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Italian scholar, satirical poet, and the most interesting figure among the Jews of Italy; born at Rome c. 1270; died probably at Fermo c. 1330. He was a member of an important and wealthy family, and occupied a very prominent position at Rome. He seems to have been president or secretary of the Roman community, preached on the Day of Atonement, and also delivered discourses on special occasions. In 1325 he had the misfortune to lose his entire wealth, and was obliged to leave his home. All his friends deserted him, and, "bowed by poverty and the double burden of age," he wandered through Italy, until he found refuge in 1328 at Fermo in the march of Ancona, at the house of a patron of the name of Daniel (?), who provided for his old age and enabled him to devote himself to poetry.

The studies of Immanuel comprised not only Biblical and Talmudical literature, but also mathematics, astronomy, medicine, and the philosophical works of Arabians and Christians. He was aided by an excellent memory, and was acquainted with Italian, Arabic, Latin, and perhaps some Greek. He especially devoted himself to writing verse. He was stimulated in this work by his cousin Judah Romano, one of the foremost philosophers of his time. Immanuel, whose poetic gifts appeared at an early age, devoted himself to the study of rime, took lessons in versification, and read the works of the foremost Jewish and Christian poets. He mentions among his teachers Benjamin b. Joab and his cousin Daniel; he may also have been a pupil of Zerahiah b. Shealtiel Ḥen.


Immanuel's varied scientific activity corresponded with his wide scholarship, although he confined his activity exclusively to Jewish subjects. With the exception of an introductory poem his first work is lost; it dealt with the letter-symbolism popular at that time. A second work, "Eben Boḥan" (Touchstone), concerns Biblical hermeneutics, and deals with the different meanings of the verbs in different constructions, with the omission, addition, and interchange of letters, and with other linguistic questions. More important are his Biblical commentaries, which covered almost all the books of the Bible, and of which a part are lost. Following his Jewish and Christian contemporaries, he interpreted the Bible allegorically, symbolically, and mystically, endeavoring to find therein his own philosophic and religious views, though not disregarding the simple, literal meaning, which he placed above the symbolical. The sole value of his commentaries lies in the fact that his wide range of reading enabled him to make the works of the exegetes and philosophers accessible to his contemporaries and countrymen. The commentary on Proverbs is printed in the edition of the Hagiographa, Naples, 1487; the others are preserved in manuscript at Parma and Munich. Abbé Perreau published the commentaries on the Megillot and the Psalms (i.-lxxv.); on the commentary to Job see Perreau's article in "Mosé," Corfu, 1884.

His Verse.

The originality that Immanuel lacked as a scholar he possessed as a poet. In his verse this is given free play, and his poems assure him a place for all time. The child of his time, in sympathy with the social and intellectual life of Italy of that period, he had acquired the then prevalent pleasing, easy, humorous, harmlessly flippant tone, and the art of treating questionable subjects wittily and elegantly. He composed both in Italian and in Hebrew. Only a few of his Italian poems have been preserved. In a truly national spirit they portray and satirize the political or religious conditions of the time. Immanuel was held in high regard by the contemporaneous Italian poets; two Italian sonnets referring to his death have been preserved, which place him as poet beside Dante. Immanuel in fact knew Dante's works, and drew upon them; in his own Italian as well as in his Hebrew poems there are very clear traces of the "divine poet." See Jew. Encyc. iv. 435.

Hebrew Poems.

