Isaac ben Judah Abarbanel (Hebrew: יצחק בן יהודה אברבנאל; 1437–1508), commonly referred to as Abarbanel (אַבַּרבְּנְאֵל), also spelled Abravanel, Avravanel or Abrabanel, was a Portuguese Jewish statesman, philosopher, Bible commentator, and financier.
Don Isaac Abarbanel
Isaac ben Judah Abarbanel
|Died||1508 (aged 70–71)|
There is some debate over whether his last name should be pronounced Abarbanel or Abravanel. The traditional pronunciation is Abarbanel. Modern scholarly literature, since Graetz and Baer, has most commonly used Abravanel. However, his own son Judah insisted on Abarbanel, and Sefer HaTishbi by Elijah Levita, who was a nearby contemporary, twice vowels the name as Abarbinel (אַבַּרְבִּינֵאל).
The name's etymology is uncertain. Some say it comes from "Ab Rabban El", meaning "father of the rabbis of God", which seems to favor the pronunciation "Abrabanel".
Abarbanel was born in Lisbon, Portugal, into one of the oldest and most distinguished Iberian Jewish families, the Abravanel or Abarbanel family, who had escaped massacre in Castile in 1391. A student of the rabbi of Lisbon, Joseph Chaim, he became well versed in rabbinic literature and in the learning of his time, devoting his early years to the study of Jewish philosophy. Abarbanel is quoted as saying that he included Joseph ibn Shem-Tov as his mentor. At twenty years old, he wrote on the original form of the natural elements, on religious questions and prophecy. Together with his intellectual abilities, he showed a complete mastery of financial matters. This attracted the attention of King Afonso V of Portugal who employed him as treasurer.
He used his high position and the great wealth he had inherited from his father, to aid his co-religionists. When his patron Afonso captured the city of Arzila, in Morocco, the Jewish captives faced being sold as slaves. Abarbanel contributed largely to the funds needed to free them, and personally arranged for collections throughout Portugal. He also wrote to his learned and wealthy friend, Vitale (Yehiel) Nissim da Pisa, on behalf of the captives.
After the death of Afonso he was obliged to relinquish his office, having been accused by King John II of connivance with the Duke of Braganza, who had been executed on the charge of conspiracy. Abarbanel, warned in time, saved himself by a hasty flight to Castile in 1483. His large fortune was confiscated by royal decree.
At Toledo, his new home, he occupied himself at first with Biblical studies, and in the course of six months produced an extensive commentary on the books of Joshua, Judges, and Samuel. But shortly afterward he entered the service of the house of Castile. Together with his friend, the influential Don Abraham Senior, of Segovia, he undertook to farm the revenues and to supply provisions for the royal army, contracts that he carried out to the entire satisfaction of Queen Isabella.
During the Moorish war, Abarbanel advanced considerable sums of money to the king. When the Jews were ordered banished from Spain with the Alhambra decree, he did all in his power to induce the king to revoke the edict. He unsuccessfully offered the king 30,000 ducats ($68,400 nominal value). He left Spain with his fellow Jews and went to Naples where, soon after, he entered the service of the king. For a short time he lived in peace undisturbed; but when the city was taken by the French, bereft of all his possessions, he followed the young king, Alfonso, in 1495, to Messina; then went to Corfu; and in 1496 settled in Monopoli, and lastly in 1503 settled in Venice, where his services were employed in negotiating a commercial treaty between Portugal and the Venetian republic.
Several times during the mid-to-late 15th century, he personally spent large amounts of his personal fortunes to bribe the Spanish Monarchy to permit the Jews to remain in Spain. It is claimed that Abarbanel offered them 600,000 crowns for the revocation of the edict. It is said also that Ferdinand hesitated, but was prevented from accepting the offer by Torquemada, the grand inquisitor, who dashed into the royal presence and, throwing a crucifix down before the king and queen, asked whether, like Judas, they would betray their Lord for money. In the end, he managed only to get the date for the expulsion to be extended by two days.
