Shadal (Shmuel David Luzzatto) wrote, among many other things, a commentary to the Torah.

I do not know very much about the style and approach of his commentary, but strangely, I've actually never heard of him until fairly recently. I've never seen anything written by him on the shelves of any of the yeshivos I've studied at nor at any of the shuls I've attended. I've never heard a Rabbi or Rav ever mention him in a shiur or drasha. But from the very little I have read from his commentary recently, it seems like there's nothing wrong with it; in fact, it's quite good in my opinion.

So my question is: What is the general approach of Shadal in his commentary and is it or is it not a mainstream commentary? (By that I mean: will the average yeshiva student know what I'm talking about if I mention it? And why?)

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    This quote from the Wikipedia entry says a lot, "He was also one of the first Jews who permitted themselves to emend the text of the 'Old Testament'"; "many of his emendations met with the approval of critical scholars of the day." Dec 26, 2011 at 19:34
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    @AvrohomYitzchok, True, I hear that. But I guess in my eyes, that's not much worse than the antics of such commentators as Ibn Ezra, Radak, Abarbanel, which are all pretty classic "mainstreamers".
    – jake
    Dec 26, 2011 at 19:41
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    @jake: do any of those mefarshim actually emend the text, though? I think they might say something like "it says X, but it really means Y," but not that they'd say that "it says X, but I can demonstrate that this is wrong and it should say Y." Whereas, for example, Shadal claims that the first word in ברוך כבוד ה' ממקומו is a misreading, and it should really be ברום.
    – Alex
    Dec 27, 2011 at 5:00
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    @Alex, You are correct that earlier commentators didn't really emend the text, but Radak did open up the possibility that certain parts of the text might be incorrectly transmitted with his kri/k'siv theory. They might not have said it themselves, but would Radak and like-minded commentators agree with Shadal's theories or be outraged?
    – jake
    Dec 27, 2011 at 5:09
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    I know that this is a very old comment thread but I think it's important to point out that Ibn Ezra, at least, did emend the text though no chumashim follow his emendations.
    – Yitzchak
    May 11, 2014 at 21:23

3 Answers 3


Rabbi Shmuel David Luzzatto is a pashtan and grammarian. He is not a rationalist, though sometimes his conclusions are the same as the rationalist meforshim. But, if he thought that the best peshat in a pasuk was that magic was real, for example, he would endorse it as such.

He dislikes and criticizes derash, when intended seriously as historical and literal meaning of the pasuk. He dislikes and criticizes the 'philosophical derash' of Ibn Ezra, Abarbanel, and Rambam, as well.

He will consider dikduk, nikkud and trup, though he does not consider nikkud and trup to be dispositive. (If you want to see the intersection of trup and peshat, he is an excellent source.) He also will cite and consider the opinions of non-Jewish Biblical scholars, and of historical documents, and of the Peshitta. While he suggested some limited emendations of the Biblical text, this was not on Torah, only in Nach. And he criticized his contemporaries for suggesting emendations of the Biblical text, because he thought that they were idiots and ignoramuses who were not applying the methodology correctly.

He is certainly not 'mainstream' in the yeshiva world, for a variety of reasons. Open criticism of the Zohar and kabbalah in general is certainly one component of it. (I would note that people don't reject the Chasam Sofer for asserting that the Zohar is a forgery, even though the Chasam Sofer's father presumably believed in the authenticity of the Zohar.) Mental association of Shadal with maskilim also contributes to it, as well as his focus on peshat over derash, would also help.

But the Rav cited him on one occasion. And Nechama Leibovitch cited him, I think. There is an idea, put forth by the Rambam, of שמע האמת ממי שאמרה. So even if he is not 'mainstream', if his ideas are good, I think we should consider them.

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    Where did the Chasam Sofer say that the Zohar is a forgery? Jan 4, 2012 at 18:45
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    @ShmuelBrill: this sefer quotes him as saying, essentially, that very little of the Zohar is from Rashbi; most of it is from sages of later generations. Which is not quite the same as calling it a forgery, though (and indeed, he does cite the Zohar even in halachic contexts).
    – Alex
    Jan 4, 2012 at 18:52
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    @ShmuelBrill besides the sefer that Alex mentioned, see my post here, parsha.blogspot.com/2011/06/… , considering Shu"t Chasam Sofer, volume 6, siman 59, where he does more or less call it a forgery. Jan 4, 2012 at 18:59
  • Thanks, josh waxman. Just note that if you mean what I think you mean by "philosophical derash", then I don't think Abarbanel would appreciate you associating him with it. He was not a big fan either.
    – jake
    Jan 4, 2012 at 19:01
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    It definitely does contradict. In the answer, I was speaking in roundabout fashion,and was trying to address a seeming judgement about whether he was an oisvorf by comparing to the Chasam Sofer.I doubt that people specifically judge him as being non-mainstream because of deviating from his father specifically.Indeed, Shadal writes "Before my father had given up his Cabbalistic notions..." See onthemainline.blogspot.com/2006/07/… In terms of Chasam Sofer, I'd be more concerned about Rav Nossan Adler's views. Socially, it was certainly out of bounds. Jan 4, 2012 at 21:13

