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Legitimizing Rhetorics: Jewish “Heresy” in Early Modern Italy1

La Rhétorique de la légitimation: l’ « hérésie » juive dans l’Italie de la première modernité
Bernard Dov Cooperman

Résumés

Étant donné la faiblesse des institutions juives capables d’exercer un contrôle social, les arguments pour la liberté de pensée et la critique de l’autorité ont pu se déployer sans beaucoup de difficultés dans les communautés. Celles-ci ont utilisé des décrets d’excommunication pour expulser les individus coupables d’un certain nombre d’actes –surtout la fraude sur les taxes et la concurrence économique, l’infraction des règles de la Halakha sur le mariage, ou d’autres actes réprouvés de la sorte. Mais en ce qui concerne les croyances et la doctrine, les demandes d’« excommunication » de déviants semblent être restées largement rhétoriques, au moins jusqu’au XVIIe siècle. Ce qui est remarquable ce n’est pas seulement le rejet de toute autorité universelle, mais la justification de la liberté de pensée, l’importance de l’éthique rationnelle de la perfection de soi, le refus de la crédulité aveugle et l’usage de méthodes critiques sur lesquelles établir la tradition authentique juive.

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  • 1 This paper is based on remarks made at the EMODIR session at the annual RSA in Boston, March 2016. (...)
  • 2 A quick search on the journal database JSTOR yields over 26.000 articles that treat “heresy” and “C (...)
  • 3 On the history of the term see Oxford English Dictionary, Oxford University Press, December 2016. W (...)
  • 4 The tone was set in English by such early studies as J. B. Bury, A History of Freedom of Thought, C (...)
  • 5 Pierre Bourdieu, Outline of a Theory of Practice, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1977, p. 1 (...)

1What did it signify when a Jewish authority figure in early modern Italy accused another of heresy? We are used to thinking of heresy as a most significant charge, as an assertion that carried with it a threat of capital punishment or at least of exclusion from the religious community. The study of heretics and their opponents have become central to the study of medieval and early modern European history.2 In this brief essay however, I would like to suggest that at least until the seventeenth century, we should be very hesitant to attach too much weight to such accusations when uttered in the Jewish context. Heterodoxy and heresy, terms drawn initially from the history of religions and especially of Christianity, are often re-framed by historians into the political language of individual liberty and freedom of thought, or the philosophical language of rationalism and skepticism, or the sociological language of secularization and modernization.3 No doubt because of the western European historical experience, religious doctrines are often linked with political shifts: Protestant reforms and democratic revolutions are tied as if causally, each seen as the product and the teleological justification of the other.4 These definitional and categorical confusions become even muddier when we try to study religious deviance in other societies with different historical trajectories, or when we apply comparative, social anthropological methodologies that universalize religious doctrines in functional terms, ignoring the specific truth claims of both orthodox and heretic in favor of what Pierre Bourdieu called a “naturalization of arbitrariness.”5 Still, when we consider the intent and impact of any declaration of heresy, it is useful to remember the Christian historical context in order to set out basic parameters for our study. First, heresy presumes some dogmatic truth from which it deviates. Second, a formalized institution (a Church, an inquisition, etc.) defines, investigates, and labels the deviance. And finally, some political power enforces the categorization of deviance.

  • 6 On this famous debate see Alexander Altmann, Moses Mendelssohn: A Biographical Study, Philadelphia, (...)
  • 7 A striking example of such borrowing is the distinction made by Naphthali Herz Wessely between divi (...)
  • 8 Joanna Weinberg, Azariah de’ Rossi: The Light of the Eyes, New Haven, Yale University Press, 2001, (...)
  • 9 The most sophisticated recent statement of this approach is Shmuel Feiner, The Origins of Jewish Se (...)

2The study of religious deviance among Jews is not without its own confusion of terminologies and categories. Eighteenth- and nineteenth-century writers re-interpreted centuries-old debates over what was alien to “authentic” Jewishness applying Enlightenment conceptions of religious freedom and intellectual progress on the one hand or the rhetoric of contemporary Jewish struggles for civic equality and political rights on the other. The issue of freedom of thought within the Jewish community was a crucial issue for contemporary reformers. Moses Mendelssohn made this clear when he insisted to Christian Wilhelm von Dohm, author of a famous pamphlet favoring The Civic Betterment of the Jews, that Jewish religious authorities not have the right to ban any deviant member of their community (1782).6 As the maskilim (Jewish enlighteners) appropriated terminology from the traditional lexicon in order to legitimize their radically new agenda, they inevitably (mis-)read their own struggle back into the past.7 When they identified and republished almost forgotten works, they declared them to be forerunners of their own critical positions. A perfect example is the Me’or Eynayim of Azariah de’ Rossi, one of the books we shall discuss below. First published in Mantua in 1573, the book was elevated from an obscure bit of antiquarian erudition to a model of critical consciousness when it was republished by Isaac Satanow in 1794, as he says “out of love for the children whom he wishes to lead on the paths of reason, and out of concern for wisdom lest it be lost from the remnant of Israel.” The book went through no less than five editions in the following century, each time with further emendations and adulatory studies from prominent historians.8 The result has been that treatments of modern Jewish history often lump debates about religious doctrine together with diverse types of political activity and with miscellaneous evidence for changes in Jews’ lifestyle, indiscriminately seeing all these as no more than expressions of declining communal authority and secularizing modernity.9

  • 10 The secularization thesis, rooted in Enlightenment thought and famously associated with sociologist (...)

3Scholars of early modern European history are beginning to challenge the “secularization thesis” and it may well be that we will soon see the same in Jewish historiography.10 But the aim of this paper is more limited. Specifically concentrating on early modern Italy, I ask whether internal criticism of Jewish tradition and authority in that period can be labeled heresy in the same way that we speak of such things in the Christian environment. Can we ignore the basic fact that for at least two millennia Jews were a far-flung set of religious communities usually lacking a centralized organizational structure or enforcement powers? Could there be heresy without Church and State?

  • 11 A still useful introduction is the anthology edited by Raphael Jospe and Stanley M. Wagner, Great S (...)
  • 12 For example, Mishna, Sanhedrin, X:1. Talmudic-era labels continue to be used to condemn heretics do (...)
  • 13 Daniel Lasker, “Rabbanism and Karaism: The Contest for Supremacy”, in R. Jospe and S. M. Wagner (ed (...)
  • 14 Joseph Saracheck, Faith and Reason: The Conflict Over the Rationalism of Maimonides, New York, Herm (...)

4Of course, it is well known that over the ages groups within the Jewish world have sought to define the religion, establish clear demarcations of authority, and “disqualify” those whose practices and beliefs lay outside that norm.11 The Talmudic rabbis, for example, defined the biblical canon while marginalizing and condemning what they then labeled as “external texts” (sfarim hitzoniyim), and declared as unacceptable the heretics whom they called variously apikoros (Epicureans), baitosi (Boethusian), Sadducee, or min.12 The Geonic period (sixth -eleventh Centuries CE) has been traditionally portrayed as marked by a high degree of centralization, and consequently by exclusionary rulings against those, especially Karaites, who challenged the ideology through which these central institutions were claiming status.13 Most relevant to our concerns are the ongoing efforts to ban the study of the “Greek sciences,” especially from the twelfth century after Moses Maimonides had incorporated many philosophical concepts into his masterful overviews of Jewish law and theology.14

  • 15 Talmudic-era rabbis, once assumed to be the universally accepted authority figures of the entire Je (...)
  • 16 Marina Rustow, Heresy and the Politics of Community: The Jews of the Fatimid Caliphate, Ithaca, Cor (...)

5That said, many questions remain as to the extent and effectiveness of these exclusionary declarations. How much real authority did the Talmudic-era “rabbinic movement” really exercise?15 On a day-to-day level, the shifting divisions between Rabbanites and Karaites seem often to have been determined at least as much by considerations of local power politics as by any abstract definition of heresy.16 And for all the centuries of debate over hokhmot hitzoniyot (alien sciences), only rarely were opponents actually able to impose even quite limited “bans” – and even then with little or no lasting impact.

