As this year marks 500 years since the creation of the Venetian Ghetto in 1516 - the first ghetto in Europe - this essay will present the life and controversial legal rulings of one of the most prominent rabbis of the Jewish Ghetto of Venice, Simcha Luzzatto, known also as Simone Luzzatto (1583 - 1663). Simcha Luzzatto served as the chief rabbi of the Jewish Ghetto of Venice between 1648 and his passing in 1663. A short biography on Luzzatto was written in Hebrew by Moses Avigdor Shulvass (1909–1988), as an introduction to Ma'amar al Yehudei Venezia - Tract on the Jews of Venice (Jerusalem: Mosad Bialik, 1950)[1]. In this essay, I will aim to present an outline of the life of Simcha Luzzatto, three areas of his contribution to Jewish scholarship and proceed to focus on the main subject of this essay - a known controversial opinion of Luzzatto arguing for the permissibility to travel on the gondolas in Venice on the Shabbat, a subject that would have consequences for many other cities with rivers including Oxford. 




Simcha Luzzatto’s family, similar to that of most Jews in North East Italy, was originally from Germany near Lausitz. They had been living in Venice since the middle of the 15th century. Simcha was born in 1582 or 1583, his father was Yitzchak Luzzatto and his brother was Nechemiah Luzzatto (d. 1622), both wealthy men, who supported Torah study in Venice. His family prayed in the German synagogue ‘Beit Hakneset Hagadol’, and Simcha was part of its board, participating in its meetings - even though a Luzzatto synagogue also existed in the Ghetto. The Luzzatto family was very close to Rabbi Joshua Jacob ben Elchanan Halperin from Northern Italy, author of Nachalot Ya’akov (Padua 1623), who was a great inspiration to the younger Simcha Luzzatto in his study of the Torah and seems to have been regarded as his teacher. A number of letters from Luzzatto to Halperin in matters of Jewish law and personal affairs are found in Nachalot Ya’akov. Other teachers include prominent rabbis of Venice: Samuel Judah Katzenellenbogen (1521-1597), Avigdor Zuvidal (d. 1601), Ben Zion Sarfatti (d. 1610) and Judah Leib Saraval (d. 1617). In addition to his Torah study he engaged in secular study. In 1604 he writes[2] to Halperin that he is fully engaged in secular study and does not have time to write on matters of Torah.


His broad knowledge of Torah and other areas led him to become appointed one of the seven rabbis of Venice in 1606 when he was just 24 years old, in which capacity he served from 1606 until he passed away. After the passing of his rabbinical colleague, Rabbi Yehudah Aryeh Modena, known also as Leon Modena, in 1648, Luzzatto became the chief rabbi of the city and head of the Yeshiva (Rav Hakolel).




Gondola.jpgLuzzatto wrote three works: a collection of responsa, Socrates and the Discorso. The collection of response includes his well-known ruling that Jews are permitted to travel in gondolas on the Shabbat, the main subject of this essay. Some of his responsa can be found in Nachalat Ya’akov, as part of Luzzatto’s correspondence with the author of that work - Rabbi Joshua Yaakov ben Elchanan Halpern. Subjects covered in Nachalat Ya’akov by Luzzatto include his ruling[3] that one may move a corpse on the Shabbat by placing a piece of bread on it, thereby removing this prohibition. This ruling is despite the fact that a lamp – also prohibited to move on the Shabbat – may be moved only if the bread was placed before Shabbat. For the dignity of the dead one may place the bread on the corpse on the Shabbat itself, to enable it be moved. Another responsa concerns the status of the bride and groom after the betrothal but before consummation[4].


We are aware also of a responsa of twenty-eight folios in manuscript form in the Bodleian Library[5]. This discusses in great length the question of whether a witness who claims that a woman had an affair with another man needs to be cross examined (d’risha vechakirah) before forbidding the husband to remain married to her[6] according to Jewish law.


Rovigo Mikvah


100.jpgA major dispute[7] involving Luzzatto concerned the valid status of the Mikvah (ritual pool) in Rovigo[8]. This dispute divided the Venetian rabbis and pitted many of the rabbis of Venice against their contemporaries in Northern Italy and beyond. In 1589, the Rabbi of Rovigo, Avtalyon ben Solomon Di Consiglio (c. 1540-1616), lived in a house where the communal Mikvah was built, situated near a spring. Avtalyon personally supervised the Mikvah for ten years ensuring that it was deemed valid according to Jewish law. Under the guidance of Avtalyon, a perforated bucket with an additional larger hole on the side of the bucket was used to draw the natural spring water for the Mikvah, to ensure that the bucket did not constitute a vessel, thereby invalidating the water. The water was then poured into a perforated wooden pipe, falling subsequently into a sump, which then flowed along a short canal along the ground – reconstituting the water as spring fed water according to Jewish law - into the Mikvah.


