Rovigo, Abraham ben Michael

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ROVIGO, ABRAHAM BEN MICHAEL (c. 1650–1713), Italian kabbalist and Shabbatean. Born in Modena, Rovigo studied in Venice, where he became one of the leading pupils of Moses *Zacuto in Kabbalah and formed a lifelong close friendship with *Benjamin b. Eliezer ha-Kohen Vitale, who shared his inclinations and convictions. Since he belonged to a wealthy family, Rovigo was able to devote himself exclusively to his studies; he became widely known as a supporter of pious enterprises and later also of Shabbatean activities. As a young man, he was swept up in the wave of messianic enthusiasm and retained his belief in the messianic mission of *Shabbetai Ẓevi for many decades, probably until his death. Becoming one of the main supporters of the moderate wing of Shabbateanism, he gathered around him many secret followers of the movement who used to visit him when they were in Italy. Thus he invited to Modena Issacher Behr *Perlhefter and *Mordecai (Mokhi'aḥ) ben Ḥayyim (between 1677 and 1682) and Mordecai Ashkenazi (1695–1702). He corresponded with many of the movement's leaders, beginning as early as 1675 with an enthusiastic letter to *Nathan of Gaza (then in Kastoria), accepting him as a true prophet. As well as collecting information about Shabbetai Ẓevi and others active in the movement and assembling their writings, he encouraged or invited claimants to heavenly revelations. But he kept all these activities a closely guarded secret and cross-examined people carefully before he divulged his Shabbatean convictions. At times in association with his friend Benjamin b. Eliezer ha-Kohen, he prepared to emigrate to Jerusalem, but he was always held up in the final stages. In 1700–01 he spent a whole year seeing through the press the Zoharic commentaries of Mordecai Ashkenazi, in Fuerth, a place that seemed more sympathetic to secret Shabbateans than Mantua or Venice. Finally, in 1702 he traveled to the Holy Land, accompanied by his family and a group of scholars, and founded a yeshivah in Jerusalem, most of whose members were supporters of Shabbateanism. A description of this journey by one of his company has been published by Jacob Mann (see bibl.). Considered a man of great influence and independent means, he was prevailed upon by the rabbis of Jerusalem to serve as an emissary to Europe, first in 1704–07, and a second (and perhaps third) time in 1710–13. He traveled through many countries – Poland, Germany, Holland, and Italy – and died on his last mission while passing through Mantua. Important sections of his extant papers remained unknown to collectors and libraries until the 1920s; these have proved very valuable sources for the history of Shabbateanism.


Moses Zacuto, Iggeret ha-Remaz (Leg-horn, 1780), passim; J. Mann, in: Zion, 6 (1934), 59–84; G. Scholem, Ḥalomotav shel ha-Shabbetai R. Mordekhai Ashkenazi (1938); I. Sonne, in: Sefer ha-Yovel … A. Marx (1943), 89–103; idem, in: Sefunot, 3–4 (1960), 39–69; 5 (1961), 275–95; A. Yaari, Iggerot Ereẓ Yisrael (1943), 223–42; Yaari, Sheluḥei, 347–51; S. Assaf, in: Zion, 6 (1941), 156f.; J. Leveen, in: Semitic Studies in Memory of I. Loew (1947), 324–33, I. Tishby, Netivei Emunah u-Minut (1964), index s.v.Rovigo.

[Gershom Scholem]