Cardozo (Cardoso), Abraham Miguel

views updated


CARDOZO (Cardoso), ABRAHAM MIGUEL (1626–1706), an outstanding leader of the Shabbatean movement and brother of Isaac *Cardozo. Cardozo was born in Rio Seco, Spain, to a Marrano family. He studied medicine at the University of Salamanca and, according to his own testimony, two years of Christian theology as well. He lived for a time with his brother in Madrid and in 1648 left Spain and went to Venice. In Leghorn he returned to Judaism and later continued his studies in medicine and acquired considerable rabbinic knowledge, studying under the rabbis of Venice. Apparently, he earned his living as a physician and was trusted also by non-Jews. Even during his stay in Italy he was assailed by religious doubts and immersed himself in theological speculations on the meaning of Jewish monotheism. Most of his stay in Italy was spent in Venice and in Leghorn. About 1659 he started a life of wandering, marked by instability, persecutions, and intensive activity. According to one tradition, he first settled in Tripoli, as the bey's doctor (Merivat Kadesh, 9), but according to his own testimony, he first went to Egypt and lived there for five years, mainly in Cairo, where he started to study Lurianic Kabbalah. In 1663 or 1664 he arrived in Tripoli, and there he began to have revelations through visions and dreams. In Tripoli, Cardozo was respected as the religious leader by many in the community, although he had also many opponents. He stayed there presumably for almost ten years. When information about the appearance of *Shabbetai Ẓevi and *Nathan of Gaza was first received, Cardozo became, from 1665, one of the new "messiah's" most fervent supporters, and initiated widespread propaganda activities on behalf of "the faith." He acted as his prophet. He tells of his many visions of redemption and the messiah. He claimed that opposition to Shabbetai Ẓevi was necessary so that belief in him would become an act of faith. Cardozo refers to Gallipoli, where Shabbetai Ẓevi was emprisoned, as migdalot. He persisted in his belief even after Shabbetai Ẓevi's apostasy, which he justified, although he opposed the apostasy of other Shabbateans. Some of the long letters he wrote in defense of Shabbetai Ẓevi's messianic claims between 1668 and 1707 have been preserved: among them letters addressed to his brother, to his brother-in-law, B. Enriques in Amsterdam, and to the rabbis of Smyrna (J. Sasportas, Ẓiẓat Novel Ẓevi (1954), 361–8; Zion, 19 (1954) and 22 (1957)). Cardozo wrote in 1668 that the Muslim authorities recommended strongly that Ẓevi not be put to death to avoid the emergence of a new religion. The most important of these theological pleas in defense of the messiah's apostasy is Iggeret Magen Avraham (published by G. Scholem in Koveẓ al-Yad, 12 (1938), 121–55). The tract ascribed in one manuscript to Abraham Pereẓ of Salonika, a disciple of Nathan of Gaza, has now been definitely proved to be the work of Cardozo. (An analysis of the treatise is given in G. Scholem's Shabbetai Ẓevi, 2 (1957), 701–7). During those years, Cardozo corresponded with the other leaders of the movement, particularly with Nathan of Gaza, Abraham *Yakhini, and with Shabbetai Ẓevi himself. At the beginning of 1673 he sent Shabbetai Ẓevi his first theological work on his new interpretation of monotheism, Boker Avraham. This work was completed in Tripoli at the end of 1672, and is extant in many manuscripts. Cardozo expounds in it the new doctrine: that a distinction should be made between the first cause, which has no connection with created beings, and the God of Israel who is the God of religion and revelation, whom one must worship by studying the Torah and by fulfilling the mitzvot, although He himself emanates from the first cause.

