Czech it out, I’m now Czech!

Last summer I succeeded in gaining Czech citizenship, my fourth one after US, Austrian and German. The process wasn’t easy and so I thought it would be helpful to record it in this blog. One of the reasons I try to get all these citizenships is to find a path that perhaps others can use, so I hope this helps. If nothing else, it’s a good record of all of the issues and the documents I was able to find.

On September 6, 2019 the new Czech Citizenship Law went into effect, allowing descendants of former Czech citizens to obtain Czech citizenship. Similar laws were enacted in Austria and Germany around the same time, directed at descendants of Nazi victims. I had already obtained Austrian citizenship in 2014 under a different law that allowed children of Austrian mothers to obtain citizenship (which had formerly been impossible under an old sexist law).

I first made an inquiry regarding Czech citizenship in November 2019, inspired by a nice trip to Prague where I was able to research my ancestry back into the 16th century. The local Czech Embassy in Los Angeles responded promptly with a laundry-list of items I needed for my application. These included apostilled birth and marriage certificate for myself, my parents and grandparents, all translated into Czech. An apostille is an official certification from a government office that an official signature on a document is an authentic. In order to get one, you have to first obtain a certified original document, then send that original to the agency that issues the apostille. The Czechs also asked for a “document that certifies the date and the basis on which declarant’s grandparent ceased to be Czech/Czechoslovak citizen (e. g. US Naturalization Certificate).”

Initially I did not rush to apply. But when the pandemic hit in 2020, and my cousins began to be interested in getting another citizenship, I decided to take a closer look and started collecting documents for them and for me. During that first summer of lockdowns, I was able to travel to Vienna with my two sons, using the Austrian passports we obtained in 2014. Without these passports, we couldn’t have entered Austria at that time. We left our son Nathan to study in Vienna and I asked him to help me gather some of the documents we needed.

All of the original documents for my paternal grandparents Arnold Schoenberg and Gertrud Kolisch are kept at the Arnold Schönberg Center in Vienna. The archivists Therese Muxeneder and Eike Fess were able to find most of what we needed for my grandfather in the initial application, but then we needed to make certified copies and then bring them to the authorities to get an apostille for the Czechs. That wasn’t so easy. For my grandfather’s birth certificate, Nathan first had to go to the Vienna Jewish Community, which then directed him to an office at the City of Vienna for the apostille. At first the City official told Nathan he could not issue an apostille for the Jewish documents, but after Nathan called the person at the Jewish community who had sent him, the City official changed his mind and issued the required apostille. An important lesson: don’t take no for an answer.

Arnold Schoenberg Birth Certificate copy issued July 17, 1934

The archivists also sent me copies of the passports they had found in the archives and so I learned that my grandparents had German passports, as well as Czechoslovakian ones, but not Austrian passports. A scholarly article by Prof. Hartmut Krones from 2017 (Arnold Schönberg als „Kind“ Österreich-Ungarns) examined my grandfather’s citizenship in detail and provided an excellent guide to understanding his rather unusual situation. My grandfather Arnold Schoenberg was born in Vienna, Austria on September 13, 1874. At that time (and today) Austrian citizenship is not determined by the location of birth, but rather on the citizenship rights of the parents (back then just the father counted). Arnold’s father Samuel Schönberg had been born in 1843 in Szécsény, Hungary (then part of the Hapsburg’s Austro-Hungarian Empire), but by 1848, the family was living in Pressburg (now called Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia). Pressburg (in German) or Pozsony (in Hungarian), a city just one hour by train from Vienna, was the Habsburg capital for the entire Hungarian Kingdom, a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. In 1856/7, a Hungarian census form registered the family in Pressburg. I had obtained that document in 2004 as part of my genealogical research. When Arnold was born in Vienna in 1874, his birth was registered in the Vienna Jewish community birth record book, but his name was also added to that family census form in Pressburg. As far as Austria was concerned, Arnold Schoenberg’s citizenship was based on his “home right” (Heimatrecht) in Pressburg. Under his father Samuel’s name on his Vienna birth record it states “Preßburg.”

Pressburg census 1856/7 form registering Arnold’s birth in 1874

Of course, the location of his home right hardly mattered at the time Arnold was born. But things changed during World War I. Arnold had been registered to a Hungarian military unit based on his home right in Pressburg, and was then called up to a Hungarian battalion. Luckily, he was not sent to the front (he was over 40 years old). When the war ended, Austria-Hungary was broken into pieces by the Allies. Austria itself became a small alpine republic and from the ashes of the old empire a number of different states arose, including of course Hungary, but also Czechoslovakia, Suddenly, Arnold Schoenberg with home right in Bratislava was considered to be Czechoslovakian. Still, in 1920, he was able to obtain an interim passport from Austria. On the top it says his Austrian citizenship application was in process.

Arnold Schoenberg’s Interim Austrian Passport issued 1920

Under the treaties that ended the war — the 1919 Treaty of Saint-Germain-en-Laye and the 1920 Treaty of Trianon — citizens of certain parts of the old empire were given an opportunity to obtain Austrian citizenship. For whatever reason, Arnold Schoenberg missed the deadline to complete his application. Subsequently, the Austrians required a statement from Czechoslovakia that he had lost his citizenship or would be released from Czechoslovakian citizenship. None was forthcoming. As a result, he was stuck being a Czechoslovakian, and his attempts to rectify the situation and become an Austrian were unsuccessful. Of course, he had never lived in Czechoslovakia and did not speak the Czech or Slovak languages. Nevertheless, he was now a Czechoslovakian. Or so it seems. We have not found any document from that period confirming his new citizenship. Still, that should have been his situation at the time.

November 17, 1922 form concerning Arnold Schoenberg’s pending Austrian citizenship application, requesting confirmation of release or loss of Czechoslovakian citizenship
March 31, 1926 letter from the Vienna citizenship office to Arnold Schoenberg asking if he still wished to pursue Austrian citizenship, noting that he had not succeeded in obtaining a release of citizenship from Czechoslovakia.

Before he could work out any other arrangement, Arnold married my grandmother Gertrud Kolisch in August 1924. (His first wife, Mathilde Zemlinsky had died in 1923.) Under the law at that time, the wife automatically obtained the husband’s citizenship, so after marriage, my grandmother was also presumably Czechoslovakian. However, there is no record confirming her status.

Marriage Certificate of Arnold Schoenberg and Gertrud Kolisch August 28, 1924, dated July 23 1935

In 1925, my grandfather was appointed to an important teaching position at the Prussian Academy of Arts in Berlin. Upon accepting that position and taking an oath, he automatically became a German citizen. And by law, so did my grandmother. This explains why they held German passports, with which they travelled until 1933.

