Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Rabbi Binyamin Musafia (1606-1675)

Rabbi Binyamin ben Emanuel Musafia was born in Spain in 1606. He belonged to a family of "conversos", Jews that were forced to convert and pretend to live as Christians, while studying Tora and observe Jewish law in secret.  In Spain he studied medicine and at a young age he went to Hamburg where he was able to practice openly his Jewish faith.  

While in Hamburg he was invited to serve as a physician in the Danish-Norway Monarchy. He was the personal doctor of King Christian the IVth. Here in 1640 he composed his first book in Latin:   "Sacro-Medics" a book that contains 650 different medical advices, cures and antidotes coming from the Hebrew Bible. He signed his name in Latin  "Dionysius Manuel"

In 1642 he went to Amsterdam. When his wife died, six years after their wedding, he composed in her honor a book called "zekher rab", in this book he took all the nouns and verbs of the Hebrew Bible in thematic order and composed for each term pomes of praise and prayer to haShem.  This extraordinary book was reprinted in Germany in 1868 by rabbi Naftali Hertz with footnotes mentioning the sources of each term.  To download this book click  here.   

At his old age Rabbi Musafia served as the rabbi of the Sephardic community of Amsterdam (Spanish -Portuguese). At this time he wrote a commentary on the Talmud of Jerusalem which was never published.  In those days 1664-1665 the false Messiah Shabbetai Zebi was acclaimed by most Jewish communities and Rabbis.  The community of Amsterdam was no exception, and apparently, rabbi Musafia was also a supporter of Shabettai Zebi until the false Messiah converted to islam in 1666.   As rabbi David Margaliot explains, unfortunately most rabbis of that time fell naively into this belief, more for psychological than from philosophical reasons.  

The main contribution of Rabbi Binyamin Musafia is a book called "Musaf he'arukh", a supplement to the famous book "he'arukh". The book "he'arukh" written in the 11th century by Rabbi Nathan ben Yehiel from Roma, is one of the most important books of Jewish linguistic. A comprehensive dictionary of difficult words found in the Talmud and Midrash.  The sefer he'arukh was extensively used by great rabbis, for example, Rashi (see TB Shabbat 13b) who quoted the 'arukh as an authoritative book . Rabbi Musafia wrote a multiple-volumes supplement to that book: "Mosif he'arukh".  Rabbi Musafia was an expert in classic literature and languages, and the Talmudic Literature contains approximately 3000 terms coming from Greek or Latin. His contribution was thus priceless. 
He died in Amsterdam in 1675.