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ABRABANEL, family in Italy. After the expulsion of the Jews from Spain, the three brothers, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph, founders of the Italian family, settled in the kingdom of Naples. The family tree shows the relationships of the Italian Abrabanels. Because of their considerable wealth and capabilities the Abrabanel brothers reached a position of some power both in relation to the Naples authorities and their coreligionists. ISAAC was a financier, philosopher, and exegete; JACOB led the Jewish community in Naples; and JOSEPH dealt in grain and foodstuffs. All three were included among the 200 families exempted by the Spaniards when they expelled the Jews from the kingdom of Naples in 1511. Isaac had three sons, JUDAH (better known as the philosopher Leone Ebreo); JOSEPH, a noted physician who lived first in southern Italy where he treated the famous Spanish general Gonsalvo de Cordoba, then moved to Venice, and later to Ferrara where he died; and SAMUEL, who married his cousin BENVENIDA (See *Abrabanel, Benvenida), a woman of such talent that the Spanish viceroy in Naples, Don Pedro of Toledo, is said to have chosen her to teach his daughter Eleonora. Samuel, who commanded a capital of about 200,000 ducats, was such an able financier that Don Pedro used to seek his advice. When his father-in-law Jacob died, Samuel succeeded him as leader of the Naples community. In 1533, when Don Pedro issued a new edict expelling the Neapolitan Jews, Samuel managed to have the order suspended. However, his efforts were unavailing when the viceroy renewed the edict in 1540, and in the next year all the remaining Jews were compelled to leave the kingdom of Naples. Samuel now moved to Ferrara where he enjoyed the favor of the duke until his death. Benvenida continued her husband's loan-banking business with the support of her pupil Eleonora, now duchess of Tuscany, and extended it to Tuscany. To lighten her burden she took her sons JACOB and JUDAH and ISAAC, Samuel's natural son, into the management of the widespread business. Three years after Samuel's death in 1547, a struggle broke out over the inheritance among the three sons: Jacob and Judah (the recognized sons of Samuel and Benvenida) on the one hand and Isaac (the natural son) on the other. The struggle, which dealt with the legal validity of Samuel's will, involved some of the period's most famous rabbis: R. Meir b. Isaac Katzenellenbogen (Maharam), R. Jacob b. Azriel Diena of Reggio, R. Jacob Israel b. Finzi of Recanati, R. Samuel de Medina, R. Joseph b. David Ibn Lev, and R. Samuel b. Moses Kalai. The conflict was settled apparently by Maharam's arbitration in 1551. One of Benvenida's sons-in-law who became a partner in her business was JACOB, later private banker of Cosimo de' Medici, and his financial representative at Ferrara. Following Jacob's advice, Duke Cosimo invited Jews from the Levant to settle in Tuscany in 1551 to promote trade with the Near East, granting them favorable conditions. Members of the family living in Italy, especially Venice, after this period, Abraham (d. 1618), Joseph (d. 1603), and Veleida (d. 1616), were presumably descended from the Ferrara branch.


Margulies, in: RI, 3 (1906), 97–107, 147–54; N. Ferorelli, Gli Ebrei nell'Italia meridionale (1915), 87–90 and passim; Baer, Spain, 2 (1966), 318, 433, 437; U. Cassuto, Gli Ebrei a Firenze (1918), passim; A. Marx, Studies in Jewish History and Booklore (1944), index; A. Berliner, Luḥot Avanim (1881), index; B. Polacco, in: Annuariodi Studi Ebraici, 3 (1963/64), 53–63. ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: C. Gebhardt, "Regesten zur Lebensgeschichte Leone Ebreo," in: Leone Ebreo (1929), 1–66; V. Bonazzoli, "Gli ebrei del Regno di Napoli all'epoca della loro espulsione," in: Archivio Storico Italiano 502 (1979), 495–559; 508 (1981), 179–287; C. Colafemmina, Documenti per la storia degli ebrei in Puglia nell'Archivio di Stato di Napoli (1990), 206–7, 212, 237, 277–78, 308, 311; H. Tirosh-Rotshschild, Between Worlds: The Life and Thought of Rabbi ben Judah Messer Leon (1991), 24–33, 52–54; D. Malkiel, "Jews and Wills in Renaissance Italy: A Case Study in the Jewish-Christian Cultural Encounter," in: Italia (1996), 7–69; A. Leone Leoni, "Nuove notize sugli Abravanel," in: Zakhor, 1 (1997), 153–206; F. Patroni Griffi, "Documenti inediti sulle attività economiche degli Abravanel in Italia meridionale (1492–1543)," in: Rassegna Mensile di Israel (1997), 27–38; R. Segre, "Sephardic Refugees in Ferrara: Two Notable Families," in: B.R. Gampel (ed.), Crisis and Creativity in the Sephardic World 1391–1648 (1997), 164–85; G. Lacerenza, "Lo spazio dell'Ebreo Insediamenti e cultura ebraica a Napoli (secoli XV–XVI)," in: Integrazione ed Emarginazione (2002), 357–427.

[Attilio Milano /

Cedric Cohen Skalli (2nd ed.)]

Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.