Italian family, many members of which distinguished themselves as rabbis and scholars. The most prominent of these were the following:

Hananeel ben Jacob Sforno:

Talmudist; lived at Bologna in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries; brother of Obadiah Sforno, who mentions him in the introduction to his commentary on the Pentateuch. A responsum of Hananeel's was inserted by Shabbethai Baer in his "Be'er 'Eshek," § 55.

  • Fürst, Bibl. Jud. iii. 318;
  • Mortara, Indice, p. 61;
  • Mosè, vi. 192.
Israel Sforno:

Talmudist; lived at Viadano in the sixteenth century. A halakic decision of his is quoted in a manuscript collection of 260 responsa of the Italian rabbis (No. 235).

  • Mortara, Indice, p. 61.
Jacob ben Obadiah Sforno:

Venetian scholar of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Shabbethai Bass, and, after him, Wolf, attributed to Jacob a work entitled "Iggeret ha-Ṭe'amim" (Venice, 1600), containing mystic explanations of the accents. The correctness of the ascription is, however, doubted by Steinschneider, who believes that this work is identical with one of the same title by Aaron Abraham ben Baruch.

  • Shabbethai Bass, Sifte Yeshenim, s.v.;
  • Wolf, Bibl. Hebr. i. 1089;
  • Steinschneider, Cat. Bodl. cols. 716, 1255.
Nissim Isaac ben Judah Sforno:

Rabbi at Mantua in the sixteenth century. He was the author of an epistle on the "Cuzari"; and a responsumof his is quoted in the above-mentioned collection.

  • Wolf, Bibl. Hebr. i 915;
  • Mortara, Indice, p. 61.
Obadiah ben Israel Sforno:

Venetian Talmudist of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. He edited Menahem Azariah di Fano's "Yemin Adonai Romemah" (Venice, n.d.); and a responsum of his is inserted in Di Fano's collection of Responsa (Venice, n.d., p. 83).

Obadiah ben Jacob Sforno:

Italian exegete, philosopher, and physician; born at Cesena about 1475; died at Bologna in 1550. After acquiring in his native town a thorough knowledge of Hebrew, rabbinical literature, mathematics, and philosophy, he went to Rome to study medicine. There his great learning won for him a prominent place among scholars; and when Reuchlin was at Rome (1498-1500) and desired to perfect his knowledge of Hebrew literature, Cardinal Domenico Grimani advised him to apply to Obadiah. Equally high was Obadiah's reputation as a casuist. Meïr Katzenellenbogen consulted him on legal questions (Responsa, p. 97, § 48), and Joseph Colon invoked his authority (Responsa, p. 96, No. 192, Sudilkov, 1834). At the request of Israel ben Jehiel Ashkenazi, rabbi of Rome, Obadiah issued a decision in the case of Donina, daughter of Samuel Ẓdarfati, the renowned physician of the pope. About 1525 Obadiah left Rome and led for some time a wandering life. From several letters of that epoch addressed to his brother Hananeel at Bologna it would appear that Obadiah was in poor circumstances. Finally he settled at Bologna, where he founded a Talmudical school, which he conducted until his death.

Obadiah was an indefatigable writer, chiefly in the field of Biblical exegesis. The characteristic features of his exegetical work are respect for the literal meaning of the text and a reluctance to entertain mystical interpretations. He possessed excellent judgment in the selection of explanations from the earlier exegetes, as Rashi, Ibn Ezra, RaSHBaM, and Naḥmanides, and he very often gives original interpretations which betray an extensive philological knowledge. He wrote the following commentaries: on the Pentateuch (Venice, 1567); on Canticles and Ecclesiastes, that on the latter being dedicated to King Henry II. of France (ib.); on the Psalms (ib. 1586); "Mishpaṭ Ẓedeḳ," on Job (ib. 1589); on the books of Jonah, Habakkuk, and Zechariah, published with David ibn Hin's "Liḳḳuṭe Shoshannim" (Amsterdam, 1724). He wrote also "Kawwanat ha-Torah," prefixed to the Pentateuch commentary.

Obadiah was active also in the domain of religious philosophy. In a work entitled "Or 'Ammim" (Bologna, 1537) he endeavored to combat with Biblical arguments the theories of Aristotle on the eternity of matter, on God's omniscience, and on the universality of the soul, as well as various other Aristotelian views that seemed to conflict with religion. In the introduction Obadiah says that he was induced to write his work by the fact that even so great a man as Maimonides had expressed the opinion that all the theories of Aristotle concerning the sublunary world are absolutely correct. Obadiah himself translated the "Or 'Ammim" into Latin and sent it to Henry II. of France, but it has never been published. Another work on religious philosophy by Obadiah is his commentary on the sayings of the Fathers, published in the introduction to the Roman Maḥzor (Bologna, 1540).

Obadiah was also the author of the following works, still extant in manuscript: "Bi'ur le-Sefer Uḳlidas," a paraphrase of the eight books of Euclid, translated from the Arabic (Bibliothèque Nationale, MS. No. 435); "Derashot" (Halberstam MSS., No. 331); "Diḳduḳ Leshon 'Ibri," a Hebrew grammar.

  • Ibn Yaḥva, Shalshelet ha-Ḳabbalah, p. 52, ed. Amsterdam;
  • Gans, Ẓemaḥ Dawid, i. 31a, ed. Offenbach;
  • Conforte, Ḳore ha-Dorot, p. 255;
  • Rossi, Dizionario, p. 294;
  • Wolf, Bibl. Hebr. i. 939;
  • Carmoly, Histoire des Médecins Juifs, i. 147;
  • Geiger, Johann Reuchlin, pp. 37, 105;
  • Steinschneider, Cat. Bodl. col. 2075;
  • Grätz, Gesch. ix. 43;
  • Vogelstein and Rieger, Gesch. der Juden in Rom, pp. 77 et seq.;
  • Finkel, Obadiah Sforno als Exeget.
Osheah ben Nissim Isaac Sforno:

Rabbi at Mantua in the first half of the seventeenth century. A religious poem of his was inserted by Joseph Jedidiah Karmi in his "Kenaf Renanim."

  • Mortara, Indice, p. 61.
Solomon Samuel ben Nissim Israel Sforno:

Rabbi at Asti, later at Venice; died in 1617. Several responsa of his were inserted by Jacob Heilbronner in his "Naḥalat Ya'aḳob" (Padua, 1622). Solomon left in manuscript commentaries on Psalms, Proverbs, Job, Daniel, the Megillot, Ezra, Nehemiah, and Chronicles. He edited the "Cuzari" with the commentary of Judah Moscato (Venice, 1594). On his death a funeral sermon was pronounced by Leon of Modena, who lauded him in the highest terms.

  • Nepi-Ghirondi, Toledot Gedole Yisrael, p. 341;
  • Mortara, Indice, p. 61;
  • Fürst, Bibl. Jud. iii. 318;
  • Berliner, Luḥot Abanim, No. 261.
S. I. Br.
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