Samuel David Luzzatto (Shadal)

19th-century Italian scholar/poet who questioned authorship of the Zohar.

Samuel David Luzzatto, also known as the Shadal, was an Italian poet and scholar of Jewish texts.

As a child in the Italian city of Triest, he studied with the city’s chief rabbi Abraham Eliezer ha-Levi. While still a teenager, he wrote a Hebrew grammar book in Italian, translated the life of Aesop into Hebrew, wrote Torah commentary and completed scores of poems.

Luzzatto supported himself by working as a tutor and writing for a Hebrew-language publication until 1829, when he was appointed professor at the rabbinical college of Padua.

Luzzatto was the first Jewish scholar to study Syriac, an Aramaic dialect, which he found necessary to understand Aramaic translations of the Bible. Through a careful examination of the Book of Ecclesiastes, Luzzatto came to the conclusion that its author was not King Solomon, as is traditionally believed, but someone who lived several centuries later and whose name was Ḳohelet. He was also one of the first scholars to allege that the Zohar, a foundational work of Jewish mysticism, was not in fact written by Simeon ben Yochai, as traditionally believed.

Luzzatto was critical of Jewish efforts — including Maimonides’ — to synthesize classical philosophy with Jewish teachings. He also attacked the medieval Spanish scholar Abraham ibn Ezra, declaring his works repetitive.
Luzzatto was a prolific writer in both Hebrew and Italian, and contributed to most of the Hebrew and Jewish periodicals of his time.

Adapted from the Jewish Encyclopedia.

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