Moses Zacuto, Hell Arrayed (Tofteh 'arukh): A Seventeenth-Century Hebrew Poem on the Punishment of the Wicked in the Afterlife

Translated, annotated, and introduced by Michela Andreatta ~ TT18

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Written at the height of the Italian Counter Reformation, Tofteh 'Arukh (Hell Arrayed) by the Mantuan rabbi and scholar Moses Zacuto (c. 1610-97), is a 925-verse poem in Hebrew graphically depicting the hereafter of sinners according to the teachings of Kabbalah, or Jewish mysticism. Initially circulated within Zacuto's own devotional confraternity in Mantua, the poem was eventually printed in 1715 and was instantly transformed into an early modern 'cult book': explicated an annotated, later supplemented by a 'paradisiacal' sequel by a fellow poet, it went through several reprints and was even the object of public readings verging on theatrical performances. This translation, complete with introduction and notes, makes Tofteh 'Arukh accessible for the first time to English readers. It also opens a windown on the composite cultural backdrop that shaped the composition and immediate reception of a towering work of pre-modern Jewish literature and one of the greatest examples of baroque poetry in Hebrew.

Translated, annotated, and introduced by Michela Andreatta.

Michela Andreatta teaches Hebrew Language and Literature at the University of Rochester. A specialist of the intellectual and literary history of Italian Jewry in the early modern period, she has published widely in the field, including an annotated edition of Gersonides (Levi ben Gershon), Commento al Cantico dei Cantici nella traduzione ebraico-latina di Flavio Miridate (Olschki, 2009).

190 pp. 
ISBN: 978-0-7727-1072-7 softcover
Published: 2023


Part One


On Moses Zacuto's Life and Works

From Amsterdam to Mantua

Poetry and Drama

Translating Tofteh 'arukh

Chapter 1: Microhistory of a Hellish Book

Noctournal Devotions, Books, and Poetry

From Zacuto's Drawer to Print

Doctors, Demons, and the Damned

How Tofteh 'arukh Became an Early Modern Cult Book

Chapter 2: On Death, Afterlife, and Kabbalah

Beliefs about the Hereafter

The Rabbi's Library

A Moralizing Poem

Chapter 3: Hell on Stage

Performing Affects

Theatre of the Mind

Empirical Ambiguity

Baroque Kabbalah


Part Two

Note on the Translation

Hell Arrayed: An Annotated Translation of Tofteh 'arukh


“Michela Andreatta's English translation and rigorous study of Moses Zacuto's seventeenth-century dramatic description of hell, a classic of Hebrew devotional literature and a kind of Jewish echo of Dante, is a stunning achievement. Her brilliant reconstruction of the social, intellectual, material, spiritual, and poetic dimensions of the work enable the modern reader to grasp its literary greatness and its enthusiastic reception. This work is essential reading for students of Jewish and Italian cultural history and literature of the early modern period."  David B. Ruderman, University of Pennsylvania

"Michela Andreatta's elegant translation of Moses Zacuto's seventeenth-century dramatic poem Hell Arrayed (Tofteh 'arukh) introduces English readers for the first time to one of the gems of early modern Hebrew literature. As Andreatta shows in her monograph-length introduction, this feverish account of a soul's Dantesque tour of hell mirrors the singular features of the Italian Jewish culture in which it was produced, a world so multi-faceted and unfamiliar today that it will astonish readers. This volume is a significant contribution to the Jewish library.” — David SternHarvard University.