Abulafia, Samuel ben Meir Ha-Levi

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ABULAFIA, SAMUEL BEN MEIR HA-LEVI (c. 1320–1361), Spanish financier, communal leader, and philanthropist. Abulafia's generosity provided a number of Jewish communities in Castile with synagogues, including the magnificent one still standing in Toledo (later the Church of El Tránsito) with florid Hebrew inscriptions in his honor. The synagogue was built by his order in 1357. This splendid synagogue was the best illustration of the status of Castilian Jewry in general, and of his prestigious position in particular. He was versatile in the Torah and was known as an observant Jew. At first steward of the estates of the king's tutor Don Juan Alfonso de Albuquerque, Abulafia later became treasurer and adviser of Pedro the Cruel of Castile. Many royal documents are signed by him in Hebrew with his seal, containing a castle, the emblem of Castile. During the revolt of the grandees in 1354 he was one of Pedro's principal supporters. Abulafia did much to reinforce the power of the monarchy in its struggle against the nobility by improving the financial state of the kingdom. He ordered an inquiry into the activities of the tax farmers and appointed in their place reliable persons, who were often his own relatives or other Jews; in addition he confiscated the property of the rebel nobles and amassed considerable wealth in two of the royal fortresses. He also served as a diplomat, being sent in 1358 to Portugal to negotiate a political agreement between the two kingdoms. In 1360 Pedro suddenly ordered Abulafia's arrest, whereupon he was brought to Seville and there tortured to death. His enormous fortune was confiscated, as well as that of his relatives. Samuel's imposing residence in Toledo, which still stands, is today the El Greco museum.


Baer, Urkunden, ii, Nos 187; 171, 205, 223, 180; Neuman, Spain, index; F. Cantera Burgos, Sinagogas Españolas (1955), 56–149; Cantera-Millás, Inscripciones, 336ff., 367–8; C. Roth, in: Sefarad, 8 (1948), 3–22. add. bibliography: P. León Tello, Judíos de Toledo (1979), 1, 137ff.; 2, 1399–44.

[Zvi Avneri]