  • 17 The specific meaning of each term need not concern us here. Although they differed in detail, for o (...)
  • 18 The efficacy of the ban is assumed by scholars who wish to emphasize the autonomy of the Jewish com (...)
  • 19 Rustow, Heresy and the Politics of Community, p. 204-209. The ban could also be used as an added sa (...)

6Part of the reason for this, I believe, was that the Jewish ban itself was quite limited as a tool of social control. Historians have presented the ban (called variously herem, nidui, or shamta) as diaspora Jews’ substitute for other societies’ enforcement instruments of self-governance, tools that were unavailable to Jews in exile.17 But in their eagerness to find evidence of Jewish autonomy, these historians seem to overstate the effectiveness of excommunication, confusing threatening rhetoric with real efficacy.18 For one thing, the ban was always dependent, to one degree or another, on the approval of the outside government. The latter was by no means always willing to countenance or support this arrogation of power and could certainly serve as a court of appeals for any excommunicated Jew. But even more important, halakha (Jewish law) itself did not readily recognize the jurisdiction of the medieval or early modern community beyond city walls; bans could therefore not easily be enforced widely. Finally, rabbis often hesitated at issuing or enforcing a ban, if only because they could not agree to subject the family of the excommunicant to its draconian implications.19

  • 20 The use and effectiveness of herem in each type of case deserves separate and thorough legal-histor (...)
  • 21 The tenth-century Karaite, Jacob al-Qirqisani, was incensed that Rabbanites intermarried with theol (...)
  • 22 The literature is extensive; important English-language studies include Ram Ben-Shalom, “The Ban Pl (...)
  • 23 Minhat Qena’ot, chapter 32: letter to Don Crescas Vital. In the edition included in She'elot u-Tesh (...)
  • 24 Hava Tirosh-Rothschild, Between Worlds: The Life and Thought of Rabbi David ben Judah Messer Leon, (...)

7The net result, I would argue, was especially significant when it came to matters of doctrine and belief. With its damning rhetoric possibly reinforced by frightening ritual, the herem may well have been an effective means of lending weight to communal bylaws and rabbinic rulings about marital status. It may also have frightened some Jews into paying their taxes or being more forthright in cases of litigation. But there are many cases where bans seem to have been little more than posturing by sides in a dispute.20 And this was certainly true when it came to matters of belief. This may explain why, for example, Rabbanite bans preferred to invoke halakhic and ritual deviance (calendar or personal status) rather than differences over theological fundamentals in deciding whom to exclude from the community.21 The 1305 ban on the study of Greek science in fact probably had very little impact. From the start it was intended to lapse after fifty years. It forbade such study only to young people, not yet twenty-five years of age. And the ban was issued in Barcelona but directed at so-called radical allegorizers in Languedoc, a separate legal jurisdiction; this made the ban’s authority questionable.22 As Rabbi Solomon ibn Adret put it at the time, “When anyone comes into a holy community with a cudgel [that is, an excommunication decree issued elsewhere], those holy ones pay it no mind whatsoever.”23 I tend therefore to agree with Hava Tirosh-Rothschild who has generalized that when it came to doctrinal differences the ban “did not work in practice and merely resulted in incessant controversies and internal division as different communities and individuals would accept or reject” the decree.24

  • 25 On Messer Leon see D. Carpi, “Notes on the Life of Rabbi Judah Messer Leon”, in Studi sull’ebraismo (...)

8We see the limits on the ban to define and protect Jewish orthodoxy in some correspondence that has survived from a rabbinic dispute in fifteenth-century Italy. The physician and rabbi Judah Messer Leon (d. 1498) circulated letters among Italian (and German) Jewish communities seeking to impose new halakhic stringencies with regard to women’s ritual cleanness after menstruation and forbidding the popular, philosophically oriented biblical commentary of Levi ben Gerson (Gersonides). Messer Leon stridently threatened anyone who transgressed his rulings with a ban and asked that his letters be nailed to the doors of the Holy Ark as permanent reminders.25

  • 26 For recent treatments of Jewish philosophy in Provence, Spain and Italy in the later medieval, and (...)
  • 27 Robert (Re’uven) Bonfil, “Introduction” to Judah Messer Leon, Nofet Zufim on Hebrew Rhetoric Mantua (...)

9What led Messer Leon to label as heretical religious positions that had long been acceptable or even preferred?26 Robert Bonfil has suggested that the influx of large immigrant populations from Germany and France (Ashkenazim and Tzarfatim) had shifted the intellectual and ritual balance of the Italian Jewish community. A new style of Talmudic study and new religious customs challenged established patterns. Messer Leon was seeking to make these new stringencies and cultural attitudes normative. The rise of print technology may also have played a proximate role in Messer Leon’s decisions to act. Bonfil suggests, albeit with some caution, that the date usually ascribed to the bans – 1454–1455 (5215 in the Hebrew calendar) – be corrected to 1475–1476 (5236). By doing so, he presents the bans as reactions specifically to the printing of the popular ritual code, Arba’a Turim (from which Messer Leon took his position on ritual) and Gersonides’ commentary (which he tried to forbid).27

  • 28 I. Husik, Judah Messer Leon’s Commentary on the “Vetus Logica”, Leiden, Brill, 1906. Here too Messe (...)
  • 29 In a Hebrew letter to the Jews of Tuscany Messer Leon claims early kabbalists correctly applied Pla (...)

10Messer Leon, it must be stressed, was no anti-rationalist. A university-trained doctor, he was also the author of a number of philosophical works, for example a commentary on the Vetus Logica.28 His Nophet Zufim (The Honeycomb’s Flow), the first Hebrew work printed during the author’s lifetime, was a defense of the elegance of the biblical rhetoric in the terms of contemporary humanist values. Messer Leon was a defender of the late scholastic approach, and what offended him in Gersonides was as much the Provençal scholar’s attacks on Aristotle and Averroes as his unorthodox understandings of biblical narratives and his definitions of Providence. He also opposed kabbalists who, he claimed, were seeking to place intermediaries between man and God, and who multiplied the attributes and names of God.29 Thus, Messer Leon must be seen not as opposing alien wisdom per se but as a conservative intellectual who rejected innovative religious approaches that seem to him heretical.

11But what interests us in the present context is less the logic of Messer Leon’s positions than the total rejection of what is seen as his unwarranted authoritarianism by contemporaries. Unfortunately, Messer Leon’s initial letter about Gersonides’ commentary seems not to have survived and we do not know how he framed his ban. Was he only condemning certain passages? Did he call for the destruction of the book or only for an age requirement on readers as had been suggested by ibn Adret in 1305? Whatever the specifics, perhaps he understood that he would be seen as overreaching himself. When he had announced his views in the yeshiva or rabbinical accademia of Treviso as well as in some of the yeshivot of Germany, he declared, it was only

  • 30 Ibid. [= Mekorot u-Mehkarim, p. 224].

for the honor of the Creator, may He be praised. I feared lest someone who is wretched and hungry [Isaiah 8:21] would partake of [Gersonides’] fruit and eat, not realizing that his soul was at stake [Proverbs 7:23]. Were this not a divine matter, I would have remained silent out of respect for him; I would have kept such contentious language in the pavilion of my own thoughts [cf. Ps. 31:21].30

  • 31 Ibid. [= Mekorot u-Mehkarim, p. 223].
  • 32 Robert Bonfil has treated Benjamin of Montalcino’s critique of Messer Leon’s claims to authority as (...)