He died in Venice in 1508 and was buried in Padua next to Rabbi Judah Minz, Rabbi of Padua. Owing to the destruction of the Jewish cemetery there during the Siege of Padua in 1509, his grave is now unknown. Claimed descendants of Abarbanel include Russian author Boris Pasternak and Brazilian media tycoon Silvio Santos.
Abarbanel wrote many works during his lifetime which are often categorized into three groups: exegesis, philosophy, and apologetics. His philosophy dealt with the sciences and how the general field relates to the Jewish religion and traditions, and his apologetics defends the Jewish idea of the Messiah while criticizing the Christian version. Abarbanel's exegetic writings were different from the usual biblical commentaries because he took social and political issues of the times into consideration. He believed that mere commentary was not enough, but that the actual lives of the Jewish people must be deliberated on as well when discussing such an important topic as the Bible. He also took the time to include an introduction concerning the character of each book he commented on, as well as its date of composition, and the intention of the original author, in order to make the works more accessible to the average reader.
Abarbanel composed commentaries on the Pentateuch and Neviim. These were published in three works: "Perush" (Commentary) on the Pentateuch (Venice, 1579); "Perush" on the Earlier Prophets (Pesaro, 1511?); "Perush" on the Later Prophets (Pesaro, 1520?).
His commentaries are divided into chapters, each of which is preceded by a list of questions or difficulties that he sets out to explain over the course of the chapter. Not only did this make it easier for scholars to find the answers they were looking for, but these lists of difficulties aided the average student in studying Abarbanel's work. In his commentary on the Pentateuch these questions have no fixed number, sometimes amounting to over 40, but in his commentary to the Prophets he limits himself to six. Abarbanel rarely forayed into the world of grammatical or philological investigation in the vein of Abraham ibn Ezra or David Kimhi before him, instead focusing on a content-based investigation of the Scripture at hand.
Occasionally Abarbanel digresses from the subject under discussion, particularly in his commentary on the Pentateuch. His style and presentation is prolix and often repetitive. Some of his interpretations derive from homilies delivered in the synagogue. He vehemently fought the extreme rationalism of philosophical interpretation as well as interpretations based on philosophical allegory. At the same time he himself had recourse, especially in his commentary on the Pentateuch, to numerous interpretations based on philosophy.
His opposition to philosophical allegory must also be ascribed to the conditions of his time, the fear of undermining the unquestioning faith of the simple Jew, and the danger to Jewish survival in exile. This also explains Abarbanel's faith in the Messianic concepts of Judaism, as well as his need to make his work accessible to all Jews instead of writing merely for the scholars of his time. Although his commentary often differed from kabbalistic interpretations, Abarbanel nonetheless believed that the Torah had a hidden meaning in addition to its overt significance, and thus he interpreted passages in the Torah in various ways. His commentary to Deuteronomy 25:5 demonstrates both his knowledge and endorsement of kabbalists and kabbalistic understanding of Scripture. Side by side with philosophical concepts (entitled "the analytical way," "the scientific," or "the method of wisdom") he gives "the way of the Torah," i.e., the moral and religious tenets to be derived from the text.
He quoted extensively from the Midrash, but allowed himself to criticize his source when, in his view, it did not accord with the literal meaning of the text. He explains, "I shall not refrain from pointing to the weakness inherent in their statements where they are homiletical in nature and are not accepted by them as authoritative" (Introduction to Joshua).
Overall, Abarbanel's exegetical writings are notable for the following three distinctions:
However, the major characteristic that separated Abarbanel from his predecessors was his unflagging commitment toward using the Scripture as a means of elucidating the status quo of his surrounding Jewish community; as a historical scholar, Abarbanel was able to contemporize the lessons of the historical eras described in the Scripture and apply them successfully in his explanations of modern Jewish living. Abarbanel, who had himself taken part in the politics of the great powers of the day, believed that mere consideration of the literary elements of Scripture was insufficient, and that the political and social life of the characters in the Tanakh must also be taken into account. Due to the overall excellence and exhaustiveness of Abarbanel's exegetical literature, he was looked to as a beacon for later Christian scholarship, which often included the tasks of translating and condensing his works.