February 3, 1927 letter from the Prussian Ministry of Science, Art and Education confirming that Arnold Schoenberg obtained Prussian (German) citizenship when he was appointed to a professorship at the Prussian Academy of Arts.
Arnold Schoenberg’s German passport issued April 5, 1930
Gertrud Schoenberg’s German passport issued April 5, 1930

In January 1933, the Nazis rose to power in Germany. Almost immediately, they moved to expel Jewish professors from their positions. Seeing the writing on the wall, my grandparents prepared to leave. They went to a friendly Czechoslovakian consul, Camill Hoffmann (later a victim of the Nazis), who on April 29, 1933 secured for them temporary Czechoslovakian passports, initially valid only for just three months. It was with these passports that they fled at midnight on May 17, 1933 from Berlin to Paris, and then on to the United States in late October 1933. They apparently left some of their original citizenship documents with the Czechoslovakian consul in Berlin, who sent them on to Prague and Bratislava, but the documents were never returned and have not been located.

Gertrud Schoenberg’s temporary Czech passport issued April 29, 1933

Two years after arriving in the United States, and a year after moving to Los Angeles, my grandparents decided to apply for U.S. citizenship. In November 1935 they travelled down to Mexicali on the California border to leave and re-enter the country in preparation for their application for citizenship. Arnold’s Declaration of Intention signed February 4, 1936 says his nationality was “Austrian.” But Gertrud’s says Czechoslovakia and both Petitions for Naturalization filed that same date list their present nationality is “Czechoslovakia.” (I especially like that they say they crossed the border “afoot.”)

Arnold Schoenberg’s Declaration of Intention February 4, 1936
Gertrud Schoenberg’s Declaration of Intention dated February 4, 1936
Arnold Schoenberg’s Petition for Naturalization February 4, 1936
Gertrud Schoenberg’s Petition for Naturalization dated February 4, 1936

Even after applying for U.S. citizenship, my grandfather attempted to clarify his Czechoslovakian citizenship. The Czechoslovakian consulates in New York and Chicago stubbornly requested further information, including “how much time you spent in Czechoslovakia since the end of 1918 and where you were living.” My grandfather tried to explain his situation, but was unsuccessful in convincing the Czechoslovakians to confirm his citizenship. In March 1939, Czechoslovakia was invaded by Nazi Germany and so from then on the issue was moot.

On April 11, 1941 my grandparents became U.S. citizens. They were fortunate to have applied in 1936 as Czechoslovakians, since at that time there was not yet a large number of immigrants from Czechoslovakia, and so they easily fit into the national quotas that the United States had imposed in the very racist Immigration Act of 1924.

Arnold Schoenberg certificate of naturalization April 11, 1941
Gertrud Schoenberg certificate of naturalization April 11, 1941

With that background I set out to apply for Czech citizenship under the new provision allowing the descendants of Czech citizens to obtain citizenship. I decided that my grandmother Gertrud Schoenberg would be the best ancestor to use for my application because she was actually born in Karlsbad, or Karlovy Vary in today’s Czech Republic. I figured that a grandparent born in the country who came to the United States with a Czechoslovakian passport would be a sure thing. Boy was I wrong.

The first thing I needed to do was get my grandmother’s birth certificate. Since her father had converted from Judaism and her mother had a non-Jewish mother, my grandmother was not born Jewish and her birth is recorded in a Catholic record book. Even though you can now view her record for her birth on July 11, 1898 online, I was required to submit a notarized application requesting a certified copy of her birth certificate. The Karlsbad birth record very clearly lists her parents and their parents. Her father was Dr. Rudolf Kolisch born in Koritschan, or Korycany in today’s Czech Republic. Anyone who understands how things worked in the old Austro-Hungarian monarchy would immediately understand from this that my grandmother, although born in Karlsbad in Bohemia, was almost certainly registered for citizenship purposes as having home right (Heimatrecht) in Koritschan, Moravia. Of course, not everyone in today’s Czech Republic understands how things worked back then. Many aren’t even old enough to remember the fall of Communism in 1989. And so, unbeknownst to me, the Czech authorities spent the first year after my application searching fruitlessly for confirmation of my grandmother’s citizenship in Karlsbad. Frustrated, I turned to the Facebook group “Applying for Czech Citizenship.” They were very supportive and sympathetic, and helped me understand what the authorities were requesting.

Birth record of Gertrud Kolisch July 11, 1898 Karlsbad

Before I describe the numerous indignities suffered during my Czech application, I have to explain one additional issue I needed to resolve. Unlike many other countries, Austria does not ordinarily permit dual citizenship. Or more accurately, they have a rule that if you are an Austrian citizen and you obtain another citizenship, you automatically lose your Austrian citizenship. Not wanting this to happen when I applied for German and Czech citizenship, I made a special application for “Beibehaltung,” literally permission to keep my Austrian citizenship in the event I received another citizenship. I was told by various experts, including an Austrian lawyer I paid to help me prepare a petition, that this was impossible and that I would not succeed. In the end, with the help of a friend’s father who translated my accompanying letter into perfect German, and some pressure from some other friends, including an Austrian ambassador, I received my permission. I am not sure which factor was the clincher, but I did argue that my collecting of citizenships was an act of restitution as a result of Nazi persecution. Notwithstanding my well-known efforts to remove Klimt paintings from Austria, I also travel there frequently as a board member of the Arnold Schönberg Center. So I did have at least some justification for maintaining my citizenship. In any case, after applying in January 2021, I received permission in April 2021 to obtain German and Czech citizenship within two years. The German citizenship was a bit easier, although not without some pushback — the German authorities wanted to confirm when my grandparents lost their German citizenship, apparently stumped by the fact that my grandparents fled before their citizenship could be officially stripped away — and success came relatively quickly in October 2021. The Czech application was more difficult as it required lots of expensive certified translations into Czech, but I filed it with the local Czech consulate (which is very close to where I live) in August 2021.

In January 2022, the Czechs asked me for “proof of loss of Czech citizenship of your grandmother” and her death certificate (certified with apostille and then translated into Czech, of course). They said I needed to apply for the proof of loss of citizenship and sent me a form, which I filled out and filed in their office after obtaining all the requested documentation. In July I finally received a response, a request for further information about my grandmother’s citizenships, whether she was ever an Austrian citizen and her German citizenship. More complications.

My grandmother’s citizenship history turned out to be as complicated as my grandfather’s. Although it was clear that her father Dr. Rudolf Kolisch (1867-1922) was from Koritschan, Moravia (a town currently in the Czech Republic) where his father Adolf was the postmaster, the records for that town prior to 1918 are scarce. I made numerous requests to the municipal and regional archives in that area (including not only Korycany, but also Kyjov and Hodonin) but they found nothing. There is an 1857 census with the family, but not Rudolf who was born in 1867. Another census in 1869 lists Rudolf (with the birth year 1868, but he was born 1867).

