Umberto Cassuto

Umberto Cassuto, also known as Moshe David Cassuto (1883–1951), was a rabbi and Biblical scholar born in Florence, Italy.

Umberto Cassuto

Early life and career

He studied there at the university and the Collegio Rabbinico. After getting a degree and Semicha, he taught in both institutions. From 1914 to 1925, he was chief rabbi of Florence. In 1925 he became professor of Hebrew and literature in the University of Florence and then took the chair of Hebrew language at the University of Rome La Sapienza. When the 1938 anti-Semitic laws forced him from this position, he moved to the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Umberto's son Nathan was also a rabbi in Florence. He went into hiding during World War II, was betrayed and perished in the Nazi death camps. Nathan's wife and children were saved and emigrated to Israel. One child, the architect David Cassuto (born 1938), played a key role in rebuilding the Jewish quarter in the old city of Jerusalem. In the 1990s he was for some years deputy mayor of Jerusalem.

Cassuto and higher biblical criticism

For two hundred years prior to Cassuto's works, the origin of the five books of Moses (the Torah) had been one of the most-argued subjects in biblical scholarship. The 19th century in particular had been a time of great progress, but also of great controversy, with many theories being put forward. The one which eventually emerged to dominate the field was a particularly comprehensive version of the Documentary Hypothesis put forward by Julius Wellhausen in 1878: indeed, so great was its dominance that by the first half of the 20th century the Wellhausen hypothesis had become synonymous with the Documentary Hypothesis, and the issue of Pentateuchal origins was regarded as settled.

Cassuto's The Documentary Hypothesis and the Composition of the Pentateuch (Hebrew, Torat HaTeudot, 1941; English translation, 1961) was one of the first mainstream works to offer a detailed critique of Wellhausen, rejecting both the central idea of the documentary model - that the Pentateuch had its origins in originally separate documents which had been combined by an editor into the final text - and Wellhausen's dating, which saw the four sources being composed between 950 and 550 BC with the final redaction around 450 BC. In place of this, Cassuto proposed the Pentateuch was written down as a single, entirely coherent and unified text in the 10th century BC and not thereafter altered in any meaningful way.[1] However, the question of when the Pentateuch was finally written does not affect any element of Cassuto's radical critique of the dominant theories about its actual make-up, which was his chief concern, and so he treats the historical question only at the end and as a secondary issue in The Documentary Hypothesis and the Composition of the Pentateuch. It should be added that Cassuto insisted throughout this work that it was merely a summary, in eight lectures, of his much more detailed and thorough examination of the Documentary Hypothesis in his La Questione della Genesi (1934). He refers all serious students to the latter work in almost every chapter. Some idea of that more thorough consideration, however, is available in English in his Commentary on the Book of Genesis (Part I) from Adam to Noah (1961) and (Part II) from Noah to Abraham (1964), and also his Commentary on the Book of Exodus (1967).

The Documentary Hypothesis and the Composition of the Pentateuch undertakes a critical examination of the "five pillars"[2] of the Documentary Hypothesis: 1, the claim that the use of the divine names Yahweh and Elohim testified to at least two different authors and two entirely distinct source documents; 2, the claim that each literary style and distinctive use of language found in the Pentateuch must be viewed as the product of a different writer and distinct document; 3, the claim that there were different world-views, theologies and ethics in each of the hypothesized documents, each independent and not complementary to each other, proving their different authorship and provenance; 4, the claim that the existence of repetitions and even seeming contradictions proved there were different documents cut-and-pasted into the text, sometimes even as bits and pieces within single sentences; and 5, the claim that descriptive passages can be analyzed into composite narratives drawing upon overlapping but separate documents. Cassuto argued first of all that the supposed terminological, grammatical and stylistic traits indicative of separate documents actually were common in Hebrew language and literature and were shared with other biblical and post-biblical Jewish literature whose essential unity was not seriously questioned, including liturgical, midrashic, medieval and even modern Jewish religious writing. Additionally, he asserted that precisely the supposed divergencies—stylistic, grammatical, theoretical and theological—within the narrative, when analyzed in context and in connection not only with cognate literatures in the ancient Near East but especially with similar passages elsewhere in biblical literature, all served an easily demonstrated and consistent common purpose whose unity and thrust tended to be qualified or to be denied altogether under the application of the Documentary Hypothesis, thereby weakening our understanding of biblical literature and worldview generally.

