Thursday, May 15, 2014

Rabbi Shaul haLevi Mortera (1596-1660)

Rabbi Shaul haLevi Mortera was born in Venice, Italy, in 1596. He was a descendent of Portuguese Jews. In 1616 Rabbi Mortera escorted the body of the famous Jewish doctor Eliyahu Montalto, the personal physician of Maria di Medici, from Paris to Amsterdam. There, the new Sephardic community appointed him as their new Rabbi. 

In Amsterdam, Rabbi Mortera continued his studies under rabbi Ytshaq Uziel, a rabbi from Morocco. He founded the school Keter Torah, in the highest class of which he taught Talmud and Jewish Philosophy. After a few years he was appointed as the Head of the rabbinical court of the  community of Amsterdam. 

Later, he founded and taught in the famous Yeshiba Ets haHayim. Among his students were Rabbi Moshe Zacuto, Rabbi Abraham haCohen Pimientel (author of the book "Minhat Cohen") and Baruch Spinoza.   Rabbi Mortera was one of the three dayanim which pronounced the excommunication (herem) against Spinoza on July 27, 1656. 

Rabbi Mortera's most famous book is Gib'at Shaul (here) written in Hebrew, Amsterdam, 1645. A collection of fifty sermons, selected from over 500 sermons, on the weekly sections of the Tora. 

Rabbi Mortera was an expert in compared religions, and at that time, when many Jews who lived under the Inquisition for generations were coming back to embrace Judaism, it was critical to teach these "New Jews" (most of them educated in convents) the principles of Judaism, and particularly the differences between Judaism and Christianity.    He wrote many books for these Jews, in Portuguese  and Spanish. Among them: Tratado de la Verdad de la Ley de Moshe, written originally in Portuguese. In this work he defends Judaism against the attacks of Christianity and explains the Jewish view on the Mashiach, immortality of the soul, God's revelation,  etc. clarifying the Jewish understanding of the Biblical verses the Church used to sustain their beliefs.   

                             Portrait of Rabbi Shaul Mortera

WROTE for the "NEW JEWS"

Preguntas Que Hizo Un Clerigo de Ruan de Francia. 
A defense from the attacks of a Catholic priest against the talmud.  

Providencia de Dios con Israel
Why God chose the Jewish people? How this choice is manifest? 
Memorable relacion para confucion de aquellos que niegan la providencia divina
The Jewish belief in God's constant providence and supervision (hashagcha)   

Obstaculos y opociciones contra la religion Christiana
A critical view on the principles of Christianity   

Tratados varios relativos a la religión judía
Basic principles of Judaism for "new Jews".    

La eternidad de la ley de Mosseh
The eternal Law of Moshe, the Tora, cannot be replaced by a new testament. 

For more information see this