His exegetical writings are set against a richly conceived backdrop of the Jewish historical and sociocultural experience, and it is often implied that his exegesis was sculpted with the purpose of giving hope to the Jews of Spain that the arrival of the Messiah was imminent in their days. This idea distinguished him from many other philosophers of the age, who did not rely as heavily on Messianic concepts.
Abarbanel's Jewish predecessors in the realm of philosophy did not receive the same tolerance at his hands as the Christians did. Men like Albalag, Palquera, Gersonides, Narboni, and others, were denounced by Abarbanel as infidels and misleading guides for assuming a comparatively liberal standpoint in religio-philosophical questions. Abarbanel was essentially an opponent of philosophy, despite his authority on the subject, because his entire understanding of the Jewish religion was based on God's revelation in Jewish history. There is a common misconception that Abarbanel agreed with Maimonidean views; while sometimes their ideas matched up, most of Abarbanel's thoughts strongly disagreed with those of Maimonides.
A characteristic instance of his vacillation is afforded by his most important religious work, the Rosh Amanah (The Pinnacle of Faith) (Amsterdam, 1505), whose title derives from Song of Songs 4:8. This work, devoted to the championship of the Maimonidean 13 articles of belief against the attacks of Hasdai Crescas and Joseph Albo, ends with the statement that Maimonides compiled these articles merely in accordance with the fashion of other nations, which set up axioms or fundamental principles for their science. However, he holds that Judaism has nothing in common with human science; that the teachings of the Torah are revelations from God, and therefore are all of equal value; that among them are neither principles nor corollaries from principles.
Abarbanel agrees with and supports some of Maimonides' ideas; however he assails Maimonides' conception that the prophetic visions were the creations of imagination. Abarbanel will not hear of this explanation, even for the bat kol of the Talmud, which, according to him, was an actual voice made audible by God — a miracle, in fact.
Abarbanel felt deeply the hopelessness and despair which possessed Spanish Jews in the years following their expulsion from Spain, and set himself, therefore, to champion and strengthen their Messianic belief. With this aim he wrote the following three works:
These three books are considered the separate parts of a larger work entitled "Migdal Yeshu'ot" ("Tower of Salvation" מגדל ישועות ).
The first work is in the form of a commentary upon Daniel, in which he controverts both the Christian exposition of and the Jewish rationalistic approach to this book. Curiously enough, in opposition to the Talmud and all later rabbinical tradition, he counts Daniel among the prophets, coinciding therein—but therein only—with the current Christian interpretation. He is impelled to this by the fact that Daniel furnishes the foundation for his Messianic theory. The remainder of his commentary is devoted to an exhaustive and caustic criticism of the Christian exposition.
The second work is probably unique in being an exposition of the doctrine concerning the Messiah according to the traditional testimony of Talmud and Midrash. His third apologetic work contains a collection of Messianic passages of the Bible and their interpretations, in the course of which Abarbanel criticizes the Christian interpretation of these passages.
Other works by Abarbanel include:
Ironically, according to David Brion Davis, a Yale historian who specializes in slavery, Abarbanel played a pivotal role in providing the conceptual basis for black slavery: "[...] the great Jewish philosopher and statesman Isaac ben Abrabanel, having seen many black slaves both in his native Portugal and in Spain, merged Aristotle's theory of natural slaves with the belief that the biblical Noah had cursed and condemned to slavery both his son Ham and his young grandson Canaan. Abravenel concluded that the servitude of animalistic black Africans should be perpetual."
