Aim: The Renaissance

Vocabulary: Renaissance, Humanism, classics, metaphysical

Discussion: We have learned about the Dark ages and what kind of stagnant world it was during those years.  Now we begin with real substantive change in the world and it all begins in Northern Italy in what was to become later known as the Renaissance.

1) Motivation: students will be asked to for 1 minute think of a topic they would have liked to have learnt and one they would like to replace.

2) Teacher will call on seven students for ideas and write them on the board

3) Teacher will then ask students to explain why they would want to learn about that topic instead of this

4) Once I get a response of it’s more interesting or more practical then explain that that was the impetus for the renaissance.

5) As opposed to the medieval age, during the renaissance people focused on earthly subjects and topics such as philosophy, history and the arts (painting, sculpture, Architecture) write down on black board

Journal entry: Do you think this kind of turn away from studying Church teachings and the Bible was a good thing for the people of Europe or bad?

6) Students will look at pictures on pg. # 225  and look at the paintings and sculptures on the page. They will then be asked to explain what the themes of the paintings and sculptures are about.. Ask how did they know Moshe rabbeinu wore such clothes and had a “chup”?

7) Explain the religious overtones but using Greek and roman background. This is their shita we will study the classics but add our own dimension on how we want them to be seen.

Discuss Humanism: the study of human worldly topics as opposed to metaphysical topics. These included the above mentioned arts etc.

8) Sum up “the view of the renaissance man is to see everything through his lens not through the lens of tradition”.

Discuss how this idea of the Renaissance spread from Northern Italy to the rest of Europe and discuss Shakespeare and Erasmus, two people influenced in Europe by the Renaissance.

9) If you were a Rav of a kehilla in Italy at the time of the renaissance write one paragraph of a speech you would give to the kehilla either supporting the renaissance or not. Explain the reason for or against.

Have students read aloud their speeches.

The Renaissance: The Renaissance affected Jews living in Italy by making them look at the Torah through a semi secularized fashion.[1] Many Jews integrated into the secular society but remained committed to tradition like their Christian counterparts of the time. Yet the integration brought about reconciliation with goyishe scholarship and practice and some chachamim saw that as dangerous. For example the yeshivos that were established at the time had part of their curriculum the study of the quadrivum and trivium which were the seven chochmos to become a chacham Hakolel.  They also started to study like the goyim of their time other things such as music, art etc. An example of such a person was Salamone Rossi who became a celebrated musician and wrote pieces for use in shul but did not include the organ which is asur in a shul( (http://www.jhom.com/topics/choir/rossi.htm )

5) An example of scholarship in the renaissance was Azzariah de Rossi’s meor eynaim (not to be confused with the Reb menachem Mendel michirnobel’s meor eynaim) which was put into cherem by Rav Yosef karo and was attacked by the maharal in his sefer Beer Hagolah. In it he has some controversial views which recently have resurfaced today.[2] The challenge of the renaissance seemed to pass over Jews well in Italy. [3](http://www.forward.com/issues/2001/01.09.28/arts1.html )

6) Other Rabbonim of the time were Rabbi Judah ben Yehiel Messer Leon and his son Reb dovid, Rav Ovadiah Soforno and Rav Leona Modena both who were big rabbanim and trained in secular studies. Yet a sign of the estrangement of Jews who studied philosophy, is found in a letter asked by Reb Dovid if he should study philosophy, Rav Dovid Provenzali[4] replied that he should not but rather follow the approach of the Yeshivos of the far east(i.e. Western European Yeshivos of Germany and France) were they only learn torah and not like those people who study philosophy who “do not value those things (torah or Talmud) at all “ (Bonifil, Rabbis.. Renaissance pg. 271)

7) Another effect the renaissance was the defense of the Talmud against being burned by a Christian Humanist scholar Johannes Reuchlin (1455-1522) who was inspired by the spirit of Humanism of the renaissance to study Jewish texts and defend the Talmud against the scurrilous attacks from Johannes Pfefferkorn a meshumad. Here we see the hashgacha that Hashem did with us by providing the renaissance.[5]

10) Explain the devastation the renaissance brought to the traditional Jewish communities later on for ex. Spinoza.


[1] See for example Alexander Altman’s monograph “some Jewish Figures of the Italian Renaissance” in Cooperman’s “Jewish Thought of the Sixteenth Century” (Harvard University Press 1983) pg. 13 where he quotes Rav Yehuda Messer Leon who showed how the Renaissance idea of Rhetoric can be found in the Torah and how he learned to appreciate the great speeches in the Torah by studying the Rhetorical art set out by Renaissance and other goyishe scholars. He makes the point that this type of study, despite made by traditionalists such as Messer Leon can be said to be the starting point of the outlook on the Torah as just great literature and not its sacred place with no regard for “great literature”. See Altman in that piece where also documents Rosse and Moscato as people who blended the emerging Humanities with the Torah and even Aggadah of Chazal.

[2] For more info on the status of the sefer-see the Sde Chemed (chelek 9 pg. 179 in Torah Vodaath version of the Sde Chemed) where he qoutes the Machzik Bracha in Siman 307:16 that the Alshich and another Talmid of R’ Yosef Karo where outraged at the Sefer and said that it’s bibal Yaraeh and bal yamatzeh since he brings proof against Chaza”l from Goyishe sources. He then says that they went to the Bais Yosef who declared that its bad and said come back in a few days to me and write up a cherem and he would sign it. Yet it never was signed by the Bai Yosef since the Bais Yosef was niftar before he was able to sign it. Also see the Shealas Yaavetz (1:33) where he demolishes what the Meor Eynaim says and adds some choice language about his character as well (page 29b for ex.). The Sde Chemed then quotes the (hamalos lishlomo) who says that if that’s the case why did the Knesses Hagdola, Tzemach Dovid, quote from the Sefer in a couple of places. (See the Magen Avraham (in siman 284:7) who qoutes him as well.) He then also asks a stira in the Chid”a who quotes him in a couple of places (also see the Shem hagdolim who quotes him in the Gedolim section and then in seforim chelek points you to his Machzik Bracha which also seems strange.) The Sde Chemed finally quotes a whole list of seforim that quote the sefer and concludes that since the Bais Yosef died before he was able to put the Sefer in Cherem is a sign from Shamayaim that it is not to be assigned to Cherem and allowed to be learnt and quoted, Therefore I will be no less then all the others that quote him

[3] For more info about the attitude towards his sefer see Bonifil in “Jewish thought in the Sixteenth century” pages 25-30 where he says that most Italian Rabbanim supported his approach and only a mediocre minority in Italy where against it. Also see the Mahara”l in beer Hagola end of ch. 6 Netzach Yisroel ch. 5. See footnote 21 where he says that the Rav Yomtov Lippman Heller quoted Rosse without reservations. And that Rav Dovid Gans quoted Rosse quite often in his sefer Tzemach Dovid

[4] See Meor Eynaim Page 158 footnote 69 (Weinberg edition) where Rav Dovid Provenzali is quoted as arguing that Philo was a frum Jew! He also says that Rav Yehuda Moscato also held this view. See there that Jossipon also quoted him

[5] Yet see H. Oberman in his piece “Sixteenth century attitudes towards Judaism” in Cooperman’s “Jewish Thought of the Sixteenth Century” (Harvard University Press 1983) (pg. 334) where he shows that Reuchlin was not realy a Jew lover and in fact hoped, like Luther wrongly did, that through love and respect will the Jew become a good Christian. Even more, Oberman quotes Pfefferkorn where he protects the Jews against Blood libels! He also shows that Erasmus while being a Renaissance man was in fact a rabid Jew hater.