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About Isaac Abravanel, I
The Jewish philosopher and statesman Isaac ben Judah Abravanel (1437-1508), or Abarbanel, is noted for his biblical commentaries and for his attempt to prevent the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492.
Isaac Abravanel, a descendant of an old and distinguished Spanish family, was born in Lisbon, Portugal. In addition to intensive religious training, he received a broad liberal education and acquired a thorough grounding in Greek, Latin, and Christian literature. Like his father, Isaac was highly successful in both his commercial and diplomatic careers.
He served as treasurer under the Portuguese kings Alfonso V and John II. Falsely charged with plotting against the monarchy, Abravanel fled in 1483 to Castile, Spain. There he devoted himself to his commentary on several biblical books of the prophets.
In 1490 Abravanel was appointed treasurer to the Spanish monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella. But in 1492 Torquemada, the head of the Spanish Inquisition, persuaded the royal couple to expel the Jews from Spain. Despite Abravanel's important services to the Crown, his attempts to have the decree of expulsion revoked were unsuccessful.
He went into exile with his fellow Jews and moved to Naples, where he was soon given a financial post in the government. In 1495 a French invasion forced him to leave Naples. After some years of intermittent wandering, he settled in Venice in 1503. He died there in 1508 and was buried in Padua.
Abravanel's most important works are the commentaries which he wrote on almost all the books of the Old Testament. He employed what might be termed a critical or scientific approach in his biblical studies. He examined the historical episodes in the Bible in the light of economic, political, and social factors and often drew analogies to his own times. In dating biblical books, he often deviated from tradition, and he did not hesitate to consult the works of Christian scholars.
Abravanel also wrote a number of philosophical and theological works.
His Rosh Amana (Pillars of Faith) and
Sefer Mifalot Elohim (Book of God's Works) show the influence of the 12th-century Jewish philosopher Maimonides.
In general Abravanel developed a negative view of culture and civilization. He was influenced by the Stoics in his condemnation of luxurious living and by the Cynics in his criticism of the political state. His pessimism was balanced, however, by a firm belief in the miraculous coming of the Messiah, which he expounded in Maayene Hayeshuah (Founts of Salvation), Yeshuath Meshiho (Salvation of His Messiah), and Mashmia Yeshua (Proclaimer of Salvation). These works contributed to the subsequent rise of false messiahs.
Abrabanel was a financial advisor to King Alfonso V of Portugal, although he was forced to leave the country because of charges that he participated in a conspiracy against Alfonso's successor, Joao II. Thereupon, he settled in Castille and became a diplomat and advisor in the court of Ferdinand and Isabella. Here he attempted to hinder the decree expelling the Jews, although without success. As the most influential leader of the exiles, he first settled in Naples and later in Venice.
His writings include detailed, comprehensive commentaries on most books in the Hebrew Bible as well as a Messianic Trilogy in which he proposed that the distress of his time symbolized the imminence of the Messianic redemption whose realization he expected even in his lifetime. Influenced by the humanism of the Renaissance, he maintained contact with contemporary Christian scholars and often applied their views in his commentaries, some of which were translated into Latin and had a degree of influence in Italy. His fundamental attitude was rationalist, but he insisted that religious tradition is the ultimate source of truth. His son Judah was also a philosopher.
A.J. Heschel, Don Jizchak Abravanel, 1937
J.S. Minkin, Abravanel and the Expulsion of the Jews from Spain, 1938
B. Netanyahu, Don Isaac Abravanel, 1968.
The major scholarly work on Abravanel is B. Netanyahu, Don Isaac Abravanel: Statesman and Philosopher (1953), which contains an extensive bibliography.
Much has been said about the alleged loss of the knowledge of the family of David. But it would seem that there are many now living who actually claim a descent from the King of Israel, and whose claim is actually acknowledged. We had for some time past intended to copy the following piece from the conversion organ of London, but our space wouldnot permit us.
At present, however, we have unexpectedly more room than we thought we should have, and therefore lay the extract before our readers as a curious memorandum, which they may rely on with the more certainty, as it met our eye for the first time in a magazine which bears in every page the amplest testimony of its hatred of our religion, and is supported by funds contributed to effect the apostacy of our nation. “Let our enemies be judges,” says the Bible, and we may freely repeat it; for, even then we have nothing to fear.—Ed. Oc.