Schorsch and other scholars, such as David M. Goldenberg, point out Abarbanel's comments on the Book of Amos as indicating very humanistic sentiments: "[Abarbanel] responded with unconcealed anger to the comment of a tenth-century Karaite from Jerusalem, Yefet b. Ali, on the issue of Black [promiscuity]. Yefet had interpreted a biblical verse (Amos 9:7) to refer to Black women as being 'promiscuous and therefore no one knows who his father is.' Abrabanel: 'I don't know who told Yefet this practice of promiscuity among Black women, which he mentions. But in the country of my birth [Portugal] I have seen many of these people and their women are loyal to their husbands unless they are prisoners and captive to their enemies. They are just like any other people.'" Schorsch argues that concerning Abarbanel's views about the connection between slavery and the curse of Ham, Abarbanel was influenced by the writings of his contemporaries and predecessors, including Christian and Muslim writers, as well as the culture around him, and was hardly considered unique in his views. Abarbanel's commentary on Amos 9:7 and other writings, argues Schorsch, show the complexity of Abarbanel's views of Blacks. "Abarbanel's conflicting passages regarding Blacks were written at different times and addressed different realms of discourse, the one abstract myth, the other actual living Blacks." Schorsch shows how contemporary travel books described Ethiopians as barbarians, stealing each other's children to sell to Muslim foreigners. "Hence, the many statements that Ethiopians engaged in relations... with their siblings or parents. In this view, families, a cultured product, would not have been known to primitives who lived like animals. Yet Abarbanel dismissed all these derogatory notions when defending the behavior of actual Blacks living in Portugal."
The widely circulating Abarbanel's response to the Alhambra Decree is a literary invention in a fictional work The Alhambra Decree by David Raphael; it bears no relation to Abarbanel's actual thoughts and ideas.
Aaron of Canterbury was an English rabbi and halakhic exegete, mentioned in Minhat Yehudah ("The Offering of Judah") by Judah ben Eliezer on Deuteronomy xxvi.2, in association with Rashi and Rabbi Jacob of Orleans, and thus, seemingly, of the twelfth century. But a passage in the Close Roll of 1242 refers the decision in a divorce case to three "magistri," Mosse of London, Aaron of Canterbury, and Jacob of Oxford, and makes it probable that the Aaron mentioned in "Minhat Yehudah" was of the thirteenth century and acted as an ecclesiastical assessor, or dayyan, in London about 1242. If so, his name was Aaron fil (son of) Samson.Aaron of York
Aaron of York or Aaron fil Josce was a Jewish financier and chief rabbi of England. He was born in York before 1190 and died after 1253. He was probably the son of Josce of York, the leading figure in the York pogrom of 1190.Abraham of Montpellier
Abraham ben Yitzchak of Montpellier, also known as Avraham min haHar (lit. "Abraham from the mountain") (d. 1315) is known as a commentator on the greater part of the Talmud. He lived in mountain city of Montpellier, in the Provence section of France. Towards the end of his life he moved to Carpentras and became a member of the Beth Din of Rabbi Mordechai ben Josepha, (author of Shaarei Nedarim).
He was a contemporary and friend of Menachem Meiri. Both are known to have been followers to the Maimonidean approach to halacha, often explaining Talmudic passages according to the halachic conclusions codified by Maimonides.Chananel ben Chushiel
Chananel ben Chushiel or Ḥananel ben Ḥushiel (Hebrew: חננאל בן חושיאל), an 11th-century Kairouanan rabbi and Talmudist, was a student of one of the last Geonim. He is best known for his commentary on the Talmud. Chananel is often referred to as Rabbeinu Chananel - Hebrew for "our teacher, Chananel" (in Hebrew, רבנו חננאל, or abbreviated, ר"ח).Elias of London
Elias of London also known as Elijah ben Moses or Elias le Evesque, was Presbyter Judaeorum in 13th-century England.Hagin Deulacres
Hagin fil Deulacres (Hebrew: חַיִּים בֵּן גְּדַלְיָה דֵּילַקְרִיס, Ḥayyim Gedalyah Deulacres) was a 13th-century rabbi who served as the last Presbyter Judaeorum of England prior to the Edict of Expulsion of 1290. A Jew from London, Hagin was appointed to the position on 15 May 1281, through the intercession of Queen Eleanor of Provence. His is not mentioned among the Jewish deportees, and is therefore presumed to have died before the Expulsion.