Immanuel introduced the form of the sonnet from Italian literature into Hebrew, and in this respect he is justified in saying that he excelled his models, the Spaniards, for he introduced alternate rime instead of single rime. He also excelled all his predecessors in invention and humor. In his old age, during his so journ at his patron's at Fermo, he collected his Hebrew poems, in the manner of Al-Ḥarizi's "Makamat," in a diwan that he entitled "Meḥabberot" (). Out of gratitude for his generous friend he put these poems in a setting that made it appear as if they had been composed entirely during his intercourse with him and as if stimulated by him, althoughthey were in reality composed at different periods. These poems deal with all the events and episodes of Jewish life, and are replete with clever witticisms, harmless fun, caustic satire, and at times frivolity. The Hebrew idiom in which Immanuel wrote lends an especial charm to his work. His parodies of Biblical and Talmudic sentences, his clever allusions and puns, his equivocations, are gems of diction on account of which it is almost impossible to translate his poems into another language. These 27 poems—satires and letters, prayers and dirges, intermingled—embrace a great variety of themes, serious or humorous. A vision entitled "Ha-Tofet weha Eden" (Hell and Paradise; poem 28), at the end of the diwan, is a sublime finale, the seriousness of which, however, is tempered by lighter passages, the humorist asserting himself even in dealing with the supernatural world. As an old man of sixty, the poet recounts, he was overcome by the consciousness of his sins and the fear of his fate after death, when a recently deceased young friend, Daniel, appeared to him, offering to lead him through the tortures of hell to the flowering fields of the blessed. There then follows a minute description of hell and heaven. It need hardly be said that Immanuel's poem is patterned in idea as well as in execution on Dante's "Divine Comedy." It has even been asserted that he intended to set a monument to his friend Dante in the person of the highly praised Daniel for whom he found a magnificent throne prepared in paradise. This theory, however, is untenable, and there remains only that positing his imitation of Dante. Though the poem lacks the depth and sublimity, and the significant references to the religious, scientific, and political views of the time, that have made Dante's work immortal, yet it is not without merit. Immanuel's description, free from dogmatism, is true to human nature. Not the least of its merits is the humane point of view and the tolerance toward those of a different belief which one looks for in vain in Dante, who excludes all non-Christians as such from eternal felicity.

Immanuel's "Diwan" was printed at Brescia 1491, Constantinople 1535, Berlin 1796, and Lemberg 1870; the last chapter also separately, Prague 1613, Frankfort-on-the-Oder 1713. Some passages have also been translated into German, e.g., the introduction and ch. 28, and the latter also into Italian. Yet the book is little known or disseminated. His contemporaries even censure Immanuel as a wanton scoffer, as he is occasionally flippant even in religious matters. He fared worse with later critics. Moses Rieti excluded him from the hall of fame that he erected to Jewish sages in his "Miḳdash Me'aṭ" (c. 1420). Joseph Caro even forbade the reading of his poems (Shulḥan 'Aruk, Oraḥ Ḥayyim, 307, 16). Immanuel Frances censures, his "wanton songs," and warns all poets of love-songs against imitating them ("Meteḳ Sefatayim." pp. 34, 38). This criticism is due to the strong admixture of the lascivious, frivolous, and erotic found in the poems. Never since Immanuel's verse has the Hebrew muse appeared so bold and wanton, notwithstanding that his work contains poems filled with true piety and even with invitations to penitence and asceticism.

  • Grätz, Gesch. 3d ed., vii. 264 et seq.;
  • Güdemann, Gesch. des Erziehungswesens der Juden in Italien, ch. iv. and note vii.;
  • Vogelstein and Rieger, Gesch. der Juden in Rom, i. 421-440;
  • Fr. Delitzsch, Zur Gesch. der Jüd. Poesic, pp. 52 and 144; Leipsic, 1836;
  • Steinschneider, in the Lemberg ed. of the Meḥabberot;
  • A. Geiger, Jüdische Dichtungen der Spanischen und Italienischen Schule, pp. 58 et seq.;
  • Zunz, Literaturgesch. p. 368. On Immanuel and Dante: Geiger, Jüd, Zeit. v. 286-301;
  • Th. Paur, in Jahrbuch der Deutschen Dantegesellschaft, iii. 452, iv. 429;
  • Leonello Modona, Una Poesia Inedita di Manoello Giudeo, in Vessillo Israelitico, xxxiii., No. 12;
  • and Rime Volgari di Immanuele Romano, Parma, 1898;
  • F. H. Kraus, Dante, Sein Leben, etc., Berlin, 1897;
  • Kaufmann, in Allg. Zeit. des Jud., 1899, p. 330.
G. I. E.
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