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History & Politics, Literature, Theater & Dance

The Sonnets of Immanuel of Rome

At the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Library (455 Fifth Ave)

October 30, 2023
6:30 pm

Please note:
This event takes place at the
Stavros Niarchos Foundation Library (SNFL)
455 Fifth Avenue

Organized by
Primo Levi Center

In collaboration with
New York Public Library
NYU Casa Italiana Zerilli-Marimò
Jewish Museum of Rome

Staged reading of
Mine Is the Golden Tounge
The Hebrew Sonnets of Immanuel of Rome

(2023, CPL Editions)

Translated by Yehudah Cohn

Reading by
Ronald Guttman, actor
Fabrizio Lelli, Hebrew literature scholar


A satirist, poet, and biblical commentator, Immanuel ben Shelomò or Manoello Giudeo, was a contemporary of Dante, who, recounting his ultramundane flight through Hell and Paradise in Hebrew, tied his name forever to that of the Florentine poet. He moved swiftly between vernacular and Hebrew, modeled his verses on the Arabic maqāma, and wrote the first known sonnets in Hebrew. He lived in Rome during the turbulent period following the communal experience, during which the popes were mostly absent. His mark on the Roman siddur suggests he was an active member of the local Jewish community, one that left no other trace but an extraordinary abundance of Hebrew manuscripts, translations, commentaries, philosophical and literary works.

Immanuel’s writings and life have fascinated scholars for over six centuries, making him one of the most studied Hebrew writers in history; yet, in the world of mass culture, he has remained practically unknown. His most published and studied book, the Mahbarot, a collection of satirical tales written in Hebrew foreshadowing Boccaccio’s Decameron, has never been translated as a whole. Scholars’ widely diverging readings have cast mystery on his persona and the world surrounding him. Centro Primo Levi’s publication makes all of Immanuel’s Hebrew sonnets available in English for the first time.

Ronald Guttman is a Belgian actor known for his film and television roles in Europe and North America. He began his career with French language productions in 1975 and appeared in Costa-Gavras’s Hanna K. in English in 1983. He starred in numerous off-Broadway plays, including The Fifth Column by Ernest Hemingway; Dennis McIntyre’s Modigliani at Jewish Repertory Theatre; and the original production in 1986 of Tina Howe’s Coastal Disturbances. His latest roles include Albert Camus’s The Fall, directed by Didier Flamand at the Soho Theater, and Peter Morgan’s Patriots at the Almeida Theater in London. His collaboration with Centro Primo Levi began with the theatrical reading of Efratia Gitai’s letters at the Museum of Modern Art in 2020.

Fabrizio Lelli is professor of Hebrew at the “Sapienza” University in Rome. His research focuses on the philosophical and mystical literature of late Medieval and Early Modern Italian Jewish authors. He is an expert of the Hebrew manuscript production of Apulian Jews. He published the critical editions of Yohanan Alemanno’s Hay ha-`olamim (Florence 1995) and Eliyyah Hayyim of Genazzano’s Iggeret hamudot (Florence – Nîmes 2002). He is the author of many studies, some of which appeared in the volumes Gli ebrei nel Salento (IX-XVI secolo) (Galatina 2013), Giovanni Pico e la cabbalà (Florence 2014); Ebrei: Una Storia Italiana, MEIS, 2015; and Evrakì (Trieste, 2011), the first monographic exhibition on the Jews of Corfú of which he was also scientific coordinator.

Yehudah Cohn, after a business career trading commodities, completed a doctorate in Hebrew and Jewish Studies at the University of Oxford. Cohn is the author of Tangled Up in Text: Tefillin and the Ancient World and co-author of a Handbook of Jewish Literature from Late Antiquity. He was one of the translators of the new Oxford Annotated Mishnah and has also translated work by the Israeli Nobel laureate SY Agnon.

This program is made possible through a generous contribution in honor of Jeffrey C. Keil. Centro Primo Levi’s study project on Immanuel of Rome and his times is held in collaboration with the Jewish Museum of Rome, the University of Rome La Sapienza and NYU Casa Italiana Zerilli Marimò.