Aboab, Immanuel

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ABOAB, IMMANUEL (c. 1555–1628), protagonist of Judaism among the Crypto-Jews. The little that is known about his life is derived from his major work Nomologia, and from his letters to many Crypto-Jews in Western Europe. He was born in Porto into a New Christian family, his father being Henrique Gomes (Isaac Aboab). After his father's death when he was quite young, he was brought up by his grandfather Duarte Dias (Abraham Aboab, son of Isaac *Aboabii "the last gaon of Castile"; see accompanying genealogical tree), who negotiated with the Portuguese authorities for the entrance of the Castilian refugees into the country and was subsequently a victim of the forced conversion of 1497; he mentioned his grandfather quite often. In 1585 Aboab escaped to Italy, where he professed Judaism and studied Hebrew literature. In 1597 he had a religious discussion with an Englishman at Pisa; at the time he was one of the parnasim of the community, where his signature appears on some of the ordinances in 1599; subsequently he was in Reggio Emilia (where he was in contact with the kabbalist Menahem Azariah da *Fano) and Ferrara, where he had a debate with a Christian scholar on the translations of the Bible, claiming that the Hebrew version is the authentic one. He then moved to Spoleto, and later to Venice, where he is said to have delivered a discourse on the loyalty of the Jewish people before Doge Marino Grimani and the Grand Council in 1603. Four years later he was at Corfu, where he appeared on important business before the Venetian commander Orazio del Monte, with whom he later carried on a correspondence on the nature of angels. He probably spent some time in North Africa and Amsterdam. In Venice he became the ḥakham of the Spanish and Portuguese community until his departure to Israel late in life with a party of 36 relatives to join his daughter Gracia, who maintained two academies, in Safed and Jerusalem, and was in charge of the money collected for the support of the scholars. Aboab was a vigorous defender of Judaism, especially among his fellow Marranos who, while skeptical of Christianity, did not appreciate Jewish tradition. In the last years of his life, he wrote a forceful letter to a Marrano friend in France urging him to return to Judaism. The letter was filled with learned arguments and illustrations from history and was used in manuscript by later scholars. His principal work was his Nomologia o Discursos legales, written in Spanish between 1615 and 1625 in Venice, a defense of the validity and divine origin of the Jewish tradition and the Oral Law, published posthumously by his heirs (Amsterdam, 1629; 2nd ed. by I. Lopes, ibid., 1727). The title of the book, Nomologia ("The Theory of the Names") refers to the names of scholars from the days of Moses until his own time. The book was published at the persistent request of Sephardi Jews in Western Europe. Aboab claimed that the Written and Oral Laws were inseparable. Displaying a wide knowledge of Talmud and Kabbalah as well as Latin and secular learning, it includes much valuable historical information, especially about scholars who left Spain and Portugal after the expulsion. In chaper 29 Aboab conducted debates with two such Jews who denied the validity of the rabbinic traditions. His letters sent to Converso or ex-Converso acquaintances are a valuable source of information on the religious, theological, and social problems they encountered in Jewish communities where they settled. Aboab strongly criticized those who returned to the Iberian Peninsula after their difficult experience as Jews. His literary and religious projects were interrupted by his death in Jerusalem.


Loewenstein, in: mgwj, 48 (1904), 666–8; Sonne, in: jqr, 22 (1931/32), 247–93; C. Roth, Venice (1930), 68, 207, 315; idem, in: jqr, 23 (1932/33), 121–62. add. bibliography: M. Orfali, Imanuel Aboab's "Nomologia o discursos legales" (Heb., 1997).

[Cecil Roth /

Yom Tov Assis (2nd ed.)]