After ten years of close supervision of the Mikvah, Avtalyon relocated to another house and the house with the Mikvah was taken over by Avtalyon’s older brother Rabbi Yekutiel. When Avtalyon later visited he saw that the method of filling the Mikvah had been changed: they filled the water from the spring with a perforated bucket but without the larger hole on the side. This was to enable Mikvah to be filled with less effort. Avtalyon wrote a letter stating that the Mikvah was invalid, since the perforated holes when combined might not constitute a hole-size sufficient to remove the status of the bucket as a utensil - thus invalidating the Mikvah. In addition, he argued, the small holes are not noticeable enough and one may draw the conclusion that one does not need any holes at all in the bucket, which would certainly invalidate a Mikvah. Due to the severity of the issue, Avtalyon took a Torah scroll and issued a decree that the use of such a Mikvah is prohibited and he proceeded to build a second Mikvah on his own property. This dispute spread across Italy, Venice and as far as Israel with rabbis taking opposing sides in this argument. The rabbis of Venice generally supported Yekutiel permitting the Mikvah and the rabbis of Northern Italy generally supported the view of Avtalyon prohibiting it. Some rabbis like Leon Mondena remained neutral, as he had relatives and colleagues on both sides of the dispute. The rabbis of the Venice Ghetto who permitted the use of the Mikvah, among others, were Luzzatto’s teachers: Samuel Judah Katzenellenbogen, Avigdor Zuvidal, Ben Zion Sarfatti and Judah Leib Saraval. A collection of the rulings by those who permitted the Mikvah was published in Mashbit Milchamot (Venice, 1606). A work compiling the views prohibiting the Mikvah was published in Mikveh Yisrael (1607) by Rabbi Judah ben Moses Saltero of Fano and Palgei Mayim (1608) by Rabbi Moses ben Jehiel ha-Cohen Porto-Rafa (d. 1624). Luzzatto supported his teacher Katzenellenbogen and the other Venetian rabbis’ views regarding the permissibility of the Mikvah and wrote a lengthy systematic responsa of twenty five folios on the subject entitled Mishan Mayim, published in Mashbit Milchamot[9].


Socrates & Discorso


A second work by Luzzatto is a Socrates style work that argues that human reason cannot attain its goals if unaided by Divine revelation. A third work was a pamphlet, arguing that the Jews of Venice should not be expelled due to their economic and social usefulness. This was entitled Discorso circa il stato de gl'Hebrei et in particolar dimoranti nell'inclita città di Venetia (Discourse Concerning the Condition of the Jews, and in particular those living in the Fair City of Venice). Simply known as the Discorso, and completed in 1638, this tract was successful in its aim and the Jews were allowed to remain residing in Venice. Numerous scholars have written on the political thought of Simcha Luzzatto, based on the Discorso.




In this essay, I would like to look at his work on Jewish law, in particular, a controversial responsa arguing that it should be permitted to travel in a gondola on the Shabbat, only to be suppressed by the leaders of the Venice Jewish community (Va’ad Hakatan). While the actual ruling is no longer extant, we are aware of this ruling and its controversy from a number of sources. I will aim to reconstruct the interesting history of this discussion and the proposed arguments by Luzzatto.


Riccardo Calimani, in Storia del ghetto di VeneziaRusconi Milan (1985), p. 16, writes:


The necessity of using a boat to move around the city gave rise to a rabbinical dispute that couldn’t be more Venetian: whether or not it is licit to take a gondola on the Sabbath. The seventeenth century dispute made reference to a precedent from 1244, when Rabbi Isaia da Trani had navigated through the canals of Venice on the day when labor of any kind is not permitted. Four centuries later, Rabbi Simcha Luzzatto submits that it is licit to use a gondola on the Sabbath, basing his position on the case of Isaiah da Trani, but the council of the community rejects his argument on grounds that it is too modernist and venturesome.


