The Fordham Abudarham: Disclosures and Conjectures (Part 2)

by Fabrizio Quaglia

A note from Magda Teter, the Shvidler Chair in Judaic Studies: In November 2018, Fordham University acquired the Sefer Aburdarham published in Venice 1546 at an auction held by the Kestenbaum Auction House of some items of the important Valmadonna Hebraica collection, along with two other items. The book had been digitized by NLI before being sold. This year, as part of our work on an upcoming exhibition on history of censorship, we asked Mr. Fabrizio Quaglia, a Hebraica and Judaica consultant in Italy and an expert on Italian censorship of Jewish books to uncover the secrets old books hold within their pages. Last post explored a note in the upper left corner of the title page. Today’s installment deals with another note, on the printed ornate letters of the book’s title.

Notes within ornate letters of the title of Abudarham (Venice, 1546/7)
Abudarham (Venice 1546/7), Fordham SPEC COLL JUDAICA 1547 1 (high resolution digitization by NLI)

On the letters that make up the ornate title there is a partially damaged inscription in the same seventeenth-century Italian cursive style as the Hebrew note discussed in Part I,  מאת ה’ היתה זאת ליורשי המנוח כמהר”ר יעקב פוייטו יצו (“From G-d to the heirs of the late honored teacher the rabbi Rav Ya‘aqov Poyeṭo, may the Lord protect and redeem them”), יצ”ו =  יצו is shortened for ישמרם צורם וגואלם (may the Lord protect and redeem them). In my opinion, even though the father’s name and a date are missing, Ya‘aqov Poyeṭo or Jacob Poggetto corresponds to the son of the rabbi of Cuneo and money-lender in Asti and Moncalvo Mordechai b. Yiṣḥaq (known in Italian as “Angelino di Isaac”, d. before 1603), also  an owner of Hebrew books, and of Rosa Foa. Jacob Poggetto was rabbi in Asti and in Cuneo. He composed unpublished biblical commentaries (Raze Torah “Secrets of Torah”, included in London, Montefiore Library, ms. 479; posthumously copied), sermons (one on holidays is titled Divre Ya‘aqov, “Words of Jacob”, dated 1579; now in New York, Jewish Theological Seminary of America, ms. 1588) and liturgical poetry dispersed in various manuscripts. Furthermore, Jacob Poggetto was involved in political and rabbinic affairs, which were not always transparent. For example, he had in his hands funds that should have been sent from Cuneo to the Provencal Jews in Safed, but after his death it was discovered that the funds had in the meantime disappeared.

One of Jacob Poggetto’s works, Reshit ḥokmah ha-qaṣar (“The Abridged Primer to Wisdom”), a digest of the ethical Reshit ḥokmah by R. Eliyyah de Vidaś from Safed, which was based largely on the Zohar, was printed in Venice in 1600, twenty years after Poggetto had written it in Asti in 1580. While in Asti, in 1578-1587, Pogetto copied kabbalistic manuscripts mostly composed originally in Safed, including Or Yaqar (“Precious Light”) by R. Moses Cordovero (see the short National Library of Israel, ms. Heb. 8°2964, with his own drawings and kabbalistic diagrams) and at times he also had others copied on his behalf. For example, the anonymous Sefer ha-peli’ah (“The Book of Wonder”), now in British Library Add. 26949. Some of Poggetto’s manuscripts (among them also JTS, ms. 1558) were censored by Boniforte del Asinari and Girolamo Caratto [discussed in upcoming installments] on 19 February 1582.

Poggetto owned some tractates of the Babylonian Talmud published by Daniel Bomberg in Venice in 1521-1522 (the copies are now  in Turin BNU: Hebr.II.10 and Hebr.II.19). Rabbi Jacob Poggetto (Ya‘aqov Poyeṭo) died in 1592. He had a cousin also named Jacob (Giacob), son of Lazarino (Eli’ezer), who was Jacob’s father’s brother; this “second” Jacob operated loan banks in the Asti region in the same years as our Jacob, the book owner. Jacob son of Eliezer lived at least till 1623. Though they shared a name, it is unlikely that this second Jacob owned Fordham’s Abudarham because no book signed by him appears to have survived anywhere. There is no record of the second Jacob the son of Lazarino as a book collector. The opposite is true for Jacob son of Mordechai Poggetto.

Unspecified sons of our Jacob Pogetto, the son of Mordechai (Ya‘aqov b. Mordekay Poyeṭo), inherited in 1601/1602 [361] in Moncalvo an illuminated French rite Maḥzor dated 1304 (now Parma Cod. 3006-3007), according to an owner’s signature on the manuscript; in Asti the Commentary on Pentateuch by ‘Immanuel b. Shelomoh of Rome from circa 1400 (Parma, Cod. 3220), and, perhaps also in 1601-1602, the book of responsa by R. Shelomoh ibn Aderet printed in Venice in 1545 (BNU, Hebr.V.21), which was expurgated in Asti by Boniforte del Asinari and Girolamo Caratto on February 19, 1582.

