opposes the opinion of R. Nathaniel Trabotti. No other notices of him are known to exist. His son Moses Amram apparently succeeded him in the rabbinical office; for in the list of rabbis of Ferrara there occurs, under date of 1648, the name of Moses Amram, son of R. Azriel Alatino. Under date of 1645 we read the name of Moses, the son of Ḥayyim Alatino, who appears to have been the son of the above-mentioned Vitale.
Two members of this family distinguished themselves in the eighteenth century: Giuseppe Benedetto Alatino (died 1736) established a fund from which two Jewish women of Ferrara were to receive annually a dower (Pesaro, "Appendice alle Memorie Storiche," etc., p. 31); while Bonajuto Alatino was a much-admired preacher in Padua, in the synagogue of R. Isaac Raphael Finzi.
- Steinschneider, Hebr. Uebers. p. 126, note 128;
- Nepi-Ghirondi, Toledot Gedole Yisrael, p. 128.
Jehiel Alatino, probably the eldest of the three, established himself in Todi, where his nephew David de Pomis found him in 1532 in comfortable circumstances,as he states in the preface to his Hebrew "Ẓemaḥ David." He describes Alatino as a renowned physician, and states that he learned a great deal through intercourse with him. When De Pomis wrote this (1587), Jehiel was already dead, since he adds, in mentioning his name, ("of blessed memory").
Moses Alatino, born in 1529, was the half-brother of Jehiel (see preface to "Ẓemaḥ David"). Moses' version of Themistius' paraphrase of the four books of Aristotle's "De Cœlo," printed at Venice, 1574, by Simone Galignano, gives several important facts. In the dedication to Cardinal Luigi d'Este (Aug. 1, 1573) Moses relates how, at the time that he studied philosophy at Perugia under Francesco Piccolomini, he came into possession of an ancient Hebrew manuscript, containing a version of Aristotle's "De Cœlo," and, overjoyed by so precious a discovery, showed it to Bartolomeo Eustacchio, the professor of medicine, who was also a Hebrew scholar, and to his own brother Vitale. Both were greatly pleased with the discovery.
In the course of the next five years (1568-73), Moses applied himself to the task of translating this Hebrew paraphrase into Latin, fully confident that he would thereby produce a work of much value to students. Owing, however, to protracted ill-health, he was unable to complete the work. On his recovery he was urged by several scholars to finish his task, among whom Benedetto Mangiolli of Modena, then in the service of Cardinal d'Este, may be mentioned. Following the dedication of this work is a preface addressed particularly to students of philosophy. Here Alatino gives briefly the history of this important paraphrase, which in the time of Averroes (Ibn Roshd) was translated into Arabic and afterward into Hebrew. He referred also to the many difficulties overcome in turning it into Latin, particularly the finding of clear interpretations for obscure passages, as well as for the Arabic expressions used by the Hebrew translator. Fortunately Alatino obtained the assistance he desired from a physician and philosopher, Elia Nolano, or Elijah ben Joseph of Nola, as has been shown by Kaufmann ("Rev. Ét. Juives," xxxv. 296 et seq.). N. Brüll has published some fragments of this dedication, together with the preface ("Central-Anzeiger für Jüdische Litteratur," Frankfort-on-the-Main, 1891, pp. 135 et seq.). But he omits, among other things, the beginning of the preface, which reads: "Last year I went to the hot springs of Padua in company with my illustrious and most worthy master, Camillo Varani, for the purpose of freeing myself of a peculiar and chronic disease, and when the cure was effected nothing was more agreeable to me than to go to the magnificent lord Francesco Piccolomini, the philosopher learned in every species of science and my most renowned and beloved teacher of philosophy, in order to greet him." Some time previously Piccolomini had been transferred from Perugia to Padua, and Alatino, his old pupil, visited him, in order to show him his version of Themistius' "De Cœlo," although as yet not corrected, and to obtain his opinion of it. Piccolomini examined a number of passages and encouraged Alatino to complete the work. Camillo Varani was one of the sons of Ercole (Hercules), last duke of Camerino; and it is significant that Moses Alatino always earned the respect of his masters and the confidence of distinguished persons. De Pomis states that all Ferrara held Alatino in great esteem, and that he also derived much satisfaction from his own son. The son, whom De Pomis does not mention by name, was doubtless the learned physician and rabbi Bonajuto. Emanuel Alatino, also a son of Moses, can only have been a child at this time, since he died a young man in 1605 ("Luḥot Abanim," p. 125). The version of the Canons of Avicenna (Ibn Sina) does not appear ever to have been completed, but Moses and Bonajuto were still busily occupied with it in July, 1592, as is stated in the licentia medendi (physician's diploma) conferred upon each of them by Pope Clement VIII. ("Rev. Ét. Juives," xix. 135). Moses subsequently became intimate with Josef Zarphati, a Moroccan Jew, who afterward renounced Judaism, and, as Andrea de Monte, became one of the most notorious inquisitors. Relying upon their former friendship, Alatino in 1577 wrote to the monk, telling him of his own studies, and succeeded in inducing De Monte to deal more magnanimously with Hebrew books. This letter, with two others written subsequently, is in the possession of Dr. S. H. Margulies, of Florence.
A certain Moses Amram Alatino writes to his brother Baruch Abram in such a manner as to convey the idea that he was a Marano and desired to enter the Abrahamic covenant, even at an advanced age. But in all probability he is not to be identified with the celebrated physician and philosopher. Moses Alatino, the brother of Vitale and Jehiel, must be identical with the Moses Amram whose epitaph is given in "Luḥot Abanim," No. 45. The date of the epitaph, Nisan 29, 5365, corresponds with the date April 17, 1605, in the mortuary record of the Jewish community of Venice, which mentions a Moses Alatino. Alatino translated the commentary of Galen on the work of Hippocrates, "De Aëre Aquis et Locis," from the Hebrew of Solomon b. Nathan ha-Meati into Latin. Several editions of this translation have been published (Steinschneider, "Cat. Bodl." No. 1768).
Vitale Alatino was known as of high repute in Spoleto, and throughout Umbria, as De Pomis states in his "De Medico Hebræo," where he records that among the various persons treated by Vitale were Pope Julius III. (1550-55) and a certain Bartolomeo Eustacchio, a physician and anatomist, who called Vitale to Perugia.