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Miscellanies: The Remarkable Career of Haham Abraham Gabay Yzidro

Cecil Roth

I<plain_text><page sequence="1">The Remarkable Career of Haham Abraham Gabay Yzidro CECIL ROTH1 The man to whose personality I wish to direct attention here, for the first time, was not a scholar of exceptional ability nor an outstanding spiritual leader. His career, however, was most remarkable: and it throws a light which one could hardly have anticipated not merely on the life of the Marranos of Portugal in the eighteenth century but on their entire nature and character. What Abraham Gabay Yzidro's original name was, when he was born in the Iberian peninsula of Marrano parentage some time in the last quarter of the seventeenth century, it has not thus far been possible to ascertain.2 Probably he was Portuguese by birth, though he refers hyperbolically to his origin 'en la Hispanica Region', which does not exclude this probability. When he died, in 1755, he was considered to be aged, which places his birth around 1680. In his youth he was introduced by his parents to the doctrines of secret Judaism ('logre el conoscimento del Unico'), though obviously he could have had no proper Jewish training. He speaks somewhat affectedly of a licentious youth ('passe del libertino'), but then was married to a fellow New Christian. Shortly afterwards, there was a recrudescence of Inquisitional persecution of the Marranos on such a scale that he seems to have considered it universal, though I have been unable to ascertain the occasion.3 Many of his relatives, including his wife, were imprisoned by the Holy Office.4 He himself apparently was forewarned and succeeded in escaping abroad, leaving his wife behind still in direst peril. He made his way accordingly to London, which he calls 'a harbour of rescue and land of liberty'. Here he was circumcised, together with others who had newly come from Portugal. In the Circumcision Register of Isaac and Abraham Carri?o de Payba, preserved in the archives of the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue in London, there is an entry relating to the reception into the Covenant of Abraham on the same day, 20 August 1721, of 'Abraham Sidro' (obviously the person in whom we are now interested), together with Abraham Pinto, Abraham Laguna, and Abraham Suares. The Ketubah book of the congregation enables us to carry the story a little further. Later on in the same year, on 29 Tishri and 27 Kislev 5482 (22 October and 15 December 1721) respectively, there were joined in matri? mony under the auspices of the Congregation: (i) Abraham Lopez Laguna and Ester Lopes Laguna; and (ii) Abraham de Pinto and Ester de Pinto, described in either case as 'vindos de Portugal9, and therefore requiring remarriage in accordance with Jewish law.5 But the name of Abraham Gabay Yzidro does not figure among the marriages: his wife was still in the land of dread, in the Inquisitional dungeons, awaiting trial. Many other cases of Marranos escaped from the Inquisition in the eighteenth century arrive at this point. It is the next stage in which the career of Abraham Gabay Yzidro begins to be of special interest. For he was not content close relation of Abraham, was established in the small Sephardic community at Saida, in the Lebanon, where members of the Jewish community of near-by Beirut are still officially registered. SeeR. D. Barnett, 'Correspondence of the Mahamad...,' Trans. 7.H.S.E. XX. p. 26, note 4?R.D.B.l 1 I wish to acknowledge the assistance of Dr. V. D. Lipman and Dr. R. D. Barnett. 2 He also signs his name 'Yssidro'. 3 [See, on this persecution R. D. Barnett, 'Dr Nunes Ribeiro and the participation of the Jews in the Settlement of Georgia', in Migration and Settlement: Proceedings of the Anglo-American Jewish Historical Conference held in London jointly bytheJ.H.S.E.andA.J.H.S.E.July 1970 (London, 197U.?R.D.B.] 4 [In 1749, David Gabay Isidro, most probably a s L. D. Barnett (ed.), Bevis Marks Records II (1949), p. 73. 211</page><page sequence="2">212 Cecil Roth only with entering the fold of traditional Juda? ism but was determined to throw himself into Hebrew studies and to master Jewish religious lore. It may be the fact that he was separated by force from his wife, and apparently had no family, that made this the easier for him economically. One has to assume that by reason of the conditions of life in Portugal he left the Peninsula like other Marranos with only a confused knowledge of Judaism and none at all of Hebrew or of Rabbinical litera? ture. He was now to become a scholar. Presumably he began his studies in England. Here, however, opportunities for fuller training were at the time inadequate, so that before long he found his way to Amsterdam, the mother-city of the Marrano Diaspora. Here, it seems, he received economic support from Abraham Pereira only. His principal teacher was the already aged Isaac Abendana de Brito, who, born about 1660 (?), was to be appointed Haham of the community in 1728 and died, a centenarian, in 1760. One of his other instruc? tors was Haham David Israel Athias, Abendana de Brito's