Page 113 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 27

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— E
l i j a h
ev ita
mar book by that title (as was often done) or vice versa? He
answers this question himself in the introduction to the
He named it thus because it was choice
, be­
cause it was for the young
, and because
was his
surname (perhaps because he married late). ‘Tishbi’ finally is
a natural companion for Elijah (the Tishbite). He also wrote a
book by that name which contains seven hundred and twelve
sections, corresponding to the numerical value of ‘Tishbi.’
Born in 1469 (some think ’68, others ’77) in Ipsheim near
Neustadt, not far from Nuremberg, he immigrated to Italy
when still a young man and settled first in Venice, then in Pa­
dua. Teaching Hebrew for a livelihood, he pursued his studies
and began to write. Typically, his first book was an annotated
edition of Moses Kimhi’s
This short, practical gram­
mar textbook had been extant for well over three centuries, but
only through Levita did it become widely known. It saw edition
after edition and was translated into Latin by Sebastian Munster,
who also translated many other Levita publications fresh from
the press for use by Christians. However, through the duplicity
of an unfaithful messenger, the book appeared without Levita’s
name. Likewise in Padua Levita wrote the
We shall
return to this important item of Judeo-German literature later.
In 1509 Padua was sacked by troops of the League of Cambrai.
Levita lost his possessions and was forced to flee. For the next ten
or thirteen years (there is some discrepancy here) he lived peace­
fully enough in the Roman palace of Egidio de Viterbo, then
general of the Augustine order and later cardinal. Egidio typified
a whole generation of Christian scholars (both Catholic and Prot­
estant, as we are standing on the threshold of the Reformation)
for whom the study of Hebrew had become a matter of urgency.
For one, it seemed now most important to read the Old Testa­
ment in the original. But even more, the Kabbalah fired Chris­
tian imagination. They had begun to see in it a divine confirm­
ation of all Christian doctrines, including the divinity of Jesus.
Among the Christian scholars who acquired the necessary He­
brew and Aramaic knowledge there were those who used it to
proselytize among the Jews, others to discredit them, or — like
the great Reuchlin — to promote the spirit of true humanism
and friendship. Egidio belonged to the latter group, as did all
of Levita’s Christian pupils.
In exchange for teaching his patron Hebrew and Aramaic
and voluminously copying or extracting kabbalistic books for
him, he learned Greek and gained an opportunity to do research
and to write. In quick succession he published
Sefer Habahur
(Rome, 1517 or ’ 18), a basic grammar dealing with verbs and
Sefer Haharkavah
(Rome, 1518), a treatise on irregular