Hacham Simcha Luzzatto

5342 - 5 Kislev 5423      

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Hacham Simcha Luzzatto

A Short Tribute

Hacham Simcha Luzzatto, the son of Hacham Yitzhak Luzzatto, was born in Venice, in 1582. As a youth, he studied at the Yeshiva Clalit in Venice, whose heads served as the city’s rabbinic committee. Among his teachers, one can count Hacham Samuel Yehuda Katzenellenbogen, Hacham Avigdor Cividal and Hacham Yaacov Hailperon, author of Nachlat Yaacov. Hacham Yaacov Hailperon, who was a friend of the Luzzatto family, engaged Hacham Simcha Luzzatto in his studies, and brings a few of the latter’s Reponsa in his book. Hacham Simcha Luzzatto, in addition to his Torah studies, delved into general knowledge and was particularly proficient in the domain of international trade, as can be seen from his book, An Essay on the Jews of Venice.

In 1606, at the age of 24, he was appointed one of the seven Venice Sages. In 1638, his Essay on the Jews of Venice was published in Italian. Among his more famous Responsa, some of which remain in manuscript form to this day, one counts Mish’an Mayim, in which he approves the kashrut of the ritual bath in the city of Rajo, Syria, overruling preceding disqualifications.

In 1648, following the death of Hacham Yehuda Arieh of Modena, he was chosen to serve in his stead as the city Rabbi and as Head of the Clalit Yeshiva. Part of his public role involved leading the Great Synagogue of Venice. He founded the Eretz Israel Talmud Torah – a study house for those who had reached Venice from the Land of Israel and the Middle East, Venice being an international trade center during that period. He was party to the founding of the Prisoners Release committee. In his rulings he emphasized the advantage of permitting (rather than forbidding), and thus allowed crossing the river in a ferry on the Sabbath; he endorsed values of religious moderation and interfaith tolerance, and mediated between Enlightenment values and Torah values. In 1661, he published a book of philosophy in Italian on human knowledge according to Socrates.

Hacham Simcha Luzzatto passed away on 5 Kislev 5423 (1663) and was buried in the Lido cemetery, adjacent to the city of Venice.

A few quotes from the Rabbi on 'Israel and the Nations' in which he teaches the Torah’s direct approach to the Nations of the World at the time it was given

He thus ruled that people act in goodwill and in unity, for each person must consider him or herself as a citizen of the one and only republic. He planted this love and charity in human hearts at the very moment that He taught humans knowledge and wisdom, for humankind in its entirety was created by a single God. The progeny of one father, Adam, followed by the seed of Noah, went on to multiply throughout the world. The prophet Malachi therefore said, “Have we not all one Father? Did not one God create us? Why do we break faith with one another, profaning the covenant of our ancestors?” The prophet calls on two reasons to arouse this tender love in our hearts, to love one another and not wound the other’s pride. First, because humankind all share the same Father and are therefore equally related and free; they share in the inheritance of the world's riches. Second, because we are the creations of one God and His creatures… All we have said thus far serves as faithful testimony and true evidence that a Jew may not commit any inhumane deed that risks hurting any person whose customs and faith differ from Jewish customs and faith – so long as the person respect moral laws and not be impaired by any evil or ugly attribute, and that the person recognize supreme Providence and its unlimited power, its ultimate mercy and wisdom, that rules and sustains everything.

Essay on the Jews of Venice (translated from Italian), Iyunim 13 – 14, pp. 113- 121, Bialik Institute, Jerusalem, 1950