R. Yitzchak Abarbanel

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R. Don Yitzchak b. Yehuda Abarbanel
ר' דון יצחק בן יהודה אברבנאל
LocationPortugal / Spain / Italy
WorksCommentaries on Torah, Neviim, and Daniel, and a variety of other largely exegetical works (most famously Zevach Pesach, a commentary on the Passover Haggadah)
Exegetical Characteristicsquest for peshat (often taking an approach divergent from earlier medieval peshat-interpreters); ample use of midrash;  engagement with rationalist approaches (such as philosophic allegory); prolonged essays on topics arising from particular verses or passages; occasional historical (humanist) approach 
Influenced byRamban; Akeidat Yitzchak
Impacted onMalbim



  • Name
    • Hebrew name –  R. Yitzhak Abarbanel, of which רי"א is an acronym. (Some prefer to write Abravanel.)1
    • _ name – 
  • Dates – 1437  – 1508-15092
  • Location – Portugal (through spring of 1483), Spain (through the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in summer of 1492), various centers in Italy (through his death in Venice)
  • Education – 
  • Occupation – positions at court in Portugal, Spain, and Naples3
  • Family – Father: Judah Abarbanel, financier. Firstborn son: Judah Abarbanel (ca. 1465 – after 1521), known as Leone Ebreo, author of Dialoghi d'amore (“Dialogues of Love”)
  • Teachers – R. Joseph Hayyun (?)
  • Contemporaries – R. Yitzhak Arama; R. Yohanan Alemanno
  • Students – 
  • Time period – 
    • Born in Lisbon in 1437, Abarbanel passed most of his life in relative tranquility in Portugal. In his commentary on Nevi’im Rishonim, he describes himself living “serenely in my house, a house and riches bequeathed by my fathers, a house full of the Lord’s blessing."
      Abarbanel arrived in Spain in 1483, the year that the Spanish Inquisition came under the leadership of the notorious Tomás de Torquemada. The Inquisition would play a major role in instigating Spanish Jewry’s total expulsion less than a decade later.
    • Having been forced to abandon his wife and children in Portugal (not to mention his only copy of an as yet uncompleted commentary on Deuteronomy), Abarbanel joined the retinue of Spain's "Catholic Monarchs," Ferdinand and Isabel. Yet the edict of expulsion issued against Spain Jewry by these monarchs in 1492 clearly came to Abarbanel as a bolt out of the blue. Catastrophe loomed in the face of the decision of his royal employers to “order all Jews and Jewesses of whatever age they may be” to “depart from all of these our said realms” never to return. Abarbanel tells of his appeals to leading Spanish nobles to have the expulsion edict revoked and of several attempts to personally petition the king for Spanish Jewry’s “salvation.” With efforts along these lines all having failed, in the summer of 1492 the Abarbanels found themselves bound for Italy, victims of what Abarbanel called the “great and terrible destruction” of a “chosen” Jewry, the likes of which “never there was before” nor would there be again.
    • The Abarbanels landed in Naples, where Abarbanel set about recouping lost wealth while again winning fame, this time at the court of Naples’ Alfonso I. But when the French invaded Naples in 1494, he was again set into forced motion. In Naples, Abarbanel had prayed that God would allow those who had “walked in darkness” finally to see light. Little time was required to see that this prayer had been roundly rejected.
    • It was under these circumstances that Abarbanel again took up his vocation as a writer most prolifically, producing a torrent of works that, among other things, aimed to comfort Spain’s Jewish exiles in their time of trial.
    • Abarbanel passed his final years in various Italian centers. His first biographer relates that at his funeral Abarbanel was mourned by Jews and Christians alike.
    • General Period: fall of Constantinople (1453); advent of Hebrew printing press;4 maritime expansion and discovery (most notably by Christopher Columbus); messianic speculation
  • World outlook – 


  • Biblical commentaries – 
  • Rabbinics – 
    • Talmudic novellae – 
    • Halakhic codes – 
    • Responses to the works of others – 
    • Responsa – 
  • Jewish thought – 
  • Misattributed works – 

Torah Commentary


  • Verse by verse / Topical – 
  • Genre – 
  • Structure – 
  • Language – 
  • Literary – 
    • Reinterpreting a verse as בתמיה – Abarbanel Bereshit 14:23, 16:12, Shemot 4:10,13, Shemot 15:3, Devarim 29:3, 32:5.
  • Peshat and derash – 


  • – 


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Textual Issues

  • Manuscripts – 
  • Printings – 
  • Textual layers – 


Significant Influences

  • Earlier Sources – 
  • Teachers – 
  • Foils – 

Occasional Usage

Possible Relationship


Later exegetes