After his father Adolf died in 1878, Rudolf moved to Vienna as a boy to go to school and may have lived with an older sibling. In 1880 Rudolf is listed in Vienna as a student at the Franz Joseph Gymnasium. He went on to study medicine, also in Heidelberg, Germany and then returned to Vienna where he treated patients with diabetes. He wrote several important articles and a book on diabetes before dying in April 1922, shortly before the announcement of the discovery of insulin. Rudolf married my great-grandmother Henriette Hoffmann in 1894 in the small resort town of Maria Schutz am Semmering in the hills outside Vienna. During the summer months, Rudolf moved the family to Karlsbad in Bohemia, where he treated wealthy patients and earned money to pay for his research in Vienna. My grandmother Gertrud was born there in July 1898.

I asked the Vienna municipal citizenship office (MA35) to search for information about the Kolisch family to determine whether they had become Austrian citizens. The answer came back that according to their records, my grandmother, her parents and siblings all became Austrian citizens on February 18, 1915. This is almost certainly incorrect, but I have yet to figure out what explains it.

Kolisch family residing at Wiedner Hauptstrasse 18 obtains citizenship in Vienna with date February 18, 1915

The contrary evidence is overwhelming. When my great-grandfather Rudolf died on April 7, 1922, his death record lists his citizenship (Zuständigkeit) as Czechslovakian (although with a question mark). Shortly before that he had written a letter to his department complaining of their failure to make him a full professor, allegedly because he was a foreigner. When my grandmother’s older sister Mitzi married in 1920, her documents say she was a citizen of Koritschan. I contacted the Harvard University archives of my grandmother’s brother the violinist Rudi Kolisch and they found his Czechoslovakian citizenship papers issued in 1919. His Austrian citizenship document is dated June 27, 1923. My great-grandmother Henriette Kolisch’s Austrian citizenship document is dated August 21, 1922. My guess is that after Dr. Rudolf’s death in 1922, the Austrian citizenship was recorded for the entire family, perhaps retroactively to 1915.

1919 Czchoslovakian citizenship papers of Rudolf Kolisch born 1896.
1923 Austrian citizenship papers of Rudolf Kolisch born 1896.
Austrian citizenship document (Heimatschein) of Henriette Kolisch dated August 21, 1922.

In any case — whether my grandmother became an Austrian in 1915 or 1922 or never — when she married my grandfather in 1924 she automatically obtained his citizenship, which should have been Czechoslovakian, since he was not Austrian. Upon his appointment to the position in Berlin in 1926, she would have followed him and become automatically a Prussian German citizen. As demonstrated above, she obtained a temporary Czechoslovakian passport in April 1933 and fled with that to France and then to the United States, where she applied for U.S. citizenship in February 1936 and became a U.S citizen in April 1941.

The 2019 Czech citizenship law allowed me to obtain Czech citizenship if my parent or grandparent was a former Czechoslovak citizen. If I had a Czechoslovak citizenship document for my grandmother, as I did for her older brother Rudi, I think the task would have been easier. But without that document, the Czech authorities wanted to find something else to rely on, and that could not be found.

I tried to obtain documents in Bratislava from the Slovak government since my grandfather and grandmother should have been registered there. The Slovak consulate in Washington DC was terrifically responsive, very friendly, helped me apply for a document confirming my grandmother’s Czechoslovakian citizenship. But despite the friendliness of the consular office, the folks back in Bratislava were less obliging. The problem, I believe, is that for Czechoslovakia the 1921 and 1930 population censuses are their key sources. But my grandparents were not included in those censuses because in 1921 they were in Vienna and in 1930 they were in Berlin.

I obtained a statement from the authorities in Vienna confirming that my grandmother lost her Austrian citizenship when she married my grandfather Arnold Schoenberg, a Czechoslovakian citizen, in 1924. I also obtained a statement from the German consulate confirming that my grandmother obtained German citizenship in 1926 with my grandfather, who also would have lost his citizenship when he became a U.S. Citizen in April 1941. As a result, my father, born in Los Angeles in 1937 would have been born both a German and US citizen, but would have lost his German citizenship as a result of the decree expatriating all German citizens with Jewish background on November 25, 1941.

But the real solution to the problem was retaining the assistance of a young Czech lawer, Jonatan Müller, the son of my good genealogy friend Julius Müller. Jonatan viewed the file on my application in Prague and spoke with the authorities involved. They were unmovable in their insistence that we provide some official Czech document showing that my grandmother had lost her Czechoslovakian citizenship. Jonathan decided that the key bureau would be in Zlín in Moravia. That office was authorized to create citizenship documents where the originals were missing in Koritschan. Jonatan went to Zlín to explain the situation, presented all the evidence we had assembled, and ultimately prevailed on the authorities to issue the necessary document, a statement declaring that my grandmother had lost her Czechoslovakian citizenship because she became an American citizen on April 11, 1941.

That document did the trick. It says that my grandmother acquired her citizenship under an Austro-Hungarian law of 1811 through birth. She lost her Czech citizenship no later than May 8, 1957, as a result of her US naturalization on April 11, 1941. (In 1941, Czechoslovakia was in a state of war, having been occupied by Germany, and so she could not have lost her citizenship at that point, but only later pursuant to a treaty with the United States.) The office in Prague relied on the new document and issued me my Czech citizenship. Whether or not the date of her loss of citizenship is correct, and it may not be, there is no doubt in my mind that my grandmother was born with home right in Koritschan, Moravia and that she most likely was a Czechoslovakian citizen after World War I. At some point, probably 1922 or 1923, she probably became Austrian, and then became Czechoslovakian again when she married my grandfather in 1924. She may have lost her Czechoslovakian citizenship in 1926 when she became a German citizen, and she may also have been entitled to be a Czechoslovakian citizen again when my grandparents obtained the temporary Czechoslovakian passport in April 1933. In that case, she would have lost the Czechoslovakian citizenship again (for a third time?) at some time after 1941 when she became a U.S. citizen.

The officials who handle these citizenship requests would like things to be simple, but when dealing with citizenship in the Austro-Hungarian Empire through the Nazi era, things are often not so simple. I am fortunate to have the time and resources to make a successful application for citizenship. I fear others might not be so lucky. Nevertheless, I feel good knowing that I have shown how it is possible to obtain Czech citizenship, even when some of the key documents are missing.

My Czech Citizenship Certificate issues August 10, 2023.

They Should Know Who Olga Neuwirth Is

The pandemic overshadowed and distracted us from a truly historic achievement. Well, Olga Neuwirth is an accomplished composer who has written many works including the operas: Lost Highway, American Lulu, and Orlando. I interviewed her on October 30th, 2020 at the Arnold Schönberg Center in Vienna. She “…grew up in a ’68 hippie family with only artists” and was born in 1968 in Graz, Austria. She called herself “a punk from the countryside.” The “punk” grew up playing mainly trumpet, before she had a car accident on the day she got her braces removed, causing a broken jaw and thus the end of her trumpet career. Olga also learned piano, but had a “… problem in [her] brain coordinating [her] left and right hand”. When she wanted to play a black key, she would play a white key. Thankfully, she was the drummer in her punk band, which helped correct the issue. In her punk band, she also played a little electric guitar.