Jacob Poggetto had at least five sons: Abramo Poggetto lived in Moncalvo (he was a subject of part I), Shelomoh (Salomone), Azariah Shalom, Mosheh, and Yehudah Arieh (in Italian documents Leon Poggetti). Based on the owner’s notes written on other manuscripts we can narrow down the names of the two male heirs of Jacob, one of whom may have owned the Fordham Abudarham in addition to Abramo: Shelomoh (Salomone) and Azariah Shalom.

Salomone seems to have owned two Hebrew manuscripts, which are now in Parma (Parma Cod. 3006-3007 and 3220). In 1624 Salomone purchased another manuscript, now in Vienna (Cod. 3222), and bequeathed another manuscript, now also in Vienna (Austrian National Library, Cod. Hebr. 116), which had originally been copied for his father Jacob Poggetto in 1582 in Cuneo, to the Jewish community of Casale Monferrato, where he died ca. 1630 (in 1607 he was still in Asti). He also sold Jacob’s copy of the poetical miscellany (British Library, Add. 27001) to Meir Luṣaṭo (Meir Luzzatto).

Azariah Shalom was not as active in collecting and selling of books as his brother, Salomone. Azariah Shalom’s signature appears only on a fifteenth-century extremely fragmentary book of Genesis on parchment (Parma, Cod. 2950). Azariah had at least two sons one called Ya‘aqov Hayyim (b. 1609) whose godfather was Abramo Poggetto (Avraham Poyeṭo) who owned the illuminated French rite Maḥzor dated 1304 (Parma, Palatina Library, Cod. 3006-3007) and who left a mark on Abudarham, and Mordechai (b. 1615), whose godfather was his uncle Solomone (Shelomoh Poyeṭo) in Moncalvo.

Another son of Jacob Poggetto, Yehudah Arieh (known in Italian as Leon Poggetti, died at the end of 1647, at 63), was a well-versed scholar, schoolteacher, and the author of rabbinical responsa and unpublished commentaries. Yehudah Arieh (Leon Pogetti) was a rabbi and private tutor in the Ashkenazi synagogue of Modena from the 1620s (if not before). In 1636, Leon Poggetti declared to the Inquisition in Modena that he had inherited from his brother Salomone some of the “prohibited” books that had been sequestered from him. But Abudarham was not one of them since its title is missing from the short list of Leons volumes compiled by the Holy Office.

Another son of Jacob Poggetto, Mosheh was the banker in Moncalvo and Asti since 1585. Mosheh is recorded in two entries in an Asti mohel’s register as father of Israel (b. 1609; Israel’s godfather was his uncle Avraham, Abramo Poggetto, discussed in Part I) and Yehoshua‘ (b. 1611; whose godfather was R. Eliaqim, teacher in the Jewish community of Moncalvo, mentioned in Part I). Given the records, it is thus clear that Mosheh was not among those who inherited Abudarham.

Jacob Poggetto belonged to a much talked about family: in the 1550s his uncle Lazarino was accused in Alessandria of having poisoned to death his wife Allegra Levi and was imprisoned along with his parents Isaac and Stella, Jacob Poggetto’s grandparents. Lazarino and his father Isaac had a very bad reputation even among the Jews—they had already been suspected of an attempted murder in Asti of Lazarino Levi, Lazarino Poggetto’s brother-in-law. But in this case, the Poggettos were acquitted.

Coming back to our book, the Sefer Abudarham. Inside the manuscript on about 15 leaves are marginal notations in five different hands (mostly single words), some in faded bigger characters. They seem to come from slightly later periods and not from declared signatories, except for five notes attributable to Abramo Poggetto (Avraham Poyeṭo). I want to venture a risky suggestion is that Abramo Poggetto purchased of the book from a man Meir Luzzatto, who must have been in some way connected to the Poggettos, on  Salomone’s side. Luzzatto must have acquired it earlier from one of Jacob Pogetto’s heirs. But the question remains, why did Abramo, one of Ya‘aqov’s sons, have to buy it back? The answer could no doubt be found in some notarial records preserved in the archives.

In the next installment, we will explore the marks Italian censors left on the book. Stay tuned.


A note from Fabrizio Quaglia: I thank Dr. Alexander Gordin, paleographer and staff member of the National Library of Israel, for helping me render some of the Hebrew signatures on Fordham’s copy of Abudarham. Dr. Fabio Uliana, Office of Ancient Funds and Special Collections, Protection, Conservation and Restoration of Biblioteca Nazionale Universitaria of Turin, for sending images of BNU books, and Dr. Alberto Palladini, Archivist of Archivio di Stato di Modena for checking for me the list of Leon Poggetti’s books, where this document is located.


Fabrizio Quaglia is Hebraica and Judaica Consultant. His last publication is Il recinto del rinoceronte. I giorni e le opere degli ebrei ad Alessandria prima dell’emancipazione del 1848, Alessandria, Edizioni dell’Orso, 2016. Editor of MEI: Material Evidence in Incunabula Editor: https://www.cerl.org/resources/mei/about/editors.