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.
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.”
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 ). 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.
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
ELIEZER THE ASTRONOMER: 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 Sefaria.org “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.”
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, 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Rabbi Dr. Eliyahu ben Abba Mari Chalfan of Venice. Rabbi Chalfan is famous for a number of different things. First, he was apparently in contact with the false messiah Solomon Molcho, a Portugese Jew who escaped to Italy and after a number of escapades, was burned at the stake by the Inquisition. Second, at the behest of the Christian Cabalist Francesco Georgio, Chalfan provided Richard Croke a religious opinion in favor of King Henry VIII in his attempt to convince Pope Clement VII that his so-called “levirate marriage” to Catherine of Aragon should be annulled because she had previously been in a marriage (lasting only five months) to Henry’s brother Arthur and had not borne a son. Third, in a collection of responsa compiled by Joseph Graziano of Modena, Chalfan gives his opinion on the question whether a Jew may instruct Christians in Hebrew. Citing numerous passages from the Talmud, which he elucidates with logical acumen, Chalfan shows that elementary instruction may certainly be given, if only for the purpose of enabling non-Jews to comply with the seven laws given to Noah.
Dr. Eliyahu Chalfan was well-known by the important Italian author Pietro Aretino (1492-1556), whose partner Caterina Sandella received his medical treatment during a serious illness. Aretino’s letter of thanks to Dr. Chalfan praises him for his biblical knowledge and expertise, suggesting that “men could learn how to be Christian from you” and “the Pope himself . . . should listen to your inspired voice.” Aretino apparently enjoyed debating with Chalfan texts he viewed as allusions to the Virgin Mary in the Old Testament.
Eliyahu Chalfan’s father Abba Maria Chalfan went to Naples in 1492 to study astronomy. He authored explanatory notes on the Alphonsine Tables, which provided data for computing the position of the sun, moon, and planets relative to the fixed stars. Eliyahu’s mother was the daughter of the foremost talmudist of his generation in Italy Josef ben Salomon Colon (the MaHaRIK), an exile from Chambery France who lived in Mestre, near Venice, and was later rabbi in Bologna and Mantua, and died in Padua around 1480.