Italian scholar, rabbi, and poet; son of Isaac of Modena and Diana Rachel; born April 23, 1571, at Venice; died there March 24, 1648. He was a descendant of a prominent French family. His grandfather Mordecai became distinguished both as a physician and as a philanthropist, and was raised by Charles V. to the rank of Knight of the Order of the Golden Fleece. Leon was a precocious child. His father, who was then in good circumstances, gave him a complete education, not neglecting even such worldly accomplishments as singing and dancing. Leon's masters were successively Azriel Bassola, Hezekiah Galico, Hezekiah Finzi, and Samuel Archevolti. At the age of twelve Leon translated into Hebrew verse the first canto of Ariosto's "Orlando Furioso," and about a year and a half later he wrote his dialogue against gambling, which passed through ten editions and was translated into Latin, French, German, and Judæo-German. Even at this early age he was not only well versed in Hebrew and rabbinical literature, but was conversant with the classics and possessed a fair knowledge of mathematics, philosophy, and natural history.

There was, however, one thing that nature had denied to this highly gifted youth—a stable character. Like all poets, he lived upon his emotions. By the irony of fate, Leon, who had fulminated against gambling, developed a passion for all games of hazard, and, being too weak to overcome it, attributed the fault to the astral influences under which he had been born. This passion, which is probably accountable for his inconsistencies, had a large share in the misfortunes which filled his life. He had scarcely reached maturity when his father became impoverished, and Leon had to seek his own livelihood. In 1590 he married, and won a living by teaching. After the death of his father, in 1592, he settled at Venice, where he was appointed (1594) member of the rabbinate and preacher. In the latter capacity he was especially successful; his addresses in Italian attracted large audiences, including Christian priests and noblemen. Leon's successes as an orator and poet won for him the consideration of the Christian scholastic world, and admitted him to the highest Venetian circles. He had among his pupils Louis Eselin (a nobleman of the French court), the Archbishop of Lodève, John Plantanit, Jacob Gaffarelli, and Giulio Morosini.

Family Misfortunes.

Besides preaching and teaching, Leon exercised not less than twenty-six professions (press-corrector, notary, bookseller, etc.); but all his resources were swallowed up in gaming, and his material condition was rendered thereby a source of perpetual anxiety. To his monetary troubles was added a series of family disasters. Of his three sons, Mordecai, who was endowed with great ability, died at the age of twenty-six; Zebulon was killed in a brawl with his comrades; the third, Isaac, after having led a life of dissipation, emigrated to Brazil, and was never thereafter heard from. Of his two daughters, one died during his lifetime; the second lost her husband, and she and her family became thereby dependent upon Leon for support. In 1641 Leon's wife became insane, and remained in that state until her death. Amid all these trials Leon continued to study, write books, compose poems, relieve the distresses of others, so far as that was in his power, and—gamble. This last occupation involved him, in 1631, in a struggle with the leaders of the community, who launched an excommunication against any that should play cards, or take part in any other game of hazard, within the period of six years. On this occasion Leon wrote a brilliant dissertation, in which he demonstrated that the leaders had acted against the Law; the excommunication was accordingly revoked.

The community of Venice in the seventeenth century must have been animated by a spirit of tolerance, for Leon continued to remain a member of the rabbinate until his death, although no doubt could be entertained as to his anti-Talmudic sympathies after the publication, in 1635, of his "Bet Yehudah" (known also under the title "Ha-Boneh"). This work contains all the haggadot omitted by the "'En Ya'aḳob"; in the accompanying commentary Leon points out the differences between the religious customs of the Jews of Palestine and of those living in other countries, showing thereby that the rabbis and scholars of any period have the right to modify Talmudic institutions (Shab. i.). He derides the haggadot, although he concedes that some of them contain salutary moral teachings. In the "Bet Yehudah," Leon went no further than to show his preference for religious reform; but he attacked traditional Judaism in a pseudonymous work entitled "Ḳol Sakal"; this work, either because in the meantime he had actually changed his views, or because he desired more thoroughly to conceal its authorship, he later endeavored to refute in another work entitled "Sha'agat Aryeh," which remained unfinished.

Leon of Modena.Attacks Traditionalism.