IMGP0947.JPGDue to its relevance to the way of life of the Jewish community in the Ghetto, I will aim to present and reconstruct the rationale for and against this legal ruling by Luzzatto. Incidentally, this question is also of great interest to Oxford, as a city replete with canals and rivers. In the medieval period, it appears that where there was the availability of rivers and large streams, boat travel would rival or overthrow the cart for preferred method of transportation of goods and people[10]. We know that Rabbi Elijah Menachem of London lived on Candlewick Street (today, Cannon Street) very close to the River Thames. The question of the permissibility of boat travel on the Shabbat for social or ritual reasons would have been relevant. 


Current Jewish law on boat travel on Shabbat


I will first give a brief overview of the parameters of the laws pertaining to travelling in a boat on the Shabbat today. There are the following categories under which Jewish law discusses this[11]:


  1. One may set out to travel by sea more than three days prior to the Shabbat, on Sunday, Monday or Tuesday, in all circumstances.
  2. One may not set out to travel by sea for leisure[12] within three days prior to the Shabbat, on Wednesday, Thursday or Friday, as a person will not be able to fulfill the injunction to enjoy the Shabbat ‘Oneg Shabbat’.
  3. One may set out to travel on a canal or river, as opposed to the sea, even if one departs on Friday.
  4. One may not set out to travel on the Shabbat, unless one has established residence during dusk[13], perhaps one may improvise and fix equipment for floating on the Shabbat[14].
  5. The principal rationale for permitting sea travel on the Shabbat, if departed before Shabbat, as above, is due to the prevailing view that travelling on water higher than ten handbreadths from the seabed is not the same as land travel. The prohibition against travelling more than 2,000 cubits on the Shabbat therefore does not apply[15].
  6. Modern sea travel in all circumstances is prohibited when sailed by Jewish sailors[16].


Jewish law thus would prohibit travelling by boat on the Shabbat in Venice. One would not be allowed to embark on a vaporetto (public ferry), motoscafo taxi acquei (water taxi), gondola or traghetto (gondola-like ferry). If you however arrived by a non-Jewish run cruise ship on the Shabbat, having departed before the Shabbat, and arrived within the city limits before the onset of Shabbat, you may disembark and embark on the Shabbat.


13 th century Rabbi Isaiah di Trani ben Mali


In the Venice Ghetto however this was a subject of major dispute. An outline of the history of this dispute goes back to the 13th century in Venice. The first to rule that one may travel by boat in Venice on the Shabbat is the most prominent Talmudist in Italy of the 13th century Rabbi Isaiah di Trani ben Mali (the Elder) (c. 1180 – c. 1250), known by his acronym the “Rid”. He wrote a commentary on almost every tractate of the Talmud in the form of Tosafot commentary, novallae and legal decisions[17]. Respect for Rabbi Isaiah di Trani went as far as Germany; Austrian Rabbi Isaac ben Moses of Vienna (1200-1270), author of the multi-volume Jewish legal work Ohr Zarua and one the greatest rabbis of the Middle Ages, referred to the Rid as one of the two kings of Israel, alongside another Italian Tosafist, Rabbi Eliezer ben Samuel of Verona (lived about the beginning of the thirteenth century)[18]. Moritz Güdemann (1835-1918) suggests that the Rid, as an authority on Jewish law, was to Italy what Maimonides (1135-1204) was to Spain and Rabbi Jacob ben Meir Tam, known as Rabbeinu Tam (1100-1171), was to France and Germany.


The first work to record this conduct of the Rabbi Isaiah di Trani in Venice is Rabbi Zedekiah ben Abraham Anav (1210 - ca. 1280), who lived in Rome and author of Shibbole ha-Leḳeṭ (Ears of Gleaning)[19]a work on Jewish law, divided into three hundred and seventy-two paragraphs, in twelve sections (Arugot)[20], treating a corresponding number of areas of Jewish law, including the laws of Shabbat (printed in its complete form in 1886, Vilna). His work is not original but a compilation of laws culled from older authorities, many times adjudicating between them, including his senior contemporary Rabbi Isaiah di Trani. An abridgement of this extensive work was published in Venice by Daniel Bomberg in 1545, a second abridgement became known as Tanya Rabbati and a third abridgement was entitled Ma'aseh ha-Geonim circulated in manuscript and extant in the Bodleian Library, Oxford[21]. In the laws of Shabbat, he writes:


I found that Rabbi Isaiah di Trani of blessed memory would enter and travel on Shabbat in the city of Venice on those boats that would travel from neighbourhood to neighbourhood and would say that the drivers of the boats had in mind to travel for themselves.


