The Exclamation Point

For Tom at seventy in Zion Sergio Sierra was born in Rome in the winter of 1923. When he was twenty-six years old he received rabbinical ordination, after which he assumed a rabbinical post in Bologna, where he assisted in the reconstruction of the shattered Jewish community. The embers of history’s wildfires had not yet cooled. The great synagogue in Bologna, built by a well-known local architect in a sensitively adapted Art Nouveau style, had been destroyed in a bombing raid in 1943, and it was not until a decade later, and under Sierra’s supervision, that its restoration would be complete. Sierra served in Bologna until 1959, when he left to take up a prominent pulpit in Turin, and to direct its rabbinical college. His talents were not only clerical. The community rabbi also published erudite papers in scholarly journals on modern and medieval themes in Jewish literature. He produced a translation into Italian of Rashi’s commentary on Exodus, and a translation of Bahya ibn Paquda’s eleventh-century masterpiece Hovot Ha’Levavot, or The Duties of the Heart, a monument of Jewish reason and piety, and a translation of Keter Malkhut, or The Kingly Crown, an epic philosophical prayer in rhymed verse by the eleventh-century poet Solomon ibn Gabirol, who has been beloved by readers of Hebrew for a millennium. He also produced a critical edition of one of the most curious works of medieval Jewish literature, the Hebrew translation of Boethius’ Consolation of Philosophy by an early fifteenth-century Jew in Perpignan named Azariah ben Yosef ibn Abba Mari, also known as Bonafus Bonfil Astruc, who fled to Italy from persecution in southern France and was one of the very last figures of the golden age of Provencal Judaism. Sierra was yet another of the many rabbinical figures in the annals of

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