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LETTER BY MOSES DI ROSSI FROM PALESTINE 491
A LETTER BY MOSES DI ROSSI FROM PALESTINE,
In a corpus geographorum, for which it will be one of the first duties
of Jewish Science to edit critical texts of Hebrew descriptive travels
composed during the latter half of the fifteenth and the beginning
of the sixteenth centuries, the post of honour will certainly belong
to the Italians. The extraordinarily favourable relations between
Venice and the whole of the Orieht, the periodical voyages of perfectly
equipped vessels to Egypt and Palestine \ the development of trade
between the Republic and the Levant, acted as a continual stimulus
to the Italian Jews to visit the scenes of their national glory. Though
a natural result of their refined intellects, their liberal education,
which had reached a higher stage in Italy than elsewhere, and their
mastery of the Hebrew language, exhibited in a flowing and pure
prose, still praise is due to the Italian Jews for having preserved their
observations and impressions permanently, in detailed reports of
their travels, and in letters sent home to their relatives and friends.
These reports and epistles furnish valuable historical data concerning
countries and periods of which we should otherwise have remained in
total darkness. The eagerness with which every one awaited news
from the Orient transformed every pilgrim into a geographer, every
traveller into an author. Merchant or scholar, saint or man of the
world, all wrote accounts of their travels, which, on reaching their
destination, were shown round and were even copied and widely dis-
tributed. Thus, for example, there are the valuable travels which
Meshullam b. Menachem 2 di Volterra 3 wrote in 1481, describing his
1 Cp. notices of these travelling routes in M. Steinschneider's Hebr.
Bibliographie, XXI, 136.
2 Possibly the scribe of the Codex Gunzberg 166, Menachem b. Aaron
b. Joab of Volterra is Meshullam's father. He styles himself, according
to Senior Sachs' catalogue, at the close of this manuscript : nw "isp YMfn
tom rman pn« Yrrcm oroo vnn -vu itp-io o-p'aon nan '3co raw rrn nun
irmtor? nrvn rnrn '13 taicS lnrmnpi irvnonm wraroi H-rcaM vyo n'^Si w
xtfm OOTrti n»ni o'cSt neon row w tin unrrt dts' -ws nrrwa .
3 Edited by D. Castelli in A. M. Luncz's Jerusalem, I, p. 166, &c.
VOL. IX. K k
492 THE JEWISH QUARTERLY REVIEW
experiences during a journey to Egypt and Palestine. It appears
that commerce with precious stones often brought the Florentine
merchant to the Orient 1 . When Obadiah di Bertinoro. at the close of
1487, commenced his pilgrimage to the Holy Land 2 , Meshullam was
on the same ship, which he, however, left in order to re-embark at
Rhodes in a vessel bound for Chios 3 . The letter which Obadiah di
Bertinoro wrote to his father from Jerusalem is one of the most
authentic Jewish itineraries ever composed. The anonymous Italian
traveller who, probably impelled by R. Obadiah's example, left Venice
on August 5, 1495/ did not pass through Egypt, but went direct to
Beyruth*. This omission is regrettable, because we have thus lost
a number of valuable observations and evidences which we otherwise
might have possessed.
With the Italian Jews' renewed interest in the Ten Tribes
and the River Sambation, fostered by the accounts of David
Reubeni and other reporters from the Orient, the correspondence
from the Holy Land received a fresh impetus. The Cabbalist
Abraham Levi of Jerusalem had already, in 1524, sent a letter to
Mordecai Modena and Asher Levi 6 . In 1528 he gives an account of
the Ten Tribes *. His colleague Israel, probably Israel Ashkenazi of
Perugia, a friend of the Egyptian Nagid, Isaac Cohen Sholal, who
was spending his closing years in Jerusalem in dire want, sends his
patron Abraham of Perugia periodical letters, in which he discusses
the signs of the times and gives news concerning the Ten Tribes 7 .
Abraham of Perugia received reports on the same subject from Rafael
b. Azriel Trabotto 8 . Previously to this period already, Juda b.
Salomon di Blanes 9 , in Castello, had begun to collect everything that
reached him from the Orient on these topics ,0 .