15th century Rabbi Jacob ben Judah Landau (d. 1493), who was born in Germany and moved to Italy, first living in Pavia in 1480 and then Naples in 1487, quotes the testimony of Rabbi Zedekiah ben Abraham Anav about Rabbi Isaiah di Trani in his Jewish legal work Agur[22]a compilation of practical Jewish law for the ordinary person, published in Naples sometime after 1487 with additional legal questions published separately posthumously in Venice, 1546[23].  He writes, as above, that Rabbi Isaiah di Trani would “enter and travel on Shabbat in the city Venice on those boats that would travel from neighbourhood to neighbourhood and would say that the drivers of the boats had in mind to travel for themselves”.


The recording of the conduct of Rabbi Isaiah di Trani by Rabbi Landau in his work Agur is quoted in turn by Rabbi Joseph Karo (1488-1575) in his commentary to Tur (Orach Chaim 339), as well as by 17th century Greek Rabbi Jacob ben Israel (d. 1634) in his two volume work Sha’alat Uteshuvot Rabbi Ya’akov l’Beit Halevi, published in Venice, 1614[24]. Finally, Rabbi Isaac ben Shmuel Lamprontini (1679-1756), born in Ferrara, Italy, author of Pachad Yitzchak, the first Talmudic encyclopedia, published in 1756, also brings the practice of Rabbi Isaiah di Trani.


Two challenges against Rabbi Isaiah di Trani


The challenge against the conduct of Rabbi Isaiah di Trani is quoted in the name of Rabbi Meir of Rothenburg, known as the Maharam of Rothenburg (1215-1293), contemporary of Rabbi Isaiah di Trani. 13th century Rabbi Zedekiah ben Abraham Anav presents the challenge in Shibbole ha-Lekketbased on the argument that the logic of Rabbi Isaiah di Trani that since the boat is being driven for the sake of non-Jewish travellers a Jew may be on board represents a subterfuge.


The challenge is based on the following case in the Talmud[25]:


Some students said to Rav Ashi: See, master, that young Torah scholar, and Rav Huna ben R’ Chayun is his name, and some say, Rav Huna the son of R’ Chalvan is his name, went to sleep in a ferryboat on the Shabbat, crossed to the other side, and watched over his produce there; and he said “I intended to sleep,” not to cross the river. Rav Ashi said to them” Are you saying that he should not be allowed to use a subterfuge? But the subterfuge was meant to circumvent a Rabbinical prohibition, and a young Torah scholar would not come to actually transgress the prohibition in the first place. Thus he may employ such a subterfuge.


This Talmudic case demonstrates that a subterfuge to circumvent Jewish law is not in fact permitted, thus prohibiting travel on a boat on the Shabbat.


A second version of the challenge by Rabbi Meir against Rabbi Isaiah di Trani is quoted by 15th century Rabbi Jacob ben Judah Landau as coming from a different Talmudic text – a Mishnaic episode that took place in a port city in Southern Italy[26]:


It once happened that four sages came from Perendisin, and their ship went out to sea on Shabbat: Rabbi Gamliel and Rabbi Eliezer ben Azariah walked throughout all of the vessel; but Rabbi Yehoshua and Rabbi Akiva did not move beyond four amot (cubits), since they wanted to be strict upon themselves. Once, on a Shabbat-eve, the above Sages were on board a ship that did not enter the harbor until it became dark; they said to Rabbi Gamaliel, "What are we to do, regarding descending from the ship?" He said back to them, "You are permitted; for I already observed that we had entered within the techum (city boundaries) before it got dark."


The second version of the challenge is quoted in the 16th century by Rabbi Joseph Karo, which in turn is quoted by Rabbi Yaakov l’Beis Halevi in the 17th century. Rabbi Joseph Karo further challenges the view of Rabbi Isaiah di Trani from the expressed ruling of Rabbi Jacob ben Asher, known as the Ba’al ha-Turim (c. 1269 - c. 1343), based on the French Tosafist Rabbi Isaac ben Samuel the Elder, known as the Ri ha-Zaken (c. 1115 – c. 1184), that forbids embarking one’s travel on a boat on the Shabbat[27]. Rabbi Joseph Karo concludes his argument by saying that the view of Rabbi Isaiah di Trani permitting travelling in a boat on the Shabbat in Venice is questionable.


