Azariah dei Rossi was a well-known Jewish scholar, author and physician, who died in Italy a little less than four hundred years ago. He was born in Mantua, Italy, in the year 5273 (1513), in a family which traced its origin from a distinguished Jewish family that was taken captive and brought to Rome by Titus after he had destroyed Jerusalem and the Beth Hamikdosh.

In his youth he was a brilliant Torah scholar, and later he studied languages, ancient (Greek and Latin) and modern (Italian and Spanish) languages, and also medicine. He married late, at the age of about 30, and settled in Ferrara. Later he lived also in other Italian towns, but returned to Ferrara, where he lived through a terrible earthquake. The earth­quake, which Azariah describes in one of his books, occurred on the 17th of Kislev in the year 5031 (1571) , and lasted several days. Most of the city was destroyed and about two hundred people lost their lives in that catastrophe. Azariah himself had a miraculous escape. He and his wife shared a house with their married daughter. Arariah and his wife occupied the upper floor. When the first tremors were heard, in which neigh­boring houses crashed, Azxriah and his wife rushed down to the lower floor to their daughter. Just then the roof caved in and crashed into their bedroom. Azar­iah and his family escaped with their lives.

Azariah moved to the outskirts of the town, on the other side of the river, where he became the neighbor of a Christian scholar. The latter asked Azariah if there was a Hebrew translation of the "Letter of Aristeas." Azariah replied that there was no such translation, and he immediately decided to provide it. He did, in fact, translate it-in twenty days, and called it "Hadrat Zekenim," the "Glory of the Elders."

The "Letter of Aristeas" is a book written in Greek, which gives a detailed account of the first Greek translation of the Torah, known as Septuagint, or the "Translation of the Seventy (El­ders)." The event is briefly mentioned in the Talmud, in several places. But Aristeas, who was a high official in the court of Ptolemy Philadelphus, the Egyptian king who sponsored the translation, related it in great detail. Aristeas relates how Ptolemy had heard much about The Book (Bible) of the Jews, and wished to have a Greek translation of it for his library. The Holy Land was at that time under the rule of the Greek Kings of Egypt, for after the death of Alexander the Great of Macedonia his vast empire was divided among his generals; and Palestine then came under the rule of the Ptolemys of Egypt. Ptolemy sent a letter to Eleazar the High Priest in Jerusalem to send to him Jewish scholars to translate the Torah into Greek. Eleazar sent seventy-two scholars. The king made a banquet for them and put to them a number of questions to test their wisdom and knowledge. He was greatly impressed with his Jewish guests from the Holy Land, and then he placed them in separate rooms, where each one of them was to translate the Five Books of Moses in his own way. When they completed their translations, the result was the same translation by all of them.

After Azariah translated the "Letter of Aristeas" he went on to write an account of the earthquake, which he called "Kol Elokim," the "Voice of G‑d." Then he wrote a third work, called "Imre Binah," "Words of` Wisdom," which is divided into four sections, and which deals with various subjects of Talmudic teachings, history and science. Here he offers studies about Yedidyah (Philo) of Alexandria, and about Jewish life in that greatest Jewish center out­side of Jerusalem; about the Jewish life during the time of the Second Beth Ha­mikdosh and the Jewish sects that ex­isted at that time; about the war of liberation under Bar Kochba, about the Ten Tribes, and similar subjects, as well as about the teachings of the Sages of the Talmud relating to natural science, astronomy, mathematics and other sci­ences. These he tried to harmonize with the sciences as they were known in his day.

Azariah published the three above­named works in one volume, which he called "Meor Enayim," "Light to the Eyes," which appeared in Mantua in 1575. In the same year he saw a dream in which he was told that he had three more years to live. The following morning he wrote his dream in Hebrew verse (which we translate approximately)

On my bed, resting, in Kislev, three thirty five
It appeared saying: Three more years you'll be alive.
Therefore in three thirty eight my soul On High shall alight
O, merciful G‑d, accept it in purity and light.

He also prepared the inscription for his own grave-stone, and on the 13th day of Kislev, in the year 5338 (1578) he died in Mantua.

Some of his writings, as they appeared in the third part of his work, raised a great deal of objections on the part of leading Rabbis of his day as soon as they were published. The Rabbis feared that his views might be misunderstood and misinterpreted. The book was there­fore banned for students under the age of twenty-five. Azariah wrote a defense, in which he explained that his position was in full accord with Jewish tradition.

In addition to his works mentioned, he composed Piyyutim (religious poetry), some of which were included in the Sabbath and Festival services of Italian Jewish communities.