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The Family of Abarbanel

Much has been said about the alleged loss of the knowledge of the family of David. But it would seem that there are many now living who actually claim a descent from the King of Israel, and whose claim is actually acknowledged. We had for some time past intended to copy the following piece from the conversion organ of London, but our space would <<53>>not permit us. At present, however, we have unexpectedly more room than we thought we should have, and therefore lay the extract before our readers as a curious memorandum, which they may rely on with the more certainty, as it met our eye for the first time in a magazine which bears in every page the amplest testimony of its hatred of our religion, and is supported by funds contributed to effect the apostacy of our nation. “Let our enemies be judges,” says the Bible, and we may freely repeat it; for, even then we have nothing to fear.—Ed. Oc.

(From the Jewish Intelligence of Nov. 1849.)

The family of Abarbanel, the celebrated Jewish commentator, is remarkable for having carefully preserved its pedigree, according to which they trace their descent from king David. Hence, in all the documents and books of Abarbanel and his family, they have ever added to their signature: מגזע דוד מלך ישראל (from the stem of David, king of Israel).

Don Isaac Abarbanello, whose family had long lived in Spain, and who was permitted by authority to have a lion in his crest, was expelled from that country with the rest of the Jews, under Ferdinand the Catholic, in 1492. The Abarbanel family settled finally in the East, where strangers from Christian countries were then called “Franks,” and when many years afterwards the Abarbanel family left the East, and settled in Vienna, they were still designated “Franks,” with the peculiar Austrian provincial diminutive “el,” and the family has ever since retained the name “Frankel.”

The accomplishments and intelligence for which the Abarbanel (Frankel) family was ever renowned, soon distinguished them also in Austria, both in a pecuniary and intellectual point of view. Nevertheless, they were not exempted from the hard fate which the Jews met with under Leopold, in being, on February 14th, 1670, expelled from the Austrian dominions, under pain of death. (See “Jewish Intelligence” for December, 1845.)

The family Frankel united with some others of their expelled brethren, in presenting a petition to the resident minister of the elector of Brandenburg, Andreas Neumann, begging that he would intercede with his royal master, in order to obtain permission for some of them to settle in his dominions.

In this petition they complained that though God had created the earth for all men, yet the countries were everywhere closed against them, so that they knew not whither to turn their steps.

The poverty and very great depopulation occasioned in the marquisate of Brandenburg, by the Thirty Years’ War, induced the elector to grant their request. The elector instructed his plenipotentiary, under the date of April 19th, 1670, that he had no objection to allow forty or fifty families to settle in his dominions. On the 21st of May an edict was issued, which gave them permission to settle in the country, and carry on their mode of worship in private houses, but not in public synagogues.

As a characteristic of the times, it may be noticed that in the special charter, which was granted to various families, there are these restrictive clauses: “that they are to abstain from usury, and not to take more interest than three pence a week for one dollar (360 pence); to abstain from purchasing stolen goods, and blaspheming Christ;” with a few other similar clauses, all calculated to demoralize the Jews.

Some of the members of the Frankel family settled in Berlin, others in Frankfurt-on-the-Oder, and others in Dessau,—in which latter place they founded the congregation which flourished so abundantly in after times.
The family became the founders of very important printing offices for Jewish literature, in Berlin, Frankfurt, Jessnitz, and Dessau, whence proceeded the Talmud in three complete editions (in Berlin), and also the Pentateuch in various editions, as well as the works of Maimonides (in Jessnitz), his מורה נבוכים, as well as a complete edition of the Jerusalem Talmud, and its excellent commentary, קרבן עדת, by the grandfather of Mr. F., now living at Dessau, 75 years of age. All these works are celebrated for their clearness and correctness, and often quoted by Christian writers.

The commentator on the Jerusalem Talmud, just referred to, was afterwards Chief Rabbi in Berlin, and was followed thither by the juvenile Moses, son of Mendel, for the privilege of studying under so great a rabbi the Talmud and other Jewish literature. This pupil was Moses Mendelssohn, afterwards the celebrated modern reformer of the Jews.