Aboab da Fonseca, Isaac

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ABOAB DA FONSECA, ISAAC (1605–1693), Dutch Sephardi rabbi. Aboab was born in Castro Daire, Portugal, of a Marrano family, as Simao da Fonseca, son of Alvaro da Fonseca alias David Aboab. He was brought as a child to St. Jean de Luz in France and then to Amsterdam, where he was given a Jewish upbringing; he was considered the outstanding pupil of R. Isaac *Uzziel. At the age of 21, Aboab was appointed ḥakham of the congregation Bet Israel. After the three Sephardi congregations in Amsterdam amalgamated in 1639, he was retained by the united community as senior assistant to R. Saul Levi *Morteira. In 1641, following the Dutch conquests in *Brazil, Aboab joined the Amsterdam Jews who established a community at *Recife (Pernambuco) as their ḥakham, thus becoming the first American rabbi. He continued for 13 years as the spiritual mainstay of the community. After the repulse of the Portuguese attack on the city in 1646, Aboab composed a thanksgiving narrative hymn describing the past sufferings, Zekher Asiti le-Nifla'ot El ("I made record of the mighty deeds of God"), the first known Hebrew composition in the New World that has been preserved. He also wrote here his Hebrew grammar, Melekhet ha-Dikduk, still unpublished, and a treatise on the Thirteen Articles of Faith, now untraceable. After the Portuguese victory in 1654, Aboab and other Jews returned to Amsterdam. Morteira having recently died, Aboab was appointed ḥakham as well as teacher in the talmud torah, principal of the yeshivah, and member of the bet din; in this capacity he was one of the signatories of the ban of excommunication issued against *Spinoza in 1656. Aboab became celebrated as a preacher, and some of his sermons and eulogies have been published. The Jesuit Antonio de Vieira, comparing him with his contemporary *Manasseh b. Israel, observed that Aboab knew what he said whereas the other said what he knew. It was a pulpit address delivered by Aboab in 1671 which prompted the construction of the magnificent synagogue of the Sephardi community in Amsterdam; he preached the first sermon in the new building on its dedication four years later. Along with most of the Amsterdam community, Aboab was an ardent supporter of *Shabbetai Ẓevi, and was one of the signatories of a letter of allegiance addressed to him in 1666; he also published Viddui ("Confession of Sins," Amsterdam, 1666). Aboab translated from Spanish into Hebrew the works of the kabbalist Abraham Cohen de *Herrera, Beit Elohim and Sha'ar ha-Shamayim (Amsterdam, 1655). His novellae on tractate Kiddushin and a work on reward and punishment entitled Nishmat Ḥayyim have not been published. His most ambitious production was a rendering of the Pentateuch in Spanish together with a commentary (Parafrasis Commentada sobre el Pentateucho, Amsterdam, 1688). Aboab died at the age of 88 on April 4, 1693. The bereavement of their spiritual guide was so keenly felt by Amsterdam Jewry that for many years the name of Aboab and the date of his death were incorporated in the engraved border of all marriage contracts issued by the community. The breadth of Aboab's interests in non-Hebrew as well as Hebrew literature is illustrated in the sale catalogue of his library which appeared shortly after his death, one of the earliest known in Hebrew bibliography.


Kayserling, Bibl, 4–5; idem, in: ajhsp, 5 (1897), 125 ff.; I. Tishby (ed.), Sefer Ẓiẓat Novel Ẓevi (1954), index; Scholem, Shabbetai Ẓevi, index; A. Wiznitzer, Jews in Colonial Brazil (1960), index, s.v.Fonseca, Isaac Aboab da; idem, Records of the Earliest Jewish Community in the New World (1954), index; I.S. Emmanuel, in: aja, 7 (1955), 24 ff.; Silva Rosa, in: Centraalblad voor Israelieten in Nederland, 29 (1913); M. Narkiss, in: ks, 15 (1938/39), 489–90; A. Marx, Studies in Jewish History and Booklore (1944), 209–11; C. Roth, Life of Menasseh ben Israel (1934), index.

[Cecil Roth]