Monday, November 26, 2012

Shadal series #15 - On Shadal's unusual rabbinic ordination - a guest post by Daniel A. Klein

One day I was lazily browsing through a microfiche reel and I suddenly stopped. It was the long lost semicha certificate of Samuel David Luzzatto! I copied it and promptly took it home and asked Dan Klein to translate it for me. 
Actually, I kid. I was looking for it of course. After Shadal's passing in 1865, his son Isaia made it his business to collect and publish as much of his father's literary legacy as he could (or wanted to; I've seen one too many references to letters in archives that contained more material than was actually published in, e.g., Igrot Shadal). One interesting thing, which he evidently considered fairly ephemeral, he chose to publish in August of 1877 in a magazine called the Corriere Israelitico (and, unfortunately, only in Italian translation without the original Hebrew). This was the text of a certificate of rabbinic ordination awarded to Shadal by the Chief Rabbi of Gorizia. 
In his own memoirs Shadal writes that his primary teacher, Rabbi Eliezer Abraham Ha-levi of Trieste, informed him at age 15 that he could be on track to receive rabbinic ordination at age 20 if he chooses. Shadal, however, did not consider himself suited for the rabbinate, being shy on the one hand, and dramatic and harboring lofty visions of scholarship for its own sake, on the other. So he declined. To which his rabbi remarked: "Luzzatto wants to be a hakham, but not a rav." 
As shocking as this sounds now, apparently in Italy one was called to the Torah as one had been ordained. (I know!) Thus, even if you were already a world-renowned talmid hakham, and even the teacher of a rising percentage of all the Italian rabbis to-be, without rabbinic ordination one could not be called to the Torah as a rabbi, not even Shadal. 
So digging through the dusty, squeaky, heat-emitting microfilms I located Isaia's article, took it home, and shared it with my friend Dan Klein who was inspired to translate it. Read - or skip - to the end. 
Actually, the article consists of two separate documents, and a short letter by Shadal. Isaia explains that the first is a recommendation letter by the Chief Rabbi of Trieste (Abram de Cologna, formerly the Chief Rabbi of Paris) and the second is the text of a semicha granted to his father by Isaac Samuel Reggio's (Yashar) father, Rabbi Abraham Reggio. Included is SDL's reply to the elder Reggio. Although Isaia is not completely sure, he guesses that the reason this ordination was given to his 38 year old father was  that the powers-that-be at the Rabbinical Seminary where Shadal taught considered it unseemly for him, one of its two teachers, to lack ordination, and instructed him to get it. This would make sense, as why else would he have gotten such an honorary degree, so to speak, from his friend's father? Perhaps the rabbi was the only one he didn't feel like a fool writing to ask for it. On the other hand, perhaps someone else (the younger Reggio himself, for example) was the one who asked for it. The latter interpretation might be inferred from Shadal's response to the semicha, also included here, in which he says it was "unexpected." Taken literally  - it was unexpected. In any case, here it is. 
Thanks, Dan! - S. 
PS A partial translation of this article did appear once before, but it is long lost, I believe. If and when I publish my Shadal essays both versions will appear, at least if Dan is kind enough to give his permission to me.

A Certificate and a Diploma for Samuel David Luzzatto

I believe I am doing something that will be appreciated by the readers of the Corriere, and especially by the people of Trieste, by offering them two unedited documents regarding the life of my revered father and their illustrious fellow citizen, extracting these documents from a long series of Materials Concerning the Life of Samuel David Luzzatto that I am busily collecting, and for the compilation of which I appeal for the cooperation of all the friends of S.D.L., but especially that of his scholars, those of the Schools of Padua and Trieste, some of whom have already accepted my proposal most eagerly.

It is only proper that these documents should see the light of day for the first time in that Trieste which gave him birth, and which still preserves so vividly the traditions of that Samuel David son of the "tornidor" of Pondares,1 who, as long as he lived, gloried in being its son.

The first of these documents is in Italian, because it evidently was made use of in the application for the professorship at the Istituto Rabbinico of Padua.

The second, which is actually a rabbinic diploma, set forth in Hebrew and written in the antique style on parchment, was translated into Italian at my request by my dear friend, His Excellency Moisè Coen Porto, Chief Rabbi of Venice,2 overcoming more than a few difficulties that arose in the translation process whenever an exact and faithful version was sought to be made, rather than a free paraphrase. Whenever a request is made to me to publish the original itself in some Hebrew publication, I will willingly furnish a copy.