To buttress this internal analysis, Cassuto also endeavored to show that the adherents of the Documentary Hypothesis tended to ignore or misinterpret the cognate literatures and archaeological evidence and were, in addition, insufficiently aware of cultural tendencies in modern thought that produced identical formal results in other unrelated areas, e.g., in Homeric Studies. In short, the credence given the Documentary Hypothesis served extraneous cultural tendencies and biases.

An example of Cassuto's style of argument can be seen in his discussion of the divine names—one of the main criteria by which the Documentary Hypothesis distinguishes between separate sources—where he argued that Yahweh and Elohim are each consistently employed within a particular context and for a specific purpose, "Yahweh" signifying the personal God of revelation and Israel and "Elohim" the more impersonal God of nature and the world: to construe the two names as evidence of two authors was, according to Cassuto, to ignore the overwhelming evidence of Jewish literature itself on this matter. E.g., the prophets who emphasized the personal God revealed at Sinai, also usually emphasized the term "Yahweh" unless speaking of other cultures and universal forces in nature, while the wisdom literature which drew upon other cultures showed a consistent emphasis on the universality of God as the unity of the divine forces, almost always naming him "El" or "Elohim." But the historical and narrative portions even within the Prophetic and Wisdom literature made use of each term in its appropriate setting, or both together to point to the unity of both aspects within God. Cassuto then attempted to demonstrate that the Pentateuch itself follows this wider intentional pattern, applying each term within its proper context, quite consistently, to make specific points, but considering both part of the same reality of God; therefore it could use both together when appropriate to underline this unity (e.g., in the Shema itself, Deut. 6:4-9, the central affirmation of biblical and post-biblical Judaism, which states that "Yahweh" and "Elohim" are One). To sever the universal God of nature that was according to the Pentateuch also known in other cultures, behind their varying cults, from the personal God of history revealed at Sinai to Israel, as the Documentary Hypothesis implicitly did, was to distort one of the fundamental messages of the Pentateuch and Israelite religion itself.[3]

According to Cassuto, then, each of the five pillars of the Documentary Hypothesis crumbles to dust when approached more closely and "touched."[4] In his last chapter, Cassuto counters the claim that while the individual pillars may be weak, the Documentary Hypothesis is sustained by the common thrust of them all. He suggests that since as he has shown there are no pillars at all remaining after close examination, this cannot be so: "The sum of nought plus nought plus nought ad infinitum is only nought."[5]

Although each of the "five pillars" receives its own chapter or even two chapters of consideration, the relatively brief eight lectures of The Documentary Hypothesis and the Composition of the Pentateuch can only present a few choice and representative instances to buttress each of the major points Cassuto makes, selected as he says in his Introduction from amongst the parade examples used by advocates of the Documentary Hypothesis to substantiate their case. In La Questione della Genesi, however, he provides for the Book of Genesis a much more detailed examination even of these instances, and extends the analysis also to many other significant instances in Genesis used to justify the Documentary Hypothesis, showing how his evaluation and approach coherently resolves the problems they allegedly represent. He presents there also a detailed consideration of the scholarly literature relating to these issues. The Documentary Hypothesis and the Composition of the Pentateuch was intended only as a more accessible overview drawn from that earlier work.

Cassuto's criticisms, while influential amongst many Jewish scholars, were dismissed by the overwhelming majority of Christian scholars at the time. Others however argued along parallel lines.[6] It cannot be said, however, that many of them were really familiar with his work. Very few make reference to it at all, and hardly any of these to his La Questione della Genesi. Most who do cite Cassuto in this connection do not actually take up his assertions and attempt to refute them but merely add the title of The Documentary Hypothesis and the Composition of the Pentateuch to their footnotes listings.[7] It cannot therefore be said that his assertions about the unity of style and grammar, theme and worldview, in the Pentateuch have been dealt with fully and seriously by most scholars. Often, when citing critics of the Documentary Hypothesis or debating specific issues within it, these scholars tend to refer not to Cassuto but to such other non-Jewish scholars as Ivan Engnell, whose discussions have different premises and are not as systematic as Cassuto's. In regard to the historical question, Cassuto suggested in passing that it was likely the author of the account in Genesis and Exodus drew upon a much wider Israelite culture, and wove insights from acceptable earlier writings and oral folk traditions lost to us into his own brilliant synthesis. But Cassuto did not attempt to discuss this suggestion at any length or substantiate it in detail in The Documentary Hypothesis and the Composition of the Pentateuch since it did not affect his key points. Scholars such as Rolf Rendtorff and John Van Seters have put also forward theories on Pentateuchal historical origins very like Cassuto's, at least insofar as their views on its mode of composition are concerned. Modern ideas about the dating of the Torah, however, have not endorsed Cassuto's specific early historical dating, and the trend today is for the final act of composition to be seen as lying in the period 500-400 BC, or even later.