12At least one community, that of Florence in Tuscany, would have none of the ban and accused Messer Leon of “a proud heart and a haughty gaze [Ps. 131:1], of being motivated by arrogance and a desire for power.”31 Messer Leon warned them to “be careful lest anyone be tempted to listen to [Gersonides], for it is absolute heresy (minut) to all religious people (bnei dat).” But rather than posting the letters on the Holy Ark as he had requested, the community forwarded them to Rabbi Benjamin of Montalcino who wrote a devastating critique that focused on the limits of rabbinic authority and of the ban in particular. The ban, he argued, was jurisdictionally limited to the city where it is declared. A rabbi who wished to spread a decree beyond his own city gates could do so only by convincing other rabbis, each in his own locale, and then they in turn would have to spread the ruling through their own teaching. While Montalcino does not doubt that there is such a thing as theological error (minut, apikorsut), it never occurs to him that there should be a universal institution to police correct belief. He accuses Messer Leon of making illegitimate claims because he had been titled (as a medical doctor) by the emperor and pope. But even these Christian authorities, Montalcino stressed, recognized and respected jurisdictional limits.32 It is worth adding that Messer Leon’s condemnation apparently remained a dead letter. Further parts of Gersonides’ biblical commentary were published in Naples in 1486–1487 and the Pentateuch commentary was reprinted in Venice by Daniel Bomberg in 1546–1547.

13It is common to present medieval (and later) Jewish intellectual history in binary terms of faith versus reason, isolation versus acculturation, and authenticity versus estrangement. This polarized view with its rigid division between Jewish and non-Jewish cultures mark the Jewish philosopher or natural scientist as a suspiciously liminal figure who moves cautiously and perhaps surreptitiously across borders drawn between alien worlds. The historian, for his part, is left only to celebrate such bravery or condemn the effrontery. But the epistolary contest between Judah Messer Leon and Benjamin da Montalcino may suggest a different picture. Insofar as it highlights the effective limits on efforts to enforce orthodoxy among Italian Jews, the correspondence helps us to understand why, even in a world of fiercely personal debate, critical ideas could be voiced aloud in ways that might not always have been possible in the surrounding society. The absence of strong communal institutions of ideological control meant that debate could not readily turn into persecutory violence. Rather the topography of Jewish intellectual and religious life during the Italian Renaissance would be marked by the acceptance of universal reason as a standard for evaluating dogma, and by the assumption that historical evidence and historical analysis should be used to assess and critique religious claims within Judaism.

  • 33 Saverio Campanini, “Un intellettuale ebreo del Rinascimento: ‘Ovadyah Sforno e i suoi rapporti con (...)

14Illustrative are the introductory remarks of Obadiah Sforno (c. 1470–c. 1550)33 to his Hebrew-language statement of late Jewish scholasticism, the Or Amim (Light to the Nations, Bologna, 1537–1538). In the foreword to his book, Sforno portrays himself frequently challenged by Christians who saw Judaism as nothing but an empty legalistic traditionalism.

  • 34 Or Amim was translated by the author into Latin and published with a dedication to King Henri II of (...)

Gentile scholars have publicly come to inquire in what way he who studies the letters of Scripture, the Mishna, and the Talmud, makes his path righteous. They embitter and sadden us, by saying: What does [the Jew] understand of his path? Can such a person distinguish between right and left? He has no sign as to whether he is useful to God [Job 22:1] and whether or not God gains pleasure from him. His fear and endeavor to [follow] the Torah and message [Isaiah 8:20] are merely a commandment of men learned by rote [Isaiah 29:13], based on what fathers tell sons....34

  • 35 On earlier formulations of this argument and the Jewish response see, for example, Joseph Kimhi, Th (...)
  • 36 The most thorough study of Sforno’s philosophical ideas as well as of the Or Amim (including the di (...)
  • 37 Robert Bonfil, “Rinascimento”, art. cit., p. 273f. citing P. C. Ioly Zorattini, “Il Mif’aloth Elohi (...)

15The Christian attack on Judaism as formulaic legalism lacking true spiritual content was of course not new: its roots go back to Pauline rhetoric in the New Testament. And Sforno’s response likewise draws on the rationalist Jewish tradition that had long served medieval anti-Christian polemicists.35 But in developing his position Sforno breaks away from older, Maimonidean “orthodoxy,” and under the influence of neoplatonic and political ideas becoming popular in Italian humanist circles, places emphasis on the centrality of human ethics and action (obedience to the practical commandments) in the ultimate perfection of the individual soul.36 Just a few years later, these ideas were censored as heretical by the Venetian inquisition, though Sforno’s views apparently escaped the notice of Christian authorities and offended no one in the Jewish world.37

  • 38 Peter Burke, The Renaissance Sense of the Past, New York, 1969. On Jewish historiography during the (...)
  • 39 Robert Bonfil, “Some Reflections on the Place of Azariah de Rossi’s Meor Enayim in the Cultural Mil (...)
  • 40 R. Bonfil, “Place of Azariah de Rossi”, art. cit., p. 27, n. 42; Weinberg, Light of the Eyes, op. c (...)

16Several decades later, the “culture wars” between traditional text and practice on the one hand and human knowledge on the other had taken a new turn. The Renaissance “sense of the past,” born in part out of the West’s recovery of long-lost Greek texts, found its Jewish expression in the erudition of Azariah de’ Rossi’s Me’or Enayim (Light for the Eyes, Mantua, November 18, 1573).38 This work raised something of a furor in the rabbinical world of the sixteenth century, first in Italian centers and then as far away as Prague and Safed. At issue were de’ Rossi’s questioning of rabbinic chronology, his naturalist and historicist criticisms of rabbinic legends, and his reliance on non-Jewish or apocryphal materials. It is important to underline that in Italy, at least, these objections came from a relatively small number of not especially prominent rabbis.39 Nevertheless, possibly in an effort to protect his rather considerable financial investment in publishing the book, the author hastened to Venice to negotiate with “his enemy.” He agreed to make a number of (minor) changes to his book, and the following summer he printed up a few “corrected” replacement pages, and added an afterword that included a short critique of his argument by the Mantuan rabbi, Moses Provençal, as well as his own response. In any case, we have already seen the limits on the effectiveness of the ban among Italian Jews especially in matters of belief. We are therefore not surprised to learn that the initial condemnation was merely a suggestion that purchasers obtain written permission from a local rabbi, that de’ Rossi’s compromise could be so minimal, or that Me’or Eynayim continued to be read, with or without written permissions.40

17And what stands out in the present context is the bold language de’ Rossi could use regarding traditional rabbinic statements. He rejected the idea that rabbinic stories must be taken literally. He distinguished between authoritative Jewish tradition and the rabbis’ personal opinions. And while he granted that it was desirable to defend even the latter type of rabbinic statement, he insisted that slavish defense of the literal meanings of such texts was not a defense of Judaism but in fact a type of falseness that exposed Judaism to mockery.

In general, wherever we can take our sages at face value, we [should do so] to the limit of our understanding…. [This is so] even in places where the sages are speaking speculatively and in which their opinion is based on human reasoning. ([Where the sages relate] matters based on tradition, there is no need for consistency – they have their own defense.)

Where we cannot [take their words literally] on the grounds that our own experience and reason do not agree with it, we should try to find a way to defend them in one of the acceptable ways we have outlined […]. The rabbis of blessed memory would, as lovers of the truth, agree with us and be honored by having been honored in a just and correct manner.

  • 41 Azariah de’ Rossi, Me’or Enayim, ed. David Cassel, Vilna, 1866, p. 179. Joanna Weinberg provides a (...)

But […] we must stay far away from any falsehood or hypocrisy. Let nobody deceive himself into forcing [a meaning into] their statements in order to make them conform to his own idea. He must understand that this never occurred to them. By upholding falsehood [...] God forbid, you will make them [the sages] an object of derision for those who rise up against them.41

  • 42 Me’or Enayim, p. 339; Weinberg, Light of the Eyes, op. cit., p. 500.

