Historical Figures

The size of the community and its widespread connections attracted many prominent rabbis and scholars throughout the centuries, including the humanist Judah Messer Leon (15th century), the physician Amatus Lusitanus, and Moses Basola (16th century), Mahalalel Hallelyja of Civitanova, Hezekiah Manoach Provenzal, Joseph Fermi (17th century), Samson Morpurgo, Joseph Fiammetta (18th century), Jacob Shabbetai Sinigaglia, Isaiah Raphael Azulai, David Abraham Vivanti, Isaac Raphael Tedeschi (19th century), and historian H. Rosenberg who published several monographs on local history.

 

The Arizal (Rabbi Yitzhak Luria,1534-1572) Synagogue in Safed (Israel)

 

Moses Basola

In the wake of the Ottoman conquest of Palestine (1516), Jews throughout the Diaspora took the opportunity to travel and settle in Palestine. One such traveler was Rabbi Moses Basola, an Italian rabbi whose extended pilgrimage lasted from 1521 to 1523. Basola described his journeys and experiences in a book primarily meant to provide western European Jewish pilgrims and potential settlers in Palestine with helpful information for planning their voyage. (Continue)

 

Judah Messer Leon

Medieval hospital, miniature (details unknown)

 

Judah ben Jehiel Rofe, known as Messer Leon, (c. 1420-1425–c. 1498), was an Italian rabbi, teacher, physician and philosopher. In his works he assimilated the best teachings of Italian universities of the time, filtered through the intellectual culture of Jewish tradition. He is seen as a quintessential example of a hakham kolel (“comprehensive scholar”), a scholar who excelled in both secular and rabbinic studies: the Hebrew equivalent of a Renaissance man. Messer Leon, who was born in Montecchio (Vicenza), settled as a rabbi in Ancona. Here he established a yeshiva, where he combined the traditional study of Jewish texts with lectures on medieval secular curriculum. This yeshiva followed him in his travels around Italy over the next four decades. He was also licensed to practice medicine. His success in this field brought him much acclaim. Between 1456 and 1472 he lived in Padua and Bologna, obtaining the title of doctor from the university in Padua in 1469. After a short stay in Venice, in 1473, he became a rabbi in Mantua. There he started a theoretical dispute with his colleague Joseph Colon, which lead to the expulsion of both from the city, in 1475.

 

In 1480 he settled in Naples, then under the tolerant rule of Ferdinand I. He remained there, with his yeshiva, until they were forced to flee in 1495, the year after the death of King Ferdinand, in order to escape the violent persecution. It is not known where R. Messer Leon died.

 

Vito Volterra

Vito Volterra, 1924

 

Vito Volterra (3 May 1860 – 11 October 1940) is considered one of the great mathematicians of the 20th century for his contributions to mathematical biology and integral equations. Born in Ancona when it was still part of the Papal States, into a very poor Jewish family, Volterra showed early promise in mathematics. He attended the University of Pisa, where he became professor of rational mechanics in 1883. He immediately started work developing his theory of functionals, which led to his interest and later contributions in integral and integro-differential equations.

 

In 1892, he became professor of mechanics at the University of Turin and in 1900 assumed professorship in mathematical physics at the University of Rome. Volterra had grown up during the final stages of the Risorgimento, when the Papal States were finally annexed by Italy and he was an enthusiastic patriot. At the outbreak of World War I, already well into his 50s, he joined the Italian Army and worked on the development of airships. He originated the idea of using inert helium rather than flammable hydrogen.

 

In 1922, he joined the opposition to the Fascist regime of Benito Mussolini and in 1931 he was one of only 12 (out of 1,250) professors who refused to take a mandatory oath of loyalty to the regime. Consequently he was forced to resign his university post and his membership in scientific academies. During the following years, he lived mostly abroad, returning to Rome just before his death.
 
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Corrado Cagli

Corrado Cagli, Ancona 1910                                         Corrado Cagli, Solo per Cello, drawing, 1944

 

Born in Ancona from a traditional Jewish family of Marche, Cagli became an exceptional artist the first half of the Twentieth Century distinguishing himself for his early murals. Along with other contemporary innovators, he formed the Scuola Romana. In 1938, when Mussolini promulgated the Racial Laws, Cagli fled to Paris and later, with his sister, the writer Ebe Cagli to New York where he became a U.S. citizen. In 1944 he enlisted in the U.S. Army and witnessed the liberation of Buchenwald producing a series of dramatic drawings illustrating what he saw in the death camp. Defining himself “soldato di ventura” Cagli provided one of the earliest visual accounts of the Nazi genocidal project. In 1948, he returned to Rome to take up permanent residence there. From that time forward, according to his method of multiple search, he experimented in various abstract and non-figurative techniques (neo-metaphysical neo-cubist, informal). He was awarded the Guggenheim prize in 1946. He died at Rome in 1976.