Cassuto and the text of the Hebrew Bible

Cassuto saw the need to produce the most accurate possible text of the Tanakh. He realised that the texts generally published had mostly been edited by non-Jews, and Jews who had converted to Christianity. While Cassuto saw no reason to believe that major alterations had been made, it was important to compare these printed editions with older manuscripts as a check.

Thus Cassuto sought out the oldest and most reliable manuscripts of the Tanakh, dating back many centuries before the invention of printing. In particular in 1944, he managed to visit the Great Synagogue of Aleppo, Syria and study the Aleppo Codex. He was one of the very few scholars to study this key manuscript before most of the Torah section and some of the Prophets and Writings sections disappeared.

His research showed that the printed Bibles generally have an accurate text. However, he corrected the spelling of many words, and made very many corrections to the vowel points and musical notes. He also revised the layout of the text, its division into paragraphs, the use of poetical lines when appropriate (see the books of Psalms, Proverbs and Job) and similar matters. Where he differs from other Bibles in any of these respects, it is likely that Cassuto has better authority. The Bible was published posthumously in 1953.

Cassuto as Bible commentator

However, his most enduring legacy may be his commentaries on the Hebrew Bible. He wrote a Hebrew commentary on the Bible that is very popular in Israel. He wrote a more detailed commentary on Exodus and at the time of his death had completed chapters 1-11 of a more detailed commentary on Genesis; both of these latter commentaries are available in English and of course reflect his views on the Documentary Hypothesis and help strengthen his earlier arguments in their defense.

Works available in English or Italian

  • Cassuto, Umberto. La Questione della Genesi. Firenze: 1934.
  • Cassuto, Umberto. Storia della letteratura ebraica postbiblica. Pp. xvi, 212. Firenze: Casa editrice Israel, 1938
  • Cassuto, Umberto. The Documentary Hypothesis and the Composition of the Pentateuch: Eight Lectures by U. Cassuto. Translated from the Hebrew by Israel Abrahams. Jerusalem: Shalem Press, Jerusalem, 2006 ISBN 978-965-7052-35-8 [1]
  • Cassuto, Umberto. A Commentary on the book of Genesis. From Adam to Noah Translated from the Hebrew by Israel Abrahams. Volume 1 of 2 Volumes Jerusalem: Magnes Press, Hebrew University, 1961-1964 ISBN 978-965-223-480-3
  • Cassuto, Umberto. A Commentary on the book of Genesis. From Noah to Avraham Translated from the Hebrew by Israel Abrahams. Volume 2 of 2 Volumes Jerusalem: Magnes Press, Hebrew University, 1961-1964 ISBN 978-965-223-540-4
  • Cassuto, Umberto. A Commentary on the book of Exodus. Translated from the Hebrew by Israel Abrahams. Pp. xvi, 509. Jerusalem: Magnes Press, Hebrew University, 1967
  • Cassuto, Umberto. The Goddess Anath: Canaanite Epics on the Patriarchal Age. Translated from the Hebrew by Israel Abrahams. Jerusalem: Magnes Press, Hebrew University, 1971
  • Cassuto, Umberto. Biblical and Oriental Studies. Translated from the Hebrew and Italian by Israel Abrahams. 2 vols. Jerusalem: Magnes Press, Hebrew University, 1973–1975

All of the above works in English have been published in digitalized versions on by Varda Books and are available to be previewed free "cover-to-cover" on-line and purchased from