18In this way, the words of the sages and their enigmas can be understood as “parables and metaphors, similar to those of ancient pagan sages.”42

  • 43 R. Bonfil, “Place of Azariah de Rossi”, art. cit., p. 35ff.
  • 44 Weinberg, “The Beautiful Soul”, art. cit., p. 117ff.; Joanna Weinberg (ed.), Azariah de’ Rossi’s Ob (...)

19Once again we see themes invoked by Sforno, but now applied in a different context. A true defense of Judaism is not possible in isolation from the scholarship of the surrounding society. Paradoxically Judaism’s truth lies in rejecting an involuted and overly literalist approach.43 Remarkably, de’ Rossi used similarly bold rhetoric to justify correcting the text of the Vulgate. In an Italian work written for a Christian audience, he used the recently published Syriac text of the New Testament to offer explanations and potential emendations to the Greek text of the New Testament.44

20The competing claims over what was Jewishly authentic continued in the seventeenth century, but the culture warriors now shifted their focus once again. Sforno had offered a defense of scholastic rationalism. De’ Rossi had legitimized historically informed analysis of rabbinic narratives and text. In 1639, the Venetian rabbi, Leon Modena, was fighting against a popularized kabbalah that by then had become the mark of piety. In his The Roaring Lion (1639) he argued against a set of texts and a system of interpretation that had become the definition of religiosity and the container of all knowledge. In this passage he takes on the claims made for the Zohar as a second-century work authored by the Palestinian sage, Simeon bar Yohai, which had been kept hidden for centuries and only revealed in the High Middle Ages.

If R. Simeon bar Yohai or his student had written the Zohar [...] thus writing oral or secret things, they would certainly not have written them in anything but Hebrew, both because of their inherent sacredness […] and the esotericism appropriate to them. Thus […] they should not be in a language understandable by women and ignorant people [as Aramaic was at the time of the ostensible composition of the book] […]. If someone today wrote a book of kabbalah concerning the mysteries of the Torah, would he write it in a Christian language – Spanish or German, etc. […] ?

Another proof that the book was written recently and merely attributed to an ancient great figure is that [the author] interwove colored embroidery in an artistic way. I mean by this that the author cleverly prevented the reader from racing through riddles and weighty secrets […] by interweaving simple interpretations of verses, easy to understand and sweeter than honey, like the “cute interpretations” by the rabbis of Castille […] as well as stories of miracles and wonders […].

  • 45 Leon Modena, Ari Nohem, ed. Nehemia Shmuel Liebowitz, Jerusalem, Darom, 1929, p. 68f.

They are really sweet to those who hear them, how pretty and pleasant they are. I praise the book for its style over any others written over the last 300 years, but this itself proves and shows that they were not written by [talmudic] authors.45

  • 46 On this work, see Yaakov Dweck, The Scandal of Kabbalah: Leon Modena, Jewish Mysticism, Early Moder (...)

21Modena quite carefully damns the book with faint praise, admitting that he himself cites it in his sermons but only because it is so popular with less educated folk in the congregation. His uncompromising attack reveals that even in the ghetto of Venice it was possible to argue that only reasoned historical analysis was an acceptably firm foundation for Judaism.46

  • 47 Cecil Roth, The Jews in the Renaissance, Philadelphia, Jewish Publication Society, 1959, p. xi.
  • 48 Salo W. Baron, Social and Religious History of the Jews, New York, Columbia University Press, 1937, (...)
  • 49 H. Tirosh-Rothschild, Between Worlds, op. cit., p. 313, n. 18. On the broader relation of rationali (...)
  • 50 Bonfil does have a sense of the increased conversionist pressure on Jews coming from a Counter-Refo (...)

22Was the Italian Renaissance a unique period for Jews when it was somehow possible for them to integrate “alien wisdom” into their worldview? Well known is the enthusiasm of Cecil Roth who, in a number of semi-popular works, described “the unique phenomenon of that successful synthesis [between Jews and the surrounding society] which is the unfulfilled hope of many today.”47 Salo Baron, already in the first edition of his monumental Social and Religious History of the Jews, argued that “with the first stirrings in the sixteenth century, Italian Jewish life aligned itself with humanism. Not only did personal relations with Christians reach an intimacy hitherto unparalleled even in Spain, but the new forces assumed definite shape in the general as well as in the inner life of Jewry, in its thought as well as in its literature.”48 More recent historians have put less emphasis on Jewish individuals who made their way into Christian society and described rather how “foreign knowledge” led to cultural debate within the Jewish world. Hava Tirosh-Rothschild, for example, writes of a revived debate over Jewish dogma in the fifteenth century and the emergence of an intra-Jewish theology ultimately dependent on Christian scholasticism. For her “the entire concept of Jewish theology and in turn of Jewish dogma was indebted to Christian scholasticism, especially to Aquinas.”49 The unquestioned doyen of this field, Robert Bonfil, has offered a complicated vision of proud continuity from medieval to baroque characterized not by simple acculturation but by self-aware, sophisticated engagement and confrontation between Jewish intellectuals and their Christian counterparts.50

23The terminologies of independent and critical thought that we have highlighted in the writings of prominent Jewish intellectuals over the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries demonstrate that this was hardly a straightjacketed cultural environment. First, and this is crucial, Jewish communities did not have the power fully to suppress deviance. Moreover, demands for intellectualization of religious practice, for integration of historical research into our understanding of rabbinic authority, and for relegation of mystical texts and mythologies to the trivial domain of stories for the masses – none of these were totally without precedent. Sforno, de’ Rossi, and Modena were not seeking, and were not understood to be seeking, the overthrow of existing religious or communal conventions. Rather, these authors were engaged in debate within their community, proud of their own learning and able to express forthrightly their admittedly minority views in the hope and expectation of influencing at least some of their fellows. Their passionate words give us a sense of the collective topography of Jewish intellectual and religious life within the Renaissance community.

  • 51 For skepticism among Italian Jews see Giuseppe Veltri’s recent edition of Simone Luzzatto: Scritti (...)
  • 52 That intellectual acculturation did not necessarily lead to communal breakdown in at least one comm (...)

24There is certainly more to say about “freedom of thought” in the Italian Jewish Renaissance than what I have sketched out here. But I hope I have made an effective case for the idea that the absence of strong communal institutions of ideological control meant that debate, however loud and even personal, could not readily turn into persecutory violence as it did in the surrounding society. This is significant not only for Jewish religious history. It also helps us to understand other developments – for example the interest in philosophical skepticism and in natural science that did not lead to religious deviance in practice.51 And in this context a secularization of everyday life need not have meant a total breakdown of rabbinic control or of communal structure.52 In brief, we may have to rethink our historiographical habit of lumping any halakhic laxity, any theological skepticism, any intellectual experimentation, and any communal structural shift under the single rubric of secularization. The pre-modern Jewish community may have been far less rigid, far less uniform, and effectively far more tolerant than we guessed.

  • 53 Jacob Katz, Out of the Ghetto: The Social Background of Jewish Emancipation, 1770–1870, Cambridge M (...)
  • 54 Bernard D. Cooperman, “Afterword”, in J. Katz, Tradition and Crisis, op. cit., p. 245ff.; S. Feiner (...)
  • 55 See in particular the collected studies of Yosef Kaplan, An Alternative Path to Modernity: The Seph (...)
  • 56 David Sorkin, “The Port Jew: Notes Toward a Social Type”, Journal of Jewish Studies, 50.1, 1999, p. (...)

