Messer Leon, Judah b. Jehiel

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Judah Messer Leon was probably fifteenth-century Italy’s best Jewish exemplar of a ḥakham kolel or homo universalis. He was a rabbi, halakhic decisor, teacher, academy head, doctor, and author. He may have been the most decorated Jew in Italy, receiving not only the title “Messer” but also a doctorate. His written works include poetry, prayers, medical treatises, treatises on grammar, logic, and rhetoric, and commentaries on Aristotle, Averroes, Maimonides, and the Bible. His treatise on rhetoric, Nofet ṣufim (The Honeycomb’s Flow), which combined the “old rhetoric” of Aristotle and Averroes, the “new rhetoric” of Cicero, and interpretations of Biblical texts as rhetoric, was an important precursor to the interest in rhetoric among Italian humanists. His philosophical commentaries critiqued older interpretations of Aristotle by Gersonides in favor of scholastic interpretations and then current at the University of Padua. Taken together, his works sought to portray a unified Judaism in which ritual and scripture were understood to cohere with a philosophical approach to knowledge of the world. In his academies he promoted the view, probably influenced by Paduan scholasticism, that students should engage in the study of both religious and philosophical texts, though only combining these ideas at the very end of their studies when turning to Maimonides, Jedaiah Bedersi, and others. His greatest influence was probably through his son, David, whose writings became prominent in the Ottoman lands, and his students, the most famous of whom was Yohanan Alemanno, Hebrew tutor to Giovanni Pico della Mirandola.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationEncyclopedia of Renaissance Philosophy
EditorsMarco Sgarbi
Number of pages5
ISBN (Electronic) 3319028480
ISBN (Print)9783319141695
StatePublished - 2020


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