The "Ḳol Sakal" comprises three treatises, subdivided into chapters. In the first treatise the author deals with the existence of God, the Creation, the purpose of the world, reward and punishment, and the divine origin of the Law. In the second treatise he criticizes rabbinical interpretation of the Law. He contends that, like the Karaites, the Rabbis often followed the letter of the Law to the neglect of its spirit. He asserts that the use of phylacteries is not commanded by Biblical law; that the operation of circumcision is not performed in the manner prescribed;and that rabbinical interpretation is often in direct opposition to the Law. That there was no traditional interpretation before Antigonus is seen from the existence of various sects during the time of the Second Temple. The third treatise enumerates the laws which must be reformed in order to bring the later Judaism into harmony with the Law, and render it spiritual and Biblical. The author proposes the simplification of the prayers and synagogal service, the abolition of many rites, the relaxation of Sabbath festivals, of Passover, and even of the ritual of the Day of Atonement. Fasting should not be carried beyond the ordinary physical and spiritual powers of the individual concerned. The dietary laws should be abrogated, or at least simplified; the prohibition against drinking wine with those of other creeds, obedience to which exposed Jews to derision, should be abolished.

The "Ḳol Sakal" and "Sha'agat Aryeh" were published by Isaac Reggio under the title "Beḥinat ha-Ḳabbalah" (Göritz, 1852). A discussion arose at the time of its appearance as to whether the "Ḳol Sakal" was written by Leon himself or whether, as is pretended in the "Sha'agat Aryeh," it proceeded from a certain Amittai ibn Raz of Alkala. It has even been suggested with some plausibility that both these works, instead of being written by Leon, were merely attributed to him by I. S. Reggio (see Deutsch, "Theory of Oral Tradition," p. 39; "Epochs of Jewish History," pp. 23 et seq., New York, 1894). But a comparison between the ideas expressed by Leon in his "Bet Yehudah" and elsewhere and those expounded in the "Ḳol Sakal" leaves little doubt as to his authorship. Indeed, several of the criticisms, as, for instance, those concerning circumcision and the second day of festivals, are found expressed in the same terms in Leon's "Magen weẒinnah" (published by A. Geiger, Breslau, 1856), which contains answers to eleven objections to the rabbinical interpretation of the Law brought, according to Leon, by a Marano of Hamburg.

Attacks Cabala.

Though brilliantly written, these works are of comparatively little value; neither criticisms nor refutations are profound enough to survive thorough investigation. Far superior is Leon's "Ari Nohem" (published by Fürst, Leipsic, 1840), which contains an attack upon the Cabala. It is divided into three parts, comprising altogether thirty-one chapters. Leon first demonstrates that Cabala can not be considered as a science, and then shows that the Zohar, on which it is based, is a modern composition. In addition to the works cited, Leon wrote:

  • Sur me-Ra'. A dialogue between Eldad and Medad on games of hazard. Venice, 1596; Prague, 1615; Leyden, 1656. Translated into Latin by Aug. Pfeifer (Wittenberg, 1665) and by Thomas Hyde (Oxford, 1698, 1702, 1767); into German, with the Hebrew title "Ẓaḥḳan Mellumad we-Mitḥareṭ," by Fr. Abb. Christiani (Leipsic, 1683; Frankfort-on-the-Main, 1713; Fürth, 1723); into Judæo-German, with the Hebrew title "Ẓaḥḳan Mussari," by Asher Anshel (Amsterdam, 1698); into French by Carmoly (Paris, 1841).
  • Sod Yesharim. One hundred enigmas and remedies. Venice, 1594; Verona, 1647; Amsterdam, 1649; Frankfort-on-the-Main, 1702. Another edition gives neither date nor place of publication.
  • Ẓemaḥ Ẓaddiḳ. An ethical work, translated from the Latin, with moral sayings taken from Bible and Talmud. Venice, 1600; Wilna, 1855; New York, 1899.
  • Midbar Yehudah. Twenty-one sermons. Venice, 1602.
  • Galut Yehudah. Explanations, in Italian, of all the difficult expressions found in the Bible, in the sayings of the Fathers, and in the Haggadah of Passover; preceded by a number of grammatical rules. Venice, 1612. Republished at Padua and Venice in 1640, with an Italian-Hebrew vocabulary entitled "Pi Aryeh."
  • Leb Aryeh. A method of mnemonics applicable in all sciences, with the 613 commandments according to Maimonides. Venice, 1612; Wilna, 1886.
  • Bet Leḥem Yehudah. An index of the sources of all the passages found in the "'En Ya'aḳob." Venice, 1625; Prague, 1705.
  • Ẓebi Esh. An abridgment of Isaac Abravanel's commentary on the Haggadah of Passover, with an Italian translation. Venice, 1629, 1664, 1695; Sulzbach, 1774; 1834; with a German translation, Fürth, 1804.
  • Tefillot Yesharim. Prayers and seliḥot for all occasions.
  • Ben Dawid. Controverting the doctrine of metempsychosis. Included by Eliezer Ashkenazi in the "Ṭa'am Zeḳenim." Frankfort-on-the-Main, 1855.
  • Magen wa-Ḥereb. Attacks upon Christian dogmas. Published in part, together with the "Magen we-Ẓinnah," by A. Geiger, Breslau, 1856.
  • Ha-Abot bi-Yehudah. Commentary on the Pirḳe Abot.
  • Commentaries on the Pentateuch, the Five Scrolls, the books of Samuel, Proverbs, and the Passover Haggadah.
  • Rashi's commentaries on Proverbs and the books of Job and Daniel. Included in the "Biblia Rabbinica."
  • Pitron ha-Millot. Explanations of the special terms used in logic and philosophy.
  • Ḥibbur. Models of Hebrew composition; a Hebrew translation of Ecclesiastes and the books of Maccabees, etc.
  • Derashot. Four hundred sermons.
  • Commentary on the Hafṭarot.
  • Mibḥar Yehudah. The nature of the work is unknown.
  • Pesaḳim. Halakic decisions on synagogal music. Venice, 1605; Vienna, 1861. Published as a supplement to "Ben Chananja," 1861, No.27. On the excommunication launched by the leaders of the community of Venice against all games of hazard. Venice, 1631. Contained also in "Paḥad Yiẓḥaḳ," s.v. . On the use of ordinary straps for phylacteries. Included in the responsa "Debar Shemuel," of Samuel Aboab, No. 19.
  • Leḳeṭ Yehudah. Collection of halakic consultations.
  • Shire Yehudah. Collection of Hebrew poems. Neubauer, "Cat. Bodl. Hebr. MSS." No. 2185.
  • Ḥayye Yehudah. Autobiography; published in part by Isaac Reggio, in the introduction to the "Beḥinat ha-Ḳabbalah," and in part by Geiger.
  • Historia dei Riti Ebraici, Vita e Osservanze degli Hebrei di Questi Tempi. Paris, 1637; Venice, 1638, 1673, 1678, 1687, 1715. Written, at the request of an English nobleman, for James I.; translated into English by Ed. Chilmead (London, 1650) and by S. Ockley (ib. 1707, 1753); into French by Recared Simon (Paris, 1671, 1681, 1710); into Dutch by Aug. Gedaret (Amsterdam, 1683); into Latin by J. Val. Grossgebauer (Frankfort-on-the-Main, 1693); into Hebrew, under the title "Shulḥan 'Aruk," by Solomon Rubin, with notes by A. Jellinek (Vienna, 1867).
  • Ziḳne Yehudah. Responsa, cited by Moses Ḥagiz in his "Leḳeṭ ha-ḳemaḥ." It is, perhaps, identical with "Leḳeṭ Yehudah."
  • Oẓar ha-Ḥayyim. On the Cabala.

The following are of doubtful authorship: "Or Ṭob," explanations of difficult Hebrew words (Amsterdam, 1675 [Venice, 1681, under the title "Or Luz"; ib. 1701, under the title "Or Lusṭru"]), and "Parashot ha-Kesef," a commentary on four sections of the Pentateuch (Neubauer, "Cat. Bodl. Hebr. MSS." No. 2549). Steinschneider attributes also to Leon the work on chess entitled "Ma'adanne Melek." Leon edited a great number of works, which he provided with prefaces, poems, and approbations; and he assisted the musical composer Solomon de Rossi in the publication of his work on Synagogal music.

  • Azulai, Shem ha-Gedolim;
  • De Rossi, Dizionario, p. 231;
  • Geiger, Leon de Modena, Breslau, 1856;
  • Luzzatto, Iggarot, i. 288-293;
  • Joseph Almanzi, Higgayon be-Kinor, p. 70, Venice, 1839;
  • Isaac Reggio, Iggarot, ii. 74 et seq.;
  • idem, in Kerem Ḥemed, ii. 156-158;
  • Jost's Annalen, 1841, p. 68;
  • Orient, No. 5;
  • Soave, in Corriere Israelitico, 1863-65;
  • idem, in Arch. Isr. 1877, p. 73;
  • Steinschneider, Cat. Bodl.col. 1351;
  • idem, in Monatsschrift, xliii. 311;
  • Neubauer, in Letterbode, iii. 99-109;
  • idem, in R. E. J. xxii. 84;
  • Zunz, Literaturgesch. p. 427;
  • Libowitz, Rabbi Yehudah Aryeh Modena, Vienna, 1896; 2d ed., New York, 1901;
  • Simon Stern, Der Kampf des Rabbiner's Gegen den Talmud, Breslau, 1902;
  • Michael, Or ha-Ḥayyim, pp. 439-444;
  • Simonsen, in Berliner's Festschrift, pp. 337 et seq.;
  • M. H. Friedländer, in Ocsterreichische Wochenschrift, 1902, p. 87.
G. I. Br.
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