How Did Rabbi Moshe Zacut (RM"Z) Spell his Family Name in Hebrew?

In the document [W01] Witztum made the following comment (at footnote 8):

We will avoid a bibliographical debate, but we will demonstrate the quality of facts upon which McKay relies. He brings a "proof" that the name "Zacut" is the correct form:
"For example, the signature 'Zacut' appears almost 40 times in the same source in which Witztum found two examples of 'Zacuto'."
But in the manuscript of the book which he is referring to, which was written during the lifetime of Rabbi Moshe Zacuto, it is specifically the name "Zacuto" which almost always appears. Only decades after Zacuto's death, the printer changed "Zacuto" into "Zacut" in many instances. [See "Igroth Ha'Remez", "amended and corrected according to manuscript", Yeshivath Ha'Chaim Veha'Shalom edition, Jerusalem, '99. The title of the book (given on page 1 footnote 1) according to the manuscript is "Letters written in reply by Moshe Zacuto may his light illuminate
[sic!])". The expression following his name indicates that this title was written in his lifetime. See there on page 4 footnote 37, that he "almost always" signs himself as "Zacuto".]

First let us note that Witztum didn't bring footnote 37 as it appears in the book. Here is a scan of it from the book:

The correct reading of this sentence is "Zacuto - and this is the way it almost always appears in the manuscript". As we'll show below there is a major difference between this reading and Witztum's reading of this sentence. However we don't blame Witztum for intentionally misrepresenting the footnote. It's possible that he was just confused by the double meaning of the word KTB-YD in Hebrew (which could mean both handwriting and manuscript).

We do blame him however for intentionally misrepresenting what we said in [M01]. Here is what we actually said about this matter there:

There are many proofs of this last claim [i.e. that RM"Z himself preferred the form "Zacut"]. For example, the signature "Zacut" appears almost 40 times in the same source in which Witztum found two examples of "Zacuto". Another book that contains examples of Rabbi Zacut's signatures, The Remez Responsa, contains more than 30 examples of "Zacut" and none of the other forms. We also present a poem which shows Rabbi Zacut making a careful choice of spelling. The letters drawn large at the starts of the lines read "Moshe Zacut". The letters immediately left or below the last letter of "Zacut" are just what is needed to make "Zacuto", but Rabbi Zacut has chosen to not draw them bold.

The reader can see that we brought several pieces of evidence that RM"Z himself preferred "Zacut", but Witztum choose to present only one of them, the one which seemed to him to be the weakest.

Still, putting Witztum's selective presentation aside, it might appear to the reader that he has nonetheless made a powerful argument that RM"Z actually preferred "Zacuto", for he mentions a book based on a manuscript written in RM"Z's lifetime in which he almost always signs his name as "Zacuto"!

However this is far from being the truth. It would indeed have been a powerful argument if the manuscript that Witztum mentions had been an autograph manuscript (i.e. written in RM"Z's own hand). But it isn't, it is merely a copied manuscript (and from Witztum own language it's clear that he is aware of that). But when we look at RM"Z's autograph letters, of which many have survived, we find that he always spelled his name as "Zacut".

Let's get into some bibliographical details.

There are two printed editions of the book "Igroth HaRemez", which contains a collection of about 40 letters from RM"Z.

The first one was printed in 1780 in Leghorn. It is not clear which manuscript served as the basis for this edition. This is the edition to which we referred when we said that the book contains about 40 signatures in the form "Zacut" and only 2 in the form "Zacuto" (in letters no. 4 and 5 in this edition).

The second edition of this book was printed in 1999, by Yeshivath Ha'Chaim Veha'Shalom in Jerusalem. This is the edition that Witztum mentions. It is based upon the Leghorn edition but amended in many places according to some manuscript. The printers of the 1999 edition, in a most non-academic fashion, neglected to report which manuscript they used, but we were able to find it by looking at all the microfilmed manuscripts of RM"Z's letters at the Institute of Microfilmed Hebrew Manuscripts (IMHM) in the National Library at Jerusalem. It is the following manuscript: Jewish Theological Seminary N.Y., Ms. 9906. (Henceforth we'll denote it by JTS 9906.) In this manuscript the signature of RM"Z indeed appears almost always as "Zacuto".

However when we look at the entry for RM"Z in Encyclopedia Judaica we find that this manuscript was not written by RM"Z's own hands, and also that there are other manuscripts which do contain letters which were written in RM"Z's own handwriting. Here we'll concentrate on one of them: British Museum Ms. Or. 9165 (henceforth Or. 9165).

This manuscript is a bound collection of letters that were sent to Rabbi Abraham Rovigo, who was a student of RM"Z. About one third of the letters in this manuscript were sent to him by RM"Z. More bibliographical details about this manuscript can be found in the following scholarly articles: [B73], [B88], [Le].