I asked Olga who her biggest inspirations were growing up. She responded with the Beastie Boys, Patti Smith, Luigi Nono, and Miles Davis. The first two artists show her youth, punk, and rebellious side. Olga met Nono four times. The first time was in Vienna when he was the composer in residence at the Wiener Konzerthaus. She was a student and as a fan curious for knowledge walked up to him to ask him questions. The second time was while Olga was a student in Aix-en-Provence studying in a music program, which, she said, was Nono’s last workshop. Her main professor was Nono. The last two times were in Venice. The Miles Davis inspiration came from her father being a jazz musician and her passion for trumpet: “I wanted to be a female Miles Davis.”

Through her inspirations and circumstances, Olga found herself on the composer track almost accidentally. She originally wanted to be a trumpet player and in her punk band “…played drums like Eddie Funk, but more like Eddie Punk.” After her car accident, she was out of school for a while. When she returned, Hans Werner Henze, a German composer, came to her village looking for young musicians for his project he had at the time, to show the creativity in everyone. Olga did not want to join the project, but as a gifted musician who just lost her favorite instrument, her teacher made her join. This project started Olga’s path to become a composer. After the project, at age 16, she went to school in San Francisco for a year. At the time, she was not sure whether she wanted to go into film, composition, or painting. At San Francisco Conservatory of Music, she studied composition, but at the Art School of San Francisco Bay she studied film and painting. After life in San Francisco became too expensive, she returned to Austria having chosen composition.

Building on her musical inspirations, I asked Olga what inspired the opera Orlando musically, besides the book written by Virginia Wolf. She reiterated her diverse musical background. She studied and was around music and musicians of classical, jazz, and punk backgrounds. This instilled a way of thinking in her mind; “[I] was never about borders of what is the “right” music.” Her musical identity is made up of parts that together make a whole. In Orlando, the character is a male writer who becomes a woman overnight, but dresses like a man as well. “Orlando goes through these centuries: for [Orlando] it’s about the history of writing more, for me, also the history of music.” She remembered her talks with Nono and what she had learned from his music: “how to combine past and present.” Like Nono she wanted to never be in a box that is “why he went to other countries to hear other music… and see traditions from other cultures. He was always curious and open. There’s not one canon of what is the right music.”

Just like bringing genres together, Olga has brought people together with her choice of works. Today’s culture is becoming very inclusive, particularly with gender and sexual identities. This is a huge topic in Orlando and thus for Olga “the second interest” in her life; “if there are no boundaries in music, there are no boundaries [on] how you would like to live, who you consider yourself, who you are.” While living in San Francisco, Olga had many friends who did not identify as straight and many who had AIDS. She participated in many protests in the area, including one over the murder of Harvey Milk, the first openly gay elected official in Californian history. From a young age, she was always a proponent for diversity in life and gender decisions. Olga wanted to show the plight of a transgender person in Orlando, but also the struggle for a woman to be equal to a man in life, as a writer, and as an artist. Women have been degraded and dissuaded from pursuing their passions. The patriarchal society that we live in supports a man’s climb to the top, but not a woman’s fight. Orlando was written and chosen in small part due to its humor, but mainly to show a parallel from Olga’s hardships making it as a female composer/writer to Orlando’s story of adversity.

Even though Olga Neuwirth’s Orlando became the first opera created by a woman to be performed in the 150+ year history of the Wiener Staatsoper, she has still faced the troubles of the music industry. I asked her what she would continue to do for future women in future generations to help them overcome the patriarchal oppression she has endured: “There’s still a lot of things to do” she said, “but maybe it’s not for my generation anymore. The next generation has to fight. I was really going into desert land.” Olga has done so much for future women just by continuing her work. She has become a role model for young women who want to go into the arts. But her lack of knowledge on what to do next troubled me. It seemed as if the industry had worn her out, but mainly, there are still a blinding number of obstacles left to move out of the way, as evidenced by Olga’s publishers and the Wiener Staatsoper, who told her to rewrite Orlando due to the experimental music and subject matter. She, of course, refused. Usually an opera created by a composer of her stature would be asked to return for more performances before it is ever played. Olga was told “…we have to see if it is a success.”

Orlando went on to be a success. It was performed in December 2019 for five sold out nights. Afterwards, she was then again asked to rewrite the opera. She said, “if you write it the right way we might perform you,” mocking the patriarchal society, those who told her to rewrite the opera, and what they had told her. Even with these battles she still has been able to push boundaries and bring people together.

Olga is very passionate about mixing genres, which she believes is the way for music to evolve. Opera is becoming much less popular for today’s youth. Younger people, in general, do not go to the opera. But Orlando got many people of the younger generations to go see the opera. It drew a non-traditional audience. The older and more classical-music-minded people did not like the second half very much, but that was the favorite of the “new-comers.” “This could be the future of opera,” Olga said about mixing genres. I pointed out how Arnold Schönberg held his Skandalkonzert, which debuted his atonal music in 1913. The concert resulted in tomatoes being thrown and subsequently a riot breaking out. “Whenever you start something you have obstacles. Just as Schönberg and Nono… you immediately run against the wall of 100+ years of petrified minds who think this is the right way to do something.” Olga kept hammering this sentiment to me: “You can’t go back!” This is something Olga Neuwirth has done her whole life and is a part of her identity: “it’s me. This is my life.” I asked her to elaborate on how she gained this attitude and stuck with it early in her career when most artists are pushed into becoming more mainstream. “I wasn’t taken seriously; I had to fight to be taken seriously,” she said. “I was considered the young fool, but I was freer to do things… I didn’t have a teacher and wasn’t in a school.” That second part surprised me, so I asked her to further explain: “I could try out more things than I can try out now, because I have this name or whatever. You get these stupid labels. I’m not interested in these labels.” Most artists when they start are pressured by the industry to be something they are not, so that the music is more easily listenable and commercially successful. “They try to put you in this drawer.” Olga’s journey is more unique, but not entirely bizarre. She had freedom to show her own style, but now that she has made it, she is asked to conform to the publishers and others (who are a part of the industry) who want her to continue to be successful for their own monetary gain. “Sometimes the fool is allowed to say even the worst things to the king. No one is allowed to say these things to the king or person in power, except for the fool.” Olga used such a great metaphor. The up-and-coming musician is very much like a jester to the rest of the industry. One that tries something different must be mistaken. However, the strongest part of the metaphor is that the industry thinks they can trick or manipulate the fool.

