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One thing that we enjoyed about our previous Jewish cruises was the chance to explore the origins and sources of various historical words, concepts and ideas, especially when they’re related to Jewish heritage. For example, the word “salon” has very different connotations today than it did hundreds of years ago. While “salon” nowadays denotes a place where people get their hair done, a “salon” in European history denotes a gathering of intellectuals, hosted by a woman of high standing. One of the earliest Jewish salon hosts was Sarah Copia Sullam, a poet who lived in Venice.

Life of Sarah Copia Sullam

Sarah Copia was born in 1592, in the city of Venice, Italy to affluent parents. She grew up with an education based on both Jewish and Italian culture, a keen understanding of Hebrew and secular literature, and was fluent in various languages such as Hebrew, Greek, Latin and Italian. Although she was born a century before the prominence of Jewish women in salons (such as the ones in Berlin in the 18th Century), she became a host of a salon in Venice, where various poets, artists and intellectuals would gather and discuss their ideas. She was married to Jacob Sullam, but there was no record of any surviving children between them. She was said to have died on February 1641, at the age of 49.

Poetry and Correspondence

Sara Copia Sullam corresponded often with an author turned monk named Ansaldo Ceba, who wrote a verse epic about the life of Esther. They exchanged letters and poems for several years, although the Ceba would often try to urge her to convert to Christianity, which Sara would rebuff.

In 1621, one of Sara’s salon guests accused her (via pamphlet) of denying the immortality of the soul, an accusation that could lead to charges of heresy. Sara would retort in her own manifesto, dedicating it to her late father and defending herself with a commanding refutation. Sadly, her friends and teachers did not support her, not even Ceba, and she was accused of plagiarism and generally disparaged by others. However, in 1625, there was an anonymously authored manuscript which came to her defence, using a literary device where various literary women from history would defend Sara before a trial held on Mount Parnassus before the Greek deity Apollo. The source of Codice di Giulia Soliga is unknown, although Leon of Modena was suspected to be its author.

We may have to wait a bit longer before we can go on Glatt kosher vacations, but we can still explore the complex history of our Jewish forebearers from around the world.

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