Encyclopædia Britannica, Ninth Edition/Elias Levita

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ELIAS LEVITA (14721549), a Jewish rabbi, the most distinguished Hebrew scholar of his time, was born at Neustadt, on the Aisch, in Bavaria, in 1472. From the fact that he spent most of his life in Italy, some have supposed him to have been an Italian by birth. There can be no doubt, however, that he was a German, as he asserts the fact in the preface to one of his works, and his pupil Munster states expressly that he was born at Neustadt of Jewish parents. His father, Rabbi Ascher Levita, assumed the surname of Asehkenasi (the German), which was also used by the son. Bauishcd as a Jew from his native country, Elias went to Italy in the beginning of the 16th century. He resided at first in Venice, where he earned a high reputation as a teacher of Hebrew. In 1504 he removed to Padua, where he continued his career as a teacher, and wrote a commentary on the Hebrew grammar of Rabbi Kimchi. When Padua was sacked in 1509 he lost all his property, and removed to Venice. About 1512 he took up his residence in Rome, where he enjoyed for a number of years the friendship of Cardinal Egidio, and of several other dignitaries of the church. So intimate were his rela- tions with the Christians that he was accused of having apostatized from Judaism. His opinions were undoubtedly more liberal than those of the majority of the Jews of his time, but there is no reason to question his own assertion that he remained true to the faith in which he was born. When Rome was attacked by Charles V. in 1527, Elias Levita lost all his means for the second time, and again found an asylum in Venice. In 1540 he went to Isny in Swabia, having been. invited by Paul Fagius to join him in the superintendence of a printing—press for Hebrew books. The last two years of his life were spent in Venice, where he died in 1549. The most valuable of the numerous works of Elias Levita were those bearing on Hebrew grammar and lexicography. His .llccssoret/L IIammassoret/L (Venice, 1538) is a critical commentary on the text of the Hebrew Scriptures, and contains a very able discussion of the question of the origin of the vowel points, which he assigns to the Massoretic doctors of the school of Tiberias in the 5th century after Christ. He also wrote a treatise on Hebrew grammar, a dictionary, chiefly to the Targums and the Talmud, and several smaller works in Hebrew philology. In the preface to his Mossoret/a, and other por- tions of his works, there are various autobiographical details. A German translation of the flIassoreth [[ammassoreth by Semler appeared in 1772, and an edition of the work with notes and an English translation was published in London

in 1867.