(From the Jewish Intelligence of Nov. 1849.) The family of Abarbanel, the celebrated Jewish commentator, is remarkable for having carefully preserved its pedigree, according to which they trace their descent from king David. Hence, in all the documents and books of Abarbanel and his family, they have ever added to their signature: מגזע דוד מלך ישראל (from the stem of David, king of Israel).
Don Isaac Abarbanello, whose family had long lived in Spain, and who was permitted by authority to have a lion in his crest, was expelled from that country with the rest of the Jews, under Ferdinand the Catholic, in 1492.
The Abarbanel family settled finally in the East, where strangers from Christian countries were then called “Franks,” and when many years afterwards the Abarbanel family left the East, and settled in Vienna, they were still designated “Franks,” with the peculiar Austrian provincial diminutive “el,” and the family has ever since retained the name “Frankel.”
The accomplishments and intelligence for which the Abarbanel (Frankel) family was ever renowned, soon distinguished them also in Austria, both in a pecuniary and intellectual point of view. Nevertheless, they were not exempted from the hard fate which the Jews met with under Leopold, in being, on February 14th, 1670, expelled from the Austrian dominions, under pain of death. (See “Jewish Intelligence” for December, 1845.)
The family Frankel united with some others of their expelled brethren, in presenting a petition to the resident minister of the elector of Brandenburg, Andreas Neumann, begging that he would intercede with his royal master, in order to obtain permission for some of them to settle in his dominions.
In this petition they complained that though God had created the earth for all men, yet the countries were everywhere closed against them, so that they knew not whither to turn their steps. The poverty and very great depopulation occasioned in the marquisate of Brandenburg, by the Thirty Years’ War, induced the elector to grant their request. The elector instructed his plenipotentiary, under the date of April 19th, 1670, that he had no objection to allow forty or fifty families to settle in his dominions. On the 21st of May an edict was issued, which gave them permission to settle in the country, and carry on their mode of worship in private houses, but not in public synagogues.
As a characteristic of the times, it may be noticed that in the special charter, which was granted to various families, there are these restrictive clauses: “that they are to abstain from usury, and not to take more interest than three pence a week for one dollar (360 pence); to abstain from purchasing stolen goods, and blaspheming Christ;” with a few other similar clauses, all calculated to demoralize the Jews.
Some of the members of the Frankel family settled in Berlin, others in Frankfurt-on-the-Oder, and others in Dessau,—in which latter place they founded the congregation which flourished so abundantly in after times. <<54>> The family became the founders of very important printing offices for Jewish literature, in Berlin, Frankfurt, Jessnitz, and Dessau, whence proceeded the Talmud in three complete editions (in Berlin), and also the Pentateuch in various editions, as well as the works of Maimonides (in Jessnitz), his מורה נבוכים, as well as a complete edition of the Jerusalem Talmud, and its excellent commentary, קרבן עדת, by the grandfather of Mr. F., now living at Dessau, 75 years of age. All these works are celebrated for their clearness and correctness, and often quoted by Christian writers.
The commentator on the Jerusalem Talmud, just referred to, was afterwards Chief Rabbi in Berlin, and was followed thither by the juvenile Moses, son of Mendel, for the privilege of studying under so great a rabbi the Talmud and other Jewish literature. This pupil was Moses Mendelssohn, afterwards the celebrated modern reformer of the Jews. -----------------------------------------
He was born in Lisbon, Portugal into one of the oldest and most distinguished Jewish Iberian families, the Abravanel family, who had escaped persecution in Spain during 1391.
A student of the Rabbi of Lisbon, Joseph Chaim a/k/a Yosef ben Shlomo Ibn Yahya, poet, religious scholar, rebuilder of Ibn Yahya Synagogue of Calatayud (a descendant of Hiyya al-Daudi who was great-grandson of Hezekiah Gaon), he became well versed in rabbinic literature and in the learning of his time, devoting his early years to the study of Jewish philosophy.
Abravanel 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.
Other works are:
* "The Crown of the Ancients"
* "The Pinnacle of Faith"
* "The Wellsprings of Redemption", in the form of a commentary on Daniel,
* "The Salvation of His Anointed"
* "The Herald of Salvation", in which are collected and explained all the Messianic texts.
* "Inheritance of the Fathers"
* "The Forms of the Elements"
* "New Heavens"
* "Deeds of God"
Don Isaac Abarbanel דון יצחק אברבנאל's Timeline
October 3, 1508