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MOSES BEN ISAAC (GAJO) OF RIETI:

Italian physician, philosopher, and poet; born at Rieti in 1388; died at Rome about 1460. After having received instruction in Talmud and Hebrew literature from his father, he devoted himself to the study of medicine and philosophy. He remained at Rieti practising medicine until after the death of his father, which occurred about 1422. In 1436 Moses was at Perugia; and a school founded by him at Narni was mentioned in 1452. During the pontificate of Eugene IV. he went to Rome, where he officiated as rabbi. While there he wrote to the Jewish communities of Italy asking them to contribute to the payment of the taxes imposed upon the Jews of Rome for the privilege of the free exercise of their religion. Pope Pius II. appointed Moses his physician.

His "Divine Comedy."

Moses began writing very early. Fascinated by Dante's "Divina Commedia," when he was only twenty-one years of age he conceived the idea of imitating it in Hebrew; this idea he carried out seven years later in a work entitled "Miḳdash Me'aṭ." In this poem the "Dante Ebreo," as he was called, showed himself an innovator by successfully introducing into Hebrew poetry the "terza, rima." The "Miḳdash Me'aṭ" is divided into two parts: the first, entitled , comprises five cantos; the second, called comprises eight. In the first part, after having excused his brevity and given some information regarding himself, the poet reviews the thirteen Maimonidean articles of belief; the number and division of the sciences according to Alfarabi, Ghazali, Averroes, and Maimonides; the "Isagoge" of Porphyry and Ibn Roshd's commentary upon it, with notes on the latter by Levi ben Gershon; the categories of Aristotle, with Ibn Roshd's commentary and Levi ben Gershon's notes.

In the second part the poet enters the "Sanctuary" ("Hekal"), the abode of the souls of the Patriarchs, the Prophets, the doctors of the Law, and the martyrs. Thence he passes to the "Abode of the Suppliants" ("Me'on ha-Sho'alim"), where he addresses a prayer to God. Then he enters the "City of God" ("'Ir Elohim"; i.e., Holy Scripture), through which he reaches the "Ships of the Soul" ("Aniyot ha-Nefesh"), represented by Mishnah and Talmud. Afterward he passes in review the Tannaim, Amoraim, Geonim, and the scholars. To this part, which gives interesting information for the history of Jewish literature, Moses added historical and literary notes, in which he sometimes cites the works of those whom he mentions in his poem, and gives his reasons for having omitted to mention certain others. He omitted Levi ben Gershon, Moses Narboni, and Isaac Albalag because of their conception of the Deity, with which he could not agree; the omission of Emanuel of Rome is on account of the latter's love-songs; and that of Mostin di Erera is due to his attacks on the Cabala.

Its Popularity.

The "Miḳdash Me'aṭ" enjoyed great popularity among the Italian Jews. The second song in the second part, the "Abode of the Suppliants," was recited as a liturgical poem in the synagogues. It has been translated many times into Italian, in both prose and verse—by Eliezer Maẓliaḥ ben Abraham Cohen (Venice, 1585), the poetess Deborah Ascarelli (Venice, 1601-2), Samuel de Castel Nuovo (Venice, 1609), and by many others; these translations are still extant in manuscript. The text of the whole work was published by J. Goldenthal (Vienna, 1851).

Moses was the author of another poem, which was probably composed before the "Miḳdash Me'aṭ," and copies of which are still preserved in manuscript in the principal European libraries; it is entitled "Iggeret Ya'ar ha-Lebanon," and contains explanatory descriptions of the ornaments and vessels which were used in the Temple.

In his later years Moses abandoned poetry and devoted himself to philosophy and apologetics. He wrote six works in this province: (1) A philosophical-theological work, apologetic in tendency, written in Italian and divided into three parts. The first part discusses the natural philosophy of Aristotle; the second is a treatise upon God; the third, of which only a fragment has been preserved, covers Jewish history from the beginning to the time of the author (Steinschneider, "Cat. Leyden," pp. 350, 404). (2) An apologetic work, in sixty-two chapters,directed against a friar who preached anti-Jewish sermons at Rome (Neubauer, "Cat. Bodl. Hebr. MSS." No. 818, 2). According to Vogelstein and Rieger's "Gesch. der Juden in Rom" (ii. 73), the friar referred to was Giannozzo Manetti, the secretary of Nicholas V. and Calixtus IV. (Moses of Rieti became prominent also through a controversy he sustained with several Jewish converts in the presence of Sigismund Malatesta of Rimini.) (3) Notes on Levi ben Gershon's commentaries on Averroes (Neubauer, "Cat. Bodl. Hebr. MSS." Nos. 1373, 1389, 1955). (4) Notes on Moses Narboni's commentary on Ghazali's "Maḳaṣid al-Falasifah" (Steinschneider, "Cat. Munich," Nos. 110, 121). (5) Notes on Averroes' commentary on the "Isagoge" of Porphyry (De Rossi MSS., Parma, Nos. 458, 1, 12,009, 1). (6) A commentary on the aphorisms of Hippocrates (ib. 1365, 4; Steinschneider, "Cat. Leyden," p. 289). Moses' last production was an elegy ("ḳinah") on his wife Zilla (Zippora, Sarah), who died at the age of seventy after fifty-two years of married life.

Bibliography:
  • Zunz, in Geiger's Jüd. Zeit. ii. 321-322;
  • Luzzatto, in Dukes' Ehrensäulen, p. 50;
  • Carmoly, in Jost's Annalen, i. 55, 63;
  • idem, in Orient, Lit. ii. 234;
  • Steinschneider, Cat. Bodl. col. 1984;
  • idem, Hebr. Uebers. pp. 28, 76, 462, 660;
  • Berliner, Gesch. der Juden in Rom, ii. 121;
  • Güdemann, Gesch. ii. 127;
  • Vogelstein and Rieger, Gesch. der Juden in Rom, ii. 68 et seq.
J. I. Br.
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