Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Elisheva Carlebach


Jane Gerber

Subject Categories

European History | History | Jewish Studies


Amsterdam, early modern, Italy, Kabbalah, Luzzatto, printing


This dissertation is a biographical study of Moses Hayim Luzzatto (1707-1746 or 1747). It presents the social and religious context in which Luzzatto was variously celebrated as the leader of a kabbalistic-messianic confraternity in Padua, condemned as a deviant threat by rabbis in Venice and central and eastern Europe, and accepted by the Portuguese Jewish community after relocating to Amsterdam. Using unpublished archival documents and manuscripts, as well as rare printed books, I seek to reconcile the seemingly incompatible aspects of Luzzatto as 'heretic' and 'hero.'

Chapter one sets the tone for the dissertation by analyzing the original version of Mesilat Yesharim, which differs drastically from the well-known printed edition. Consisting of a dialogue between a hasid and a hakham, the treatise was a pietistic, semi-autobiographical manifesto rooted in Kabbalah that polemicized against the rabbinic establishment.

Using material culled from communal and state archives in Padua and Venice, chapter two provides a foundation for Luzzatto's identity and critique of the rabbinate. Chapter three discusses Luzzatto's kabbalistic activities with an emphasis on his relationships and religious development. I argue that Luzzatto and his inner circle grew out of a loose confederation of Italian pietists in northern Italy, beginning with Moses Zacut three generations earlier, who were unhappy with the values and goals of the Talmud-centered rabbinic establishment.

In chapter four, I consider the nature of anti-Luzzatto sentiment that spread among rabbis in Italy and Ashkenazic lands. Rabbinic responses ranged widely and vacillated, reflecting the complexity and disharmony of Jewish religious leadership in the eighteenth century. The fifth and final chapter explores Luzzatto's eight years in Amsterdam, a period that scholars have almost completely overlooked. I show that Luzzatto was intimately connected to Portuguese rabbinic and lay leadership, who supported him financially and morally as he studied in the Ets Haim Yeshiva following years of intense controversy in Italy. The editing of his original version of Mesilat Yesharim indicates, however, that refraining from rabbinic critique and overt kabbalistic activities were mitigating factors in his acceptance in Amsterdam. Luzzatto, in turn, emphasized his own personal quietism as a means to redemption.