25The late Jacob Katz, in many ways the first scholar to treat the early modern as a separate period in Jewish history, argued that behavioral deviance was not in itself an indicator of Jewish modernity until it was accompanied by a justificatory ideology that challenged traditional values: “Only insofar as it can be proven that some of the basic tenets of Judaism were called in question can there be talk of an indication of change.”53 Katz, a pioneer in Jewish social history, built his descriptions of traditional Ashkenazic society upon a rich treasure trove of rabbinic texts. In doing so he laid himself open to the critique of having confused rabbinic norms with social and cultural realities. Over the last half century therefore many scholars have moved our understanding further, both with regard to traditional cultural values and with specific reference to deviance.54 Yosef Kaplan has pointed to the western Sephardic communities as an alternative road to modernity, not least because many of their members were raised as Christians on the Iberian Peninsula and tended, it has been suggested, to adopt a relativistic approach to all positivist expressions of specific religions, even after they adopted a Jewish identity.55 David Sorkin and Lois Dubin have pointed to port cities as places that fostered an incipient modernism because they were characterized by heterogeneous and mobile populations on the one hand and relatively free exchange of commerce and ideas on the other.56 The list can easily be extended. But all of these approaches share one thing. They all identify modernity with a breakdown in “traditional” behaviors, whether or not this was justified by a radical ideology.

26I would like to suggest that what we have seen in early modern Jewish Italy may suggest a different approach. The sixteenth and seventeenth centuries were characterized by ideologies (or perhaps we should say, worlds of discourse) in which criticism of tradition was not only possible but even idealized. This type of critical thinking flourished without either a breakdown of authority or a falling off of halakhic observance.

  • 57 The literature on the excommunications of Da Costa and Spinoza is large. Yosef Kaplan provides bibl (...)
  • 58 Study of the impact of print on Jewish culture is a burgeoning field of scholarship. See, for examp (...)

27At some point, however, the situation changed. The community’s flexibility eroded, and what were once intellectual debates and scholarly investigations were now perceived as revolutionary slogans. The very ideas that could once be mustered to explore and defend tradition were now feared and suppressed as rationalizations for its abandonment. Famously this is what occurred in seventeenth-century Amsterdam where we know that the tool of excommunication began to be used much more aggressively than before, resulting in the tragic suicide of the humiliated Uriel da Costa and the expulsion of Benedict Spinoza.57 Why did this occur? Many explanations suggest themselves. For one thing, Jewish communities all over Europe become larger and their governments more formally organized for complicated reasons that I hope to analyze elsewhere. And perhaps we should also point to the spread of print technology. Elizabeth Eisenstein’s famous suggestion that print led to a democratization of knowledge is now generally challenged for many reasons. In the Jewish context, “writing with many pens” as printers labeled the new technology, led to expectations for accuracy in old texts and gave the aura of permanence to even the most recent of compositions. Did this raise the stakes? Did what made it into print become in turn a compass point around which other literary, cultural, and religious traditions were forced to array themselves?58 There are certainly other possibilities.

28But if I am correct, if the definition of orthodoxy and especially its enforcement were in fact innovations of the early modern era, the historian’s task is not what we once thought. No longer is our task to explain deviance. Now we must seek to understand repression. We must ask rather what it was that led Jewish communities to insist on ideological conformity, and what gave them the power to do so. For it is the very act of restriction that forces the intellectual out of the community and creates the heretic.

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Notes

1 This paper is based on remarks made at the EMODIR session at the annual RSA in Boston, March 2016. It is intentionally brief, and footnotes have been restricted almost totally to material available to the English reader. It is part of an ongoing project investigating social controls and the dynamics of Jewish cultural discourse in the early modern period.

2 A quick search on the journal database JSTOR yields over 26.000 articles that treat “heresy” and “Christian” and over 10.500 that include “heresy” and “Jewish”.

3 On the history of the term see Oxford English Dictionary, Oxford University Press, December 2016. Web. 19 February 2017 s.v. “heresy”.

4 The tone was set in English by such early studies as J. B. Bury, A History of Freedom of Thought, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1913, but continue implicitly in the influential studies of R. I. Moore. Moore recollected how his original interest in the ideas of popular heretics shifted to a focus on the use of social power and the formation of a “persecuting society” in “Afterthoughts on The Origins of European Dissent”, in Michael Frassetto (ed.), Heresy and the Persecuting Society in the Middle Ages: Essays on the Work of R.I. Moore, Leiden, Brill, 2006, p. 291-326.

5 Pierre Bourdieu, Outline of a Theory of Practice, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1977, p. 164. I cite from the updated English version by Richard Nice. Bourdieu’s views were based on his fieldwork in a “traditional society” in the Kabylia region of northern Algeria.

6 On this famous debate see Alexander Altmann, Moses Mendelssohn: A Biographical Study, Philadelphia, Jewish Publication Society, 1973, p. 454f; idem, “Moses Mendelssohn on Excommunication: The Ecclesiastical Law Background”, in E. Etkes and Y. Salmon (eds), Studies in the History of Jewish Society in the Middle Ages and in the Modern Period Presented to Professor Jacob Katz [], Jerusalem, Magnes Press, 1980, p. xli-lxi; Kenneth H. Green, “Moses Mendelssohn’s Opposition to the ‘Herem’: the First Step toward Denominationalism?”, Modern Judaism, 12.1, 1992, p. 39-60; Moses Mendelssohn, Jerusalem or On Religious Power in Judaism (1783), trans. Allan Arkush, Waltham MA, Brandeis University Press, 1983; idem, “Introduction” to Rettung der Juden, the German translation of Manasseh Ben Israel, Vindiciae Judaeorum, Berlin, Nicolai, 1782, conveniently available in English in Michah Gottlieb (ed.), Moses Mendelssohn: Writings on Christianity, Judaism, and the Bible, Waltham MA, Brandeis University Press, 2011, p. 40-52, here p. 50f.

7 A striking example of such borrowing is the distinction made by Naphthali Herz Wessely between divine and human knowledge in his famous pamphlet Words of Peace and Truth (1782). The terms torat ha-elohim and torat ha-adam and even the preference given to the latter are taken directly from the 1593 ethical work Sefer ha-Hayim by Hayim ben Bezalel of Friedberg (d. 1588), older brother of Judah Loew ben Bezalel (MaHaRaL) of Prague.

8 Joanna Weinberg, Azariah de’ Rossi: The Light of the Eyes, New Haven, Yale University Press, 2001, p. xxii. The quotation from Satanow’s preface is from the verso of the title page of the copy held at the Library of Congress. On the radical ambitions and crucial importance of Satanow’s publishing program see Shmuel Feiner, The Jewish Enlightenment, Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2011, p. 322ff. On continuity between early modern sensibilities and Haskalah-era intellectuals see Resianne Fontaine, Andrea Schatz, and Irene E. Zwiep (eds), Sepharad in Ashkenaz: Medieval Knowledge and Eighteenth-Century Enlightened Jewish Discourse [Proceedings of the colloquium, Amsterdam, February 2002], Amsterdam, Koninklijke Nederlandse Akademie van Wetenschappen, 2007; David B. Ruderman, “Why Periodization Matters: On Early Modern Jewish Culture and Haskalah”, Jahrbuch des Simon-Dubnow-Instituts, 6, 2007, p. 23-32, here p. 26; idem, Early Modern Jewry: A New Cultural History, Princeton NJ, Princeton University Press, 2010, p. 198ff.

9 The most sophisticated recent statement of this approach is Shmuel Feiner, The Origins of Jewish Secularization in Eighteenth-Century Europe, Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2010. See also his “On the Threshold of the ‘New World’ – Haskalah and Secularization in the Eighteenth Century”, Jahrbuch des Simon-Dubnow-Instituts, 6, 2007, p. 33-45.

10 The secularization thesis, rooted in Enlightenment thought and famously associated with sociologists from Max Weber to Peter Berger, was recently explored for the early modern period in Brad Gregory’s erudite The Unintended Reformation: How a Religious Revolution Secularized Society, Cambridge MA, Harvard University Press, 2012. For challenges to the conceptualization of secularism see Craig Calhoun, Mark Juergensmeyer, and Jonathan VanAntwerpen (eds), Rethinking Secularism, New York, Oxford University Press, 2011. Professor Benjamin Kaplan laid out the historiographical and conceptual problematics of traditional approaches in his provocative plenary address on “Religious Divisions After the Reformation: A Spur to Secularization?” (Sixteenth-Century Society Conference, 2014) and I thank him for sharing the unpublished typescript with me.

