COLON, JOSEPH B. SOLOMON:
By: Louis Ginzberg
The foremost Talmudist of Italy in the second half of the fifteenth century; born probably at Chambéry, Savoy, about 1420; died at Padua 1480. Colon (whose name is probably identical with the French "colombe," dove) belonged to the scholarly family of the Trabots, who emigrated from France to Italy in the fifteenth century. The teachers of the boy were his father—himself an eminent Talmudist—and a certain Mordecai b. Nathan. Colon left his home at an early age—not, however, as Grätz says ("Gesch." 3d ed., viii. 253), in consequence of the expulsion of the Jews from Savoy, which took place in 1471. For a time he led a wandering life, and was forced to gain his living by teaching children.
About 1469 he officiated as rabbi in Pieve de Sacco, in Venetian territory, whence he went to Mestre, near Venice. There he became acquainted with a pupil of Israel Isserlein, and was influenced by him in favor of the German Talmudists. Subsequently Colon was rabbi at Bologna and Mantua, and he became involved in a quarrel with Messer Leon, both being banished by the authorities. Thereupon he was made a rabbi at Pavia, and there he became the center of Talmudic learning in Italy. At the same time Colon's decisions in civil as well as religious questions were sought from far and wide—from German cities, such as Ulm and Nuremberg, as well as from Constantinople. He wrote a commentary on the Pentateuch, and novellæ on the Talmud and on the legal codex () of Moses of Coucy; but the responsa, collected after his death by his son-in-law Gershon and by one of his pupils, Ḥayya Meïr b. David, are all that have been printed of Colon's works (ed. princeps, Venice, 1519; several later editions).His Responsa.
Colon's responsa, which are among the classical productions in this field of rabbinical literature, exercised a great influence on the development of rabbinical law. One of the most important was his responsum No. 1, in which he decided that no one could be forced to take a case to an outside court when there was a court in the place where the defendant () was living; for it often happened that rich people took their cases to foreign rabbis in order to make the poor surrender. His responsum No. 4, addressed to the congregation of Regensburg, is also highly important. A number of Jews of that community having been falsely accused, and a sum of money having to be raised for their ransom, the surrounding places and neighboring communities refused to contribute, at least in so far as it was a question of paying a fixed tax instead of making voluntary contributions. Colon decided that te communities in question could not refuse to pay their share, since the same false accusation () might be made against them also, and if the accused in this case were proved innocent and ransomed, they would then be safe from danger.
In his responsa Colon endeavored not only to decide the case in hand, but to establish general principles according to which similar or related cases might be decided. In addition to an astonishing range of reading in the entire rabbinical literature, Colon displays a critical insight into the treatment of the Talmud that is remarkable for his time. This is all the more noteworthy since he was entirely under the influence of the German Talmudists, which preponderated in northern Italy. Colon's great selfconfidence is remarkable; he paid little attention to Jacob ben Asher's "Ṭurim," even then considered the most authoritative law codices; and he cared as little for mere custom (Responsa, No. 161, end). He had, besides, an inflexible regard for right and justice, and never stopped to consider persons. This becomes especially evident in the sharp yet duly respectful manner in which he reproved Israel Bruna, the foremost Talmudist of Germany of his time, when the latter presumed to act as judge in a certain dispute, though he was himself one of the contending parties.His Dispute with Capsali.
It was natural that a man of Colon's stamp should sometimes be carried too far in his zeal for truth and justice; and this happened in his dispute with Capsali, the ḥakam-bashi of Turkey. Having been falsely informed by an emissary ("meshullaḥ") in behalf of the people of Jerusalem that Capsali was very lax in divorce decisions, that he had declared that the betrothed () of a man who had become converted to Christianity should be considered as single, and that he had declared an engagement () void because it had not been entered into according to the laws of the community, Colon, in order to establish the sanctity and inviolability of marriage beyond the power of any individual rabbi, wrote three letters (Resp. Nos. 83, 84, 85) to the president and leaders of the community of Constantinople, threatening to place Capsali under the ban if he did not recall his decisions and do public penance; and at the same time making it understood that in no case would Capsali ever again be allowed to fill the office of rabbi (Resp. No. 83). This decree of an Italian rabbi pronounced against a Turkish colleague was àn unprecedented attack on the rights of the community, and provoked the righteous indignation of the Constantinople community—all the more as it proved to rest upon a groundless and vulgar calumny. Capsali, conscious of having been maligned, did not mince matters in answering Colon's letters; and a bitter discussion arose between the two men, in which the leading rabbis of Germany, Italy,and the Orient took part. It is characteristic of Colon that as soon as he became convinced that he had been the victim of an intrigue, and so had done injustice to the ḥakam bashi, he did not hesitate to make amends. On his death-bed he commissioned his son Perez to go to Constantinople and ask, in his father's name, the forgiveness of Capsali.
- Fränkel, in Litteraturbl. d. Orients, 1848, pp. 365-368, 379-384;
- Fuenn, Keneset Yisrael, pp. 502-503:
- Grätz, Gesch. 3d ed., viii., passim;
- Güdemann, Gesch. des Erziehungs wesens und der Cultur der Juden in Deutschland, pp. 246-251;
- Gross, Gallia Judaica, pp. 221-223;
- Zunz, Z. G. p. 106.