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Nieto, David


NIETO, DAVID (1654–1728), philosopher and haham of the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue in London (1701–28). Having studied medicine at the University of Padua, Nieto functioned as dayyan, preacher, and physician in Leghorn before going to London. He was proficient in languages and an astronomer of some repute. His calendar (1717) served the London community until the 19th century as a guide for the Sabbath and festivals. His works indicate that he was fully aware of the religious currents and crosscurrents of his time, including *Spinozism, Deism (see conceptions of *God), and Shabbateanism. Matteh Dan (1714), his magnum opus, devoted to a defense of the Oral Law against the attacks of ex-Marranos to whom the rabbinic tradition was both novel and unacceptable, has frequently been reprinted as a defense of rabbinic Judaism (last edition: Jerusalem, 1958). Esh Dat (1715) was directed against the Shabbatean heresiarch, Nehemiah Ḥiyya Ḥayon. Previously, Nieto had published Pascalogia (1702), dealing with the date of the Christian Easter in relation to that of the Jewish Passover, and De La Divina Providencia (1704). The latter was an elaboration of a sermon Nieto had delivered to combat the deistic notion of a "Nature" apart from God. Nieto identified Nature with God; and, although he made it clear that he had natura naturans, and not natura naturata (see *Spinoza) in mind, he was accused of Spinozistic leanings. Nevertheless, "Ḥakham Ẓevi" Ashkenazi (cf. his responsum no. 18) ruled in his favor. Nieto's Reply to the Archbishop of Cranganor, published posthumously in 1729, controverts the christological interpretation of the Bible. In his writings, Nieto gives evidence of wide reading in science and the humanities. He argues for the compatibility of Judaism and scientific investigations. Nieto is also one of the very few Jewish theologians who used the argument de consensu gentium to establish the dogmas of God's existence and of retribution.


I. Solomons, David Nieto and Some of his Contemporaries (1931); A.M. Hyamson, Sephardim of England (1950), index; J.J. Petuchowski, Theology of Haham David Nieto (1954; 19702); D. Nieto, Ha-Kuzari ha-Sheni (1958), introd. by J.L. Maimon, 5–20, biography by C. Roth, 261–75.

[Jakob J. Petuchowski]

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