Page 60 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 17 (1958-1959)

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was always uncertain; and, in time of need, it could be useful on
behalf of his brethren in the courts of princes and pontiffs.
Judah, together with his younger brother Joseph, began to
study medicine under his father’s learned friend, Joao Sezira.
His sacred studies were conducted, however, under the direct
tutelage of his father. The deep learning in Jewish sources ex­
hibited in Judah’s philosophic work and the almost frosty ele­
gance of his Hebrew verses—some of which appear as poetical
dedications to his father’s books—attest to his successful pursuit
of these studies. Thus father and son continued their happy
activities, the son an eager pupil, the father an inspiring teacher
and writer. For it was undoubtedly at that time that Don Isaac
wrote his
Vision of the Almighty
and laid the foundation for
his commentaries on the Early Prophets and on Maimonides’
Guide to the Perplexed.
The Abarbanel home was the cultural
center of Lisbon, without distinction as to faith, and the focal
point of all Jewish communal activities in Portugal.
But the family’s happy life came to an end as Judah was
reaching manhood. Alfonso V ’s incessant and futile campaigns
against Castile brought financial ruin upon the royal exchequer
and misery to the people of Portugal. Although Don Isaac was
opposed to military aggression—as we can deduce from his writings
—he had to acquiesce in the monarch’s plans and his name thus
became associated with Alfonso’s disastrous military adventures.
Accordingly, when Alfonso died in 1482, the fortunes of the house
of Abarbanel tumbled precipitately and the end of an era came
for the Jews of Portugal. Shortly thereafter Don Isaac was forced
to flee for his life. The family settled in Toledo. Here the
father became Minister of Finance to Ferdinand and Isabella,
and Judah, who had won wide fame in his profession, was ap­
pointed the royal family’s personal physician and surgeon. But
the eight years the Abarbanels spent in the court of Spain were
years of pain and frustration. In spite of devoted and unremitting
service by Isaac and Judah to their royal masters and their
popularity with the members of the court, they could not fore­
stall the cruel and crushing blow that was being cunningly pre­
pared by the evil Torquemada and the Holy Inquisition. The
day of departure for the Jews of Spain was decreed.
Great personal tragedy was in store for the Abarbanels. Fer­
dinand was eager to retain the services of his talented physician
and his useful minister. He therefore secretly arranged to
kidnap Judah’s year-old son, Isaac, hoping in that way to compel
father and son to accept Christianity and to remain in Spain.
Judah learned of the plot and sent the child with his nurse to
Portugal. There he was seized and held as hostage by order of
King Joao, and in the end he was forcibly baptized. Judah was
never to see his firstborn again. Th e pain of this outrage