Page 59 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 17 (1958-1959)

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J UDAH ABARBANE L AND THE
DO C T R I N E OF D I V I NE LOV E
B
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olomon
F
e f f e r
T
HE ELDEST of three brilliant sons of the dominant person­
ality of Spanish Jewry in the fifteenth century, Judah
Abarbanel drank to the full both the triumphs and the tragedies
of his father, Don Isaac. A scion of a family which for five gener­
ations had distinguished itself in scholarship and public service,
Judah witnessed on the one hand his father’s rise to the post
of chief adviser to two mighty monarchs and on the other the loss
of his two children in their infancy. Between these extremes,
Judah—or Leone Ebreo, as he was later known—lived the highly
eventful life of an Iberian Jew and an Italian magnifico, and
wrote the outstanding document of the philosophy of the Italian
Renaissance.
Judah Abarbanel was born in Lisbon, Portugal, in 1460. His
grandfather was still able to conduct the family’s ramified
business enterprises and his father was therefore free enough to
engage in scholarly and literary works and to supervise his son’s
Jewish and secular education. This was a period of great happi­
ness and prosperity for the Abarbanel family. During the sixties
and seventies of the fifteenth century, Don Isaac enjoyed the
close friendship of the wealthiest nobles in Portugal, the Bragan-
zas, and through their acts of gratefulness and magnanimity he
became the owner of vast estates. At that time, too, he reached
the highest stage of his prestige and power in the court of King
Alfonso V of Portugal, while retaining the friendship of the
grandees and nobles of the capital. His winning personality,
practical wisdom, wide learning and scholarly works obtained for
him a large and influential following also among the scholars and
intellectuals of the time. Chief among the learned circles in
Lisbon was the scholar-physician-diplomat, Joao Sezira. A warm
friendship soon developed between these two great men which
extended also to the brilliant son, Judah. When the time came for
Don Isaac to suggest a vocation for his son, he chose medicine
as a suitable career for him. Th is profession, thought Don Isaac,
was desirable for several reasons. I t was an occupation in which
the practitioner could be of the highest service to humanity; its
practice was not limited to a particular place or country—a matter
of vital concern to a member of a people whose political stability
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