Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The Jewish Reaction to the Livorno Earthquake of January 27, 1742

The Jewish Reaction to the Livorno Earthquake of January 27, 1742
by Ovadya Hoffman

On January 27, 1742 (כב' שבט תק"ב) an earthquake shook Livorno, Italy to its core. All through the preceding months rumbling shuddered throughout the city. Pasqual R. Pedini, a recognized cleric at the time, elucidated in a letter beginning with the incipient rumblings of Jan. 16 carrying on until 27th a vivid depiction of the earthquake’s manifestation and impact (The Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, London 1809; VIII p. 568, “An Account of the Earthquakes Felt in Leghorn”). Today with minimal research anyone can gain insight into the occurrence, both in secular historiography or seismological analyses of its nature, so I won’t elaborate on it. Here my sole intention is to produce some rare and, more importantly, non-reproduced Jewish material (here is a brief chronicle of Italian seismic history referenced in Jewish sources).

Of note is the sefer Shivchei Todah (Livorno 5504)[1] from R. Malachi HaCohen, author of the famed Yad Malachi[2]. In his introduction, the author tells us that he composed the piyutim (prayers and hymns) in the wake of the miracles that occurred during the earthquake(s). The rabbis of the community instructed the people to fast and recite different prayers, at the same time offering words of inspiration in the different synagogues to get the public to focus on self introspection. In many quarters, especially in the communal synagogues and schools, Torah study groups of different levels of study were being held. Those tefilot were established as part of an annual memorial service marking the miracles, and included in the same sefer were other tefilot that were instituted to recite in times of distress. This is essentially how the “Purim Sheni” in Livorno was born[3]. Here Eliezer Landshut gives an itemized list of the piyutim appearing in ST[4].  A more detailed report of the nature of the earthquakes was depicted by the well known R. Rafael Meldola, father of R. Avraham who headed the prominent publishing house, in his sefer Shever BaMitzarim (Livorno 5502) which was printed later that year of the earthquake. He too, as the aforementioned cleric did, begins his recount with the tremors that lead up to “the big bang”. Some have noted that aside for ST, R. Malachi authored a second sefer resembling the former’s framework entitled Kol Tefilah, although I wonder if this is accurate. For one, I haven’t been able to locate it. But what’s more puzzling is why would he have written the same tefilot and print them under two different titles? And if they contain different tefilot, why not include them in one sefer to avoid future confusion or possible opposition between kehilot in respect to the age-old “Who has the right mesorah” dilemma? Another sefer ascribed to R. Malachi is Arucha U’marpeh. In the relatively new Maaseh Rokeach from R. Massoud C. Rokach (Jer. 5772; pirkei mavo ve’toldot ha’mechaber §6) they claim that R. Malachi is “בעל הקונטרס 'ארוכה ומרפא' תפילות ובקשות שונות על העיר ליוורנו מקומו.”. One problem with this is that the introduction to this sefer clearly says that the pieces are taken from ST. The other issue is that on his tombstone, as is brought in the journal Ohr Olam (1;92), it gives the year of his passing as 5532 whereas the Arucha U’marpeh was only first printed in 5565, with no indication at all of this pamphlet being produced from R. Malachi’s manuscripts.

Once mentioning the Maaseh Rokeach (which was actually first printed the year of the earthquake[5]) it is also worth noting that one of his great students, R. Avraham Khalfon of Tripoli, also known by the acronym HaAvrech, copied in his sefer Maseh Zadikkim (pg. 522) large sections of the Shever BaMitzarim making it far more accessible than it was till then.

A similar sefer comprised of different tefilot for epidemics etc., not related directly to the earthquake in Livorno, was printed a year later in Venice entitled Matzil Nefashot. It contains ‘Tefilat HaDerech of the Ramban’, ‘Tefilat Yachid from R. Elazar HaKalir’ and other tefilot and bakashot. I wonder if the inspiration for this collection came from the events that occurred over in Livorno then followed by the printing of Shever BaMetzarim, or not.

Returning to the Shivchei Todah, though most of the content is legible[6] and printed in the classic neat Italian lettering, sadly the rich and brilliant introduction, printed in Rashi lettering, is not and so it is presented here (excluding the piece where he thanks the publishers which is not all that me’inyana d’yoma):




[1]  Some give an additional printing date of 1743 but I’m not certain why. All editions that I’ve seen have the same year “ובחמלתו הוא” printed on the cover page.
[2]  With this opportunity, I’d like to clarify a confusion I’ve seen by some, referring to the Yad Malachi as “R. Malachi Montepescali”. If one looks at the author’s introduction to his Yad Malachi it is obvious that he did not go by this surname, rather, it was his forefather who did. Furthermore, I haven’t seen anyone identify the hometown of his ancestor(s), no less even see his name neither translated nor transliterated in English, and so the above given town is my own estimation.
[3]  The Chida, in addressing a community who wanted to recite Hallel with a berachah for a different miracle (Chaim Sha’al 2;11), at the end of his responsa commends the rabbis of Livorno for instructing their community to recite Hallel because of the earthquake but to say it without a berachah. (Rav Y. Y. Weiss echoes this ruling, though in a more overt strict tone, regarding the attempt some made to recite Hallel commemorating the “miraculous” liberation from WWII (Minchat Yitzchak 10;10). For a complete discussion in general on reciting Hallel in such instances, see the famous responsa of R. Ovadia Yosef, zecher zaddik le’vracha, in Yabia Omer (vol. 6 OC §41).
[4]   Here is an article by N. Sakalov in his HaAsif on the prolific Landshut.
[5] At the around the same time and place, the Ohr HaChaim was being printed (Venice 5502), however printing didn’t go as smooth as you can see from these two different cover pages: one & two. While these as well as others were being printed in Venice, we do find other reputable seforim that were printed in Livorno that same year. More so, R. Malachi HaCohen aided greatly in the production of the responsa of R. Shlomo Zemach (Rashbash) ben R. Shimon (Rashbatz – two years later, R. Malachi wrote a haskamah upon the printing of the Rashbatz’s Yavin Shmua) and the organizing, together with a magnificent poetic biography, of the responsa of R. Yosef Irgas (Divrei Yosef).
[6]  Two short notes on R. Malachi’s text: On pg. 2 of the seder ha’tefilot, it seems that in the piece of ‘Elokai Neshama’ R. Malachi followed the more uncommon rite and added “ומושל בכל הבריות” not like most Sefardim or even Italians, which he was himself. See also Yaffeh LaLev (kunteres acharon, OC §46:1). Some indeed had the custom to add it, see for example R. Sadia HaLevi in Neveh Zedek (hil. Berachos 1:5), but what’s interesting is that most Italians did not. Another noticeable difference is the word “נהודך” in ‘Baruch She’amar’.

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