From Christianity to Judaism

BookFrom Christianity to Judaism

From Christianity to Judaism

The Story of Isaac Orobio De Castro

The Littman Library of Jewish Civilization


August 12th, 2004



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Isaac Orobio de Castro, a crypto-Jew from Portugal, was one of the most prominent intellectual figures of the Sephardi Diaspora in the seventeenth century. After studying medicine and theology in Spain, and having pursued a distinguished medical career, he was arrested by the Spanish Inquisition for practising Judaism, tortured, tired, and imprisoned. He subsequently emigrated to France and became a professor of medicine at the University of Toulouse before openly professing his Judaism and going to Amsterdam where he joined the thriving Portuguese Jewish community. Amsterdam was then a city of great cultural creativity and religious pluralism where Orobio found open to him the world of religious thinkers and learned scholars. In this atmosphere he flourished and became an outstanding spokesman and apologist for the Jewish community. He engaged in controversy with Juan de Prado and Baruch Spinoza, who were both excommunicated by the Portuguese Jewish community, as well as with Christian theologians of various sects and denominations, including Philip van Limborch.

This fascinating biography of Orobio sheds light on the complex life of a unique Jewish community of former Christians who had openly returned to Judaism. It focuses on the particular dilemmas of the converts, their attempts to establish boundaries between their Christian past and their new identity, their internal conflicts, and their ability to create new forms of Jewish life and expression.

'Excellent and even extraordinary ... Kaplan's book is more than a biography, even more than a study of an entire community: it is a treasure-house of information and new source material that will make it one of the most important works of Jewish history published in many years... [a] model study of one of the most compelling figures in the world of early modern Jewry.' 
David S. Katz, English Historical Review
 'A worthy introduction to this important figure and the times in which he lived.' David Schonberg, Jewish Book News & Reviews '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 ... Raphael Loewe's felicitous and contextually suitable translation ...' 
Stefan Reif, Jewish Historical Studies
 'The translation of Yosef Kaplan's magisterial book is a momentous event, because it makes available the extraordinary story of Isaac Orobio de Castro as told by his extraordinarily gifted biographer.'
Angus Mackay, Journal of Ecclesiastical History
 'A superb picture of the intellectual and spiritual life of a Marrano ... Kaplan's book is indispensable for understanding what the Amsterdam Jewish community was like. It is also refreshing and important for bringing back to life a most important intellectual of the time who flourished within the community.'
Richard K. Popkin, Journal of the History of Philosophy

 'A definitive presentation and analysis ... comprehensively considers broader intellectual, cultural and psychological issues as [it] probes in depth the spiritual and geographical journey of Orobio from Catholic Spain and its Inquisition to the relative freedom of Amsterdam. In the process he goes far beyond the printed texts ... While all the religious issues of the day ... receive a thorough penetrating analysis, perhaps the most original sights are to be found in Kaplan's discussion of what he terms one of the most prominent features of the history of Judaism in the seventeenth century, namely the objections voiced by individuals in the Sephardic diaspora against some of the main articles of the Jewish faith ... This innovative volume ought to be of major interest to all students of early modern European religion, thought and society, as well as to those involved in Judaica, Christian-Jewish polemics, the history of skepticism, and Iberian and Dutch history.'
Benjamin Ravid, Journal of Religion
 'Kaplan's sensitive study enriches our understanding of how this balance was achieved in the life of a gifted crypto-Jew.'  
Rachael Kohn, Journal of Religious History
 'Erudite work which has been made accessible to English readers by Raphael Loewe to whom we must express a debt of gratitude.'
S. B. Leperer, L'Eylah
 'Kaplan's book is of major importance ... with amazing detective work ... Kaplan has pieced together a portrait of people born on the Spanish-Portuguese border, where they or their parents had fled to avoid persecution ... remarkably well documented by Kaplan.'
Richard H. Popkin, New Republic
 'Remarquable de finesse et d'erudition, aussi l'aise avec des manuscits qu'avec des concepts, l'A. presente le medecin, le poete, le theologien, le responsable communautaire aux prises avec les sabbateens ou les calvinistes ... Il a enfin un monument qu'il merite.'
Dominique Bourel, Bulletin de Judaisme Moderne/Recherches de Science Religieuse
 'This solid historical and theological study belongs in every serious library. Loewe's translation is superb.'
 Menachem Kellner, Religious Studies Review
'The life of Orobio de Castro exemplifies the fate of a whole community of crypto-Jews ... [Kaplan] has recreated the world of the Sephardi Jews in seventeenth-century Amsterdam.'
Studia Rosenthaliana