11 A still useful introduction is the anthology edited by Raphael Jospe and Stanley M. Wagner, Great Schisms in Jewish History, New York, Ktav, 1981.

12 For example, Mishna, Sanhedrin, X:1. Talmudic-era labels continue to be used to condemn heretics down to close to our own day. This formulaic terminology deserves, it seems to me, further study. Does it indicate that for all the bluster, heresy was not perceived as an innovative threat? The origin and specific significance of the term “min” is much debated in the scholarly literature. See Daniel Sperber, s.v. “Min,” Encyclopaedia Judaica, 2nd revised edition, Detroit, Macmillan Reference USA, 2007, XIV, p. 263f.; Reuven Kimelman, “Birkat Ha-Minim and the Lack of Evidence for an Anti-Christian Prayer”, in E. P. Sanders (ed.), Jewish and Christian Self-Definition, vol. 2, Philadelphia, Fortress Press, 1981, p. 226-244, 391-403; Naomi Janowitz, “Rabbis and their Opponents: The Construction of the ‘Min’ in Rabbinic Anecdotes”, Journal of Early Christian Studies, 6.3, 1998, p. 449-462.

13 Daniel Lasker, “Rabbanism and Karaism: The Contest for Supremacy”, in R. Jospe and S. M. Wagner (eds), op. cit., p. 47-72; Me’ira Polliack, Karaite Judaism: a Guide to its History and Literary Sources, Leiden, Brill, 2003.

14 Joseph Saracheck, Faith and Reason: The Conflict Over the Rationalism of Maimonides, New York, Hermon, 1970; Daniel Jeremy Silver, Maimonidean Criticism and the Maimonidean Controversy: 1180–1240, Leiden, Brill, 1965. A useful recent summary is Raphael Jospe, “Faith and Reason: The Controversy over Philosophy”, in R. Jospe and S. M. Wagner (eds), op. cit., p. 73-117; and see also “Maimonidean Controversy”, Encyclopaedia Judaica, XIII, p. 371-381.

15 Talmudic-era rabbis, once assumed to be the universally accepted authority figures of the entire Jewish people, are increasingly represented by modern scholars as a limited group whose claims to leadership should not be taken at face value. See for example Hayim Lapin, “The Rabbinic Movement”, in Judith R. Baskin and Kenneth Seeskin (eds), The Cambridge Guide to Jewish History, Religion, and Culture, Cambridge and New York, Cambridge University Press, 2010, p. 58-84.

16 Marina Rustow, Heresy and the Politics of Community: The Jews of the Fatimid Caliphate, Ithaca, Cornell University Press, 2008. On the problematics of enforcing the ban, see p. 204ff. On persecution of “heretical” Karaites on the Iberian Peninsula, see her epilogue, “Toward a History of Jewish Heresy”, p. 347-355.

17 The specific meaning of each term need not concern us here. Although they differed in detail, for our purposes the terms are interchangeable; all represent an exclusion of the individual from the religious and everyday life of the community. For the same reason, I do not hesitate to use the ostensibly Roman Catholic term “excommunication” for herem.

18 The efficacy of the ban is assumed by scholars who wish to emphasize the autonomy of the Jewish community. See for example Salo W. Baron, The Jewish Community: Its History and Structure to the American Revolution, Philadelphia, Jewish Publication Society, 1948, II, p. 228-236; Jacob Katz, Tradition and Crisis: Jewish Society at the End of the Middle Ages, trans. Bernard D. Cooperman, New York, New York University Press, 1993, p. 84-86; Menahem Elon, Jewish Law: History, Sources, Principles, Philadelphia, Jewish Publication Society, 1994, p. 11. The herem has been much studied as a means of enforcing the authority of Jewish communal leadership and judicial decisions, punishing Jews who posed a threat to the group, backing up communal taxation levies, and maintaining social and especially domestic peace. Recent scholarship includes the Hebrew-language articles by Gideon Libson – for example “The Ban and Those Under it: Tannaitic and Amoraic Perspectives”, Shenaton ha-Mishpat ha-Ivri: Annual of the Institute for Research in Jewish Law, 6–7, 1979–1980, p. 177-202, and “The Origin and Development of the Anonymous Ban (Ḥerem Stam) During the Geonic Period”, Shenaton ha-Mishpat ha-Ivri, 22, 2001–2003, p. 32-107. In the absence of a recent comprehensive overview of the Jewish ban the reader is referred to the articles s.v. herem in Encyclopaedia Judaica (2nd edition, 2010), IX:10-16. Hebrew treatments are available in Ha-Entziklopedia ha-Ivrit, 18, 1966, p. 51-56 and s.v. herem in Ha-Entziklopedia ha-Talmudit le-Inyenei Halakha, Jerusalem, 1947–, vol. 17.

19 Rustow, Heresy and the Politics of Community, p. 204-209. The ban could also be used as an added sanction against those who publicly broke with religious law, for example by not observing the Sabbath, although it should be added that at least with regard to Sabbath non-observance such public exclusion was already ordered by the Talmud without the need for special decrees.

20 The use and effectiveness of herem in each type of case deserves separate and thorough legal-historical treatment. I emphasize that my discussion here is focused on the ban in matters of religious opinion and belief.

21 The tenth-century Karaite, Jacob al-Qirqisani, was incensed that Rabbanites intermarried with theologically heretical sectarians but not with Karaites who differed only over minor details of ritual observance. See Leonard Nemoy, “Al-Qirqisani’s Account of the Jewish Sects and Christianity”, Hebrew Union College Annual, 7, 1930, p. 317-397, here p. 382f., quoted in D. Lasker, “Rabbinism and Karaism”, art. cit., p. 47.

22 The literature is extensive; important English-language studies include Ram Ben-Shalom, “The Ban Placed by the Community of Barcelona on the Study of Philosophy and Allegorical Preaching – A New Study”, Revue des Études Juives, 159.3–4, 2000, p. 387-404; Marc Saperstein, “The Conflict over the Rashba’s Herem on Philosophical Study: A Political Perspective”, Jewish History, 1.2, 1986, p. 27-38 focusing on territorial jurisdiction; Gregg Stern, “Philosophy in Southern France: Controversy over Philosophic Study and the Influence of Averroes upon Jewish Thought”, in Daniel H. Frank and Oliver Leaman (eds), The Cambridge Companion to Medieval Jewish Philosophy, Cambridge and New York, Cambridge University Press, 2003, p. 281-303; and more fully, idem, Philosophy and Rabbinic Culture: Jewish Interpretation and Controversy in Medieval Languedoc, Abingdon Oxon and New York, Routledge, 2009. As Stern points out, p. 179, proponents of the ban were quite aware of the activities of the papal Inquisition and cited it as a model.

23 Minhat Qena’ot, chapter 32: letter to Don Crescas Vital. In the edition included in She'elot u-Teshuvot ha-RaSHBA he-Hadash, Jerusalem, 2004, vol. X, this is to be found on p. 65. 

24 Hava Tirosh-Rothschild, Between Worlds: The Life and Thought of Rabbi David ben Judah Messer Leon, Albany, State University of New York Press, 1991, p. 144.

25 On Messer Leon see D. Carpi, “Notes on the Life of Rabbi Judah Messer Leon”, in Studi sull’ebraismo italiano in memoria di Cecil Roth, Rome, 1974, p. 37-62. Elliott Horowitz, “Don’t Mess with Messer Leon: Halakhah and Humanism in Fifteenth-Century Italy”, in Richard I. Cohen, Natalie B. Dohrmann, Adam Shear, and Elchanan Reiner (eds), Jewish Culture in Early Modern Europe: Essays in Honor of David B. Ruderman, Cincinnati, Hebrew Union College Press, 2014, p. 18-27 surveys the affair, with somewhat different interpretations than my own. Our knowledge of this debate comes from a number of letters that are only partially preserved, and are at best difficult to follow: David Frankel, Divre Rivot Bi-She’arim, Husiatyn, 1901–1902; Simha Assaf, “Mi-Ginze Bet-ha-Sefarim bi-Yrushalayim”, in Minha le-David, Jerusalem, 1935, p. 221-237, here p. 226-228 [reprinted in his Mekorot u-Mehkarim be-Toldot Yisrael, Jerusalem, Mosad ha-Rav Kuk, 1946, p. 218-229, here p. 223-225].

