Leon Da Modena (Ben-isaac Ben-mordecai)
Leon Da Modena (Ben-Isaac Ben-Mordecai), also called Jehudah Arje Modanese, one of the most celebrated Italian rabbis, the Jewish John Knox of the 16th century in Italy, was born in Venice April 23, 1571, of an ancient and literary family, originally from France. Leon displayed his talents and extraordinary intellectual endowments at a most tender age. The Sabbatic lesson, SEE HAPHTARAH, it is said, he read before the whole congregation in the synagogue when he was only two and a half years old, and he began to preach (דרשן) when he had scarce reached the age of ten. At thirteen Leon came before the public with a treatise against gambling with dice and cards (entitled סור מירע, first published in 1596, and reprinted in French, Latin, and German), and thus active, and retaining all the vigor and elasticity of youth, he remained through life, though- subjected to great suffering by the great misfortune of passing his days by the side of an insane wife, and by following his promising sons to an early grave. With a genius so fertile, and a mind so swell endowed, coupled with a thirst for learning and devotedness to Biblical literature and exegesis, master of the Latin, Italian, and Hebrew, he surveyed the whole theological and philosophical field with ease, and became the author of numerous poetical, liturgical, ethical, doctrinal, polemical, and exegetical works. Unfortunately, however, for Leon Modena, he was fickle in mind, and both to adhere long to one opinion, in consequence of which we find him today the decided exponent of Mosaism, tomorrow the staunch defender of Rabbinism, the next day in favor of a total abrogation of the whole ceremonial law, and perhaps on the day following an apologist for Christianity, because, as he expressed it, Judaism formed its base. Both the orthodox and liberal Jews claim Leon as the exponent of their doctrines; but we think that justly he can be claimed only by the Reformed Jewish Church, for his masterpiece is, after all, the Kol Sakol (קול שכל), the existence of which was long known, but it was only in the present century that the MS. was discovered in the library of the duke of Parma. It was then drawn from its hiding-place, and was published under the supervision of the late rabbi Reggio in בחינת הקבלה (Gorz, 1852); an English translation appeared in The Jewish Tines (New York), in the last numbers of 1871. This work contains a concise and terse exposition of the religious philosophy of Judaism, and of the ideas embodied in the various ceremonial practices, and is written from a most liberal stand-point. He also wrote
בן דבד, a treatise on Metempsychosis, in which he takes ground against the Cabalists (published in רעם קנים, p. 61 sq.): — Hebrew and Italian Dictionary, called גלות יהודה ("The Captivity of Judah"), or פשר דבר ("Explanation of Words"), in which he explains in Italian all the difficult expressions in the Hebrew Bible, and which is preceded by grammatical rules (Venice, 1612; Padua, 1640; also printed in the margin of the Hebrew Bibles published for the use of the Italian Jews, following the order of the canonical books): — Rabbiiical and Italian Vocabulary, called פי אריה ("The Lion's Mouth"), of which the Italian title is Raccolta delle voci Rabin. non Hebr. ne Chald., etc. (Padua, 1640; appended to the preceding work; afterwards printed separately in Venice, 1648): — A polemical treatise against the Cabalists, whom he despised and derided, on the genuineness of their interpretation of the Pentateuch (Sochr), entitled נוהם ספר ארי (edited by Dr. Fürst, Leipzic, 1840): — Historia dei Riti Hebraici ed observanza degli Hebrei di questi tempi,or the history of the rites, customs, and manner of lifeof the Jews, consisting of thirteen hapters, and writtenin Italian (Paris, 1637; in a revised form,Venice, 1638).This celebrated and most useful manual was translatedinto English by Edmund Chilmead (Lond. 1650); andalso edited by Simon Ocklev, under the title History of the present Jews throughout the World (London, 1707), in Picard's Ceremonies and Religious Custons of the various Nations of the known World, vol. 1 (London, 1733); into French by father Simon, who prefaced it with an elaborate account of the Karaites and Samaritans (Par. 1674); into Dutch (Amsterd. 1683), and into Latin by Grosgebauer, Historia rituum Judaeorum (Frankfort-on-the-Main, 1693): — Commentary on the Books of Samuel: — Commentary on the five Megilloth, i.e. the Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, and Esther: — Commentary on the Psalms: — Commentary on Proverbs: — Commentary on the Sabbatic Lessons: — and a polemical work against Christianity, entitled מגן וחרב; but several of these works have not as yet been published. Leo died in Venice, where he was chief rabbi, in 1648. See his autobiography, entitled היי יהידה, extant only in MS., from which extracts were made by Carmoly. Rev. Orientale (1842), p. 49 sq., and Reggio, בחינת הקבלה. (1852); Fürst, Bibl. Judaica, 2:383 sq.; Steinschneider, Catalogus Libr. Hebr. in Fibl. Bodleiana, col. 1345-56; Der Israelitische Volkslehrer (Frankfort-on-the-Main, 1854), 4:91 sq., 186 sq., 247 sq.; 1855, v. 396 sq.; Geiger, in Liebermann's Volkskalender-
Jahrbuch, 1856; Gratz, Gesch. d. Juden, 10:141 sq.; Kitto, Cyclop. Bibl. Lit. vol. 2, s.v.