See also


  1. ^ "Personality of the Week entry at Beth Hatfusot". Archived from the original on August 9, 2007. Retrieved 2009-10-23. Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)CS1 maint: BOT: original-url status unknown (link).
  2. ^ The Documentary Hypothesis and the Composition of the Pentateuch. Umberto Cassuto, Joshua Berman, Israel Abrahams. Shalem Press, 2006 (ISBN 978-965-7052-35-8), p. 17 et passim.
  3. ^ The Documentary Hypothesis and the Composition of the Pentateuch. p.29-30. Umberto Cassuto, Joshua Berman, Israel Abrahams. Shalem Press, 2006. ISBN 978-965-7052-35-8. Found at Google Books preview
  4. ^ The Documentary Hypothesis and the Composition of the Pentateuch. Umberto Cassuto, Joshua Berman, Israel Abrahams. Shalem Press, 2006 (ISBN 978-965-7052-35-8), p. 49.
  5. ^ The Documentary Hypothesis and the Composition of the Pentateuch. Umberto Cassuto, Joshua Berman, Israel Abrahams. Shalem Press, 2006 (ISBN 978-965-7052-35-8), pp. 120-121.
  6. ^ Allis, Oswald (2001). The 5 Books of Moses. Oregon: Wipf & Stock. p. 368. ISBN 9781579108519.
  7. ^ Cf. Brevard S. Childs, Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture (1979). H. H. Rowley, ed., The Old Testament and Modern Study (1951), Herbert F. Hahn, ed., The Old Testament in Modern Research, Expanded Edition (1966), and Douglas A. Knight and Gene M. Tucker, eds., The Hebrew Bible and Its Modern Interpreters (1985). Joseph Blenkinsopp, The Pentateuch: An Introduction to the First Five Books of the Bible (1992)

External links

Aaron ben Moses ben Asher

Aaron ben Moses ben Asher (Hebrew: אהרון בן משה בן אשר; Tiberian Hebrew: ʾAhărôn ben Mōšeh benʾĀšēr; 10th century, died c.960) was a Jewish scribe who lived in Tiberias in northern Israel and refined the Tiberian system of writing vowel sounds in Hebrew, which is still in use today, and serves as the basis for grammatical analysis.

Aleppo Codex

The Aleppo Codex (Hebrew: כֶּתֶר אֲרָם צוֹבָא‎ Keter Aram Tzova or Crown of Aleppo) is a medieval bound manuscript of the Hebrew Bible. The codex was written in the city of Tiberias in the 10th century C.E. under the rule of the Abbasid Caliphate, and was endorsed for its accuracy by Maimonides. Together with the Leningrad Codex, it contains the Ben-Asher masoretic tradition, but the Aleppo Codex lacks most of the Torah section and many other parts.

Assyrian captivity

The Assyrian captivity (or the Assyrian exile) is the period in the history of Ancient Israel and Judah during which several thousand Israelites of ancient Samaria were resettled as captives by Assyria. This is one of the many instances of forcible relocations implemented by the Neo-Assyrian Empire. The Northern Kingdom of Israel was conquered by the Neo-Assyrian monarchs, Tiglath-Pileser III (Pul) and Shalmaneser V. The later Assyrian rulers Sargon II and his son and successor, Sennacherib, were responsible for finishing the twenty-year demise of Israel's northern ten-tribe kingdom, although they did not overtake the Southern Kingdom. Jerusalem was besieged, but not taken. The tribes forcibly resettled by Assyria later became known as the Ten Lost Tribes.

Benno Jacob

Benno Jacob (7 September 1862 – 24 January 1945) was a liberal rabbi and Bible scholar.


Cassuto is a surname. Notable people with the surname include:

Judah Cassuto (1808–1893), Dutch-German hazzan (cantor) of the Portuguese-Jewish community

Solica Cassuto, Greek actress, and second wife of actor Andy Griffith

Umberto Cassuto (1883–1951), Italian rabbi and Biblical scholar

Codex Cairensis

The Codex Cairensis (also: Codex Prophetarum Cairensis, Cairo Codex of the Prophets) is a Hebrew manuscript containing the complete text of the Hebrew Bible's Nevi'im (Prophets). It has traditionally been described as "the oldest dated Hebrew Codex of the Bible which has come down to us", but modern research seems to indicate an 11th-century date rather than the 895 CE date written into its colophon. It contains the books of the Former Prophets (Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings) and Latter Prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and the book of the Twelve Minor Prophets). It comprises 575 pages including 13 carpet pages.

Eliyahu Koren

Eliyahu Koren (Hebrew: אליהו קורן; July 23, 1907 — February 17, 2001) was a master typographer and graphic artist. After studying in Nuremberg, he immigrated to Israel in 1933. He served as head of the graphics department of Keren Kayemet, the Jewish National Fund, from 1936 to 1957. He founded Koren Publishers Jerusalem in 1961, which published the Koren Bible in 1962. He published the Koren Siddur in 1981, and various religious texts until his death.

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The Land of Israel has been regarded by Jews as their homeland. After its establishment in 1948, the State of Israel adopted the 1950 Law of Return which restored Israel as the Jewish homeland and made it the place of refuge for Jewish refugees both at that time and into the future. This law was intended to encourage Jews to return to their homeland in Israel.