According to Adolf Neubauer, Hagin may have translated into French Abraham ibn Ezra's astrological work Reshit ḥokhma ('The Beginning of Wisdom') in 1273, as well as the Image du monde of Gautier de Metz.Hasdai Crescas
Hasdai ben Abraham Crescas (Catalan: [həzˈðaj ˈβeɲ ʒuˈða ˈkɾeskəs]; Hebrew: חסדאי קרשקש; c. 1340 in Barcelona, Catalonia – 1410/11 in Zaragoza, Aragon) was a Catalan-Jewish philosopher and a renowned halakhist (teacher of Jewish law). Along with Maimonides ("Rambam"), Gersonides ("Ralbag"), and Joseph Albo, he is known as one of the major practitioners of the rationalist approach to Jewish philosophy.Hillel ben Eliakim
Hillel ben Eliakim, known in Hebrew to Talmud scholars as Rabbeinu Hillel, ("Our Rabbi Hillel"), was a Greek rabbi and Talmud scholar. He lived during the 11th century and 12th century.
In his writings he mentions the name of his city, סלווידי. Some believe this refers to Silivri, others that it is a distortion of Saloniki, and other opinions exist too.
He was a pupil of Rashi, and is mentioned by Mordecai ben Hillel.
Hillel wrote the commentary Sifre ve Sifra Perush Rabbenu to Midrash, being a commentary on Sifrei and Sifra. In Sifra he often quotes Rashi and Isaac ben Melchizedek.Isaac b. Judah
For the 11th century Spanish rabbi with a similar name, see: Isaac ben Judah ibn Ghayyat.
For the 12th century Tosafist rabbi with a similar name, see: Judah ben Isaac Messer Leon.
For the 13th century rabbi with a similar name, see: Isaac b. Judah ha-Levi (author of "Pa'aneah Raza").
For the 15th century Portuguese rabbi and Jewish leader with a similar name, see: Isaac Abarbanel (also known as Isaac ben Judah Abarbanel).Rav Isaac son of Rav Judah (Hebrew: רב יצחק בריה דרב יהודה) was a Babylonian rabbi who lived in the 4th century (fourth generation of amoraim).Isaac ben Dorbolo
Isaac ben Dorbolo was a rabbi, about 1150.
He traveled much, and knew Poland, Russia, Bohemia, France, and Germany from his own observations. Some time after 1140 he visited Rabbeinu Tam in Ramerupt.
In Worms, where he remained for some time, he reports having seen a responsum from the rabbis of Palestine in answer to a question addressed to them in 960 (at the time of Emperor Otto I) by the Rhenish rabbis concerning the reported appearance of the Messiah. Though this responsum is mentioned in different sources, its historical character has been questioned.Several additions to the Maḥzor Vitry are in the name of Isaac Dorbolo; he is not the compiler of the Maḥzor, as Charles Taylor supposes. They are indicated either by the author's full name or by a simple ת (= Tosefet). According to Leopold Zunz, Isaac's father is identical with the correspondent of Rashi and the martyr of the First Crusade of the same name; but this is chronologically impossible. Rapoport wrongly connected Isaac with Rabbi Isaac of Ourville, author of the lost Sefer ha-Menahel; and Solomon Marcus Schiller-Szinessy, with Isaac of Russia.
