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Book Notes: From Christianity to Judaism. The Story of Isaac Orobio de Castro, Yosef Kaplan

Stefan Reif

<plain_text><page sequence="1">From Christianity to Judaism. The Story of Isaac Orobio de Castro, Yosef Kaplan. Translated from the Hebrew by Raphael Loewe (The Littman Library of Jewish Civilization, London 1989) xviii + 531 pp. 8 pis, 4 maps, 3 tables. ?30. Such a life as that of Isaac (Baltazar) Orobio de Castro undoubtedly deserves to be carefully chronicled, if only for the remarkable nature of his sufferings, peregrinations and successful survival. Born in 1617 in Braganza, in the north of Portugal, to a family of Spanish crypto-Jews who had already experienced cruel harassment at the hands of the Inquisition, Orobio migrated with his family to Spain as a young child and was brought up there, outwardly as a Christian and secredy as an adherent to Mosaic law. Having studied arts, theology and medicine for some seven years at the universities of Osuna and Alcal? in Andalusia, he was elected to the chair of medicinal method in Seville in 1641 and functioned as the personal physician to the Duke of Medinaceli before moving to Cadiz in about 1650, marrying well and publishing his first medical treatise. The Inquisition had, however, caught up again with his family, and he, together with his mother and three sisters, was subjected to interrogation, torture and imprisonment. After four years of such indignities, they mounted a successful appeal and were released, ultimately to join the other members of the family in Bayonne, France, in 1660. Orobio resumed his career as a medical professor in Toulouse and established his reputation among the nobility, but his eye was on fuller freedom and reunification with his people and he settled in Amsterdam in 1662. There, under the guidance of Moses Raphael d'Aguilar, he was reconciled to a full knowledge and practice of rabbinic Judaism and became one of the leaders of the Portuguese Jewish community that built its famous new synagogue in 1675. As well as successfully practising medicine among Jews and non-Jews, he actively disputed with sceptical Jews, Calvinists and Catholics, participated in the cultural activities of the city's Jewish intelligentsia, and at his death in 1687 left a rich legacy of published and unpublished Jewish thought. This biography, by a professor of medieval and modern Jewish history at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, is a most meticulous piece of scholarship, that carefully weighs all the evidence, corrects previous assumptions about dates and identifications, and makes major use of primary sources to present a detailed and reliable reconstruction of Orobio's life and work. The original Hebrew text was published in 1979, and the volume here reviewed represents substantially the same version, with some corrections and additions, in Raphael Loewe's felicitous and contextually suitable translation and with a few comments of his added to the 272</page><page sequence="2">Book Notes footnotes. To the weighty body of the work is added a section of appendices containing a wealth of primary material, bibliographical information and indexes that occupies more pages than many a whole monograph. But Kaplan's study is not limited to the events of Orobio's life and a list of his works; he makes use of the subject to enlighten the reader about a host of more general developments in Jewish history of the 17th century that are exemplified by a close examination of this important intellectual personality. One is treated, on the one hand, to insights into the remarkable struggle of crypto-Jews to maintain a considerable degree of private Jewish identity in matters relating to sabbaths, festivals and fasts as well as dietary laws and prayer, and, on the other, to a perspective on the determined efforts of the Inquisition to counter such struggles with its own blend of religious bigotry and judicial procedure. Detailed compar? ison is made between Orobio's defence of rabbinic Judaism and rationalist chal? lenges to the ideas of oral law, election and the immortal soul issued by such thinkers as Juan de Prado and Benedict Spinoza. Contemporary ideas on messian ism, including those of Orobio, are set against the background of the rise and fall of Sabbateanism, especially in Amsterdam, and the exchanges between Orobio and Philip van Limborch are placed in the context of the theological and philo? sophical novelties of the day. Above all, it is clearly demonstrated that the intellectual baggage with which crypto-Jews re-entered the Jewish communities of Western Europe was destined to be incorporated into their people's overall ideological possessions. Pride in one's origins and identity, neo-scholastic thought, scepticism about intellectual knowledge, close study of Hebrew and the Hebrew Bible, questions about the nature of different truths and of religious intolerance - these and numerous other concepts became familiar to Iberian Jews who had been educated in Christian institutions almost two centuries before the Aufkl?rung with which many of them are often associated. Stefan Reif</page></plain_text>