Thus it will be explained that also a simple merchant, Moses di Rossi
of Cesena,whom originally commercial interests brought to the Orient,
sent to his native place a report of his travels, couched in literary
form, in which he also touches upon the question of questions,
1 Castelli in Luncz's Jerusalem, I, p. 186.
a His two Letters were published with a Translation in the Jahrbuck
j&r die Geschichte der Juden, 1863, II, p. 195, &c.
3 Ibid., p. 199.
* Also edited by A. Neubauer, and translated, ibid., p. 273, &c.
5 Codex 6a 4 of the Giinzberg Collection in St. Petersburg, according to
Senior Sachs' Manuscript Catalogue.
* Published by A. Neubauer in t to pp, 1888, IV, p. 24, &c, and in
The Jewish Quarterly Review, I, p. 10, &c.
7 Ibid., pp. 25-33. 8 Ibid. , p. 32, &c.
* Cp. D. Kaufmann in Revue des Etudes Juives, IV, p. 93, note 1.
10 t to pp, IV, p. 36, &c.
LETTER BY MOSES DI ROSSI PROM PALESTINE 493
which so excited his co-religionists— the existence of the Ten Tribes.
Abraham Joseph Salomon Graziano 1 , the indefatigable compiler
of Modena, justly deemed this letter worthy of preservation in his
Collection, in which his industry and scientific instinct rescued from
oblivion so many Jewish historical documents. From this work,
which is in my possession, Moses' letter is here published for the
first time. Moses di Rossi belonged, as his son Elias' name proves,
to the family of Menachem b. Elias of Cesena 2 . He set out for
the Orient in 1534. His son Elias appears to have been captured
by pirates. The father learnt, however, from a correspondent at
Famagusta in Cyprus, that Elias had been liberated from captivity.
Safed, in Galilee, became the home of Moses ; from this centre he under-
took many journeys for commercial purposes. A sister Hannah, and
her husband Isaac Baruch, accompanied him on his pilgrimage to
the Holy Land. But Isaac's feeble health was unequal to the hard-
ship of the voyage, so that a slight accident, a fall over a door step
in Zidon, proved fatal. The widow, Moses' sister, did not care to
stay longer in the East and soon returned home to Cesena, bringing
with her, as a pious memento of her Oriental travels, a list of
tombs in the Holy Land, given to her at Jerusalem, where she spent
two months with her husband and whence she accompanied him
to Hebron 3 . But though Moses leaves much to his sister's oral
report, he will not send his letter without some account of the Ten
Tribes. His meagre information only amounts to this : that a king-
dom of free Jewish tribes are said to live in the desert, far from the
ordinary course of caravans, and that they make common cause
with the Arabs in raids on travellers; the Jews, however, whom
they meet are treated hospitably, presented with rich gifts, and
safely escorted to their destination. This completely corresponds with
the account received by Abraham b. Isaac Halevi Ibn Megas, physician
in ordinary to the Sultan Solyman, whom he accompanied on his
expedition to Aleppo 4 . Our report repeats accounts of eye-witnesses
concerning Jewish tribes in Ethiopia, the Falashas B . In the market-
place of Trablous he met a Jewish merchant, who dealt in sugar,
rice, paper, and other products, but who also had with him seventy-
five Jewish male and female slaves from Ethiopia. Another Jewish
1 Cf. D. Kaufmann, Monatsschrift, 39, 351, note I.
2 Hebrew Bibliography, XII, 107 f.
3 Isaac Baruch cannot be the author of the work mentioned hy Zunz
(Collected Writings, I, p. 179, note 72), as the latter was written in 1521
* Zunz, I, p. 84, &c.
6 Cp. A. Epstein, Eldad ha-Dani, p. 183, &c.
K k 2
494 THE JEWISH QUARTERLY REVIEW
merchant of Trablous related his travels which brought him to the
Falashas, how he had crossed the so-called Magnetic Sea in a ship
put together without iron nails and so reached his destination. The
heat in those countries was so intense that the inhabitants were forced
to go about naked. The town Sindschel l was exclusively inhabited
by Jews who sold the king of Portugal, annually, 40,000 burdens
of pepper ; the money they received was used by them in commercial
enterprises. But what no other traveller has reported about the
Falashas, came to the ears of di Rossi, viz. : that they only recognize
Maimonides' Code and possess no other authorities on traditional law.