Isaac is also mentioned in the Sefer Asufot, in Shibbolei haLeket, and in Kol Bo.Isaiah di Trani the Younger
Isaiah ben Elijah di Trani (the Younger) (Hebrew: ישעיה בן אליהו דטראני) was an Italian Talmudist and commentator who lived in the 13th century and 14th century. He was the grandson, on his mother's side, of Isaiah (ben Mali) di Trani the Elder. He is usually quoted as ריא"ז (= "R. Isaiah Aḥaron, ז"ל"), or (ריב"א = "R. Isaiah ben Elijah").Israel Bruna
Israel Bruna (ישראל ברונא; 1480–1400) was a German rabbi and Posek (decisor on Jewish Law). He is also known as Mahari Bruna, the Hebrew acronym for "Our Teacher, the Rabbi, Israel Bruna". Rabbi Bruna is best known as one of the primary Ashkenazi authorities quoted by Moses Isserles in the Shulkhan Arukh.Jacob ben Judah Landau
Jacob ben Judah Landau (died 1493) (Hebrew: יעקב ברוך בן יהודה לנדא) was a German-Italian rabbi and halakhic codifier.Jacob of Orléans
Jacob of Orléans (died September 3, 1189) was a noted Jewish scholar. Jacob was a tosafist in Orléans, France, who studied under Rabbenu Tam. He remained in Orléans until at least 1171, leaving at a later date to go to London, most likely to become a teacher. Jacob was killed during the antisemitic riots that swept through London during the coronation of King Richard I.Josce of London
Josce of London was an English Jew and the Presbyter Judaeorum, or Chief Rabbi, of the Jews of England from 1217 to 1237.
Josce succeeded Jacob of London as Chief Rabbi on his death in 1217. This would imply that Josce was very wealthy, as only the wealthiest of the Jews obtained this position. In 1237 Josce was succeeded by Aaron of York, the Jewish financier and probable son of Josce of York.He may have been that Josce of London who was the founder of the earliest college of the University of Paris in 1180.Maimon ben Joseph
Rabbi Maimon ben Joseph (born c.1110) was a Spanish exegete, moralist and dayyan (Hebrew for "judge"). He is best known as the father of Maimonides. His teacher was the respected scholar Joseph ibn Migash. He authored a commentary, in Arabic, on the Pentateuch, and also wrote on Jewish ritual and festival law.Meshullam ben Jacob
Rabbeinu Meshullam son of Jacob (or Meshullam HaKohen ben Ya'akov) also known as Rabbeinu Meshullam hagodol (Rabbi Meshullem the great) was a Franco-Jewish Talmudist of the twelfth century CE. He had a Talmudic Yeshiva in Lunel which produced several famous men, and was an intimate friend of Abraham ben Isaac, Av beth din of Narbonne, who addressed to him several responsa, and spoke of him in high terms. His Talmudic decisions are quoted in Sefer ha-Terumot.
Rabbeinu Meshullam was interested also in philosophy. According to Rabbeinu Yehudah ibn Tibbon, whom he encouraged to translate Bahya ibn Paquda's Al-Hidayah ila Fara'id al-Qulub into Hebrew (Chovot ha-Levavot or "Duties of the Heart"), he wrote several works dealing with moral philosophy, advised and assisted other Jewish writers, and possessed a large library. Rabbeinu Yehudah Ibn Tibbon is never weary of praising Rabbeinu Meshullam's zeal in investigating the various branches of knowledge.
Rabbeinu Meshullam was the father of the renowned Rabbeinu Asher HaKohen. Among Rabbeinu Meshullam's disciples, are the Ravad and the Baal Hama'or. Rabbeinu Meshullam died in Lunel in 1170.Moses of London
Moses of London (died 1268), was a thirteenth-century English grammarian, halakhist and Jewish scholar in London. His Darkhe ha-Nikkud veha-Neginah is a treatise on Hebrew punctuation and accentuation.He was a descendant of Moses of Bristol, himself a descendant of Rabbi Simeon the Great of Mainz. His sons were the illustrious Elijah Menahem of London (died 1284), who also enjoyed considerable repute as a physician, and Hagin ben Moses.Samson of Chinon
Samson ben Isaac of Chinon (c. 1260 – c. 1330) (Hebrew: שמשון מקינון) was a French Talmudist who lived at Chinon. In Talmudic literature he is generally called after his native place, Chinon (Hebr. קינון), and sometimes by the abbreviation MaHaRShaḲ. He was a contemporary of Perez Kohen Gerondi, who, as reported by Isaac ben Sheshet, declared Samson to be the greatest rabbinical authority of his time (Responsa, No. 157).
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