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Jewish Commentators — Their Lives and Works

 

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David ben Judah Messer Leon
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Hebrew Name(s): דוד בן יהודה מסר לאון

Period: Acharonim — 15th–16th Century
Location: Venice, Italy; Salonica, Greece.
Dates: c. 1470–1526

Biography:
David ben Judah Messer Leon (rabbi, physician and writer) defended the value of secular disciplines and the Renaissance humanities as an important part of traditional Jewish studies.
The son of Judah Messer Leon, David ben Judah was educated at Naples in the school of his father, and later with Judah Minz (Padua). After further studies in Florence he returned to Naples where he practiced as a physician and taught in his father's academy. When the city fell to the French under Charles VIII he fled east to the Ottoman Empire and spent time in Istanbul before moving, sometime between 1498 and 1504, to teach Torah in Salonica which was the new home of many Sephardi exiles forced to leave the west after the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492, Sicily in 1493, and Portugal in 1496.
 
At Salonica that he completed his main work, Ein ha-Kore (Eye of the Reader), a sympathetic commentary defending Maimonides' Guide for the Perplexed which criticized the commentary of Isaac Abravanel. He also produced works on the secular sciences, all of which, with the exception of two, remained unpublished. Leon used the language of Kabbalah to express his philosophy, although he was not a mystic. His kabbalistic work Magen David which is still extant in manuscript quotes the Greek and the Arabic philosophers also. Plato, he claimed, was the greatest kabbalist taught by the prophet Jeremiah.
 
Leon was considered as a high Talmudic authority. Leon mentions a commentary of his own on Moses of Coucy's Sefer Mitzvot Gadol (SeMaG).

Works:
Ein ha-Kore (Eye of the Reader); Tehillah le-Dawid (Glory to David); Magen David; Abir Ya'aḳob; Sefer ha-Derashot; Menorat ha-Zahab; Miktam le-Dawid; Sod ha-Gemul; Shebaḥ ha-Nashim; Tehillah le-Dawid; Kebod Ḥakamim.

Comments:
Ein ha-Kore is a sympathetic commentary on Maimonides' Guide for the Perplexed.
Tehillah le-Dawid is an encyclopedic summary of Jewish philosophy, edited by his grandson Aaron ben Judah.
Abir Ya'aḳob—on medicine and other sciences.
Sefer ha-Derashot is a collection of sermons arranged in the order of the sections of the Torah (according to Neubauer, it is identical with the Tif'eret Adam quoted in Leon's commentary on Lamentations.)
Menorat ha-Zahab is a haggadic commentary on Lamentations
Miktam le-Dawid is a kabbalistic work mentioned in the Ein ha-Kore.

 

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