We have traveled to the National Library in Jerusalem and looked at the microfilm of this manuscript in IMHM. We have identified at least 30 letters written in RM"Z's own hand (and one letter of his copied by another hand). In all of them his signature appears as "Zacut".

We also found in the article [B73] the text of three other autograph letters of RM"Z (taken from another manuscript). Needless to say, in all of them the signature is "Zacut". Here is a facsimile of the original of one of them (scanned from p.120 of that book):

We can see in the last 5 words in the bottom line the common signature formula of RM"Z:

M$H BKH"R MRDKY ZKWT ZLH"H (Moshe son of R' Mordechai Zacut OBM).

This alone seems to prove that RM"Z signed his name "Zacut" and therefore that the appearances of "Zacuto" in JTS 9906 are probably due to an error by the copiers of that manuscript. But the story doesn't end there. In the article [Le] we found that there are 7 letters in the Or. 9165 manuscript, that appear also in the book "Igroth HaRemez" (letters no. 5,6,7,8,9,11 and 30 in the Leghorn edition; and the corresponding originals are in photographs no. 2,3,5,7,15,21 and 17 in the Or. 9165 microfilm). As we mentioned above, all the letters in Or. 9165 (including these 7) spell the signature as "Zacut". Therefore if any of these letters appears in JTS 9906 with the signature "Zacuto" we'll have a direct proof that it is due to copying errors in JTS 9906. And indeed we found that this is the case with letters no. 7 and 8, for example. This clinches our argument that the "Zacuto"s that appear in JTS 9906 are mistaken.

More than that we have been able to directly prove that even the two lone appearances of "Zacuto" in the Leghorn edition are due to copying mistakes. For the original autograph letter corresponding to one of these letters (no. 5) also appears in Or. 9165 (it is in the second photograph in the microfilm), and as we already said the signature there is "Zacut".

All this is more than enough to prove our claim that RM"Z spelled his name as "Zacut". In fact we can now say with very high probability that he spelled his name only as "Zacut" and never as "Zacuto" or "Zacuta", at least when he wrote in Hebrew. We haven't been able to find out how he spelled his name in other languages, but whatever was his signature in other languages (if he had one) it's obvious that what's important for our discussion is only the way he wrote it in Hebrew. And in Hebrew he clearly prefered Zacut (maybe because the spelling ZKWT in Hebrew also means "merit"), and we'll give more proof of that now. We already mentioned above a poem in which he spelled his name as "Zacut" by selecting the letters at the beginning of the lines (a poetic technique called acrostichon). That poem was taken from the last page of the book "Derech-Emet" that was printed on 1664, i.e. in RM"Z lifetime. But this is not the only poem in which RM"Z used this technique to spell his name. There are in fact many such songs in several of his books, and in all of them his family name is spelled as "Zacut". We'll mention here just 2 examples that are mentioned by Yaacov Lates in [La] p. 93-94:

  1. In the book "Seder Mea Brachot" printed in Venice at 1658 (i.e. in RM"Z's lifetime) we find a poem titled "Ani Mafkid" in which his name appears in acrostichon as M$H ZKWT.
  2. In the book "Tikun Shovavim", Livorno 1841, we find a poem titled "Esa Et Levavi" (p. 20b in the 1992 reprint edition), in which we find the acrostichon ANY M$H BKH"R MRDKY ZKWT (I'm Moshe son of R' Mordechai Zacut) which is his common signature formula.


In this short bibliographical essay we have proven that RM"Z spelled his family name as "Zacut". Witztum has committed a serious bibliographical error when he claimed that RM"Z "almost always" signs himself as "Zacuto", and has once again exposed his lack of expertise in Jewish bibliography. We are certain that every expert in Jewish bibliography (including Prof. Havlin) will concur with our bibliographical analysis and conclusion in this essay. If Witztum had consulted Prof. Havlin before making his erroneous claim, he could have saved himself a lot of embarrassment.



[B73] Benayahu Meir, "Sfunot 14 - The Shabbatean Movement in Greece" (Hebrew), Jerusalem 1973, p. 411-420.

[B88] Benayahu Meir, "Dor Echad BaArets, letters of R' Shmuel Abuahv and R' Moshe Zacut in matters of the land of Israel" (Hebrew), Jerusalem 1988, p. 349, footnote 1.

[La] Lates Yaacov, "R' Moshe Zacut, his life and activity" (Hebrew), M.A. dissertation, The Hebrew University, Jerusalem 1993.

[Le] Leveen Jacob, "Autograph letters of Moses Ben Mordecai Zacuto from the British Museum Manuscript OR. 9165", appears in Semitic Studies in Memory of Imanuel Low, Budapest 1947, p. 324- 333.

[M01] McKay B., "Codes in War and Peace - a reply to Doron Witztum",

[W01] Witztum D., "Concerning McKay's Response to our article 'Of Science and Parody'", 11 May 2001,