R’ Ovadiah Sforno was one of the glories of Italian Jewry, a community that, for many centuries, produced Torah luminaries far out of proportion to its size. Born in the last quarter of the fifteenth century, he experienced the agony and trauma of the Spanish Inquisition, new persecutions in Italy, and Papal enmity. Despite these travails, Sforno grew constantly in Torah, personal stature, and in his gifts to posterity.
Though he was one of the great halachic authorities of Italy, his fame rests primarily on his commentaries to many books of the Scripture. However, he wrote extensively on other areas of the Torah as well, and his commentary on Pirkei Avos/Ethics of the Fathers is one of his little known gems. Hardly ever published, this masterpiece is now available in the original Hebrew and with an exceptional translation and commentary.
As Sforno writes in the introduction to his classic commentary on the Torah, he wrote ``because our people dwell in an alien land and concentrate their efforts on the accumulation of wealth, feeling that this will protect them from the exigencies of their time. This in turn results in a condition where they have no proper time to consider the wonders and wisdom of our Torah, and even brings them to question the importance of our holy Torah, becoming critical of its teachings, for they do not understand it properly.’’
Was not Sforno speaking to our generation as well as to his own?
The first to render Sforno in English was Rabbi Raphael Pelcovitz, the renowned rabbi emeritus of Congregation Knesseth Israel in Far Rockaway, New York. He distinguished himself with his magnificent rendering of Sforno’s Commentary on the Torah. Now he continues his pioneering work with this new volume.
In this capstone to an eminent career as a scholar, teacher, and leader, Rabbi Pelcovitz performs an enduring service, both to the Sforno and to English-speaking Jews everywhere.