Samuel David Luzzatto, Prolegomena to a Grammar of the Hebrew Language by Aaron D. Rubin (Gorgias Press) is primarily an annotated translation of a little-known Italian work about Hebrew grammar by Luzzatto. First published in 1836, Prolegomeni ad una grammatica ragionata della lingua ebraica, is perhaps the most important grammatical work of the influential Italian scholar, Samuel David Luzzatto (1800-1865). Never reprinted, and never before fully translated, this long inaccessible work has become almost unknown. This book, which was intended to serve as an introduction to a comprehensive grammar of Hebrew, treats the history of Hebrew in a variety of ways. Luzzatto begins with a history of Hebrew scholarship, from Talmudic times through the early nineteenth century, including both Jewish and Christian grammarians. Following this wide-ranging survey, which has yet to be superseded, is a brief history of the Hebrew language itself, from its origins to its later manifestations. The remainder of the book is comprised of chapters on various linguistic phenomena of both Hebrew and Aramaic. Among the subjects treated are the nature of the Hebrew and Aramaic vowels (including Syriac), the development of the pointing tradition, and an important treatment of the accentual system. In each of its various chapters, the book is replete with information and innovative insight that is still valuable to the modern scholar. Moreover, in addition to the translation and copious annotations, the translator has added an appendix containing biographical sketches of the roughly 275 Hebrew scholars mentioned by Luzzatto. The book will be of great use to anyone interested in the Hebrew language and its fascinating history.
Italian philologist, poet, and Biblical exegete; born at Triest Aug. 22, 1800; died at Padua Sept. 30, 1865. While still a boy he entered the Talmud Torah of his native city, where besides Talmud, in which he was taught by Abraham Eliezer ha-Levi, chief rabbi of Triest and a distinguished pilpulist, he studied ancient and modern languages and profane science under Mordecai de Cologna, Leon Vita Saraval, and Raphael Baruch Segré, whose son-in-law he later became. He studied Hebrew also at home, with his father, who, though a turner by trade, was an eminent Talmudist.
Luzzatto manifested extraordinary ability from his very childhood, so that while reading the Book of Job at school he formed the intention to write a commentary thereon, considering the existing commentaries to be deficient. In 1811 he received as a prize Montesquieu's "Considérations sur les Causes de la Grandeur des Romains," etc., which contributed much to the development of his critical faculties. Indeed, his literary activity began in that very year, for it was then that he undertook to write a Hebrew grammar in Italian, translated into Hebrew the life of Æsop, and wrote exegetical notes on the Pentateuch (comp. "Il Vessillo Israelitico," xxv. 374, xxvi. 16). The discovery of an unpublished commentary on the Targum of Onḳelos induced him to study Aramaic (preface to his "Oheb Ger").
At the age of thirteen Luzzatto was withdrawn from school, attending only the lectures in Talmud of Abraham Eliezer ha-Levi. While he was reading the "'En Ya'aḳob" by Jacob ibn Ḥabib, he came to the conclusion that the vowels and accents did notexist in the time of the Talmudists, and that the Zohar, speaking as it does of vowels and accents, must necessarily be of later composition. He propounded this theory in a pamphlet which was the origin of his later work "Wikkuaḥ 'al ha-Ḳabbalah."
In 1814 there began a most trying time for Luzzatto. His mother dying in that year, he had to do the housework, including cooking, and to help his father in his work as a turner. Nevertheless, by the end of 1815 he had composed thirty-seven poems, which form a part of his "Kinnor Na'im," and in 1817 had finished his "Ma'amar ha-Niḳḳud," a treatise on the vowels. In 1818 he began to write his "Torah Nidreshet," a philosophico-theological work of which he composed only twenty-four chapters, the first twelve being published in the "Kokebe Yiẓḥaḳ," vols. xvi.-xvii., xxi.-xxiv., xxvi., and the remainder translated into Italian by M. Coen-Porto and published in "Mosé," i-ii. In 1879 Coen-Porto published a translation of the whole work in book form. In spite of his father's desire that he should learn a trade, Luzzatto had no inclination for one, and in order to earn his livelihood he was obliged to give private lessons, finding pupils with great difficulty on account of his timidity. From 1824, in which year his father died, he had to depend entirely upon himself. Until 1829 he earned a livelihood by giving lessons and by writing for the "Bikkure ha-'Ittim"; in that year he was appointed professor at the rabbinical college of Padua.
At Padua Luzzatto had a much larger scope for his literary activity, as he was able to devote all his time to literary work. Besides, while explaining certain parts of the Bible to his pupils he wrote down all his observations. Luzzatto was the first Jewish scholar to turn his attention to Syriac, considering a knowledge of this language necessary for the understanding of the Targum. His letter published in Kirchheim's "Karme Shomeron" shows his thorough acquaintance with Samaritan. He was also the first Jew who permitted himself to amend the text of the Old Testament; and his emendations have met with the approval of Christian scholars. Through a careful examination of the Book of Ecclesiastes, Luzzatto came to the conclusion that its author was not Solomon, but some one who lived several centuries later and whose name was Ḳohelet. The author, Luzzatto thinks, ascribed his work to Solomon, but his contemporaries, having discovered the forgery, substituted the correct name "Ḳohelet" for "Solomon" wherever the latter occurred in the book. As to the Book of Isaiah, in spite of the prevalent opinion that chapters xl.-lxvi. were written after the Captivity, Luzzatto maintained that the whole book was written by Isaiah. Difference of opinion on this point was one of the causes why Luzzatto, after having maintained a friendly correspondence with Rapoport, turned against the latter. Another reason for the interruption of his relations with the chief rabbi of Prague was that Luzzatto, though otherwise on good terms with Jost, could not endure the latter's rationalism. He consequently requested Rapoport to cease his relations with Jost; but Rapoport, not knowing Luzzatto personally, ascribed the request to arrogance.
Luzzatto was a warm defender of Biblical and Talmudical Judaism; and his opposition to philosophical Judaism brought him many opponents among his contemporaries. But his opposition to philosophy was not the result of fanaticism nor of lack of understanding. He claimed to have read during twenty-four years all the ancient philosophers, and that the more he read them the more he found them deviating from the truth. What one approves the other disproves; and so the philosophers themselves go astray and mislead students. It is for this reason that while praising Maimonides as the author of the "Yad," Luzzatto blames him severely for being a follower of the Aristotelian philosophy, which, he says, brought no good to himself while causing much evil to other Jews ("Penine Shadal," p. 417). Luzzatto attacked Abraham ibn Ezra also, declaring that the latter's works were not the products of a scientific mind, and that as it was necessary for him in order to secure a livelihood to write a book in every town in which he sojourned, the number of his books corresponded with the number of towns he visited. Ibn Ezra's material, he declared, was always the same, the form being changed sometimes slightly, and at other times entirely ("Kerem Ḥemed," iv. 131 et seq.). Luzzatto's pessimistic opinion of philosophy made him naturally the adversary of Spinoza, whom he attacked on more than one occasion.
During his literary career of more than fifty years, Luzzatto wrote a great number of works, both in Hebrew and in Italian. Besides he contributed to most of the Hebrew and Jewish periodicals of his time. His correspondence with his contemporaries is both voluminous and instructive; there being hardly any subject in connection with Judaism on which he did not write.
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