Consistently with the character of a cultivated Italian Jew, who was
at the same time a man of the world and a child of his age, Moses di
Rossi had also an eye for political and social life abroad. He reports
the conquests of the great Sultan Solyman, who, with the assistance
of the Grand Vizier Ibrahim, subdued Persia, the kingdom of the
Ssafi Dynasty. On December 31, 1534, the victorious Sultan received
the keys of Bagdad, which had surrendered without a blow having
been struck, and he was able to add to his other titles that of Lord
of Darus-Salam, the Home of prosperity and victory, as Bagdad used
to be called 2 . The conquest of Tebris, the heavy losses of the Turkish
army, which, in the winter of 1534-5, lost its beasts of burden 8 in the
impassable streets, were, as we learn from Moses, quickly and correctly
known at Safed. If Moses, as a Turkish subject, followed with keen
interest and sympathy the military movements of his sovereign, he,
on the other hand, does not fail to give his undiminished attention
to political events in the land of his birth. The ship arriving from
Ragusa had brought news of the election of a new Pope. Clement VII
had died, having occupied St. Peter's chair for twelve years, and
Alexander Parnese, after a cardinalate of forty years, had been elected,
in the Conclave of October, 1534, Pope, in his sixty -seventh year, with
the title Paul III*. Moses' expectation that this election would
prove favourable to the Jews seems to have been justified 5 by sub-
Moses was so far unfortunate in Safed that during his stay there
the price of provisions, which in ordinary years was incredibly low,
became, owing to a drought, excessively dear. The fruit that in
other years came from Damascus was completely destroyed by a hail-
1 On Singili or Cranganore in India, see Gustav Oppert, in Semitic Studies,
ed. by G. A. Kohut, pp. 404, 410 ; comp. also pp. 613-614.
2 Hammer, Geschichte des osmanischen Seiches, II 2 , pp. n 4- 11 8.
3 Ibid., p. 114.
4 Leopold von Eanke's History of the Popes, I 8 , p. 156.
* D. Kaufmann in the Seme des Etudes Juives, XXVII, p. 209, &c.
LETTER BY MOSES DI ROSSI FROM PALESTINE 495
storm. The grapes of Safed, which grew to a fabulous size and
weight, made up to some extent for the loss of other food stuffs.
Safed was a very busy place ; it was the centre of the entire
clothing industry. The trade in wool and its manufacture maintained
the inhabitants comfortably. The skill they had attained in the
tailors' art drove Venetian competition completely out of the field.
The growth of the city would, Moses thinks, make it in another ten
years unrecognizable. The chief commercial towns in the vicinity
were Beyruth and Trablous. The latter city, especially, attracted to
itself all the trade that had formerly flourished in the Square of
Damascus. Trablous was the market to which all caravans flowed.
From it Jewish merchants started for Aleppo, the chief staple town
for the whole of tbe Turkish Kingdom as well as for Persia. Con-
sequently the Jews of those districts seldom had occasion to visit
Venice. All necessaries of life and wares were brought to their very
Most gratefully Moses notes the freedom which the Jews enjoyed
under the Arabs — so different from the condition of his co-religionists
in Italy. In Palestine and Egypt, Jews, he tells us, held the chief
offices in the Customs. Hardly any taxes were imposed. That year,
in consequence of the extraordinary expenditure incurred by the
Persian war, the Jews were exceptionally asked to make advances of
loans, secured partly by pledges, and partly by municipal revenues
which they themselves collected. In accordance with an old insti-
tution reinforced by the Egyptian Nagid, Isaac Cohen Sholal,
scholars were exempt from every kind of burden except payment of
the poll-tax. A list of the articles of commerce that come from
Safed, and a eulogy on the salubrity of its climate, which renders the
presence of a medical man unnecessary, and which restored his wife
Sarah to perfect health, closes the letter, of which not one of the least
noteworthy characteristics is, that its writer includes in his prayer all
the inhabitants of his beloved fatherland.