This document was written on April 26, 1838, and in a letter written two weeks later (May 10, 1838) by the illustrious Isaac Reggio to my father, I find the following postscript: "After having written the present letter, today your paper directly reached His Excellency my father [Abraham Reggio], who renders thanks to you for the courteous expressions used in his regard."

Concerning the relevant request that must have been made by my father, I have found nothing, either in the copies of his letters or the letters in his own hand in my possession. However, from a letter of his of April 19, 1838, I perceive that on the previous day he had arrived in Gorizia, taking lodging in the Reggio home.

With respect to the motive that could have induced him to seek this title of Hakham, although it was quite alien to his nature to seek titles, lacking for the time being any positive information, I will make a simple hypothesis: I suppose that since his distinguished colleague, Prof. Lelio della Torre, had already been bestowed with the title of Rabbi, while my father possessed merely that of Maskil ve-Navon, as may be inferred from this document itself, the director of the Institute wanted my father, for the sake of the Institute's own dignity, to procure a similar title from some distinguished rabbi, especially for the solemnities attending the opening and closing of the Collegio, which were probably conducted in the synagogue, and that my father, having gone to Trieste and Gorizia in April 1838, spoke about it with Reggio.
Dr. Isaia Luzzatto
Padua, June 27, 1877*

* After having written the above, I found within a bundle of various autograph writings of my father a rough copy of a letter addressed, on May 8, 1838, to His Excellency R. Abraham Reggio, which I transcribe here in its entirety:

Most excellent Sir:

The most honorable letter of Your exalted Excellency3 and the attached Diploma were as sweet to me as they were unexpected4, and they afforded me a new proof of that goodness which so eminently distinguishes your character. I will always regard as the greatest of my honors the approbation of the venerable Nestor5 of the Rabbis of our age, whose wisdom, piety, and virtue I affirm as equally exemplary, notable, and renowned.

May Your exalted Excellency continue to inspire, for many more happy years, the joy of all those who have the good fortune of knowing you, and to receive the deserved homage of your admirers and devotees, among whom will always have the glory of being counted.

Your humble and most obedient servant,
Padua, May 8, 1838

Here, then, are the two documents:

Certificate by Rabbi Cologna

I attest that Signor Samuel David Luzzatto, a native of Trieste, is recognized here as a man of exemplary morality and of the finest character; that he is distinguished for his vast knowledge in various branches of literature, both sacred and secular; that he is a professor of Hebrew language and sacred exegesis, and is a profound philologist; and that he has acquired a distinguished reputation as the author of various compositions published by him, which have obtained full approbation on the part of the literary public.

I attest, then, that the said S. D. Luzzatto is, in my judgment, indisputably capable of occupying, with respect to said subjects, the chair of Professor in a Rabbinical Institute.
Chief Rabbi A. Cologna
Trieste, November 11, 1827

In the Name of God

O contemporaries, see this new flask that is full of old wine, the oldest, without adulteration. An all-containing cluster, a reasoning thinker and intellectual like Halcol and Darda, in Bible as well as in Mishnah and Gemara.

This star that emits a splendid light is the wise and intelligent Signor Samuel David Luzzatto, Professor at the Collegio Rabbinico of the famed city of Padua. The lion of society, who points the plain way to men of heart who eagerly learn in his school the statutes and laws of God in clear language. Renowned grammarian of the twenty-four books, celebrated poet in rhyme and meter. Behold, it is he who, from the chair of instruction, guides them on the path so that they may know and make known the things prohibited and lawful, together with morality, until they become chiefs of communities, in whatever places they may find shelter; hence (it may be deduced that) he who causes to be done is greater and more honorable than he who does. Seeing this great phenomenon, of which there has not been the like for centuries upon centuries, and his great wisdom in all and for all, to his friends and acquaintances I say that clear are the courses of the river of his wisdom, and that he has force and vigor. I say, let not his erudition be enclosed in a corner, notwithstanding his pure humility, and notwithstanding that titles and ranks of dignity have no importance to him; everyone should take hold of him as a shield and buckler, and thus the inhabitants of the world will see how great is the office of the law.