colleague. The Marrano pupil must have made astonishing progress?not merely in Hebrew but even in Talmud. One Sabbath, the New Moon of Nisan, 1724, less than three years after his circumcision, he was permitted to preach a thanksgiving sermon in the Amster? dam synagogue, showing what must be considered in the circumstances a positively astounding range of Jewish knowledge. In this sermon,6 attacking the Inquisition, he narrates that he fled to London and was circumcised there and studied Torah. At the close of this he prayed for the speedy release of his wife and brethren, still in the Inquisitional dungeons. (See Plate II.) How long he pursued his studies is not ascertainable, but he pursued them to such effect that he qualified formally as Rabbi and received the Semikha permitting him to officiate in that capacity. In due course, he was sent to Surinam (Paramaribo),7 in Dutch Guiana, where there was a highly flourishing Sephardi community. Here he acted as Rabbi and Ab-Bet-Din, implying a respectable ability in Talmudic knowledge. There does not, however, seem to be any record of his activity here. In due course in 1753 he went on to serve in the same capacity in the com? munity of Barbados,8 apparently in succession to Meir Cohen Belinfante, the Mohel and Hazan, who had died in 1752. By this time he again had a wife, named Sarah. Whether this was the bride of his youth, who had at last succeeded in escaping from the Holy Office, or a second marriage, it is at present impossible to ascertain: I have the impression that the latter alternative is to be believed; in any case, his widow belonged to a family of Bayonne, being daughter of Michael de Oxeda.9 This last post, in the enervating atmosphere of the West Indies, proved too much for him. His health was failing and in 1755, already an old man, he went back to London. He died there, it seems, very shortly afterwards, on or the day after the New Year of 5526 (autumn of 1755). The Minutes of the Mahamad, in recording this and the arrangements made for his funeral, refer to him as having been 6 Sermon predicado neste K.K. de Talmud Torah por Ribi Abraham Gabay Izidro, en Sabat Vaikra en R.H. Nisan del ano 5484 Amsterdam 1724: Mosseh Dias, 30 pp.; this, as in duty bound, he dedicated to his patron's son, Mosse de Abraham Pereira, with an approbation by Haham Selomoh Aylion. A copy is in the British Museum Library. 7 Information that he was Ab-Bet-Din in Surinam and Barbados is from the Haskama (fore? word) to his book Tad Abraham (see below), published posthumously by his widow. 8 Gardozo de Bethencourt, 'Notes on Spanish and Portuguese Jewry in the United States, Guiana, and the Dutch and British West Indies in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries,' Amer. Jew. Hist. Soc. Publications 29 (1925), p. 13. 9 [Abraham Gabay Ysidro, 'in the name of Almighty God of Israel Amen, of the Jewish natioxi in Surinam', and his wife, Sarah daughter of Michael de Oxeda appoint each other heirs and exors. 29 July 1736 in presence of Moses Robles de Medina and Aaron Fonseca. Friday 28 Oct. 1755 from Spanish by Isaac Netto, Notary Public, Pr. 12 Nov. 1755, by the relict. P.C.C. 22 Paul 282 (1755). In her will Sarah Gabay Isidro of Bayonne widow appoints as executor David Alves Ribello attorney of Isaac Oxeda, Sarah wife of Isaac Oxeda, and Ribca Alvares Oxeda wife of Solomon Alvares, nephew &amp; nieces residing at Bayonne, April 17. P.C.C. Apr. A. 1766. (See A. P. Arnold, 'Wills and Letters of Administration', Anglo-Jewish Notabilities,?- 161.)?R.D.B.]</page><page sequence="3">The Remarkable Career of Haham Abraham Gabay Yzidro 213 officiating Rabbi for many years ('que foy Haham do Kaal muitos annos') [Minute of 3 Tisry 5516. He was buried in Row 18, grave 1, in the 'Novo' cemetery the same day. It is hard to see how in fact he was a Haham of the London Congregation not being elsewhere so described. ?R.D.B.] His will appoints his wife as his executor.10 Among the property that he left behind was the manuscript of a work which he had written and had entitled, after his own name, Tad Abraham ('Abraham's hand').11 This was a poetical version of the Six Hundred and Thirteen Precepts according to Maimonides (Azharot), together with an original com? mentary. Three years after his death, his widow Sarah managed to have it printed, in Amsterdam, dedicating the volume to her late husband's venerable teacher, Haham Abendana de Brito, who provided an Approba? tion (Haskama). It is not a remarkable work in content, but it is memorable as showing the erudition attained by a devoted Jew who had been able to get his first inkling of Jewish scholarship only in middle age. 10 See above, note 9. 11 M. Kayserling, p. 78. Biblioteca Espanola Portugueza-Judaica (Strasbourg, 1890), p. 48.</page><page sequence="4">PLATE II ABRAHAM GABAY IZIDRO lle^dbnefte K.K.de T.TV $8$ En SabatenX. H. Nis?n ^&amp;:?:AM'?:T.,E fti. P. A M v Title-page of the printed Sermon of Abraham Yzidro (see article on Yzidro, by Cecil Roth, in this volume, note 6), attacking the Inquisition (Copy supplied through the kindness of Dr. R. D. Barnett)</page></plain_text>