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.