Isaac Aboab da Fonseca - Biography
Isaac Aboab da Fonseca (February 1, 1605 – April 4, 1693) was a rabbi, scholar, kabbalist and writer. In 1656, he was one of several elders within the Portuguese-Israelite community in the Netherlands who excommunicated Baruch Spinoza for the statements this philosopher made concerning the nature of God.
Isaac Aboab da Fonseca was born in the Portuguese town of Castro Daire as Simão da Fonseca. His parents were Marranos, Jews who had been forcibly converted to Christianity. Although the family had ostensibly converted to Christianity, this did not put an end to local antisemitic suspicions. When Isaac was seven, the family moved to Amsterdam. From that moment on, the family "reconverted" back to Judaism, and Isaac was raised Jewish from that moment on. Together with Manasseh ben Israel, he was given lessons by the scholar Isaac Uziel.
At the age of eighteen, Isaac was appointed rabbi (chacham) for Beth Israel, one of three Sephardic communities which existed at that point in Amsterdam.
In 1642, Aboab da Fonseca was appointed rabbi at Kahal Zur Israel Synagogue in the Dutch colony of Pernambuco (Recife), Brazil. Most of the white inhabitants of the town were Sephardic Jews from Portugal who had been banned by the Portuguese Inquisition to this town at the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. In 1624, the colony had been occupied by the Dutch. By becoming the rabbi of the community, Aboab da Fonseca was the first appointed rabbi of the Americas. The name of his congregation was Kahal Zur Israel Synagogue and the community had a synagogue, a mikveh and a yeshiva as well. However, during the time he was rabbi in Pernambuco, the Portuguese re-occupied the place again in 1654, after a struggle of nine years. Aboab da Fonseca managed to return to Amsterdam after the occupation of the Portuguese. Members of his community immigrated to North America and were among the founders of New York City.
Back in Amsterdam, Aboab da Fonseca was appointed chief rabbi for the Sephardic community. In 1656, he was one of several scholars who excommunicated the famous philosopher Baruch Spinoza. During the reign of Aboab da Fonseca, the community flourished; the Portuguese synagogue (the Esnoga) was inaugurated on August 2, 1675 (10 Av 5435).
On April 4, 1693, Isaac Aboab da Fonseca died at the age of eighty-eight in Amsterdam.
In 2007, the Machon Yerushalaim published a book about Rabbi Fonseca's works, including the author's expositions about the community of Recife at that time. The book is called Chachamei Recife V'Amsterdam, or The Sages of Recife and Amsterdam.
- History of the Jews in the Netherlands
- Sephardic Jews in the Netherlands
- Manasseh ben Israel
- Spanish and Portuguese Jews