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The Chafetz Project -
Biographies

    Moshe Chafetz (משה חפץ)

    Moshe ben Gershom (1663-1711) (known as Moshe Chafetz or Moses Gentili), was a rabbinic scholar in Venice, Italy. Born in Trieste, raised in Venice, he lived as a private tutor teaching Talmud and Midrash. He wrote poetry, and dealt with philosophy, math, and natural sciences.

    (Other spelling permutations: Moses ben Gershom, Chefetz, Hefez, Hefes, and many, many others.)

    A member of the prominent Chafetz family (Gentili, in Italian) of Northern Italy, he was considered a child prodigy and studied under the renowned R. Solomon Nizza.

    One of his poetic works, written at age 13, is in the Venice edition of the Bible (1675-78). The poet Yomtov Valcasson wrote a poem for Chafetz's wedding to Yvonah Karbonnah (Venice, 1682). Chafetz wrote a poem for Yehuda Volterra's wedding (1683).

    • Hanukkat haBayit (lit. Dedication of the Temple), details the construction of the Second Temple (Venice, 1696).
    • Melekhet Machashevet (Intentful Work), a homiletical-philosophical commentary on the Torah (Venice, 1710, with tables and a portrait of the author; second edition, Koenigsbuerg, 1859, with supercommentary, Machashevet Choshev, by Judah Leib Jaffe).

    His portrait, in Melekhet Machashevet, was the first portrait ever published in a Hebrew book (first edition, 1710)

    Date of His Death

    There's a slight difference in dates out there:

    The 30th of Cheshvan date seems most reliably documented. The other two dates are "normal dates" that occur each year, so both deviations are understandable. (It's like having a birthday on February 29th; when do you celebrate?)

    Other Biographical Information

    • Bio in Toldot Gedolei Yisroel
      Near-page biography in this "Annals of Great Minds of Israel in Italy" (Trieste, 1853). Page 239. The apparent origin of many sources' Chafetz bios.
       
    • Tovushi-Light (The Light of Torah), the Kavkazi Jewish Youth Magazine provides a biography and book descriptions.

    No Beard, No Kippah, No Problem

    Contrary to modern expectations of 1700s Northern Italy, one could be accepted as a pious Jew, or even eminent rabbi, with a shaved face, long hair, and without a kippah.

    Some information repurposed from Encyclopedia Judaica

    Moshe Chafetz
    (inside cover, Melekhet Machashevet)

    Got Information?

    Any information about Moshe Chafetz or his books is greatly appreciated; in particular, available copies (especially Hanukkat haBayit) or existing translations.

    Contact me at djbrook@sbcglobal.net.

    Copyright Doug Brook. All rights reserved.