Hacham Simcha Luzzatto

< Tammuz 5784 July 2024 >

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.

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