Prof. Umberto Cassuto – Intellectual Profile

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Prof. Umberto Cassuto
Prof. Umberto Cassuto
פרופ' משה דוד קאסוטו
LocationItaly / Israel
WorksCommentaries on Bereshit and Shemot, Volumes on Ancient Near East and vs. Documentary Hypothesis, Editor of Encyclopedia Mikrait
Exegetical Characteristics
Influenced by
Impacted on



  • Name
    • Hebrew name – משה דוד קאסוטו
    • Italian name – Umberto Cassuto
  • Dates – 1883-1951
  • Location – Florence, Rome, Jerusalem
  • Education
    • Cassuto was raised in a religious Jewish home, receiving a traditional Jewish education while also attending public elementary and secondary schools.
    • He entered the local rabbinical seminary2 in 1899, receiving ordination in 1908.
    • Concurrent with his rabbinical studies, Cassuto attended the University of Florence, receiving a doctorate in literature in 1906, and completing his post-doctoral studies in Semitic languages in 1908.
  • Occupation and communal position
    • While still studying for ordination, Cassuto began teaching the younger students at the rabbinical seminary, and later served as rabbi of a synagogue in Florence and as assistant to the chief rabbi of Florence.3
    • He was a prominent figure within the early 20th century cultural revival of the Florentine Jewish community,4 considered the foremost member of the circle of intellectuals involved in Jewish studies.5
    • Cassuto had significant influence over Jewish education in Italy during this period, viewing the establishment of Jewish schools as essential in preventing assimilation.6
    • At the age of 29, he was appointed instructor of Bible and Jewish history at the rabbinical seminary in Florence, and two years later began lecturing in Hebrew language at the University of Florence.
    • In 1922, he was appointed director of the rabbinical seminary and assumed the position of chief rabbi of Florence, resigning from the latter post in 1925 upon becoming a full professor at the University of Florence. He left Florence in 1933 to take up a position at the University of Rome,7 where he taught until his dismissal under Italy's Racial Laws in 1938.
    • In 1939, Cassuto moved to Jerusalem and was appointed a professor of Bible at Hebrew University. He taught there until his death.
  • Family
    • His parents were Amminadav Shabtai (Gustavo)8 and Esther (Ernesta).
    • Married Bice (שמחה) and they had four children: Malka,9 Natan, Leah, and Chuldah.
    • Natan and Chuldah's husband perished in the Holocaust, while the rest of the family escaped to Israel. Cassuto was actively involved in the rearing of his orphaned grandchildren, especially after Natan's widow was murdered in the 1948 Mount Scopus convoy massacre.
  • Teachers – R. Samuel Hirsch Margulies,10 Dr. Ismar Elbogen,11 R. Tzvi Peretz Chajes12
  • Colleagues – Yechezkel Kaufmann, Martin Buber
  • Students
  • Time Period – The latter part of Cassuto's life was drastically affected by the rise of fascism and the Holocaust.13 He moved to Palestine under the British Mandate, and lived to see the early years of the State of Israel.14


Cassuto's early scholarship focused on the history of Italian Jewry. He later concentrated more on Biblical studies, literature of the Ancient Near East (especially Ugaritic literature), and related fields. His prolific output of hundreds of articles and books includes studies in the fields of biblical Targumim, epigraphy, Hebrew bibliography and paleography, and the Italian-Jewish dialect.16

  • Biblical commentaries
    • פירוש על ספר בראשית – An extensive commentary on Bereshit 1-13.17
    • פירוש על ספר שמות – A commentary on the entire book of Shemot, considerably more concise in style than the commentary to Bereshit.18
    • תורת התעודות וסידורם של ספרי התורה – A concise summary of his critique of the Documentary Hypothesis, as expressed in a series of eight lectures given to teachers in 1940.19
    • ספר בראשית ומבנהו – A Hebrew translation of his seminal Italian work, La questione della Genesi.20
    • ספרות מקראית וספרות כנענית – Two volume collection of articles.21
  • Other works
    • האלה ענת – A study of Ugaritic texts and their comparison with Tanakh.22
    • אנציקלופדיה מקראית – Cassuto served as founding Editor in Chief and wrote numerous entries for the Encyclopaedia Biblica. Throughout his career, he also made major contributions to various other encyclopedias.23
    • Gli ebrei a Firenze nell'eta del Rinascimento [The Jews of Florence in the Age of the Renaissance] – a seminal work of Italian Jewish history.24
    • Storia della letteratura ebraica postbiblical [History of Post-Biblical Hebrew Literature].25
  • Misattributed work – The Hebrew Bible popularly known in Israel as "תנ"ך קאסוטו" is actually the work of R. Elia Samuele Artom, Cassuto's brother-in-law.26

Torah Commentary


  • Verse by verse / Topical
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  • Structure
  • Language



Textual Issues

  • Manuscripts
  • Printings
  • Textual layers


Significant Influences

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  • Teachers
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Occasional Usage

Possible Relationship


Later exegetes