26 For recent treatments of Jewish philosophy in Provence, Spain and Italy in the later medieval, and early Renaissance period, see D. H. Frank and O. Leaman (eds), op. cit., and (for primary sources with useful introductions to specific issues) David H. Frank, Oliver Leaman, and Charles H. Manekin (eds), The Jewish Philosophy Reader, London and New York, Routledge, 2000, especially p. 244-299.

27 Robert (Re’uven) Bonfil, “Introduction” to Judah Messer Leon, Nofet Zufim on Hebrew Rhetoric Mantua ca. 1475 [Hebrew], Jerusalem, Magnes Press, 1981, p. 7-53. Gersonides’ commentary to the Pentateuch was published in Mantua by Abraham Conat in 1475 (according to Bonfil, “Introduction”, p. 52).

28 I. Husik, Judah Messer Leon’s Commentary on the “Vetus Logica”, Leiden, Brill, 1906. Here too Messer Leon takes on Gersonides whom he calls disparagingly “the wise in his own eyes”, p. 93-108.

29 In a Hebrew letter to the Jews of Tuscany Messer Leon claims early kabbalists correctly applied Platonic concepts but he attacks more recent adepts who have effectively “attributed corporeality, mutability, multiplicity, and so forth to the Creator in accordance with their deficient understanding; they walk in darkness”; S. Assaf, “Mi-Ginze Bet-ha-Sefarim”, art. cit., p. 226 [= Mekorot u-Mehkarim, p. 224].

30 Ibid. [= Mekorot u-Mehkarim, p. 224].

31 Ibid. [= Mekorot u-Mehkarim, p. 223].

32 Robert Bonfil has treated Benjamin of Montalcino’s critique of Messer Leon’s claims to authority as part of his broader exploration of the institutional development of rabbinic authority in Renaissance Italy; Rabbis and Jewish Communities in Renaissance Italy, Oxford, Littman Library of Jewish Civilization, 1990, especially p. 45ff.

33 Saverio Campanini, “Un intellettuale ebreo del Rinascimento: ‘Ovadyah Sforno e i suoi rapporti con i cristiani”, in M. G. Muzzarelli (ed.), Verso l’epilogo di una convivenza. Gli ebrei a Bologna nel XVI secolo, Firenze, La Giuntina, 1996, p. 98-128.

34 Or Amim was translated by the author into Latin and published with a dedication to King Henri II of France as Opusculum nuper editum contra nonnulas Peripateticorum opinions … Lumen gentium appello in 1548. (A digitized copy is available through the online catalog of the National Library of Israel.) Significantly, this motive is not included in the Latin version. A section of the book is available in English translation in D. H. Frank, O. Leaman, and C. H. Manekin (eds.), op. cit., p. 295-298.

35 On earlier formulations of this argument and the Jewish response see, for example, Joseph Kimhi, The Book of the Covenant, trans. Frank Talmage, Toronto, The Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 1972; Daniel Lasker, Jewish Philosophical Polemics Against Christianity in the Middle Ages, New York, Ktav, 1977, p. 33-43.

36 The most thorough study of Sforno’s philosophical ideas as well as of the Or Amim (including the differences between the two versions), is Robert Bonfil, “Theory of the Soul and Holiness in the Thought of R. Obadiah Sforno” [Hebrew], Eshel Be’er Sheva, I, 1976, p. 200-257, and see also his “Il Rinascimento: La produzione esegetica di O. Servadio Sforno”, in Sergio J. Sierra (ed.), La lettura ebraica delle scritture, Bologna, Edizione Dehoniane, 1995, p. 261-277.

37 Robert Bonfil, “Rinascimento”, art. cit., p. 273f. citing P. C. Ioly Zorattini, “Il Mif’aloth Elohim di Isaac Abravanel e il Sant’Uffizio di Venezia”, Italia, 1, 1976, p. 54-69.

38 Peter Burke, The Renaissance Sense of the Past, New York, 1969. On Jewish historiography during the Renaissance see Robert Bonfil, “How Golden Was the Renaissance in Jewish Historiography?”, History and Theory, 27.4 (Beiheft), p. 78-102; Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi, “Clio and the Jews: Reflections on Jewish Historiography in the Sixteenth Century”, Proceedings of the American Academy for Jewish Research, 46/47, 1979/1980, p. 607-638; idem, Zakhor: Jewish History and Jewish Memory, Seattle, University of Washington Press, 1982, p. 53-75; Abraham Melamed, “The Perception of Jewish History in Italian Jewish Thought”, in Italia Judaica: Gli ebrei in Italia tra Rinascimento ed Età barocca [= Atti del II Convegno internazionale, Genova 10–15 giugno 1984], Rome, 1986, p. 139-170. Me’or Enayim is available in an English translation by Joanna Weinberg, Light of the Eyes, op. cit. On de’ Rossi see Joanna Weinberg, “Azariah de’ Rossi: Towards a Reappraisal of the Last Years of His Life”, Annali della scuola normale superior di Pisa, 3rd ser., 8, 1978, p. 493-511; idem, “The Beautiful Soul: Azariah de’ Rossi’s Search for Truth”, in David B. Ruderman and Giuseppe Veltri (eds), Cultural Intermediaries: Jewish Intellectuals in Early Modern Italy, Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004, p. 109-126.

39 Robert Bonfil, “Some Reflections on the Place of Azariah de Rossi’s Meor Enayim in the Cultural Milieu of Italian Renaissance Jewry”, in Bernard D. Cooperman (ed.), Jewish Thought in the Sixteenth Century, Cambridge MA, Harvard University Press, 1983, p. 23-48. Bonfil stresses that “the majority and senior part of the outstanding Italian scholars never joined” the campaign against the book and “even supported de Rossi by appending their signature to a document” in his support, p. 28-29.

40 R. Bonfil, “Place of Azariah de Rossi”, art. cit., p. 27, n. 42; Weinberg, Light of the Eyes, op. cit., p. xxi.

41 Azariah de’ Rossi, Me’or Enayim, ed. David Cassel, Vilna, 1866, p. 179. Joanna Weinberg provides a more literal translation than my own in Light of the Eyes, op. cit., p. 236.

42 Me’or Enayim, p. 339; Weinberg, Light of the Eyes, op. cit., p. 500.

43 R. Bonfil, “Place of Azariah de Rossi”, art. cit., p. 35ff.

44 Weinberg, “The Beautiful Soul”, art. cit., p. 117ff.; Joanna Weinberg (ed.), Azariah de’ Rossi’s Observations on the Syriac New Testament: A Critique of the Vulgate by a Sixteenth-Century Jew, London and Turin, Warburg Institute, 2005.

45 Leon Modena, Ari Nohem, ed. Nehemia Shmuel Liebowitz, Jerusalem, Darom, 1929, p. 68f.

46 On this work, see Yaakov Dweck, The Scandal of Kabbalah: Leon Modena, Jewish Mysticism, Early Modern Venice, Princeton NJ, Princeton University Press, 2011, and see my forthcoming review in Religion & Literature 47.2. Modena’s erudite and passionate attack on the authenticity of the Zohar and the authority of kabbalah is an astonishingly bold statement of the radical views possible within the Italian Jewish world of his time. On Modena’s life, see Mark R. Cohen (ed.), The Autobiography of a Seventeenth-Century Venetian Rabbi. Leon Modena’s Life of Judah, Princeton NJ, Princeton University Press, 1988. For a systematic evaluation of another of his works, see Talya Fishman, Shaking the Pillars of Exile: “Voice of a Fool,” an Early Modern Jewish Critique of Rabbinic Culture, Stanford CA, Stanford University Press, 1997.