This brought up a similar situation with Dave Chappelle. Dave Chappelle turned down $50 million from Comedy Central because he thought that was below his value, but mainly because of the creative freedom he wanted. I mentioned to Olga how he “fled” to South Africa as a result, to which she responded “yah, clever.” “They try to put you in their drawer, which was never your life or why you started something” she continued. Dave Chappelle recently won this battle against the industry. His new video entitled Redemption Song depicted why he left Comedy Central and how after asking the public not to watch Chappelle’s Show, Comedy Central paid him millions of dollars and gave him the rights to his name and likeness back. “You have to have a lot of strength to fight against it, otherwise you are just captured and not who you are anymore.” Thankfully, Olga and Dave are strong.

Another lively topic in today’s world was, and is, artists owning their masters. Kanye West has been a huge activist in this field and Taylor Swift recently rerecorded an album (planning more) because her masters were sold without her being given a chance to match or beat the offer.[1] Artists in the United States earn 12% of the overall revenue made by the music industry.[2] That is the lowest percentage of any profession comparatively. I asked Olga if she owned her masters. She responded with the story of trying the get everyone’s contracts and shares correct for Orlando. The publishers, DVD companies and Wiener Staatsoper demanded most of the rights, but the musicians, stage hands, advertisement firms, etc. all demanded a piece. It took her months to get everything settled because there were too many people involved. “There’s too much pressure from different sides.” They all expect artists to agree to every demand because of the passion the artist has for their work. The artist wants to display their work, so they are more likely to compromise in order to get the art seen. The industry knows artists like Olga believe “corporations cannot be part of the creative process,” so they make absurd requests in ownership knowing the artist will compromise for this purpose. “[Artists] just want to compose, [they] have other things to worry about than contracts.” For an artist, the music is very personal: “Music is inside.” The artist wants control of what comes out of them and their emotions; “it’s in your brain and you have to bring it into a quantified system… in a way, it is artificial… and then you give it to someone else. Then you are dependent on if they like it, it is incredibly exhausting.”

Olga’s favorite operas of all time are all political pieces, which further solidifies her musical and social identity to fight for creative freedom and just movements. My final question for Olga was what her favorite operas of all time were. She responded with “Moses und Aron” by Arnold Schönberg, “Al gran sole carico d’amore” by Luigi Nono, “Die Soldaten” by Bernd Alois Zimmerman, and “Das Mädchen mit den Schwefelhölzern” by Helmut Lachenmann. All of these serve a political and social message. “Something I learned from Nono, but also a little from Henze, is to stand up for what’s right, speak up against what’s wrong.” Olga wanted to reiterate the importance of creative freedom. I brought up the Shut up and Dribble movement in the United States, which was started after Laura Ingraham, a Fox News TV host, told LeBron James to “shut up and dribble.” Olga had a similar situation: “a publisher once told me I should shut up otherwise they would kick me out. I used this line in Orlando.” After acknowledging my shocked face, she continued, “I haven’t become an artist to shut up!” One of her publishers wanted her to sign a contract that stipulates certain topics she was not allowed to discuss. “How can I sign a contract that says I’m not allowed to say anything?” She understood that the companies are scared of liability or a failed investment, but questioned the importance; “they want to be secure, I don’t know why they are so afraid!” One would think that a company would understand they are talking to a passionate artist. They ask for the artist to agree to things that compromise their integrity, out of leverage, but as Olga said, “they should know who I am.”

[1] Tsioulcas, Anastasia. “Look What They Made Her Do: Taylor Swift To Re-Record Her Catalog.” NPR, NPR, 22 Aug. 2019,

[2] Wang, Amy X. “Musicians Get Only 12 Percent of the Money the Music Industry Makes.” Rolling Stone, Rolling Stone, 8 Aug. 2018,

Solomon Molcho (1500-1532)

Solomon Molcho (originally Diogo Pires) was a Portugese Jewish mystic. As a young man he held the position of secretary to the High Court of Appeals in Portugal. When the Jewish adventurer David Reubeni arrived in 1525 in an attempt to persuade the king to align with Jews to force the Ottomans from Israel, Molcho fell under his spell and converted to Judaism, forcing him to flee or face the Inquisition as an apostate. Molcho studied Talmud and Kabbalah with Rabbi Joseph Taitazak in Salonika, where he befriended and greatly inspired Rabbis Joseph Caro and Shlomo Alkabetz. Molcho began preaching the coming of the Messiah in 1535 or 1540, travelled to Italy where he gained an audience with Pope Clement VII. A flood in Rome and an earthquake in Portugal seemed to confirm some of Molcho’s predictions and warnings, and increased his support from both Christians and Jews.

in 1532 Molcho likely stayed in Venice with Dr. Eliyahu and Fioretta Chalfan, who supported him against his opponent Jacob Mantino (who had also opposed Chalfan in the divorce case of Henry VIII). In a letter to Rabbi Taitazak Molcho gave Chalfan’s address in Venice as a way to contact him. At the end of 1532, Molcho went to Ratisbon (Regensburg) with Reubeni to meet with Emperor Charles V, where they proposed a Jewish-Christian army to reconquer the Holy Land from the Ottomans. The Emperor’s counselors opposed the idea, and the Emperor had Reubeni and Molcho arrested and sent back to Italy to face the Inquisition. In Mantua, Molcho was sentenced to death by an ecclesiastical court for being an apostate and was burned at the stake. Legend is that Molcho refused the offer of a pardon if he returned to Christianity.

Following Molcho’s martyrdom, Eliyahu Chalfan created an enormous kabbalsitic chart recording many of Molcho’s teachings. The chart was obtained by the Medici Library in Florence in 1570. Molcho’s tallit, robe and flag were brought to Prague, perhaps by the Chalfan family. In the early17th century by Rabbi Yomtov Lipman Heller wrote that he saw the small silk tallit of Molcho in the Pinkas synagogue. In 1666 during the time of the messianic claimant Shabbtai Zvi, the robe and flag of Molcho were displayed and Molcho was considered a precursor and predictor of Shabbtai Zvi.


Shlomo Molcho’s robe on display in the Jewish Museum of Prague.
Shlomo Molcho’s flag on display in the Jewish Museum in Prague.
Stylized signature of Solomon Molcho, from a manuscript owned by the Alliance Israélite Universelle at the beginning of the 1900s.

Solomon Molcho (Wikipedia)

Rabbi Eliezer Ashkenazi (1512-1585)

Eliezer Ashkenazi was a peripatetic rabbi, physician and prolific scholar who seems likely — despite his different surname — to have been a son of Dr. Eliyahu and Fioretta Chalfan. Eliezer’s epitaph says he is son of Dr. Elia. Both Eliezer (Provençal Responsa 96) and Dr. Eliyahu Chalfan (Isserles Responsa 56) say they are descendants of Rabbi Joseph ben Solomon Colon, MaHaRIK. So either Rabbi Eliezer is the son of Dr. Eliyahu Menachem Chalfan or he is the son of a different Dr. Elia who is either a grandson of Josef Colon or married to a granddaughter of Josef Colon. The different surname can be explained by his long presence in Egypt early in his career, where all Jews who were not originally from Egypt or the Levant were referred to as “Ashkenazi.”

