Joseph Melkman - "The Early Years of Rabbi Moshe Zacut"
Sfunot 9 (1965), p. 129
Rabbi Moshe Zacut (the "Remez"),
who was amongst the great scholars of
We have many sources concerning his life and his literary work. Particularly important are his many letters, of which more hand written manuscripts remain than printed versions.
But concerning his early years, the confusions outnumber the proven facts.
Even his birth year is disputed. Most of
his biographers give the year 1625. The first to mention this year was Berliner
who wrote "Around
Da Silva Rosa assumed the Remez was born in 1630. He took 5 years off the Remez's life. Others added 5 years and state his birth year as 1620.
Appelbaum dedicated quite some attention to this matter and he concluded that the Remez was born no later than 1612. His arguments are quite convincing: "In his book "Kol Ha-Remez", the Remez twice mentions Reb Shmuel Eliezer Halevi Eidels (called the "Maharasha", 1555 - 1631) with the addition "May he live a long life", showing that the Maharasha was still alive. Since we know that the Maharasha died in the year 1631, this means that if the Remez were indeed born in 1625, he would have been under 6 or 7 years old when he wrote this very detailed book, that shows great wisdom and wide knowledge fitting a man of adulthood. Therefore we have to place his date of birth earlier, approximately to the year 1612, so that at the time he wrote this book he would have been 20 at least."
Further proof Appelbaum found in the words of the Remez about Rabbi Itzhak Abuhav "using phrases that prove that he was not a student in that Beit Midrash, but rather of the age of the teachers".
The source that all refer to is the book
of Rabbi Haim Joseph David Azulai (Ha-Chida)
"Shem HaGedolim" who wrote: "Our great
and exalted Rabbi Moshe Zacut was born in Amsterdam and was a student of Rabbi
Saul HaLevi Mortira. In
Given this, we now have to establish when
Rabbi Mortira commenced teaching in this Beit Midrash. Almost all researchers,
with Berliner leading, accept Gretz's assumption that
the Beit Midrash was established just before the unification of three
communities in the year 1639. The Remez was one of the first students and if so
would have been no older than 14. However, here Gretz erred and confused two
institutions that existed in
Also as to the commencement of Rabbi Mortira's position in the "Talmud Torah" we have conclusive information. On the 5th of the month Iyar 1621 the contract was signed with him and he already taught somewhat before that. The Remez, who according to Rabbi Haim Joseph David Azulai ("Ha-Chida") was one of the first students of Rabbi Mortira, must therefore have been around 14 years old then. Therefore we must conclude he was born around the year 1607.
But then why did Da Silva Rosa, who mentioned Gretz's mistake, place the Remez's birth date so many years later, in the year 1630?
This is because amongst the first
"Talmud Torah" students who received assistance from the "Etz
Haim" company he found the
But take note: in this year the Remez did not reside in
Therefore, the only conclusion we can
draw is that there was more than one Rabbi Moshe Zacut, and the scholar in
Also, the friendship between the Remez and Rabbi Shmuel Abuhav, who was born in the year 1609, shows they were of the same age group, since Rabbi Abuhav addresses him with honor as a great scholar with great knowledge in Kabbalah. There can't have been a great age difference between them.
The grandfather of the Remez, Moshe (Enrique)
Zacut, signed the founding scroll of the Talmud Torah in 1617, together with
leaders of the Portuguese community in
It is likely that the Zacut family moved
In the Portuguese cemetery in Altona we find a grave stone on Moshe Zacut, who died on 14th
February 1623. He may have been the Remez's father. Also the fact that the name
Zacut does not appear later on in lists of Portuguese notables or other lists
of Jews in
The young Moshe Zacut
who received assistance from "Etz Haim", was apparently a grandson of
Moshe Enrique Zacut, by another son. It is possible he was sent from
There were no Batei Midrash in
The Remez, had
the same problem. However, he did not join the Sephardic institutions, but went
to different places. The Remez himself
mentions that he studied for a while in Posen. The fact that he learned with
Ashkenazi Rabbis, made him different from other Sephardim, who often ridiculed
Ashkenazi Rabbis and
Summary [by the author Melkman]
Rabbi Moshe Zacut was born shortly after
the year 1610, apparently in
He learned in the Beit Midrash "Talmud Torah" that his father was amongst its founders.
In the year 1621 the family moved to
Since there was no Beit Midrash there,
the Remez traveled to
In 1642 he lived in
In 1647 or 1648 he arrived in
An Important Source used by Melkman
Abba Appelboim, "Moshe Zacut", Snunit Publishing, Labov, 1926