For more than 30 years Cardozo composed many books, pamphlets, and treatises in support of this paradoxical theology, which aroused stormy controversy. In 1668, when the rabbis of Smyrna accused him of misconduct relating to his observance of mitzvot, the dayyanim of Tripoli defended him in a manifesto confirming his religious integrity (Ms. Hamburg 312). Nevertheless, he was banned from Tripoli at the beginning of 1673 after conducting intensive propaganda in favor of Shabbetai Ẓevi. He stayed in Tunis until 1674, under the protection of the local ruler, whom he served as personal physician. At that time he was in close contact with rabbis and Shabbateans in Morocco. Letters of excommunication, issued by the rabbis of Venice and Smyrna, followed him to Tunis as well. In the autumn of 1674 he arrived in Leghorn, where in 1675 Pinheiro told him about Shabbetai Ẓevi's circle of disciples in Smyrna in 1650. In Leghorn the community council demanded his isolation from the community and at the end of May 1675 he left for Smyrna. In spite of this he maintained a close relationship with the Shabbatean group in Leghorn, led by Moses Pinheiro. In Smyrna, Cardozo found many Shabbateans and had many disciples among them. The foremost among those was the famous preacher and author Elijah ha-Kohen ha-Itamari, then a young man, and the ḥazzanDaniel *Bonafoux. His group evolved a sectarian life marked by numerous visions and revelations in which a *maggid confirmed Cardozo's Shabbatean and general theological theories. The rabbis of Smyrna were apparently powerless in the face of Cardozo's influence and their continued persecution did not achieve his expulsion from Smyrna until the spring of 1681. During these years, Cardozo started calling himself "Messiah ben Joseph." He also made this claim in some of his books, although in his later days he retracted it, and even denied having ever made such a claim. From Smyrna he traveled to Brusa, where he stayed a fortnight and where the town's scholars became his followers. He proceeded to Constantinople. Cardozo claims that during his stay in Rodosto, on the Sea of Marmara whither he had removed from Constantinople, he received letters from Shabbatai Ẓevi's widow, proposing to marry him as "leader of the believers" and that he also met her. It was a time of profound religious ferment among the Shabbateans and Cardozo prophesied with strong conviction that redemption would come on Passover, 1682. After this prophecy came to naught, Cardozo was forced to leave Constantinople in disgrace and settled for four years in Gallipoli. During that period, mass apostasy occurred in Salonika, occasioning the birth of the *Doenmeh sect. Cardozo opposed this sect and polemicized against it in some of his writings (Zion, 7 (1942), 14–20). Strangely enough, this fact notwithstanding, the Doenmeh literature, both in its homilies and in its poetry, is full of praises of Cardozo and refers to him as to an authority. In those years, Cardozo began to dissent also from the new kabbalistic and Shabbatean system of Nathan of Gaza, pitting against it his own system regarding the true nature of God which, according to him, was understood correctly only by Shabbetai Ẓevi and himself. He calls this secret teaching Sod ha-Elohut ("Secret of Divinity"). During the same period, he first visited Adrianople. In 1686 Cardozo returned to Constantinople, where he lived until 1696, under the protection of some eminent Christian diplomats despite the hostility of the town's rabbis, who persecuted him and his disciples. During Cardozo's stay in Smyrna and Constantinople, he was beset by many personal misfortunes and almost all of his children died of plague. His opponents accused him of maintaining illicit relations with various women and of fathering illegitimate children. Apparently, he was forced to leave Constantinople when his relationships with those consuls who gave him protection deteriorated. He then stayed for a long time in Rodosto where he obtained the short tract Raza de-Meheimanuta ("The Mystery of Faith"), which was dictated by Shabbetai Ẓevi at the end of his life to one of the learned Shabbateans, who in turn passed the text to Cardozo's disciples in Constantinople. This treatise, which Cardozo viewed as strong support for his own new kabbalistic system, figured prominently in most of his later writings. From Rodosto, Cardozo tried to move to Adrianople, but failed, because of the opposition of Samuel *Primo, who caused his expulsion from the town after three months. During this visit some stormy discussions were held between Cardozo and Primo and his followers. There are conflicting statements about the date of this visit in Cardozo's writings. He returned to Rodosto and then he traveled to the island of Chios, and later, from 1698 or 1699 on, spent a few years in Candia, Crete. For several years, Cardozo corresponded with Polish Shabbatean leaders, such as the prophet Heshel *Ẓoref, and commented also on the immigration to Ereẓ Israel in 1700 of *Judah Ḥasid and Ḥayyim *Malakh and their group. Cardozo was aware of the Shabbatean character of this immigration, but the opposition of Ḥayyim Malakh's disciples to his system displeased him. In Candia, Cardozo wrote some documents of specific autobiographical import, such as the homily Ani ha-Mekhunneh published by C. Bernheimer, and the letters published by I.R. Molcho and S. Amarillo.