"rh an** D'ora
in-i 133 V3 pr6 k-om wosn prn npoi nuisnn wvbn nny »a
imp "\m ba n« oob Tsni i"y 03 vrb« 'in 3ibtine> no >sh mw?
ibdun noNS3 v6ap -\m vnruta wtn "UPta vby ray nrwi 311
-vb>k rbmn Truto nrsin oawjn "jrnsK Tibp tsi * -aye tik n 3 dy>
1 =^ Monday, Feb. 8, 1535.
496 THE JEWISH QUARTERLY REVIEW
mn 'narw no b "o ay naswt? dvo *b nay nmn b nt« v^k to
itopn pi> np ash tonn anan mna!> tdk t*ob ^o^i en p naoa
bk>o yea i^sa ato * mix lonnn nnt* as? ton -i^to v6t? vnntam imt«
namoo i"y win sidv -i"oai> v6k Tnm matwi intan b"x\ i"y -oa
'a aaot? <a *|to na 3inan ba me>y!5 *wb"i natop' 1 innan i^to »anp
wa it*a ny '•oy b <ai> o"o nam nyxn •byo bpn vnnax ^ap nntt
iceti ta »ns pi> • ahy nyi nnyo itoai vitre -hob* 'n 'ib>i? nasa
IK nny ny^ , aa!> ay mn ntyto -pita aa^x ainax t6 bx bb>n ^y
pny '03 nmoa pDy ->aai> T">nn tub) bbs pn o^ V^ N pb> isipa
nnttt n^aa Von tanint* run mo miaan »a nnt? ra i>"sr uan ira
man ton 2 n"ao mniaai i"y maa b mom noaa »a nma ta ai«6 tpyni
at* nao 'nyea '•att '•a mi mmoaa Titreoa t<i> '•ax •o iyoB>n maoi aai>
lawnai na^ new pmsa nab *b> nitwcn ay 035? a"a pe>x-i
d^w vn xi> 1^ D^oam aun onatw m* n^p moDa pirn 7-na
i»D "i nao pirn vnia5>« ioc *tnx -isai> omnai» •b& a^oan i^j?i nab
Tna pny "oa 13 pai a^evn a&>an raao [-n]xa a av ny use* Ben
pyo mn t6 13 pmv ny '•aai' ray n"ao uninx vmx\ J»"an b"\ wca
P^-w laiDm niaiya -ns n"ia io^iyi> noaai r6 [ ] ioa niKWo
ba na o no«m • ^0 w 103 phar napo pirn pT-va db> napai nns*
oyo taew nnx hond nnv tayo nnan maa mm psn b nna nnao
ait?a B^a-io mn vbi mayt^o b pn^ «yi imp xaia ^a aaoxn lomna
a" 1 ^aaaa noa »b) ino aiayi Dacaa^ mn ^a nn*n inmo 13 Tiat^m ^m
• a^ n^n paB> btrw bob) vaah m^i ia^ id nptm "pna oieai
nant* no * bs yn vbft ^n '■nsns xb pb Tito i"y vaab ans sim
na ^yi ana3 ''ana^axjaionp iaa »3 nxrn nanorno nie>nn ^ nowi
n^aipn aypno rweb&tav ioa 'a ii> -idin bsi tb Wane no3m T«'i
mr& 'oi nxrn nanoa ton p by> ba naino ait^m niyoa '••B'nnoi
D'ano ny bs »3 va^ys nxba ton nny nnix ntoii tfi& ~wy nr nax
^n roo nnv '3 'now av bs naino onasn nst6oi vab animn
ano D>nyB> e*i 'maa "naan na^o nacn nsra nasa irya wonp