Therefore my heart tells me, and I have the word (ready) on my tongue, to exalt him and to crown him, throughout the regions of Israel, with the Rabbinic cloak of royalty, for to him pertains the firstborn's share; and with the assent of the Heavenly King and of the Tanna and Amora, I place my two hands upon him and invest him with a glorious crown, and I authorize him to be called to the Torah with the title of "the most excellent, learned, intelligent, and wise Signor Samuel David Luzzatto (Magnalad Achacham)6; this is an honor that comes of its own accord to one who bears the heavy weight; let this be done so that all the Community of Israel may hear and say, "This is the Law, and this its recompense."

And now, with palms stretched forth to Heaven in awe, I pray that God may render great and mighty the Professor of His just law, and that He raise him to all the rabbinical degrees in abundant and overflowing measure, with long life, plentiful sustenance, and riches of every kind. Amen, may this be His will.
These are the words of the weak voice of the one who is placed in the position of religious authority here in Gorizia and its environs, who writes and subscribes with his seal, today, the first of the month of Iyyar of this year (whose number is derived from numerical value of the plene form of the word biyrushalayim in the verse [Zech. 2:16]), "And He shall again choose Jerusalem" ([5]598).

The words of the Hebrew servant whose name is Abraham Reggio.

1 "Tornidor" is evidently the Trieste dialect's equivalent of the standard Italian "tornitore," meaning "turner" or "woodworker." This was the occupation of Hezekiah Luzzatto, Shadal's father. The family lived at 1306 Contrada Pondares in Trieste.
2 Porto (1834-1918) was a student of Shadal at the Collegio Rabbinico.
3 In the original, "Sua Magnalad," a combination of Hebrew and Italian; magnalad is the Italian Jewish pronunciation of ma'alat.
4 Emphasis in the original as transcribed by Isaia Luzzatto.
5 Nestor, a character in Homer's Iliad and Odyssey, came to be a proverbial figure of an elder statesman and wise counselor.
Names of wise men in the time of Solomon, see I Kings 5:11 [note by M. Coen Porto].
 "Tanna" is the author of the Mishnah and "Amora" is the author of the Gemara; here this means, with the assent of the greatest celebrated Rabbis [note by M. Coen Porto].
6 The Italian Jewish pronunciation of ma'alat ha-hakham, "the exalted scholar," i.e. Rabbi.


  1. But be not ye called Rabbi.

  2. Grazie, todah, thank you. What's fascinating about these documents is that they were slumbering for all these years in microfilm, but now that you have dug them out and made it possible to have them translated and publicized, Shadal scholarship will never be the same. No biographical account of Shadal that I have ever seen, not even Margolies' full-length book, has ever mentioned these documents. To be fair, it seems that Shadal himself never did anything to bring public attention to the fact that he had semicha from the senior Rabbi Reggio. To use a cute oxymoronic phrase from the Broadway musical "Once Upon a Mattress," Shadal's rabbinic diploma seems to have been a "secret proclamation."

    If you'll excuse just one minor quibble, Rabbi Cologna's position during the French phase of his career was not Chief Rabbi of Paris, but "grand rabbin de France." But once again, thanks for this post, amico mio. And of course you have my permission to use these translations in your essays. BTW, who did that previous "long lost" partial translation?

  3. Awesome post. Thanks. Do you have biographical info on this Rabbi Cologna?

  4. "Sua Magnalad" - lovely. What would that be in German, "Euer Kowedwürden"?

  5. If you squint really hard it may be possible to see the ghost of my reflection on the microfilm window. Look closely!

    Thanks again Dan. Bet you never thought this would actually surface, huh? :-)

    Zohar, this is a start Don't take the reform thing seriously in the article - he was not a reformer, except insofar as he was part of the Napoleonic Sanhedrin and the resulting Parisian Consistory, which the Reform movement would eventually consider an atecedent (to the point where in some Reform responsa you can actually see resolutions of the Sanhedrin invoked as an authority). Cologna was and remained a traditional Italian rabbi. Posted about him once over here.

  6. Way to go Dan! Sorry I missed you on Thanksgiving-

  7. I don't see any declarayion that he was authorised to decide questi0ons of law.



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