The Jewish Encylopedia describes him as follows:

Rabbi Eliezer Ashkenazi received his Talmudic education under Joseph Taitazak in Salonica. Ashkenazi first became rabbi in Egypt 1538-60, probably at Fostat (now Cairo), where, by his learning and wealth, he became widely known. Compelled by circumstances—doubtless of a political nature—to leave Egypt, he went to Cyprus, remaining there for two years as rabbi at Famagusta.

A desire to visit foreign lands and to observe foreign peoples impelled him to give up this position and to travel. He went first to Venice; but a disagreement with the rabbis, Meïr Padua and his son Judah Katzenellenbogen, caused him to leave the city and in the same year to take up his residence at Prague (1561). Here—either because he was a rabbi, or, at all events, because he was a leading authority—his was the first signature appended to the 1564 constitution of the burial society of the congregation. After leaving Bohemia and proceeding eastward as far as the Crimea [?], Ashkenazi returned to Italy, not before 1570. While rabbi of Cremona he published there (1576) his work, “Yosef Leka?” (Increases Learning; compare Prov. i. 5), dedicated to Joseph Nasi, duke of Naxos, which was several times reprinted. Four years later he was again in eastern Europe, as rabbi of Posen. In 1584 he left that city to take up his abode in Cracow, where he died in 1585.

Ashkenazi’s printed works, besides the “Yosef Leka?,” are the following: (1) A commentary on the Book of Esther; (2) “Ma’ase ha-Shem” (The Works of God; Venice, 1583; several other editions), a commentary on the historical portions of the Pentateuch, written for the instruction of his son Elijah, and containing also a complete commentary on the Passover Haggadah, which has frequently been published separately; (3) eight “seli?ot” (penitential prayers), included in the Bohemian liturgy; (4) a “toka?ah” (homily), published by his son. His supercommentary to Na?manides, and his critical marginal notes—said to number one thousand—on Joseph Caro’s “Bet Yosef,” have not been preserved.

Though Ashkenazi can scarcely be said to have exercised an influence either on his own or on later times, his personality was an extraordinary one for that age. He may be called the last survivor of a most brilliant epoch in the history of the Sephardim. During a period when, in Germany and Poland, the hair-splitting dialectics of Jacob Polak could achieve a triumph, and, in Egypt and Palestine, the mysticism of Isaac Luria could confuse the clearest intellects, Ashkenazi preserved an impressive independence of thought. Although educated by a fanciful cabalist, and a fellow-pupil of Moses Alshech, yet he was a student—if not a deep one—of philosophy and physics. As a Talmudist, such men as Joseph Caro, Moses Isserles, and Solomon Luria considered him of equal authority with themselves; but when the rabbinical decisions of the old rabbis ran counter to sound judgment, he never sought a sophistical justification for them, as was then the custom, especially in Poland.

Valuable material for a correct estimate of Ashkenazi may be found in several of his decisions preserved in the responsa literature of the time. In Venice he decided that a man could be forced to a divorce, if, by immoral conduct, he had incurred his wife’s aversion (Isserles, Responsa, No. 96). It was probably this decision which brought upon him the opposition of the above-mentioned Venetian rabbis, though he was connected with them; for Ashkenazi’s son was Katzenellenbogen’s son-in-law. From the standpoint of strict Talmudic interpretation, Ashkenazi’s opponents were in the right; since his sentence contravened that of the Tosafists, who for the German-Italian Jews constituted, as it were, a court of last resort.

The Jews of Poland were still less capable of comprehending such a personality than were those of Italy. The following occurrence affords a striking instance of this fact: The “roshe yeshibot” (heads of academies) had forbidden their pupils to establish a rival academy in close proximity to their own. Ashkenazi declined to assent to this resolution, when requested. At the same time, he complained in a letter to Joseph b. Gershon ha-Kohen, the “rosh yeshibah” at Cracow, that, although the decision of the Polish rabbis was based upon the authority of Maimonides, yet he considered it irreconcilable with freedom of instruction among Jewish rabbis. How little he was understood by his Polish colleagues is fully displayed in the reply of the rabbi of Cracow, who at great length vindicates Maimonides’ standpoint by erudite and astute references to the Talmud (Joseph b. Mordecai Gershon, “She’erit Yosef,” No. 19). Consequently, J. S. del Medigo is justified in his remark that Ashkenazi remained unknown to the Poles, and he applies to him wittily, if somewhat audaciously, the verses: “Thou hast brought a vine out of Egypt: thou hast cast out the heathen, and planted it,” etc. (Ps. lxxx. 9 [A. V. 8] to 13 [14]). Ashkenazi had come from Egypt and had to live among the uncultivated Poles.

Ashkenazi’s wife, Rachel, died at Cracow April 3, 1593. Her epitaph, still extant, bears witness to her piety and benevolence (“Monatsschrift,” xliv. 360). His son Elijah published the liturgic collection, “Zib?e Shelamim,” and wrote a short elegy on his father, which was used as the latter’s epitaph. has another biography

ASHKENAZI, ELIEZER BEN ELIJAH THE PHYSICIAN (1513–1586), rabbi and exegete. Eliezer’s activities covered many of the Jewish centers of the 16th century. The influential position he held in widely scattered communities indicates the basic unity of Jewish society and culture in the period. A pupil of Joseph b. Solomon Taita?ak in Salonika, Eliezer went to Egypt when he was 26, and officiated as rabbi. Elijah of Pesaro said he “judged all the community of Egypt for 22 years.” While there, Eliezer was in contact with the *Safed communit and its sages, including Joseph *Caro, who respected and consulted him. In 1561 Eliezer was compelled to leave Egypt, and settled at Famagusta in Cyprus. Elijah of Pesaro, who met him there in 1563, describes him as “well-versed in 12 languages… a sage in many general sciences and in the Talmud… he is wealthy.” Azariah dei Rossi called Eliezer “the greatest of the generation.” In 1563 Eliezer was in *Venice; the following year he traveled to Prague, returned for a few years to Famagusta, and again went to Venice. From there he went to Cremona where in 1576 he published his commentary Yosef Leka? on the book of Esther, dedicated to Joseph Nasi. The same year he was invited to Poland as rabbi of Poznan; he was subsequently called to Gniezno, and thence to Cracow, where he died. In Poland his answers to legal queries were accepted as authoritative. Impartial in his decisions, he denied his support to the brother-in-law of Moses Isserles, Joseph Katz, who had referred to Eliezer in a discussion with his own pupils. Eliezer’s main work, Ma’aseh Adonai, a commentary on the Torah, was completed in Gniezno in 1580 and printed in Venice in 1583. It follows the rationalist trend in rabbinical scholarship, calling for freedom in exegesis of the Scriptures: “Each and every one of us, our descendants too, to the end of all generations… is obliged to search for the meaning of the words of the Torah… to accept the truth from whoever says it, after we have understood it. Let us not permit the opinion of someone else – even if of an earlier generation – to hinder us from research… Research and choose: for that you have been created and reason has been given you from heaven” (Ma’aseh Adonai, 169). Eliezer suggests that irrational elements in Jewish tradition had accrued through copyists’ errors, misunderstandings, and misreadings, or had been precipitated in times of trouble and expulsions, or even inserted by ill-disposed persons. In Joseph Solomon Delmedigo’s estimation “the Ma’aseh Adonai should be read in its entirety.” He also records that Eliezer wrote a supercommentary on Na?manides’ commentary on the Torah and “a thousand refutations of the Beit Yosef” of Joseph Caro. Eliezer also wrote seli?ot and piyyutim printed at Cracow and in Lublin (1618). His glosses on the code of Mordecai b. Hillel are included in Gedulat Mordekhai (Hanau, 1593).