47 Cecil Roth, The Jews in the Renaissance, Philadelphia, Jewish Publication Society, 1959, p. xi.

48 Salo W. Baron, Social and Religious History of the Jews, New York, Columbia University Press, 1937, vol. II, p. 205f. Baron expanded on this in various chapters of the second edition, vol. XIII, 1969.

49 H. Tirosh-Rothschild, Between Worlds, op. cit., p. 313, n. 18. On the broader relation of rationalism to dogma in Judaism, what Menachem Kellner has called the “theologification of Judaism,” see his translation of Isaac Abravanel, Principles of Faith (Rosh Amanah), Oxford, Littman Library of Jewish Civilization, 1982; “What Is Heresy?”, Studies in Jewish Philosophy, 3, 1983, p. 55-70; idem, Dogma in Medieval Jewish Thought from Maimonides to Abravanel, Oxford, Littman Library, 1986; idem, Must a Jew Believe in Anything?, Oxford, Littman Library, 1999.

50 Bonfil does have a sense of the increased conversionist pressure on Jews coming from a Counter-Reformation during the Renaissance; striking to me was his portrayal of those who sought to ban Azariah de’ Rossi’s Me’or Enayim as “a handful of shaken men living in anxious times”; R. Bonfil, “Place of Azariah de Rossi”, art. cit., p. 25. Bonfil’s critique of Roth’s approach can be found in “The Historian’s Perception of the Jews in the Italian Renaissance: Towards a Reappraisal”, Revue des études juives, 143, 1984, p. 59-82; idem, Jewish Life in Renaissance Italy, Berkeley, 1994, passim. David Ruderman responded in defense of “Cecil Roth, Historian of Italian Jewry”, in David N. Myers and David B. Ruderman (eds), The Jewish Past Revisited: Reflections on Modern Jewish Historians, New Haven, Yale University Press, 1998, p. 128-142.

51 For skepticism among Italian Jews see Giuseppe Veltri’s recent edition of Simone Luzzatto: Scritti politici e filosofici di un Ebreo scettico nella Venezia del seicento, Milan, Bompiani, 2013, and Filosofo e rabbino nella Venezia del Seicento: studi su Simone Luzzatto con documenti inediti dall’Archivio di Stato di Venezia, Ariccia, Arcani, 2015. For interest in natural science see David B. Ruderman, Kabbalah, Magic, and Science: The Cultural Universe of a Sixteenth-Century Jewish Physician, Cambridge MA, Harvard University Press, 1988; idem, Jewish Thought and Scientific Discovery in Early Modern Europe, New Haven, Yale University Press, 1995.

52 That intellectual acculturation did not necessarily lead to communal breakdown in at least one community is demonstrated by Francesca Bregoli, Mediterranean Enlightenment: Livornese Jews, Tuscan Culture, and Eighteenth-Century Reform, Stanford CA, Stanford University Press, 2014, and see my review in AJS Review 39 (2015), p. 452-454. The assumption that lay (as opposed to rabbinic) control over communities is a sign of modernization is being challenged on many fronts and I expect to deal with it in a separate paper.

53 Jacob Katz, Out of the Ghetto: The Social Background of Jewish Emancipation, 1770–1870, Cambridge MA, Harvard University Press, 1973, p. 34ff.

54 Bernard D. Cooperman, “Afterword”, in J. Katz, Tradition and Crisis, op. cit., p. 245ff.; S. Feiner, “On the Threshold”, art. cit.

55 See in particular the collected studies of Yosef Kaplan, An Alternative Path to Modernity: The Sephardi Diaspora in Western Europe, Leiden, Brill, 2000. For a psychological and sociological analysis see David L. Graizbord, Souls in Dispute: Converso Identities in Iberia and the Jewish Diaspora, 1580–1700, Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004.

56 David Sorkin, “The Port Jew: Notes Toward a Social Type”, Journal of Jewish Studies, 50.1, 1999, p. 87-97; Lois Dubin, The Port Jews of Habsburg Trieste, Stanford, Stanford University Press, 1999; David Cesarani (ed.), Port Jews: Jewish Communities in Cosmopolitan Maritime Trading Centres, 1550–1950 [= special issue of Jewish Culture and History, 4.2, 2001]; David Cesarani and Gemma Romain (eds), Jews and Port Cities, 1590–1990: Commerce, Community and Cosmopolitanism [= special issue of Jewish Culture and History, 7.1–2, 2004].

57 The literature on the excommunications of Da Costa and Spinoza is large. Yosef Kaplan provides bibliographical references and contextualizes these two cases within a broader study of “The Social Functions of the Herem in the Portuguese Jewish Community of Amsterdam in the Seventeenth Century”, Dutch Jewish History, 1, Jerusalem, 1984, p. 111-155, reprinted in his An Alternative Path to Modernity, op. cit., p. 108-142, as well as “Deviance and Excommunication in the Eighteenth Century”, Dutch Jewish History, 3, Jerusalem, 1993, p. 103-115, reprinted in Alternative Path to Modernity, p. 143-154.

58 Study of the impact of print on Jewish culture is a burgeoning field of scholarship. See, for example, articles by Elhanan Reiner including, in English, “The Ashkenazi élite at the beginning of the modern era: manuscript versus printed book”, Polin: Studies in Polish Jewry, 10, 1997, p. 85-98, and “Beyond the realm of the Haskalah: Changing Learning Patterns in Jewish Traditional Society”, Jahrbuch des Simon-Dubnow-Instituts, 6, 2007, p. 123-133; Zeev Gries, The Book in the Jewish World 1700–1900, Oxford, Littman Library, 2007; idem, “L’imprimerie comme moyen de communication entre les communautés juives”, in S. Trigano (ed.), La Société juive à travers l’histoire, vol. 4, Paris, Fayard, 1993, p. 229-244; Joseph R. Hacker and Adam Shear, The Hebrew Book in Early Modern Italy, Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2011; Amnon Raz-Krakotzkin, “Persecution and the Art of Printing: Hebrew Books in Italy in the 1550s”, in R. I. Cohen, N. B. Dohrmann, A. Shear, and E. Reiner (eds), op. cit., p. 97-108; Bernard D. Cooperman, “Organizing Knowledge for the Jewish Market: An Editor/Printer in Sixteenth-Century Rome”, in Peggy K. Pearlstein (ed.), Perspectives on the Hebraic Book: The Myron M. Weinstein Memorial Lectures at the Library of Congress, Washington DC, Library of Congress, 2012, p. 78-129.

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Bernard Dov Cooperman, « Legitimizing Rhetorics: Jewish “Heresy” in Early Modern Italy », Études Épistémè [En ligne], 31 | 2017, mis en ligne le 13 octobre 2017, consulté le 16 octobre 2017. URL : http://episteme.revues.org/1764 ; DOI : 10.4000/episteme.1764

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Bernard Dov Cooperman

Bernard Dov Cooperman currently holds the Louis L. Kaplan Chair of Jewish History at the University of Maryland. His research focuses on the social history of early modern Jewry, especially in Italy. Recent studies include “Licenses, Cartels, and Kehila: Jewish Moneylending and the Struggle Against Restraint of Trade in Early Modern Rome,” in R. Kobrin and A.Teller, eds., Purchasing Power: The Economics of Modern Jewish History (Univ. of Penn., 2015); “What If the ‘ghetto’ had never been constructed?” in G. Rosenfeld, ed., What Ifs of Jewish History (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2016); and “Global History and Jewish Studies: Paradoxical Agendas, Contradictory Implications” in Giornale di Storia (2016). Current projects include a study of the 1524 constitution of Roman Jewry (Capitoli), and a book length treatment of the significance of the early modern ghetto in Jewish and general history.

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