A third Talmudic argument against permission to travel on a boat on the Shabbat is brought in the 13th century Jewish legal work of Mordechai ben Hillel (c. 1250 - 1298), also known as the Mordechai, based on the discussion in the Talmud about the prohibition to travel even within three days of the Shabbat[28]:


Our Sages taught: One may not set sail on a ship within three days of Shabbat. Nevertheless, this only applies when one is travelling for a mundane purpose. However, if one is travelling for the purpose of a Mitzvah, one is permitted to do so.


Rabbi Shmuel ben Meir argues that this prohibition is due to the opinion of the School of Shammai that opposes work done on the Shabbat even when it begins before the Shabbat. The School of Hillel would allow one to travel on a boat on the Shabbat, as the traveller is merely embarking and the boat travels on its own. Rabeinu Tam argues further that the above reading is only referring to travel below ten handbreadths from the ground, limiting travel beyond 2,000 cubits. Usual sea travel however is above ten handbreadths and therefore permitted before the Shabbat and on the Shabbat. This opinion is however disputed by the Tosafist Rabbi Isaac, who says the reason for the prohibition to travel on a boat on the Shabbat is not because of distance, but rather perhaps one may fix a float. In the final analysis, Mordechai ben Hillel appears to agree with Tosafist Rabbi Isaac based on the argument that subterfuge is not an option for the permissibility of sea travel on the Shabbat and the concern of fixing a float on the Shabbat is applicable[29].


Austrian Tosafist Rabbi Avigdor Cohen ben Elijah of Vienna (fl. mid-13th century) is quoted both in the Agur by Rabbi Jacob Baruch ben Yehudah Landau (in the name of Shebbole ha-Lekket), and by Rabbi Joseph Karo in his commentary to the Tur, as saying that one may not climb onto on a small boat (dugit) on the Shabbat when the boat is moving in the water. One may board such a boat only if it is tied, according to some opinions[30], or grounded, according to others[31]. Based on the above, the almost unanimous conclusion is that the view of Rabbi Isaiah di Trani is not the accepted opinion in Jewish law.


In a lengthy responsa by Rabbi Jacob ben Israel l’Beit Halevi, he goes as far as condemning a person who embarked on a sea journey to save a significant loan owed to him by a Muslim who fell ill and seemed to have been about to pass away on the festival of Shavuot.


Defense of Rabbi Isaiah di Trani


There is reason to defend the view of Rabbi Isaiah di Trani as a legitimate point of view in Jewish law. This is based on a survey of the principal five reasons to explain the Talmud prohibition on boat travel three days before the Shabbat[32]:


  1. 11th century Kairouanan Rabbi Chananel ben Chushiel, known as Rabeinu Chananel (990-1053), writes that the problem is travelling beyond the permitted distance on Shabbat (T’chum Shabbat).
  2. Rabbi Isaac Alfasi (1013-1103), known as the Rif, Maimonides (1135-1204) and Rabbi Asher ben Jehiel (1250 or 1259 – 1327) writes that the reason to prohibit is due to seasickness during the first three days of travel disrupting resting on the Shabbat.
  3. Rabbi Nissim ben Jacob (990-1062), known as the Ran, and Rabbi Zerachiah ben Isaac ha-Levi Gerondi (c. 1125 - c. 1186), known by his acronym the Rezah or after his work The Maor, writes that one prohibits due to the danger of sea travel which makes it appear as if one is travelling contingent on the possibility of violating the Shabbat in a situation of danger.
  4. Nachmanides (1194-1270) writes that the reason is due to the appearance that one is travelling contingent on the non-Jew violating the Shabbat for the Jew by pulling the boat and tying it.
  5. Tosafot writes that the reason is due to the possibility of fixing a float on the Shabbat.


As far as the reasoning of Rabbi Chananel that there is concern of travelling beyond the permitted distance one is allowed to travel on the Shabbat, Maimonides writes in a letter to Babylon[33] that there is no concern for travelling by sea on the Shabbat due to travelling more than a certain distance (t’chum). The reason is because the Talmud poses an unresolved question whether there is a violation for travelling beyond a certain distance when travelling higher than ten handbreadths from the ground[34]. Maimonides argues that first of all, the limit to travel beyond a certain a distance on the Shabbat is only rabbinical in origin[35], and, secondly, the application of the law when travelling higher than ten handbreadths from the ground remains unresolved. Maimonides therefore says that since we are dealing with a rabbinical prohibition and there is doubt whether it is applicable, Jewish law stipulates in such a scenario that one may be lenient. As with sea travel one is almost certainly traveling sufficiently high enough above the ground, it would be permitted to travel on the sea without limitation of distance on the Shabbat if one embarked prior to the Shabbat.