naxb) ba iosa rmrv new b«n bi ntoc /, taB> aniN 103 nuio
ip b p'oy Km rwyb n^aoi i^a bi» ttann • nma vnmo mn»
LETTER BY MOSES DI ROSSI FROM PALESTINE 497
oe nDnn vmp mwn nnv m nam Tana * "i^bth D"nm nitron
^a nyen ip^na •'a 'd^ a me nnyi n?5nf De vb& nxtaon 6 "py^
b bs naiKn "a bna ayi v* na>¥ •wa pnaai nwaon ba nmva mn
mraa mn j^xn nimaa Dai ai-& nan De pn D'a lay Tni nxian wp
doidi om B^ay TiSr pyn no i>a nam pepia nme "nan \jbp ^j
im a<xy b>\2m ito 'a p«n »ea« 'h naDi • nava ubNrp-in d^pp
Kin dwi^ yawn miai ui>ep "o^ a"Dp ipa Dne ^lon r"a ii>pep
by wm Tnpn naa * Dans dpvw npmn xaai nta am ^a Dayae*
rue "nd nnv npn ps i^non pnrfc iwya nt6a:i kvi .'nsaen pjy
ym '•a DUie d'stipi D^eaxp *h»* -nana »a np»*t • -QTa n "pm
e» oni> anp u«n onpyi d^hn uev nann '"Tim nns laioa B* «p»^
DHimn &en ttphm Tva Dn^y may net* i>a D^nai nann '"aiy
moa DipD *iy wik d*6pi nunp ii> ounu mm nrh pnn dki D^aiym
inx w nan «a Pianos wna • nra xwaa ^ tibd D^eyp nanm
nixi ripis ipyi D^eia D^a ninaei 'nay pa nepni Dupe •b) onspp
■urnnx mm «a my • umi> *£ni tfbnm naPi nain nnan wi mm
px ny pn Nin '•a ^ ibdi Dwai main 'uax ipyi De wna »hanpa
nWn nrsDa mn Nim D^n myDD nain did: nxm d^ a^3 nux pn Bna
iai>n ony Vi«n hnt db> wivnai ^n3 ^ nnx iodd 'bn na n*n n^
vi>y maa nrvm mai> n3 runa i^y wn Kin oai_Dinn ani? e>inb ^3»
ixb ounu Dm Dmni ob nhna i^y n , hb> ^up ny yan '•a ^ T«am
niyo dh^j tnu Nini p^a niNwo bj^n D^yait? rue ^aa i$>tawn»
uunN '•a pt Wan ba na p« ein • V't pa^pnn ■>& i »y owunoi pjnan
np^ d^ *?x «npa ^aivn irinss pni ^ibi^pjpdipp n^ n""v i^pn
b« Da pm vaap m3 'aisni i>33 *ry npn^pi anp •hh, it'P 15Pn m
nm 3"n«i nnw< esai npin napip ra>y>tx\ rbra my torn nman jeie.
nnyi ''•an 'idid inp D'pn nyv3i mpn yrb ^ m^an jeie earn 'iren
Visb jmi urn m^ 'n mai'pn eiaa^ ^na ^n neiy n"m ppn uunx
s"a3in irlwa n^i Wan bs enn bi p« • "pn ieaa nisa '^pi d'«
T>13 new nn« pypp D^pn i«^n D^eima -jx oep ana ■•nbp 'w nt '•a
pny nptni" es »pmpi ] nay oe warn p^ ina ua -ie« nmvon ^n p-on
enni> 'w 'ns »a "b iPia 'nuiy ^ 2 N"aain n"y D^eimi> '•jn ■•na^n «i>
* =polvere. »=]o» ij^a nwn piani man wnpf *w.
