Abrabanel, Isaac ben-Judah

(1437–1508)
   Portuguese financier and scholar. Isaac’s grandfather, who lived in Seville, converted to Christianity during the wave of anti-Jewish riots which swept the country in 1391. Taking the name of Juan Sanchez, he became royal treasurer of Andalusia. However, in 1397 he moved to Lisbon and practised Judaism openly. Isaac’s father was an even more prominent financial figure, in the service of the Infante Ferdinand of Portugal. Isaac himself, a wealthy trader, was treasurer to King Alfonso v of Portugal. He was respected in Jewish circles, and had friends among Christian humanist scholars. On King Alfonso’s death in 1481, the new ruler, John II, accused him of being implicated in a plot, thus forcing him to move to Spain. He was sentenced to death in absentia in 1485.
   Isaac stayed at first in Castile, in a small town near the Portuguese border, and devoted himself to scholarly works. After completing his commentaries on Joshua, Judges and Samuel, he took service in 1484 with FERDINAND and ISABELLA, the Catholic monarchs of Spain. He became the most skilful diplomat and financier at the court, while amassing a huge personal fortune. He used his influence in an effort to avert Ferdinand and Isabella’s decision to expel the Jews in 1492.
   Having failed, Isaac left the country with his co-religionists in 1492 and sailed for Naples. There he took up his biblical studies once more and completed his commentary on the Book of Kings. Soon after, he was appointed treasurer by King Ferrante, retaining this post under Ferrante’s son Alfonso II. During the French invasion of 1494, Don Isaac’s home was looted and he himself fled once more, this time to Messina with the royal family. He returned to the Kingdom of Naples when the French troops withdrew in 1496, and in 1503 settled in Venice, where he remained until his death.
   As well as commentaries on the major and minor prophets, Isaac wrote three messianic works (called Migdal Yes-hu’ot, ‘Tower of Salvation’), reflecting the not uncommon belief of Spanish Jews of that period that the Messiah would come in their lifetime.

Who’s Who in Jewish History after the period of the Old Testament. . 2012.

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