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Primo, Samuel


PRIMO, SAMUEL (c. 1635–1708), talmudist and Shabbatean leader. Probably born in Cairo, where he studied under Judah Sharaf, Primo later settled in Jerusalem and in 1662 represented the Jewish community there in its quarrel with the heirs of the late David *Habillo, the kabbalist. Primo was considered an outstanding talmudist and kabbalist. Meeting *Shabbetai Ẓevi during his stay in Jerusalem, he joined the first group of fervent "believers" at the outbreak of the messianic movement (1665), and was present at the height of the messianic excitement in Gaza during May and June 1665. Later he left, joining Shabbetai Ẓevi in Constantinople, becoming a member of his most intimate circle. While Shabbetai was imprisoned in the fortress of Gallipoli, Primo served as his "scribe" and secretary and held court for the masses of his followers. It was he who composed the circular letters and pronouncements of the "Messiah," written in a high-flown and majestic style, and received the delegations visiting Shabbetai Ẓevi. In the absence of *Nathan of Gaza, he and Abraham *Yakhini were the outstanding spokesmen for the movement at that time. In a famous letter (summer, 1666) he encouraged messianic terrorism against those who spoke disparagingly of Shabbetai Ẓevi. When catastrophe befell the movement with Shabbetai's apostasy, Primo remained faithful, but refrained from any public display of his belief and participation in Shabbatean activities. He stayed for many years in Sofia, making frequent visits to Shabbetai Ẓevi in Adrianople and later in Dulcigno, and maintaining close contact with Nathan of Gaza and other Shabbatean leaders. Shabbetai Ẓevi initiated him into his later kabbalistic teaching concerning the "mystery of the Godhead." In later years Primo divulged this teaching, under the greatest secrecy, only to those whom he deemed trustworthy. He embraced Shabbetai Ẓevi's theory of divine apotheosis and other teachings of the radical wing, while outwardly returning to his occupation of orthodox talmudic scholar and acquiring a great reputation as such. Sometime after 1680 he moved to Adrianople where, after several years of study on behalf of the community, he became rabbi of the Apulian synagogue and later its av bet din, enjoying the highest esteem until his death. For a long time he suffered from severe rheumatism in his legs, and after a serious illness he added Judah to his name, signing all documents Judah Samuel Primo. He did not join the *Doenmeh sect, strongly opposing every public demonstration of Shabbatean faith, but he is known to have said to confidants that the amoraim did not really understand the secrets of the faith and that in some respects their wisdom was obsolete. When Abraham *Cardozo publicly preached his brand of Shabbatean theology and tried to settle in Adrianople, in 1693 and in 1697, Primo repudiated his teachings and caused him to be expelled. In his last years Cardozo wrote several papers against Primo's secret teachings without, however, suggesting that Primo had abandoned his belief in Shabbetai Ẓevi. Primo's equivocal stand on Shabbateanism resembles that of many of the scholars of his day.

In addition to being an outstanding preacher, Primo wrote many responsa and halakhic decisions, but almost all his writings were destroyed by the great fire in Adrianople in 1704. His son-in-law, R. Moses Kohen, included his remaining responsa in his own collection, Kehunnat Olam (Constantinople, 1740), and Primo's pupil, David ibn Shanji, added his edition of his extant sermons under the title Imrei Shefer to the end of this volume. Summaries of his secret teachings are preserved in several Shabbatean manuscripts (for instance, Ben Zvi Institute 2262). Among his chief pupils and followers were Ḥayyim *Malakh, who stayed with him for two or three years (1694–96), and Ḥayyim *Alfandari originally of Brusa and later one of the leading rabbis of Constantinople, whom, according to Cardozo, Primo believed for some time (between 1696 and 1700 if not earlier) to be the man destined to take Shabbetai Ẓevi's place after his apotheosis. It is not clear how he reconciled the appointment of a possible successor to Shabbetai Ẓevi with his consistent aloofness from Shabbatean activities on other than strictly esoteric levels. Primo died in Adrianople.


G. Scholem, Shabbetai Ẓevi, index; A. Danon, in: rej. 37 (1898), 104–7; Z. Rubaschow (Shazar), Sofero shel Mashi'aḥ (1970 = Ha-Shiloaḥ, 29 (1913), 36–47; Rosanes, Togarmah, 4 (1934–35), 234–9; G. Scholem, in: Abhandlungen… H.P. Chajes (1933), Heb. pt. 330–3; idem, in: Zion, 7 (1942), 20–21; Sefunot, 3–4 (1960), index s.v.; A. Amarillo, ibid., 5 (1961), 270–4 (incl. facsimile of an autograph letter).

[Gershom Scholem]

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