Hacham Eliyahu Benamozegh

A Short Tribute

Hacham Eliyahu Benamozegh was born to Clara and Abraham on 13 Iyyar 5583 (1823) in Livorno, Italy and was their only child. The Benamozegh family was originally from Fez, Morocco.

His father passed away when he was a baby and his mother died in 1827, when he was only four years old. Hacham Eliyahu Benamozegh was raised by his mother's brother, Hacham Yehuda Koriat, with whom he also studied Torah. While studying Bible, Talmud, Midrash and Kabbala, he expanded the scope of his studies to include secular studies and languages. In 1839, at the age of 16, he wrote the introduction to the Maor Veshemesh commentary written by his uncle. While still in his twenties, he began to work as a darshan [preacher]. He was subsequently appointed to the position of dayan, and also taught in the city's rabbinic seminary.

Hacham Benamozegh founded a printing firm in Livorno, where he had Jewish prayerbooks and scholarly books printed, many of which were authored by Moroccan sages; he also had his own works printed there.

Hacham Benamozegh confronted secular knowledge with Torah wisdom and sought to reveal the Torah's inherent truth in this way. According to him, all human knowledge contains sparks of the truth revealed to the People of Israel by the Torah. He did not hesitate in applying sciences, considered suspect by other sages of his time, in interpreting Torah.  

In 1865, three years after the first volume of his commentary on the Torah, Em La'Mikra, was published, the sages of Aram Tzova (Aleppo) burned his book because of Hacham Benamozegh's use of sciences and biblical criticism. While the Jerusalem sages avoided burning his book, they did not accept it, and it was with them in mind that he wrote the Tzori Gilead letter in its defense.

A few quotes from the Rabbi on 'Traditions of the Fathers' in which he instructs us to honoring elders because of their wisdom and histories.
"You shall rise up before the aged, and show deference to the old." Our Sages commented: An aged person means one who has acquired wisdom. Beyond the evidence found in Holy Scripture for their interpretation it was the custom of the ancients to call the wise ones among them "elder"…
It seems superfluous to mention examples of honoring elders among the ancient peoples, it being a known fact. I will mention only one of the highest value…In the land of Greece, when an elder would enter the theater or the circus all those seated would rise to honor him. Once, an old bachelor entered and nobody rose or moved for him. When asked how this elder differed from other elders, they replied: He has not yet given birth to one who will rise before us when we, too, will be as he is today.
Em Lamikra, Leviticus, comments on weekly Torah reading Behar, p. 72b, Eliyahu Benamozegh and Friends Press, Livorno, 1863
A few quotes from the Rabbi on 'Israel and the Nations' in which he teaches that we do not "walk in their statutes" [applies] only in what the Torah distanced from.
When you reply with the verse "neither will you walk in their statutes" I say that this refers only to false beliefs and despicable practices. Otherwise, pray tell, how might an Israelite believe in angels – just as "they" do? How is one to believe in the resurrection of the dead when it was a fundamental belief cherished by the Egyptians? How could we offer sacrifices while they did as well, and how are we to pray, seeing as they did so too? All that can be said is that the verse refers only to those beliefs and actions from which the Torah distanced itself, otherwise we would be at a loss in trying to observe it… and the abhorrence of falsehood will annul the love of it.
Tzori Gilead, in Tradition in the Modern Age, Rabbi Yitzhak Chouraqui Ed., pp.36-37, Yedioth Aharonoth Press, Tel Aviv, 2009
A few quotes from the Rabbi on 'Love of Israel' in which he teaches that brotherly love applies to all types of people, whoever they be.

"Love your fellow as yourself". Since what has been written and taught is to love "your fellow", and not "the people of your nation", we understand "fellow" to include all types of people. It is like saying: Be vigilant from vengeance or from bearing a grudge against the people of your nation, because 'love your fellow', whoever he or she is, is an essential principle.
Indeed, we learn this from what follows later in the text, "The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as one of your citizens; you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt." Should you think that this refers only to a convert who has undertaken to follow all the commandments, what is "who resides with you" meant to teach? A convert would be considered like an Israelite in any place. It teaches that the stranger in question is someone who shares no national affiliation with you, and is only residing with you.
Em Lamikra, Leviticus, comments on weekly Torah reading Kedoshim, p. 46a-b, Eliyahu Benamozegh and Friends Press, Livorno, 1863
A few quotes from the Rabbi on 'Redemption of Israel' in which he teaches that Jewish morality is meant to shape good citizens in the world below as in the world above.
Nobody will deny that the Law of Moses or, more precisely, Judaism, contains two elements that are distinct from each other in nature, in purpose and in the means that serve for their implementation – it contains practice, and it contains morality.
Judaism is, without any doubt, one, and its practice is connected in countless ways to its morality. Jewish practice lends its design from Jewish morality in adopting, at times, the splendor of His holiness and greatness. Yet Jewish morality is not intended only for the shaping of good citizens of Jerusalem Above but also for the shaping of good patriots, good Israelis, and good citizens of Jerusalem Below.
Morals and Practice, in Tradition in the Modern Age, Rabbi Yitzhak Chouraqui Ed., pp.47-48, Yedioth Aharonoth Press, Tel Aviv, 2009
A few quotes from the Rabbi on 'Torah Study' in which he teaches to respect human wisdom and to apply it in Torah study.
Our ancient teachers never lacked respect for human wisdom; in fact, they respected and elevated it, and inscribed it on the slates of their hearts: Did they not state, "All who say a wise thing, even from among the nations, is called wise" and "I will destroy the wise men of Edom"?
The most prominent of them all in this case - and "his words are comely" – was the saintly Rabbi Yehuda Halevy, in his wonderful and enlightened book, the Kuzari. There he speaks in clear, pleasant and sacred language to clearly illustrate that the sages of the Talmud were proficient in wisdom of all types, and that they explained numerous practical and theoretical obscure issues according to general [secular] wisdom.
If the Talmudic sages did so in their time, and Rabbi Yehuda Halevy did so in his generation, what are we, orphaned by orphans, to say? … The need to apply general wisdom and to reject foolishness grows, as does the need to minimize damage and to be more practical.
Tzori Gilead, in Tradition in the Modern Age, Rabbi Yitzhak Chouraqui Ed., pp.26-27, Yedioth Aharonoth Press, Tel Aviv, 2009
A few quotes from the Rabbi on 'Tzedakah and Healing' in which he clarifies that Man is free and therefore deserves dignity and is responsible for the dignity of others.
We have learnt that moral liberty indeed follows from the Torah and provides, to our mind, one of the beautiful explanations against the belief attributed to the Law of Moses as being primitive and arbitrary ruling, as it were.
The idea of human dignity created in Judaism created would be entirely meaningless without the triumphant declaration of liberty. Man is free; he therefore requires constant perfecting.
Israel and Humanity, Chapter 2, Human Dignity, p.126, Harav Kook Institute Press, Jerusalem, 1967