If Eliezer Ashkenazi is in fact the son of Dr. Eliyahu and Fioretta, then his grandfathers were both astronomers and he could be the same as a man known as Eliezer the Astronomer in the Jewish Encyclopedia

By: Richard Gottheil, Isaac Broydé
German scholar of the sixteenth century; author of “Ge ?izzayon,” an astrological compilation fromHebrew, Arabic, and Latin sources (Neubauer, “Cat. Bodl. Hebr. MSS.” No. 2066). He quotes Abraham bar ?iyya ha-Nasi, Ibn Ezra, Andruzagar, Albumazar, ‘Ali ibn Ri?wan, ‘Ali ibn Rajil, Leopold of Austria, Johannes, Guido Bonatti, and, according to Dukes, Copernicus. In the introduction Eliezer says he began a great work on astrology, a chapter of which, entitled “Reshit ?okmah” (quoted by Neubauer, l.c.), is devoted to Ibn Ezra. Whether the “Sefer ha-Goralot” (Vatican MS. No. 216), bearing the name “Eliezer,” is by the same author is not known. The same uncertainty prevails regarding Vatican MS. No. 477, which contains a commentary on Ptolemy’s “Centiloquium,” and which also bears the name “Eliezer.”

Also note that the grave in Krakow may be a duplicate of another grave that was found nearby in Stabnitz (Stopnica?). See “There is also a remarkable thing in this matter, it has become known to us that in the community of Stabnitz (Stopnica?) about 20 miles from here there is found a grave with the name of Rabbi Eliezer Ashkenazi, son of the Rabbi Eliyahu the doctor, author of Maaseh Hashem from the same time.”


Eliezer Ashkenazi (Geni)

Eliezer Ashkenazi (Wikipedia)

Yosef Lekach. Commentary on the Scroll of Esther by Rabbi Eliezer Ashkenazi son of Rabbi Eliyah the Doctor, Z”L. Cremona, 1576
Grave of Eliezer Ashkenazi ben Elia Rofe

Kalman Chalfan

Kalman Chalfan was possibly a son or grandson of Eliyahu and Fioretta Chalfan. He lived in Jersualem and Safed, and was given permission to go to Lemberg in Poland in 1570.

The story of Kalman Chalfan begins with Joseph Nasi (1524-1579), an extraordinary figure in Jewish history. Nasi was a converso born 1524 in Portugal who moved to Antwerp in 1546 to escape the Inquisition, and then soon fled to France and on to Venice where he became openly Jewish. In 1554 he again moved to Constantinople in the Ottoman Empire, where he became a high-ranking diplomat serving Sultan Selim II, ultimately attaining the rank of Duke of Naxos. Among his accomplishments was negotiating peace between Poland and the Ottomans in 1564, which gave him entrée into various business opportunities in Poland. In 1567, King Sigismund II of Poland allowed Nasi to send two Jewish representatives, Chaim Cohen and Abraham Mosso, to come to Lemberg, Poland to negotiate on Nasi’s behalf. They conducted their business importing wine for several years, much to the dismay of the Christian competitors as well as the local Polish Jews.

Among the documents related to Joseph Nasi and his agents is confirmation that in 1570 King Sigismund II of Poland granted permission for a number of Jewish merchants to come to Poland from the Levant and Venice. One of these was “Calman Alphan a Hierusalem de Schafet” (Kalman Chalfan in Jerusalem from Safed). We do not yet know anything more about Kalman Chalfan, but it seems very likely that he is a son or grandson of Eliyahu Chalfan and Fioretta Kalonymos, as his name is combination of the given name of Fioretta’s father and the surname of Eliyahu.

If our theory is correct, it means that a member of Eliyahu and Fioretta’s family moved to Safed and Jerusalem in Israel, which was then part of the Ottoman Empire. In the 16th century, Safed, a small city in the hills of the Upper Galilee, became an important center of Jewish learning, especially in the development of Jewish mysticism and kabbalah. Safed had been a small Jewish settlement since at least the 13th century, but received an influx of Jews fleeing the Inquisition in Spain and Southern Italy after 1492. The most significant of the new residents was Rabbi Joseph Caro (1488-1575), author of the great codification of Jewish law knows as the Shulchan Arukh. Caro likely met Solomon Molcho in Salonika, perhaps while Molcho studied with the kabbalist Rabbi Joseph Taitazak, who also taught another of Caro’s friends, Solomon Alkabez (who became the brother-in-law of another important resident of Safed, Moses Cordovero). Caro references both Molcho, Alkabez and Taitazak as strong influences in his writings. It is certainly possible that Kalman Chalfan also studied with Taitazak and then journeyed on to Jerusalem and Safed. When Molcho wrote to Taitazak before his death in 1532, he told Taitazak to send letters to him care of Eliyahu Chalfan in Venice.

Joseph Nasi is credited with spurring settlement in Safed, which means he may have been responsible for Kalman Chalfan moving there around 1560. Note also that Eliezer Ashkenazi, who is possibly a son of Eliyahu and Fioretta Chalfan, dedicated his book Yosef Lekah, published while he was in Cremona in 1576, to Joseph Nasi.


Joseph Ausch (1600-1674)

Joseph Ausch, haLevi, the Rosh Medina (literally, “head of the land”), was a signatory of the statutes governing Bohemian Jewry (outside Prague) from 1659. In 1665 Jewish dealers in woolen goods were barred from entering the town of Litomerice, but Joseph Ausch petitioned to be allowed to enter the city so that he could pay off his debts. Joseph Ausch died in Auscha (Úštek) Bohemia (near Terezin and Litomerice) on August 24, 1674. His grave still exists in the cemetery in Ustek.

