Page 114 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 27

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108
J
e w i s h
B
o o k
A
n n u a l
and compound words; and
Pirke Eliyahu
(Pesaro, 1520), which
rounded out his grammatical discourse with phonology, pre­
fixes, etc. Within a few years all were translated into Latin by
Munster—a boon to Christian students of Hebrew.
To illustrate my allusion above to Levita’s talent for new and
effective presentation of old materials, to the presence of lesser
“ firsts” in his writings, and to his importance for the study of
Hebrew even in our days, let us mention his rules on the vocal
shva
in
Perek Shir,
the rhymed First Part of
Pirke Eliyahu.
Com­
bining old masoretic information about the
shva
with Joseph
Kimhi’s innovation of classifying the vowels as short or long, Le­
vita defines five phonological situations in which the
shva
must
be sounded. Later, in
Masoret Hamasoret,
he improved his for­
mulation, and since then the “ Five Rules of Elijah Bahur” have
never been missing from the textbooks.
Levita as Corrector andEditor
In 1527, when Rome was conquered by Charles V, Levita lost
for the second time all he possessed, including some well ad­
vanced manuscripts. He returned to Venice and became Hebrew
corrector and editor for Daniel Bomberg. This amazing Christian
printer from Antwerp had made Venice a center of Hebrew pub­
lishing.
At that time Levita counted George de Selve, French ambassador
to the Republic of Venice, among his illustrious pupils. With him
as patron, Levita finished in 1536 a work on which he had la­
bored for twenty years, having lost most of the first version during
the conquest of Rome. This
Sefer Hazikhronot,
a masoretic con­
cordance and Levita’s magnum opus, by a quirk of fate was
never printed. The huge MS, in the Bibliotheque Nationale in
Paris, is still awaiting publication.
When Francis I (through the mediation of de Selve, now Bi­
shop of Lavour) invited Levita to fill the chair for Hebrew at the
University of Paris, he refused this great personal honor. It evi­
dences Levita’s Jewish integrity that he declined to become Pro­
fessor of Hebrew in a country where Jews were no longer per­
mitted to reside (since the decree of 1394).
Levita turned his immense knowledge of the Masorah to good
account in a concise textbook,
Masoret Hamasoret
(Venice, 1538),
which became probably his most celebrated work. Of special in­
terest are a series of introductions which, in addition to a history
of the Masorah, contain autobiographical data as well as the
author’s defense of his teaching the Holy Tongue to Christians.