The problem mentioned by Rabbi Isaac Alfasi of seasickness on the Shabbat preventing a person from enjoying the Shabbat has also been rejected in the case of travelling on a canal or river where the water is calm, or when a person is performing a Mitzvah. The definition of a Mitzvah is anything that is not purely leisure. This includes attending synagogue, protection of livelihood or even for a communal get-together.


The principle reasoning of Rabbi Isaiah di Trani is based on the view of Nachmanides, Ran and Ba’al Hamaor that the problem of travelling on a boat prior to the Shabbat is that a non-Jew will do work for the Jew as necessary on the Shabbat. In the case of Venice, this reasoning would not be relevant with the vaporetto (public ferry), unlike the private taxi acquei (water taxi) and gondolas, as the non-Jew does not have in mind that he is doing his work specifically for the Jewish traveller. 


This distinction was made by Rabbi Jacob ben Israel who wrote to the person who hired his personal driver to travel 30 miles by sea in an attempt to retrieve a substantial loan before the borrower died on the festival.


14th century Spanish Rabbi Vidal of Tolosa, author of commentary to Maimonides’ Mishneh Torah, Maggid Mishneh, writes that Nachmanides’ view was not to be understood as granting permission to travel by boat on the Shabbat, but rather a way to justify those who already do so[36]. Nachmanides himself writes that a G‑d fearing person should avoid travelling on the Shabbat on a boat. While Rabbi Shlomo ben Aderet says outright that Nachmanides is incorrect in his justification, as does the development of Jewish law by Rabbi Joseph Karo, Rabbi Isaiah di Trani clearly adopted the reasoning of Nachmanides.


Rabbi Simcha Luzzatto (1583-1663)


Rabbi Simcha Luzzatto who lived in the Jewish Ghetto in the 17th century was a prominent rabbi who thought that there is sufficient reasoning to justify the opinion of Rabbi Isaiah di Trani, based on the reasoning of Nachmanides. His reasoning may have been due to the fact that the practise of sea travel on the Shabbat in Venice, as other places, had become prevalent[37]. He therefore presented the argument that the Jewish community of Venice should accept the view of Rabbi Isaiah di Trani.


The reason they would have rejected the opinion of Luzzatto would have been possibly based on the fact that his rabbinical status was not significant enough to roll back the far weightier legal ruling of Rabbi Joseph Karo who had rejected the opinion of Rabbi Isaiah di Trani. Alternatively, they would have been reluctant to change the custom, even though Luzzatto had the authority.


This is based on the well-known story of the people of Beishan[38]:


The people of Beishan had the custom not to travel from Tyre to Sidon on Erev Shabbat. Years later, their children came before Rav Yochanan and said to him: “It was possible for our fathers to refrain from going to the market and doing business on Friday, since they were wealthy men, however, it is not possible for us to do so, for we lack their financial cushion. Must we still adhere to their custom? Rav Yochanan said to them in reply: “Your fathers have already accepted this custom upon themselves, and it becomes a binding law for you as it says, “Hear, my children, the discipline of your father, and do not forsake the teaching of your mother"[39].


This story demonstrates the view that it is not permissible to simply change the custom that had become established[40]. In the case of Venice, although there had been a precedent by Rabbi Isaiah di Trani to travel on the Venice public ferries on Shabbat, based on the reasoning of Nachmanides, among other authorities, this however would have been insufficient to change the established custom that had taken root due to the subsequent rejection of Rabbi Isaiah di Trani’s opinion by Rabbi Joseph Karo and other authorities. In conclusion, whether Luzzatto's inability to re-establish the custom of Venice to travel in the public gondolas on the Shabbat was due to communal politics or Halachic opposition, his responsa on this subject should be seen as an indication of his position as a rabbi who cared for the material well-being, as much as the spiritual well-being of his community, at a difficult time in Jewish history.






