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The travels of Moses Cassuto, 1733-1735 and 1741-1743

A unique document is the diary of Moses Vita Cassuto, written in the first half of the eighteenth century and describing his two journeys, one to Palestine and one to England and Holland. I managed to find a summary of this diary in Richard Barnetts essay about the Cassuto travels in the book "Remember the Days, essays in honour of Cecil Roth", edited by John M. Shaftesley and published in 1966 by The Jewish Historical Society of England. I make gratefully use of the essay of Richard Barnett by putting on this website fragments of his article and the summary of the diary.

first journey to Palestine: landing in Egypt
arrival in Hebron
Jerusalem and Safed
From Palestine to Constantinople
From Constantinople to Vienna
home: from Vienna to Florence

to the second journey to England and Holland

INTRODUCTION (source: Richard Barnett, The Travels of Moses Cassuto)

Who was Moses Vita Cassuto?
Moses Vita Cassuto is a little-known member of the early eighteenth century of a distinguished Jewish Florentine family of which happily representatives are still with us.
Posterity should know him as one of the long list of Jewish travellers whose painstaking records of their often painful journeys did so much to guide their contemporaries and to enrich our
knowledge in later ages.

Moses Cassuto in his diary written for his wife discloses incidentally something of himself.
He was a merchant of reasonable means, a dealer in precious stones but an educated man of the world, accustomed to mix in the highest society; he was devoutly religious and devoted to his family, and we see him as a patient (if not always very precise) recorder of things seen and heard, and a careful scribe. In visiting places attributed Biblical or other pious associations, he is frankly credulous and uncritical. Perhaps be is not to be reckoned in the front rank of either diarists or travel writers, but in this restricted field he certainly by his sincerity holds his place and our interest, whether as Jews or historians.

page of the diary introducing the story of his first journey, signed "Moise Vita Cassuto,"15 April 1735.
click on the picture for a larger view

The diary
Moses's diary is written in the Italian of the period, but bas occasional descriptive rubrics and quotations in Hebrew, usually concerning Hebrew communities.
It exists in three versions.
Of these, the first is acquired by the Bodleian Library at Oxford in 1925. The manuscript is of 173 folios, elegantly written, including the Hebrew, evidently in the hand of the author himself.
It is in two parts, describing
two journeys, bound in one leather volume.
The introduction to the first part is dated 15 April 1735, i.e., on the eve of Pesach a fortnight after his return from his first, i.e. Palestinian journey.
In this introduction, a flowery but charming composition, Cassuto offers this volume to his wife, explaining his reason for not publishing it and apologising for its defects; and asks her to neither sell it nor lend it except in exchange for a pledge.

First journey to the Holy land, 1733-1735
At the commencement of the diary proper, he explains that the reason for his journey was to take his new-born son to be brought up in the Holy Land, to study the law of God and nothing else; accordingly he travelled to Hebron by way of A1exandria and Cairo with this infant-in-arms, and accompanied by one servant - returning overland through Northem Palestine, Saida, Damascus, A1eppo, Istanbul, Belgrade, Vienna, and Venice, then home to Florence. The journey took a year and a half, from 8 October 1733 to 5 April 1735, and proved most arduous.

The same volume also contains, inserted at Folio 91, a letter written in a different hand; it is dated 20 Apri1 1735 and signed by Moses's wife herself, who gives her name in full as Rachel Coen del Medico Cassuto. It is her reply to his dedication. She thanks him both for thinking of her during his journey and for having written the diary , speaking with enthusiasm of those parts which dea1 with the Holy Land.

Second journey to the north, 1741-1743
But this is not all. In the Bodleian MS. is a separately paginated second part describing a second journey which he undertook in 1741 to 1743, partly in company with his brother David Cassuto and his faithful servant, the companion of his previous journey, Isache di Tranquillo Gallico, and two others. Here again there is an introduction, of which only the second page survives, in which he speaks of dedicating the work to his wife and of planning a possible third journey of which we know nothing. In this present journey the party first visited Genoa, his wife's home town, where he had met and married her in 1723. From there the itinerary takes him through Monaco, Paris, and Calais to England. After a short stay in London they retumed to Holland and journeyed through Germany and Austria bak to Florence.


I will publish interesting parts of the journeys as summarized by Richard Barnett.
Here comes the first fragment:

Landing in Egypt
On Sunday 1 November 1733 he landed at Alexandria after a long, stormy, and agonising voyage by sea, in a ship La Delizia, flying the British flag. He planned to join here some shiluhim, 'emissaries' or 'ambassadors', from Hebron, who were expected to arrive from Livorno in a French ship on their way home to their native city, and it was hoped that they rnight make the caravan joumey overland together. But the Rabbis were delayed forty days by reason of the stoems, so our traveller had plenty of time to visit the city and study the ways of its inhabitants.
He remarks that it holds about 70,000, among them 2,000 Hebrews with three synagogues, with another not far outside the city bearing the name ofthe prophet Elias.
It possesses four beautiful pillars of marble, two of them superbly carved and worked in a twisting pattern; it has a small room where the prophet is believed to have studied and slept and where epileptics and persons possessed of devils may rest three days and nights and become cured. Around the synagogue is laid out a beautiful garden with date palms, the fruit of which he ate fresh from the tree.
He also mentions the alleged Temple of Honi at some distance from Alexandria, which (he said) is now a mosque. It is said to have been built in imitation of Solomon's Temple in the time of the Second Temple, by a king who wished to do a kindness to the Jews, but also to secure the revenues to himself. The reference, of course, is to Ptolemy VI but, as in certain other cases where royal or other names are to be expected in the text, we find only a gap.

On Thursday7 December he reached Rosetta where he reports there are three synagogues and no fewer Jews than in Alexandria. They are not rich but of moderate position, lacking nothing. From Rosetta he sailed by large Nile boat (called maas) on Monday 21 October for Caïro,
and arrived at Bulak, the port of Cairo, on the following Monday, 28 December , and found many friends, the customs officials being all Jews.

Here he was saddened by the news that his father's cousin of blessed memory, Rabbi Samuel Cassuto, of Jerusalem, was no more. He was a man of rare learning and saintly life and most charitable disposition. As a Deputy of the Community, he wrote letters on its behalf to all parts of the world to plead for its poor.
It seemed, however, a divine consolation to Moses Cassuto that he was now on his way to place in the Holy Land his own son, Jacob Ephraim, to succeed the deceased, since it was his family's custom for many years that one of the family should live there and that thus there should always be a Cassuto in the Holy Land, where Rabbi Samuel's father and son and stepmother and the author's paternal uncle are buried. Likewise Rabbi Daniel Cassuto, brother of Rabbi Samuel, and his family are buried in Safed.

The second fragment describes the trip through the desert and the city of Hebron.
Interesting to read how things were in Hebron in 1734! Read about this and
to page 2: through the Sinai to Hebron

The first journey of Moses Vita Cassuto to the Holy Land

to page 2: through the Sinai to Hebron

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