While we certainly are all going to disagree on which works should be given how much weight, there are a wide variety of Rabbanim whose works or teachings have gained wide acceptance in the observant community. Additionally, while a particular work may not have received popular recognition, or was unable to maintain a high profile with the passage of time, its influence may be felt indirectly by its influence on and reference by more widely acknowledged works.

Insofar as Jewish law (and perhaps to a lesser extent ideology) takes into consideration the weight of a Rabbi's authority in addition to a more sterile evaluation of the strength of his argument, it would seem that a work which does not enjoy either the primary or secondary recognition mentioned above must fend for itself. It, whether classic or contemporary, may make good arguments but it must be evaluated on its own without providing "what to rely on".

Conversely, while a work being widely accepted (and/or influential on generally accepted leaders of klal Yisrael) doesn't mean that its positions are certified correct or practices it endorses are unimpeachable, a great deal of deference is given, we generally try to understand it as compatible as possible with other similarly authoritative works, and we are reluctant to outright reject its positions just because we don't fully "understand" where it is coming from: it IS what to rely on.

I do not think it is appropriate for me to comment of the specific case you mention. Nor do I think that a sources familiarity to the average yeshiva student is a good indication of whether or not they are mainstream. But in general I think that how mainstream a work is can be judged somewhat fairly by whether not you (can) encounter it while learning reliable Torah sources.

  • Personally, I think "what does the average student learn in school" is a perfect barometer for such things. Or even "would people recognize this name, if I drop it in a dvar torah"
    – avi
    Dec 28, 2011 at 10:05
  • After reading this several times, I'm still not sure if it's intended to be an answer to the question or not. It seems like it's just an explanation of how some works are "widely accepted" and others are not, which is itself a weird phenomenon: "A work is widely accepted if it is referenced by another work which is widely accepted" seems like the general idea. Incidentally, I believe this is the main way Google ranks websites in a web search, i.e. by how many other sites link to it and the ranking of those other sites.
    – jake
    Dec 28, 2011 at 16:22
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    @jake, I would say that my description isn't <i>just</i> a description of how things are widely accepted but a way determining what should be considered a mainstream source versus one that has no particular authority. That isn't to say each case will be clear, but I think it is clear enough that it works in practice albeit a bit informally.
    – Yirmeyahu
    Dec 28, 2011 at 17:03

Shadal is not a main commentary.

The only people who will know the name are people who have found reference to him on the internet, or people who studied Judaic texts in Universities.

I believe the main reason for this, is because his father was into gematria, while he wrote very negatively against the Zohar.

To make this more explicite. I believe it is the fact that he went against his father, as well as going against the Zohar that makes him not mainstream. There are plenty of accepted commentaries that write against the Zohar, but those people tend to come from communities and families which have their own "messorah" to do so.

  • Interesting... According to Wikipedia, though, it seems he only concluded that Zohar was a later work than traditionally thought, not anything negative about it, though (as far as I know). Also, what's wrong with gematria?
    – jake
    Dec 26, 2011 at 20:05
  • Nothing is wrong with gematria, but it means he broke from his own "messora". You can read this series from ParshaBlog. parsha.blogspot.com/2008/02/authenticity-of-zohar-pt-i.html and decide if he only concluded that it was later, and didn't write anything negative.
    – avi
    Dec 26, 2011 at 20:17
  • I don't think people who go from YU to Lakewood or vice versa are ever rejected for going against their "mesorah" by the place they join.
    – Ariel K
    Dec 26, 2011 at 22:17
  • @ArielK which person and sefer are you referring to, that is accepted/heard of by all Yeshivot and the person switched? Out of curiosity, what is the difference in "mesorah" between YU and Lakewood? Do they learn from different books?
    – avi
    Dec 27, 2011 at 7:38
  • Interesting. I would have thought that this (gematria) is not a real reason, but is just an excuse. It is the attack on kabbalah, extremely limited emendation of Nach, and ascribed authorship of Kohelet to someone other than Shlomo. Indeed, his father retracted from this extreme gematria. See here. onthemainline.blogspot.com/2006/07/… Now that you know this, do you consider Shadal a "main"stream commentary? Also, try to learn his sefarim and see what he actually says, and it should be pretty clear why he is not palatable to a certainsortofreader Feb 15, 2013 at 3:44

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