3 Heshvan 5778
23 October 2017
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LSJS
London School of Jewish Studies

Moses ben Mordechai Zacuto

 

On the 1st of October 2017 it is 320 years since the death of the well known Talmudic scholar, Kabbalist and liturgical poet Moses ben Mordechai Zacuto (ca.1620 – 1697). He was born in Amsterdam into a Marrano family. He studied under Saul  Levi Morteira, Chacham of the Bet Ya’acob Community, in the Yeshivah Ets Haim. There he also received his secular education such as tuition in Latin, philosophy and poetry. As a result, he was not able to develop his Talmudic studies sufficiently which forced him to travel to Poland and further his Talmudic studies in the Yeshivah of Posen.

From an early age he showed great interest in the study of Mysticism. In his letters he referred to his teacher Elchanan, possibly the Kabbalist who died in Vienna in 1651. The story goes that he fasted 40 days in order to forget the Latin Language and to repent for having studied Latin, being the Language of Evil which would not be tolerated by the Kabbalistic Truth.

He moved to Italy remaining for some time in Verona . From 1641 he settled in Venice and became one of the Rabbis of the city and a member of the Venetian Yeshivah. Between 1649 and 1670 he was a proof reader  of many books printed in Venice, especially books on Kabbalah. He edited the Zohar Chadash in 1658 and also wrote many poems for special occasions.

Zacuto tended to give his support to the Sabbatean Movement. In 1666 he expressed, in a letter to a contemporary, his positive but cautious attitude to the Shabbatai Zvi Movement. However, aftr the apostasy of Shabbatai Zvi, he moved away and joined the other Venetian Rabbis in their battle against Nathan of Gaza, the disciple of Shabbatai  Zvi, who came to Venice in 1668.

In 1671 Zacuto was offered the position of Rabbi which he took on in 1673 and stayed there till his death in 1697. He became the authority on Kabbalah amongst his contemporaries in Italy.

Zacuto wrote a commentary on the Mishnah, Kol HaRemez, which was published in Amsterdam in 1719 by the famous printer Solomon Proops. You will be able to find a copy in our Rare Book Room.           

A collection of his Halachic Responsa was printed in 1760 in Venice. Although the LSJS Library does not possess the original edition, a photographed copy can be consulted in the library. Most of Zacuto’s poems are devoted to Kabbalistic ideas to be found in Taftah Aruch. He wrote this collection of poems in Italy. It was first published in 1715. The second edition of 1743 was published together with a sequel called Eden Aruch composed by Yaacob Daniel Olmo. This edition too finds its place in the Rare Book Room Collection.