Rabbi Don Isaac Abarbanel

(1437 - 1508)


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Don Isaac Abarbanel was a Portugese rabbi, scholar, Bible commentor, philosopher, and statesman. He was born into an educated and well-to-do family; his father Judah was state treasurer of Portugal who served the king. Abarbanel received a Jewish education and would later go on to serve the royal family as well.

Abarbanel would often use his wealth to help his fellow Jews in need. When two hundred and fifty Jews were imprisoned in the town of Arzilla in Morocco, Abarbanel gathered people to raise funny to secure their release, donating the most money himself. When they were finaly released, he supported them from his own accounts for two years, giving them time to adjust and make their own way. Abarbanel also used his great influence to help out his fellow Jews in other countries.

Things began to change when John II took the throne in 1481 and began instituting policies that would destroy the nobility. Abarbanel learned that severl high-ranking officers had been beheaded, and that the same fate was in store for him. He took his family and fled to Toledo where he arrived penniless, as the king had confiscated his wealth.

After this Abarbanel divided his time between working at Jewish-owned banking firm and continuing his commentary on the Torah, specifically the books of Joshua, Judges and Samuel. He was interrupted when the new rulers of Spain, Ferdinand and Isabella, summoned him to run the state treasury. The same year that the infamous Torquemada began the Spanish Inquisition, Abarbanel officially became treasuerer to the king and queen. A mass expulsion of Jews would take place two years later.

Abarbanel did everything he could to convince Ferdinand and Isabella to change their minds, including offering them money. Finally on July 30, 1492, Abarbanel joined the rest of the Jewish community in exile. The Spanish Jews arrived at Naples, Italy, where they were welcomed despite threats from Spain. Abarbanel served the king of Naples and his son (Alfonso II) until it was conquered by France in 1495. Abarbanel followed Alfonso into exile in Sicily, and continued to serve until the king's death. After this, Abarbanel suffered bankruptcy and much harship, traveling from one city to another until he arrived in Venice.

The rulers of Venice invited him to the council of state, and Abarbanel became one of the leading statesmen, living in the city until his death in 1508. Abarbanel was so cherished by the people in Vencice that the rulers of the city attended his funeral and it is said that he was deeply missed by all of citzens, Jewish and non-Jewish alike.


Source: Chabad; The Columbia Encyclopedia

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