498 THE JEWISH QUARTERLY REVIEW
nx'b> no nx'i '33 m'bN "-in veto t<3 ''b' enn into naxb 'nD333 tin
•tbp ''tnn "no inv irarui 3"3in B'bm'3 nxvn am™ muan nan
PN3 iTjpat? B'pHxn bs ipso ibdd nro aa na'y iiroo bs ?n '3 ype>n
i?K • i«in bb>pi N"33in n"y tbvw naiD tp 3D33 bn nmpn
p nx 3N3 '3 ioDuS SE N""t' '33 m'bx 'in n'anb pann by inonn
an"n n33 pxri by wvin rojnn main Dsyoeo npe> an»n ibsi nyr
'n'3b N3 n'n nny '3 aeb job 3"nN imn'an 'bibi ntwan ny annn
133 'tai-131 'bianoi minob n3Ni ma ruy "jbn tb py • tapevai 'ibea
D3'N 'norm i« bra 'npni ''inns j'e»-ia ''kxd3 ?n3i jnino asb yvo
D'tsnn 3ii '3 a biyscy nnan '3 'p ba n xp' jn3i d*-«d» ''tan ids ''3ib
DN133 K'b sanp y pgtt bipm 'bianD3 an nny p& w 'n piy iw
13b' bbti 'bianP3 minob 'mn' a'to bv ba3 '3 'di-oi 'bianos
hp nnp nw a?yn ronm no-iain pnp nmann b nvip bw 3bn«b
najyiw nvnann '3 nnt< 'K'so'iib 'nm' 13b' t6 nap B3P«n • dibi
'bianD3 ''cnn e>be>P3 nr na'tPiato n3'apn N33 • b 3i'3 aya bn '3
'n] T3ta jpcynn miipn i»»y '31 'D3yp'bp iva'awi twdbd n'an
spn 'ni3iy '3ia'B»n '3 • ton aa ''"im'b bid .t.t 'men m"n'i [intPB"
n'n BniN 'n-opi B'na3i 'K'Bnp pyp 'n'ap pi n3«bp Bit? vw sb
'H33P ''Piamm lanxB ipb mba ps na • nsxpn 'ab pan nin an3
niD33m B'Dspn by a'3ippn onto be 'N'TT3D'bN3i nai * ''T333n 'nwn
npnbp luy nxtn n3t?n pi mbiy nubpn b33 pto • 'hi.t an -jbpn
nuwo anb larue* e»i B'-ien b« np niyp nubnb 'nin'n i3Tiin"£i?n
vh ''psn n'pbn B3pn ams ''31a 'mn'm -i'yn niDasnp anb i3n3E> B"i
ibto inxp' nman 'a'p bsp • wibabia »iD3 bn '3 py-ia bib* iyia'
jpe nN'aippDN tobro 3nb '11D 'nb3i 'iid iip Nif naspi mvixn
'3'P b31 '3N31111P nD'BND 'TP1N W3 films "tKBOIDyP 'CW1 B>311
B'3ip n3->m ans n3p 'xnp b'Baar 'dnpdip B'naN ''biana pbaba b'pk»3
•\vtt B"1 • ac 'D'b netj* Nine' ibiaro ispa bsm n-iinob ''im'n ano
mi33n • nnx aya3 a'abs rn^y ny3 b'pk>3D Bnm'n ay »)ibn new
mo mi33m iny5 nan "jb3 nnpi 'ipy na an nr> H33 n^p nyjni 'nb3
D'31D -i'in.11 B'Dn '3 nb nbii 'n 2& nas3 nyan nxo n"3D 'ntrx n-iB'
1 Comp. Samuel Aboab, btnam in, No. 365 : dhow Drro Wtb ijfti n"«^>p
Dn'W p-on rt3ia tpk ^ffiara D'in'Ji nV'st) 1 ;.
LETTER BY MOSES DI ROSSI FROM PALESTINE 499
na^bo nrh oyo m v w ckvoj D"bn px nr^n omoa p« "ind
owppn tatf 1 tyhnm vnmo sarin rvw xh dp nud nb px nxiann
ipai aiyi «na dsjiin p • nna wo na-im D^yibini now ^a-iai
mnriB'N pim ni ntobtyN uot ba byi Da^by nban nb>ki nrwN onn»
wanp bah n^b^ta new mcnpn nibnpn bah bnai >op Dsbab
wnvm bah nso dh^n lanan oa^a nbnx • trips o^a Dbab wyivoi
ltopn imp tivi wanix bah bbaa wart? bah cnaa udw unaai
unan bine* ba oy obe^i mw nnoea rbb tb •aw "m 'ibe>b '•oca
}dn u^a rnnoai wna
anp nat? wwo hb ama o^nsn p jopn in aa^ns ind ind ram
'ibe> am nans naDina l n"n ic: 6 -intyn iioyb
1 = Sunday, Mar. 14, 1535,