Hacham Yehuda Aryeh of Modena

A Short Tribute

Hacham Yehuda Aryeh of Modena was born to Rachel and Yitzhak on 28 Nissan, 5331 (1571) in Venice, Italy.

He studied principally with the Sages of Italy, including Rabbi Samuel Judah Katzenellenbogen and Hacham Azriel ben Rabbi Moshe Basolla. He was a child prodigy, proficient in both Torah and secular lore. He made his living as a teacher and, at the age of twenty-two, was already appointed dayan and recognized as a preacher. Many people, including Christian notables, flocked to hear him preach his powerful and clear ideas in rich and poetic language; he often gave his sermons in Italian. He was eventually appointed Chief Rabbi of Venice, and his excellent relations with Christians served him well in his public work for the benefit of the Jewish community.

Hacham Yehuda Aryeh edited the books written by the Jewish sages of his generation and was often asked to write the epitaphs for those among them who died during his lifetime. He wrote many books of his own, and authored his first one at the age of thirteen. In it, he conducts a dialogue condemning gambling and lotteries, having lost significant amounts of money to lotteries himself.

Despite having studied mysticism and quoting the Zohar in his books, he was opposed to the study of this domain and, in particular, to the belief in reincarnation.

His personal life was overshadowed by sorrow and pain. Two of his sons died during his lifetime and his wife Rachel, who was his cousin, suffered from mental illness. His agony was so constant that his signature is often followed by descriptions such as "the broken-hearted" and "the sorrowful and broken".

Hacham Yehuda Aryeh of Modena passed away on 27 Adar, 5408 (1648).

He many book touched on varied topics, and include Ziknei Yehuda – Responsa, Midbar Yehuda – sermons, Sha'agat Aryeh – a refutation of Karaites,  Ari Nohem – a refutation of reincarnation, Magen VeHerev – a debate against Christian ideas, Tefillot Yesharim – various prayers, Pi HaAryeh – an Italian-Hebrew dictionary, Tzemakh Tzaddik – on ethics and worldviews.


A few quotes from the Rabbi on 'Customs of Israel' in which he teaches that the holy Sabbath is like a bride, and that it is a mitzvah to adorn it with rejoicing of all kinds
There are those among us versed in the art of song, that is, in music. Six or eight members of our community raise their voices in praise and song on holidays and festivals in synagogue – honoring the LORD with Ein K'Eloheinu, Yigdal, Adon Olam and the like, in the orderly, proportionate, and artistic manner described above. An individual came up to dismiss them by saying it is inappropriate and forbidden to rejoice so, celebration is forbidden and singing – as they, musicians by craft, do – is forbidden, ever since the Temple was destroyed, since it says "Israel, rejoice not in song as do the nations"… Response: Singing when drinking wine or indulging in regal pleasures and the like are all forbidden because of the Destruction and the Exile…but when it serves the fulfillment of a commandment, such as in the case of a bride and groom and the like, even a youth will realize that this is entirely permissible… Nobody with a mind in their head will doubt that praising God through song in synagogue on the Sabbath and on festivals is considered a commandment. For we consider every holy Sabbath as a bride who is to be adorned and celebrated with rejoicing of all kinds, and so it is with festivals as well. It is also a mitzvah for cantors to sing in their most pleasant voice.
A Collection of Writings, p. 163 – 164, published by the Dorot Library, Bialik Institute, Jerusalem 1968