Time period of the writer
· Rabbi Modena was born in 1571 and died in 1648.
· He was an intelligent child and a student, who studied both the Jewish law and secular subjects such as voice, poetry, dancing, and Latin.
· One of his first Jewish memoirs include the Hayye Yehudah (“The Life of Judah”), which was not meant to be published but to be kept his family and to be read by his students (Modena and Mark 51).
Personal history of the writer
· Modena became a rabbi and a preacher in 1594.
· His family was initially prosperous while living in France but were expelled in the 14th Century and settled in northern Italy.
· He had financial hardship while growing up and he suffered from a lack of financial success through his adult life.
· He did other jobs other than preaching including singing, bookselling, proof-reading, matchmaking, drawing up contracts, composing letters for people, and served as a secretary.
· He, however, gambled away much of his earnings.
· He also witnessed the passing away of three of his children while his wife became mentally ill (Cohen 1).
· Modena was a prolific writer of his time in spite of his tribulations.
· Modena begun compiling his autobiography in Hayye Yehudah (Life of Judah) in 1618 and completed them in 1648.
· Much of his accounts revolve around the worship of the God of his ancestors and his utmost love for his children.
· He gives praise to God throughout his autobiography and thanks Him for everything in his life.
· In his memoirs, he mourns the death of his children, one whom dies from natural causes and the other is killed by gangsters.
· However, he does not hesitate to question God when he suffers. He declares, “I do not know why God continues to treat me so roughly” (Cohen 1).
· He also condemns his own gambling behavior and sees it as destruction in itself and a cause of his misfortunes.
Reception of text
· Modena demonstrates vast knowledge of rhetoric, Latin literature, and traditional Jewish learning throughout his sermons (Fine 449).
· His teachings were famous and spread beyond the Venetian ghetto. He called upon to resolve disputes in the local council.
· However, Modena was often criticized for his gambling habits, as he often gambled away most of his earnings.
· His lack of a stable occupation also caused some to doubt his character (Modena and Mark 71).
Main points made in the text
· Throughout his memoirs, Modena recognizes the presence of God in his life, as the Giver and Taker of life. He writes, “May the Creator be praised for everything forever” (Fine 457).
· He also writes about the role played by his family in creating the Church as seen today. For instance, his father moved to Montagnana, miles away from his village Cologna to “set up a synagogue there in order to pray to God” (Fine 458). The synagogue still exists today.
· Modena emphasizes that God needs us to be pure before Him. He asks God not to take away his life before he repents his sins.
· He gives an example of his gambling behavior as activities that deviate from God’s ways. After his son dies, he decides to lead a proper life by giving up his gambling as a way of honoring God.
· He also blames God for the calamities that befall him including the death of his children. When one of his sons dies on a Passover, he notes, “There is never a day whose curse is not greater than the one before…there has been no evil like the one that God visited upon me on account of my many wicked deeds (Fine 459).
· “God has taken away my joy…leaving me desolate and faint all day long” (Fine 457)
He was referring to his firstborn son whom he loved so much, the source of his joy, the apple of his eye. But at this particular time, it was two months since God took his away his son.
· “God will do what is proper in his eyes” (Fine 458)
He had seen a lot in his life as good has gone through a lot of bad things in his life and anyone that knew him, he will see woes that befell in his life. At this particular time, he was still adding more on what was happening in his life until God decides to take him away.
· “May God his Rock protect him and grant him long life” (Fine 459)
He was referring to Joseph the son of Zerah Halevi whom he was giving lessons to in order not to remain idle. Since he had experienced a lot of discomfort in his life, he really wished others to have very happy and long life and the only person who can offer this was God
I believe that Modena’s struggles are a reflection that the way to Salvation is a long and tough journey for humankind. We encounter difficult experiences in life including the death of our loved ones, illness, and we face poverty. These experiences might cause us not to seek God’s intervention but rather to direct our anger upon him, as Modena did. In addition, experiences such as poverty might lead us into sin in an attempt to meet our daily needs. Modena, for instance, gambled away the little he earned in his attempt to gain quick riches. These experiences are part of life but what matters the most is when we recognize our sinful ways and seek God’s forgiveness. I have learned from Modena that God is Supreme, the Creator and Protector, we should call upon his name while faced with the most difficult of experiences.
Cohen Mark. “Leone Modena’s Autobiography”. Accessed 25th September 2016.
Fine Lawrence. Judaism in Practice: From the Middle Ages Through the Early Modern Period. New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2001. Print.
Modena Leone and Mark Cohen. The Autobiography of a Seventeenth-century Venetian Rabbi: Leon Modena's Life of Judah. New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1988. Print.
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