ROSSI, AZARIAH BEN MOSES DEI:
Italian physician and scholar; born at Mantua in 1513 or 1514; died in 1578. He was descended from an old Jewish family which, according to a tradition, was brought by Titus from Jerusalem. Combining an insatiable desire for learning with remarkable mental power, Dei Rossi early in life became exceptionally proficient in Hebrew, Latin, and Italian literature. He studied simultaneously medicine, archeology, history, Greek and Roman antiquities, and Christian ecclesiastical history. When about the age of thirty he married and settled for a time at Ferrara. Later he is found at Ancona, Bologna, Sabbionetta, and again at Ferrara. In 1571 a terrible earthquake visited the last-named city and caused the death of about 200 persons. The house in which Dei Rossi lived was partly destroyed; but it happened that at the moment he and his wife were in their daughter's room, which remained uninjured. During the disturbances consequent upon the earthquake Dei Rossi lived in an outlying village, where he was thrown into association with a Christian scholar, who asked him if there existed a Hebrew translation of the "Letter of Aristeas." Dei Rossi answered in the negative, but in twenty days he prepared the desired translation, which he entitled "Hadrat Zeḳenim." His account of the earthquake, written shortly after, is entitled "Ḳol Elohim"; he regarded the earthquake as a visitation of God, and not merely as a natural phenomenon.His "Me'or 'Enayim."
Dei Rossi's great work, "Me'or 'Enayim" (Mantua, 1573-75; Berlin, 1794; Vienna, 1829; Wilna, 1863-66), includes the two works already mentioned and a third entitled "Imre Binah." The latter is divided into four parts; the first part contains a survey of the Jewish race at the time of the Second Temple, narrates the origin of the Septuagint, points out the contradictions between some of the beliefs of the Talmudists and the proved results of scientific research, records the origin of the Jewish colonies in Alexandria and Cyrene, chronicles the wars of Bar Kokba against the Romans, etc. Dei Rossi quotes from the writings of Philo, whose orthodoxy he questions. He criticizes him for having allegorized Biblical narratives of facts, and points out that the Alexandrian philosopher never gives the traditional interpretation of the Biblical text.
In the second part Dei Rossi criticizes a number of the assertions of the Talmudists (many of his criticisms being repeated by later commentators), and gives explanations of various haggadic passages which can not be taken literally (as, for instance, the haggadah which attributes the death of Titus to a gnat which entered his brain while he was returning to Rome). The third part is devoted to a study of Jewish chronology and translations from the writings of Philo, Josephus, and others, with commentaries. The fourth part deals with Jewish archeology, describing the shapes of the priestly garments and the glory of the Second Temple, and giving the history of Queen Helen and her two sons.Attitude of His Contemporaries.
It is greatly to Dei Rossi's credit that he followed scientific methods of inquiry in his work and did not rely upon tradition. But this way of dealing with subjects which the multitude reverenced as sacred called forth many criticisms on the part of his contemporaries. Prominent among his critics were Moses Provençal of Mantua (to whom Dei Rossi had submitted his work in manuscript), Isaac Finzi of Pesaro, and David Provençal, who endeavored to defend Philo. Dei Rossi appended to some copies of the "Me'or 'Enayim" an answer to the criticisms of Moses Provençal, and a dissertation entitled "Ẓedeḳ 'Olamim," in which latter he refuted the arguments of Isaac Finzi. Later he wrote a special work entitled "Maẓref ha-Kesef" (published by Filipowski at Edinburgh, 1854, and included by Zunz in the Wilna edition of the "Me'or"), in which he defended his "Yeme 'Olam" against its critics. Dei Rossi, however, had to contend not only with impartial critics, but with the attacks of fanatics who considered him "Me'or 'Enayim" as a heretical work. Joseph Caro commissioned Elisha Gallico to draw up a decree to be distributed among all Jews, ordering that the "Me'or 'Enayim" be burned. But, Joseph Caro dying before it was ready for him to sign, the decree was not promulgated, and the rabbis of Mantua contented themselves with forbidding the reading of the work by Jews under twenty-five years of age.
The "Me'or 'Enayim" attracted the attention of many Christian Hebraists, who translated parts of it into Latin: Bartolocci translated ch. ix. and xxii., in his "Bibliotheca Magna Rabbinica"; Bochart,ch. xvi. and xxi., in his "Hierozoicon" (Leyden, 1712); Buxtorf, ch. ix., xlii., and lix., in his "Tractatus de Antiquitate Punctorum" (Basel, 1648); idem, ch. l. and lx., in his translation of the "Cuzari" (ib. 1660); idem, ch. lvi. and lviii., in his "Dissertatio de Letteris Hebraicis" (ib. 1662); Hottinger, ch. lvi., in his "Cippi Hebræi" (Heidelberg, 1662); Meyer, ch. viii., xiv., and xix., in his version of the "Seder 'Olam" (Amsterdam, 1699); Morin, ch. iii., v., vii., viii., ix., xix., xx., and xlviii., in his "Exercitationes Biblica" (Paris, 1638); Van Dale, ch. ix., in his "Dissertatio Super Aristeam" (Amsterdam, 1708); Voisin, ch. ii., viii., xv., xvi., xxii., xlv., li., lvi., lvii., and lix., in his edition of Raymund Martin's "Pugio Fidei" (Paris, 1651); Voorst, ch. xxiii., xxv., xxxiii., and xxxv., in his translation of the "Ẓemaḥ Dawid" (Leyden, 1644). Ch. xvi. has been translated into English by Raphall ("Hebrew Review and Magazine," ii. 170), and ch. lx. by Bishop Lowth, in the introduction to his translation of Isaiah (London, 1835).
Dei Rossi was the author of a collection of poems (Venice, n.d.), among which are several of a liturgical character.
- De Rossi, Dizionario, p. 280;
- Zunz, in Kerem Ḥemed, v. 131-138, vii. 119-124;
- Rapoport, ib. v. 159-162;
- Steinschneider, Cat. Bodl. col. 747;
- Jost, Gesch. des Judenthums und Seiner Sekten, iii. 123;
- Grätz, Gesch. ix. 405 et seq.;
- Zunz, Literaturgesch, p. 417;
- Ginsburg, Levita's Massoreth ha-Massoreth, p. 52.