Hacham Benzion Raphael Hacohen Frizzi

A Short Tribute

Hacham Benzion Raphael Hacohen Frizzi was born in 1756 in Ostiano, in the province of Mantua, Italy. Sixteen years prior to his birth, Mantua came under Austrian rule; persecution of the Jews halted and they were accorded special privileges, including the possibility of studying in public schools. Hacham Benzion Raphael Hacohen Frizzi was the first Jew to benefit from this right. He excelled in his studies and displayed particular aptitude in sciences and mathematics. He moved to Padua, where he completed his studies in medicine. Joseph II, Emperor of Austria, visited Padua and met Hacham Benzion Raphael Hacohen Frizzi. He invited him to the University of Trieste, where his winter residence was; Hacham Benzion Raphael Hacohen Frizzi accepted the invitation.

In 1797 the French conquered Mantua and the Jews of Mantua obtained full rights as citizens. Mantua passed back and forth between France and Austria several times, and the rights of Jews improved or worsened accordingly, until 1814, when the Austrians took definitive control of the province.

In 1831 Hacham Benzion Raphael Hacohen Frizzi returned to Ostiano, where he worked as a physician and was one of the town's sages. He published numerous books during his lifetime, in several different languages, defending the Jewish faith and tradition from its detractors. His wrote books on synagogue customs, on medical science according to the Torah, on engineering and philosophy according to the Bible, on the science of music in the Book of Psalms, and on the miracles in the Torah.

He is best known for his book Petakh Eina'im, a philosophical explanation of Talmudic Midrash written in six volumes, first published in 1815 (the first three volumes), and published a second time in 1878, after his death, in its complete form.

His contemporary Hacham Samuel David Luzzato dedicated a poem of consolation to him after his daughter died in his old age. The song was published in Kinnor Na'im. Hacham Benzion Raphael Hacohen Frizzi passed away on 12 Sivan, 5604 (1844) at the age of 88.


A few quotes from the Rabbi on 'Love of Israel' in which he teaches that working in the fields is as fundamental to Torah as study

The Sages of Yavneh would often say, "I am a creature and my comrade is a creature. My craft is in the city and his in the fields. I rise early to work and he rises early to work. Just as he does not dwell on my work so do I not dwell on his." It is common knowledge that there was a great yeshiva of sages and authors in Yavneh. They nevertheless did not hold themselves in high esteem with prideful or coarse attitudes for having chosen Torah as their craft. They did not scorn simpler folk, as we unfortunately may see in our day, when children's teachers act as though they are above others, and as though they were halakhic adjudicators or presided over the rabbinic courts of our predecessors. On this matter, they said: We consider that our craft of Torah is more important than that of those who work the land in the fields and vineyards; nevertheless, we praise their work and toil as we do our own, for they rise early to their task, as we do. We are not to dwell upon their craft as sages, just as they cannot dwell upon ours. Should you say that they are at a disadvantage for not having time to study Torah, this is not to their detriment, for if they study only a little Torah because they do not known how to study or have little time, they are useful to others through the fruit of their labor. If no seeds are sown and there is no bread for food, the sages among us will die of hunger; those who toil in the fields, therefore, is  fundamental to Torah and to those who study it.

Petackh Eina'im, p. 21b, Livorno, 1878