[1] Shulvass was born in Plonsk, Poland, studied in Berlin, lived in Israel between 1938 and 1948 before immigrating to the United States, where he eventually became professor of Jewish history at Spertus College of Jewish Studies in Chicago. His publications on historical studies on Italian Jewry include Roma ve-Yerushalayim ("Rome and Jerusalem," 1945); Ḥayyei ha-Yehudim be-Italyah bi-Tekufat ha-Renaissance ("Jewish Life in Renaissance Italy," 1955); and his biographical sketch of Samuel David Luzzatto with documentary supporting material, Pirkei Ḥayyim (1951).

[2] Nachalat Ya’akov 42a. The closeness between Halperin and the Luzzatto family is expressed also by the eulogy for Nechemia Luzzatto in the beginning of Nachalat Ya’akov, in which he refers to Nechemia as a material supporter of the sages as well as the poor.

[3] P. 74

[4] P. 75

[5] Neub. 851:2

[6] Talmud Sotah 26b

[7] There is a correspondence between the sages of Venice and David Oppenheimer about the usury within the Jewish community of Venice. Other disputes include playing tennis on Shabbat, drinking wine of which owner is unknown, among others.

[8] Three books were published detailing the dispute about the Rovigo Mikvah: Mashbis Milchamot, Mikveh Yisroel and Palgei Mayim. The summary of the dispute is in the introduction to Mashbis Milchamot by Naftali Hertzka Frankel p. 32.

[9] P. 75-100.

[10] See The Transport System of Medieval England and Wales – A geographical synthesis p. 16, 14831/1/D083029.pdf - accessed 17 Nov, 2016.

[11] Shulchan Aruch Harav Orach Chaim 248

[12] The rationale is one who is occupied in a Mitzvah in the broadest sense becomes exempt from a Mitzvah Oneg Shabbat.

[13] If one establishes residence on the boat for the duration of dusk on Friday, one may embark and disembark on the Shabbat, as desired (as long as one does not disembark after travelling beyond the city limits). It is recommended to light the Shabbat candles and make Kiddush to allow others to know that you have made the boat your residence at the onset of the Shabbat.

[14] This concern is only in effect when one embarks on the Shabbat but not before the Shabbat.

[15] Teshuvat Harambam 67. See Igeros Harambam ed. I. Shilat p. 273. Neubauer, cat. Bodl. Hebr. MS. No. 1298. The manuscript is written by Rabbi Isaac de Lates finished in 1372. The responsa is in chapter 15.

[16] Lubavitcher Rebbe in Likutei Sichot vol. 16, in dispute with Rabbi Moses Feinstein in Igrot Moshe Orach Chaim 92; Yechaveh Da’at vol. 6, p. 99 rules like the Rebbe.

[17] Much has been printed, though some are still in manuscript – see cat. Bodl. Hebr. MSS. Nos. 334-336.

[18] Ohr Zarua, i.755

[19] Chapter 111, p. 42

[20] See cat. Bodl. Hebr. MS. No. 656.

[21] In addition, the Bodleian library has four 16th century manuscripts of Shibole Ha-leket, cat. Bodl. Hebr. MSS. Nos. 656-659.

[22] Chapter 345

[23] And Prague, 1608

[24] Responsa 4, p. 18

[25] Shabbat 139b

[26] Eruvin 41b

[27] Eruvin 43a, Halacha.

[28] Eruvin 43a, Halacha.

[29] See Shiltei Giborim in the Mordechai Shabbat 454:1 that writes that since from France to England can be traveled by boat on one day, one may travel this journey by boat on Friday, as there is a good chance that the person will arrive in England on the same day.

[30] Kol Bo 31, 33b

[31] Teshuvat Hagaonim in the name of Rabbi Moshe Gaon- see Beit Yosef 339:7

[32] See the five reasons summarised in Sha’alot Utshuvot Jacob L’Beit Halevi, responsa 4.

[33] Igerot Harambam, ed. Isaac Shilat, p.277

[34] Eruvin 43a

[35] Eruvin 59a

[36] Maggid Mishneh on Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Shabbat 30:13

[37] Maggid Mishneh on Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Shabbat 30:13

[38] Pesach 50b

[39] Proverbs 1:8

[40] Maimonides makes a distinction between people being scrupulous and people acting erroneously out of ignorance – see Igerot Harambam ibid. In view of Nachmanides’ suggestion that a G‑d fearing person should not travel on a boat on the Shabbat, the reason for the ban on boat travel when departing on Shabbat is indeed more out of scrupulousness than Jewish law.


Edited by Mrs. Sora Feldman