Author Information

Yosef Kaplan is Bernard Cherrick Professor of Medieval and Modern Jewish History and Director of the School of History at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He has published extensively on early modern Jewish history and on the western Sephardi diaspora; his most recent book is An Alternative Path to Modernity (2000). Raphael Loewe was formerly Goldsmid Professor of Hebrew at University College London, having previously taught at the University of Leeds and held a research fellowship at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge and a visiting professorship at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island. His publications concern various aspects of Judaism in late antiquity and the Middle Ages, and include much translation. His English translations of a substantial number of liturgical poems for the Passover season are contained in his Rylands Haggadah (1988), and others—among them the Royal Crown—in his Ibn Gabirol (1989). His translation of FitzGerald’s Omar Khayyám into medieval Hebrew verse was published in 1982. He is also a contributing author of the companion volumes to the facsimile editions of the Barcelona Haggadah (1992), the Rothschild Haggadah (2000), the Parma Psalter (1996), and the North French Miscellany (2002). Many other translations remain unpublished, being privately circulated among friends.

Table of Contents

Table of Contents
Section TitlePagePrice
Half Title2
Title Page4
Preface to the Hebrew Edition6
List of Plates17
Maps and Tables18
List of Abbreviations19
1. From Portugal to Spain: The Alvares de Orobio Family20
University Studies: Osuna and Alcalá27
The Plague at Málaga, 1637: Baltazar Alvares' Account34
2. A Long Brush with the Inquisition, 1639–164344
Isabel Luis and Andrés de Narváez48
Violante de Paz, her Children, and her Brother José de Castro54
Manuel Alvares and Santiago Luis61
3. Building a Career in Andalusia83
Professor at Seville and Service to the Duke of Medinaceli83
Scientific Discussion of Phlebotomy86
4. Imprisoned by the Seville Inquisition98
5. Freedom112
The Last Years in Spain112
Associations with the Prince de Condé and the King of France122
Amsterdam: The Dutch Jerusalem125
6. Doubt and Certainty129
Orobio de Castro's Questions to Rabbi Moses Raphael d' Aguilar129
Isaac Orobio and Juan de Prado: Intellectual Ferment in Sephardi Amsterdam141
7. Philosopher, Communal Leader, Physician198
Raymond Lull's Philosophy Debated198
Communal Activity within the Portuguese Congregation208
Medical Practice in Amsterdam219
Personal Standing and Material Circumstances224
8. Isaac Orobio and Sabbateanism228
9. Facing Calvinists and Catholics254
Debate with a Huguenot on Salvation258
'Divine Forewarning' against Catholic 'Idolatry'262
Tracts on the 'Seventy Weeks' and the 'Suffering Servant'268
Judaism vis-à-vis Christianity271
10. Philosophers, Theologians, and Poets286
Spinoza and Metaphysics: Meeting the Challenge286
A 'Friendly Conversation': Isaac Orobio and Philip van Limborch293
Poets, Poetasters, and Patrons: The Academia de los Floridos309
Last Days325
11. The Intellectual World oflsaac Orobio de Castro331
The Hispanic Heritage331
Political and Social Attitudes345
Between Scholasticism and Fideistic Scepticism 336
12. From Crypto-Judaism to Open Judaism349
A New Jewish Perspective on Converso Life349
The Jewish World: From Dreams to Reality366
Israel and the Gentiles376
The Jewish Fate: Exile and Redemption385
A. The Iconography of Isaac Orobio408
B. Poetical Account of the Plague at Málaga, 1637, by Baltasar Alvares (Isaac Orobio de Castro) 410
C. Schedule of Moveable Property of Baltasar (Isaac) Orobio Sequestrated by the Inquisition at Cádiz, August 1654425
D. Membership of the Academia de los Floridos441
F. Orobio's Letter to Prado's Son: A Textual Comparison464
E. Manuscripts of Works by Isaac Orobio de Castro454
G. Translations of Orobio's Works in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries474
H. Works Attributed to Orobio488
Name Index530
Place Index544
Subject Index550