Saba, Abraham ben Jacob

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SABA, ABRAHAM BEN JACOB (d. c. 1508), Spanish exegete, preacher, and kabbalist. On the expulsion of the Jews from *Spain, Abraham settled in Oporto (Portugal), where he wrote commentaries on the Pentateuch, the Five Scrolls, and on Avot. When the forced conversion of the Jews was decreed in Portugal in 1497, his two young sons were baptized and his extensive library plundered. He left Oporto, taking his writings with him, but when near Lisbon he was warned by the local Jews of the danger of entering the city with Hebrew books in his possession, which was a capital offense. He thereupon buried his manuscripts under an olive tree. In Lisbon he was arrested and imprisoned together with other scholars, pressure being exerted on them to accept baptism. After nearly six months he succeeded in escaping to Fez in Morocco, where he fell ill. When he recovered, he began to rewrite his lost works from memory. He succeeded in completing only his commentaries on the Pentateuch, Ruth, and Esther. He remained in Fez for ten years, and in 1508 he was in Tlemcen in Algeria, and, it is thought, later in Italy.

Ḥ.J.D. Azulai tells an anecdote relating to Abraham. On a sea voyage to Verona, Saba became dangerously ill and, during a heavy storm, exacted a promise from his fellow travelers that, should he die, he would be given Jewish burial on dry land. As a result of his prayers the storm abated. He died on the eve of the Day of Atonement and the captain saw to it that the local Jews carried out his request. According to another account, however, he died in Fez. In Spain, Portugal, and Morocco Saba preached in the synagogues, urging the congregations to fulfill the principles of Judaism. He attributed their misfortunes to that, in their pride and arrogance, they had forgotten their ancestral land, building themselves palatial residences in alien countries, neglecting the Torah, and desecrating the Sabbath.

Abraham's works included Ẓeror ha-Mor (Venice, 1522), a commentary on the Pentateuch: a Latin translation of this by Conrad Pellicanus is extant in manuscript in the city library of Zurich; Eshkol ha-Kofer, commentaries on the Five Scrolls (the commentary on Esther published in 1904, on Ruth published in 1908); Perush Eser Sefirot, on the ten Sefirot, extant in manuscript, which he wrote in Tlemcen. His lost works include commentaries on Job; on the commandments, Ẓeror ha-Kesef, which he wrote in his youth; Ẓeror ha-Ḥayyim, on tractate Avot; on Psalms; and a kabbalistic commentary on the daily prayers.


Michael, Or, no. 199; N.S. Leibowitz, Rabbi Avraham Saba u-Sefarav … (1936).

[Shmuel Ashkenazi]