His attempt to return to Constantinople failed. Cardozo was party to the belief that Shabbetai Ẓevi would reappear and be revealed again 40 years after his apostasy, in 1706, and he therefore tried to settle in Ereẓ Israel. He went to Jaffa (c. 1703), but the spiritual leaders of both Jerusalem and Safed did not allow him a place in their communities. According to the testimony of Abraham Yiẓḥaki (Jacob Emden, Toratha-Kena'ot, 66), Cardozo met Nehemiah *Ḥayon, who lived at the time in Safed. Cardozo continued to Alexandria, and stayed there for about three years. He was killed by his nephew during a family quarrel.

Among the Shabbatean leaders in the last third of the 17th century, Cardozo stands out in his originality and eloquence of thought. His character was erratic, and although the main threads of his thought have coherence and consistency, his writings show many contradictions and inconsistencies regarding details. A flair for visions and all sorts of secret rituals is combined with a remarkably profound preoccupation with theological thought. His literary work alternates between these extremes. In addition to numerous letters, almost all of them concerning the messianic doctrine and claims of Shabbatai Ẓevi (two of which were in Spanish; Oxford Ms. 2481) and some about his own life, he wrote many derushim ("enquiries") which are not homilies but theological studies, wherein he developed his system of theology, based on a certain gnostic dualism with a reversal of evaluation. Whereas the second century Gnostics considered the Hidden God as the true God, and disparaged the worth of the Demiurge or Creator (Yoẓer Bereshit), i.e., the God of Israel, Cardozo disparages the value of the hidden First Cause and places supreme the positive religious significance of the God of Israel as the God of Revelation. His writings abound with anti-Christian polemic. He viewed the doctrine of the Trinity as a distortion of the true kabbalistic doctrine. His anti-Christian polemic is based on sound knowledge of Catholic dogma. He also attacked the doctrine of the Incarnation of the Messiah, which was accepted by the extreme Shabbatean groups. In practice, Cardozo adhered to the rabbinic tradition and opposed religious antinomianism. Nevertheless, his opponents interpreted his system as clearly in conflict with the fundamental tenets of traditional Jewish theology, even in its kabbalistic form. His books were prohibited from being printed and were even burnt in some places, e.g., in Smyrna and in Adrianople. An attempt made by one of his disciples, Elijah Taragon, to publish Cardozo's main book Boker Avraham, in Amsterdam, shortly after Cardozo's death, failed because of the intervention of the rabbis of Smyrna. On the other hand, many copies of his writings were circulated and over 30 manuscripts containing compilations of his derushim are extant. He had influential disciples and admirers even in countries he never visited, such as Morocco, and England. He corresponded with many of his followers, including some in Jerusalem, between 1680 and 1703.

Among his theological works, mention should be made of the large collection of writings (Adler Ms. 1653) in New York, the major work Sod Adonai li-Yre'av consisting of 24 chapters (Institute Ben-Zvi, Ms. 2269), and Raza de-Razin (Ms. Deinard 351 in n.y.) written against Samuel Primo. In this book, he mentioned that he wrote 60 derushim. Excerpts from his writings, as well as complete treatises, were published by A. Jellinek ("Derush ha-Ketav" in the Bet ha-Midrash of A.H. Weiss, 1865); Bernheimer (jqr, 18 (1927/28), 97–127); G. Scholem (Abhandlungen zur Erinnerung an H.P. Chajes (Vienna, 1933), 324–50; Zion, 7 (1942), 12–28; and Sefunot, 3–4 (1960), 245–300); and I.R. Molcho and S.A. Amarillo (ibid., 183–241).

Shortly after Cardozo's death, one of his opponents Elijah Cohen of Constantinople (not to be confused with the famous rabbi of that name in Smyrna) wrote a hostile biography of Cardozo, Merivat Kadesh, which contains many important documents (published in Inyenei Shabbetai Ẓevi (1912), 1–40).


Graetz, Gesch, 10 (18973), 4; G. Scholem, Judaica (Ger., 1963), 119–46. add. bibliography: G. Scholem, Sabbatai Sevi (1973), index.

[Gershom Scholem]

About this article

Cardozo (Cardoso), Abraham Miguel

Updated About content Print Article