Elia Levita

A page from Levita's Yiddish-Hebrew-Latin-German dictionary
Printed Edition of Bovo-Bukh, Isny, 1541

Elia Levita (13 February 1469 28 January 1549), (Hebrew: אליהו בן אשר הלוי אשכנזי) also known as Elijah Levita, Elias Levita, Élie Lévita, Elia Levita Ashkenazi, Eliyahu haBahur ("Elijah the Bachelor") was a Renaissance Hebrew grammarian, scholar and poet. He was the author of the Bovo-Bukh (written in 15071508), the most popular chivalric romance written in Yiddish. Living for a decade in the house of Cardinal Egidio da Viterbo, he was also one of the foremost tutors of Christian notables in Hebrew and Jewish mysticism during the Renaissance.

Life and work

Born at Neustadt near Nuremberg, to a family of Levitical status, he was the youngest of nine brothers. During his early manhood, the Jews were expelled from this area. He then moved to northern Italy, and in Padua in 1504, he wrote the 650 ottava rima stanzas of the Bovo-Bukh, based on the popular romance Buovo d'Antona, which, in turn, was based on the Anglo-Norman romance of Sir Bevis of Hampton.[1]

By 1514 he was living in Venice, where he wrote two scathing satirical pasquinades. That same year he moved to Rome, where he acquired a friend and patron, the Renaissance humanist and cardinal Egidio da Viterbo (14711532) of Viterbo, in whose palace he lived for more than ten years. Levita taught Hebrew to Egidio, and copied Hebrew manuscripts—mostly related to the Kabbalah—for the cardinal's library.[1] The first edition of Levita's Baḥur (Rome, 1518) is dedicated to Egidio, to whom Levita dedicated his Concordance (1521).

The 1527 Sack of Rome sent Levita into exile once more, back to Venice, where he worked as a proofreader and taught Hebrew.[1] Levita published at Venice a treatise on the laws of cantillation entitled Sefer Tuv Ta'am. At seventy years of age, Levita left his wife and children and departed in 1540 for Isny, accepting the invitation of Paul Fagius to superintend his Hebrew printing-press there. During Elia's stay with Fagius (until 1542 at Isny (in Bavaria), he published the following works: Tishbi, a dictionary focusing on words that don't appear in the Arukh,[2] containing 712 words used in Talmud and Midrash, with explanations in German and a Latin translation by Fagius (Isny, 1541); Sefer Meturgeman, explaining all the Aramaic words found in the Targum (Isny, 1541); Shemot Debarim, an alphabetical list of the technical Hebrew words (Isny, 1542); and a new and revised edition of the Bachur.[3] While in Germany he also printed his Bovo-Bukh.[1] On returning to Venice, Eliah, in spite of his great age, he worked on editions of several works, including David Kimhi's Miklol, which he also annotated.[1][3]

Elia Levita died 28 January 1549 in Venice, aged 80 years.

He has descendants living today, including former British Prime Minister David Cameron, who describes him as "my forefather Elijah Levita who wrote what is thought to have been the first ever Yiddish novel".[4][5]



  1. 1 2 3 4 5 [Liptzin, 1972] p.6.
  2. "the Seforim blog: New Book Censored". Seforim.blogspot.com. 2005-08-31. Retrieved 2016-06-25.
  3. 1 2 Jewish Encyclopedia article.
  4. "Video: David Cameron: I feel 'connection' to Jewish people". Telegraph. 2014-03-12. Retrieved 2016-06-25.
  5. Firth, Niall (2009-07-10). "Cameron | Daily Mail Online". Dailymail.co.uk. Retrieved 2016-06-25.
  6. "Massorah Massoreth Massoretic RabbinicHebrewBible.C.D.Ginsburg.1865.1905.4vols.plus3vols". Archive.org. Retrieved 2016-06-25.


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