History of the Jews in Florence

The history of the Jews in Florence can be traced over nine hundred years. Florence (Italian: Firenze) is the capital city of the Italian region of Tuscany and of the province of Florence. The Jews of Florence have one of the oldest continuous Jewish communities in Europe. The historic Jewish community in Florence is one of the largest and one of the most influential Jewish communities in Italy. The Jewish community in Florence also serves the smaller neighboring Jewish communities in Pisa, Livorno, and Siena.

Judeo-Italian languages

Judeo-Italian, also referred to as Italkian, is an endangered Jewish language, with only about 200 speakers in Italy and 250 total speakers today. The language is one of Italian dialects. Some words have Italian prefixes and suffixes added to Hebrew words as well as Aramaic roots.

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Timeline of Reggio Emilia

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Vayakhel, Wayyaqhel, VaYakhel, Va-Yakhel, Vayak'hel, Vayak'heil, or Vayaqhel (וַיַּקְהֵל – Hebrew for "and he assembled," the first word in the parashah) is the 22nd weekly Torah portion (פָּרָשָׁה, parashah) in the annual Jewish cycle of Torah reading and the 10th in the Book of Exodus. The parashah tells of the making of the Tabernacle and its sacred vessels. It constitutes Exodus 35:1–38:20. The parashah is made up of 6,181 Hebrew letters, 1,558 Hebrew words, 122 verses, and 211 lines in a Torah scroll (סֵפֶר תּוֹרָה, Sefer Torah).Jews read it the 22nd Sabbath after Simchat Torah, generally in March or rarely in late February. The lunisolar Hebrew calendar contains up to 55 weeks, the exact number varying between 50 in common years and 54 or 55 in leap years. In leap years (for example, 2019, 2022, 2024, and 2027), parashah Vayakhel is read separately. In common years (for example, 2018, 2020, 2021, 2023, and 2026), parashah Vayakhel is usually combined with the next parashah, Pekudei, to help achieve the number of weekly readings needed (although in some non-leap years, such as 2025, they are not combined).

Weekly Torah portion

It is a custom among religious Jewish communities for a weekly Torah portion, popularly referred to as a parashah, to be read during Jewish prayer services. The parashah (Hebrew: פָּרָשַׁת הַשָּׁבוּעַ Parashat ha-Shavua), popularly just parashah (or parshah or parsha) and also known as a Sidra (or Sedra ) is a section of the Torah (Five Books of Moses) used in Jewish liturgy during a particular week. There are 54 weekly parashiyot (plural) or parshahs (anglicized pluralization), and the full cycle is read over the course of one Jewish year. Each Torah portion consists of two to six chapters to be read during the week. Torah reading mostly follows an annual cycle beginning and ending on the Jewish holiday of Simchat Torah, with the divisions corresponding to the lunisolar Hebrew calendar, which contains up to 55 weeks, the exact number varying between leap years and regular years. The annual completion of the Torah readings on Simchat Torah, translating to "Rejoicing in the Law", is marked by Jewish communities around the world. Each weekly Torah portion takes its name from the first distinctive word in the Hebrew text of the portion in question, often from the first verse.

The appropriate parashah is chanted publicly by a designated reader (ba'al koreh) in Jewish prayer services, starting with a partial reading on the afternoon of Shabbat (Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath), again during the Monday and Thursday morning services, and ending with a full reading during the following Shabbat morning services. The weekly reading is pre-empted by a special reading on major religious holidays. The Saturday morning and holiday readings are followed by an often similarly themed reading (Haftarah) from the Book of Prophets (Nevi'im).

The custom dates to the time of the Babylonian captivity (6th century BCE). The origin of the first public Torah readings is found in the Book of Nehemiah, where Ezra the scribe writes about wanting to find a way to ensure the Israelites would not go astray again. This led to the creation of a weekly system to read the portions of the Torah at synagogues.In ancient times some Jewish communities practiced a triennial cycle of readings. In the 19th and 20th centuries, many congregations in the Reform and Conservative Jewish movements implemented an alternative triennial cycle in which only one-third of each weekly parashah was read in a given year; and this pattern continues. The parashot read are still consistent with the annual cycle but the entire Torah is completed over three years. Orthodox Judaism does not follow this practice.

Due to different lengths of holidays in Israel and the Diaspora, the portion that is read on a particular week will sometimes not be the same inside and outside Israel.


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