Joseph’s father was Matityahu. There was a Jew Matityahu from nearby in Leitmeritz in 1546, who could be an ancestor.

Joseph Ausch was married to Jentl Ausch Chalfan, who died around 1700. Her father came from Vienna and her mother came from Prague.

Joseph Ausch


Grave of Rosh Medina Joseph Ausch haLevi, d. 1674 in Úštek, Bohemia
Samuel Oppenheimer (1630 Heidelberg – 1703 Vienna)
Samuel Oppenheimer (1630 Heidelberg – 1703 Vienna)
Portrait of Süßkind Stern
Date Created: 1671
Location: Frankfurt am Main, Germany

Abba Mari Chalfan the Astronomer

Italian astronomer of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. In 1490-2 he was in Lucca where he wrote an elegy on the death of Jehiel of Pisa. In 1492 Chalfan was in Naples, where he studied astronomy. Chalfan was the author (in 1494) of “?a’ame Mi?wot,” containing explanatory notes on the Alfonsine Tables, still extant in manuscripts in Naples and Parma. These notes by Chalfan were translated by historian David Gans when he visited and participated in the astronomical research conducted by Tycho Brahe and his assistant Johannes Kepler at the imperial observatory in the Benátky summer palace of Rudolf II in 1600. Gans named one of his sons Abba Mari, making it very likely that Gans was married to a descendant of Chalfan.


An illustration in the 14th century Codex Manasse of the Jewish poet Süßkind von Trimberg wearing a Jewish hat similar to the type Venetian Jews were required to wear. (Wikimedia)
Der Seelen Wurzgarten, Ulm: Konrad Dinckmut, 1483

Rabbi Josef Colon Trabotto (Maharik)

Rabbi Josef Colon, the son of Rabbi Solomon Trabbotto, known as the Maharik, was the foremost talmudic rabbi of his era in Northern Italy. His family came from Chambéry in Savoy to Piedmont in the early 15th century. Rabbi Josef Colon served as rabbi in Pieve de Sacco in 1469 and thereafter in Mestre near Venice. He later served in Bologna and Mantua, but was banished by the authorities and moved to Pavia, where he established a center of talmudic learning. His opinion was sought on religious matters in Italy and Germany. The collection of his opinions, known as responsa, published after his death was widely influential.

Rabbi Colon declared that a person could not be compelled to appear in a foreign rabbinic court when there was a local court available. When false accusations against the Jewish community of Regensburg lead to a heavy fine and the need to raise funds, Rabbi Colon held that the surrounding communities were required to contribute, as they could also soon find themselves facing similar accusations and fines.

Rabbi Colon was famous for his ability to establish broad principles that would apply not only to the case at hand, but to future disputes. He ruled that a parent’s objection should not prevent a child’s marriage to an appropriate spouse, because a child was not obligated to suffer the pain of marrying an undesired spouse in order to honor his parents. Colon had “an inflexible regard for right and justice,” and was not swayed by bias toward or against any individual person. He chastised a respected German rabbi for adjudicating a dispute in which he himself was a party. Driven by false rumors to attack Rabbi Capsali in Turkey for laxity in matters of divorce law, Colon later recanted and on his deathbed sent his son Perez to deliver an apology to Capsali.

Josef ben Solomon Colon Trabotto (Maharik)


LIPPI, Fra Filippo Herod’s Banquet Fresco Duomo, Prato

Rothschild Miscellany

David Kalonymos of Naples (-1506)

David Kalonymos was an Italian Jewish court physician, astrologer/astronomer in Naples. Jewish astronomers of the time were expected to write horoscopes and make astrological predictions based on astronomical calculations. Astrology was widely considered to be a form of wisdom, akin to the mysticism of Kabbalah and the teachings of the Talmud. In 1564, David wrote two astrological treatises, one of which is on the conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter. He dedicated the work to King Ferdinand I of Naples in the hope of obtaining religious liberty for Jews in southern Italy. A horoscope for David’s son born on March 28, 1458 has been preserved in a book in the library of Parma.

In 1466 David translated from Latin into Hebrew an astronomical work of John of Gmünd describing an astronomical instrument invented in Vienna in 1417. He also wrote a philosophical treatise on the Destructio Destructiones of Averroes.

Both of David’s sons, Calo and Chaim, followed their father in the practice of astrology and other philosophical activities.

David Kalonymos


Astrolabe with Hebrew
Astrological chart for a son of David Kalonymos, Parma 336 p. 73$FL17907178
Don Ferrante of Naples depicted as one of the Magi in the Adoration of the Magi by Marco Cardisco, Civic Museum of Castel NuovoNaples

Ferrante d’Aragona, depicted as a member of the Order of the Golden Fleece
Sculpture depicting the coronation of Ferrante as king of Naples by Latino OrsiniBenedetto da MaianoBargello MuseumFlorence
Gold coin with the crowned effigy of Ferrante I, king of Naples
‘Christ Among the Doctors’ by Albrecht Durer, 1506.
St. Jerome in the Desert
Giovanni Bellini
The court of the Gonzaga (1474) Andrea Mantegna

Dr. Calo Kalonymos

Dr. Kalonymos den David Kalonymos (known as Maestro Calo) was a medical doctor, astrologer, linguist, translator and philosopher. His father David was granted citizenship of Naples as a court physician. Calo, referred to in Neopolital records as “doctor of the arts and of medicine,” began as the court astrologer to the Duke of Bari in the early 16th century. To avoid the Inquisition in Southern Italy he moved up to Mestre and Venice, where his name appears in the diaries of Marino Sanudo.

Maestro Calo was credited with predicting the war between Venice and the League of Cambria in 1509, and reassured the doge that no harm would come to Venice from a solar eclipse. As a result, Calo was given a ducal license to wear a black hat identifying himself as a medical doctor, indistinguishable from the ones that Christians used, but that right was expressly taken away from Calo in 1517 by the Council of Ten after the ghetto was established . From then on Calo and other Jews were required to wear only yellow hats. In February 1518, Calo was falsely accused of murder by Vita/Chaim del Banco, the brother of the wealthy banker Anselmo del Banco. Calo was released but Vita was banished from Venice for three years.

Besides being a doctor and astrologer, Calo also wrote and translated numerous texts. He completed a chapter on biblical accents in Abraham de Balmes’s posthumous work printed in 1523 by the famed publisher Daniel Bomberg, who also issued the first printed version of the Talmud at that time. Calo translated several philosophical and astronomical works from Hebrew to Latin, and contributed to Venetian editions of Aristotle and Averroes.

Kalonymos ben David Kalonymos


RAPHAEL (1483-1520)
‘The School of Athens’, 1509-11 (fresco)