Morteira, Saul Levi

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MORTEIRA, SAUL LEVI (c. 1596–1660), rabbi and scholar in Amsterdam. Morteira was born in Venice and studied there under Leone *Modena. In 1611 he accompanied the physician Elijah Montalto to Paris, and on the latter's death in 1616 brought his body for burial to Amsterdam, where he himself subsequently settled. A few years after his arrival he was elected ḥakham of the Beit Ya'akov community. When three Sephardi communities merged to form the Talmud Torah congregation in 1638, Morteira was appointed one of its rabbis, taught Talmud and tosafot to advanced students, and preached in the synagogue three times a month. He founded the Keter Torah Yeshivah in Amsterdam and Baruch *Spinoza was among his students. Morteira was a member of the bet din that excommunicated Spinoza.

Morteira's works include Givat Sha'ul (Amsterdam, 1645), a collection of sermons arranged in the order of the weekly portions of the reading of the Law, and a work (no longer extant) on the immortality of the soul, both written in Hebrew. Only fragments of his responsa, mentioned in the introduction to his sermons, have survived. In addition, he wrote a number of apologetics for Judaism in Spanish; among them, La Eternidad de la Ley de Mosseh ("The Eternal Nature of the Law of Moses"); Preguntas que hizo un clériqo de Roan alas quales respondí ("Questions of a Priest from Rouen and My Answers to Them"); Obstáculos y oposiciones contra la religión cristiana ("Criticisms and Arguments Against the Christian Religion"); and a treatise against the 16th-century Italian apostate, *Sixtus of Siena. Also preserved in many copies is his Providencia de Dios con Ysrael ("The Providence of God with Israel") which contains an account of the vicissitudes of the founders of the New Amsterdam (New York) community on their escape from Brazil. None of these works was printed. Morteira's Discursos Académicos is printed in Reuel *Jusurun's Dialogo dos Montes (completed 1624; published in Amsterdam, 1767). His apologetic works circulated widely in manuscript and had a profound influence on the Sephardi communities in Western Europe.


Kayserling, Bibl, 74–75; Steinschneider, Cat Bod, 2508–09; J.S. da Silva Rosa, Gescheidenis der Portugeesche Joden te Amsterdam (1925), index; C. Roth, Life of Manasseh Ben Israel (1934), index; F. Kupfer, in: Przeglad Orientalistyczny (1955), 97–99; A. Wiznitzer, in: hj 20 (1958), 110ff.; I.S. Revah, Spinoza et Juan de Prado (1959), index.

[Joseph Kaplan]