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SPAIN: The Abravabel Family

Allan Abravanel answered Cameron Sawyer's question as to whether he is related to the conductor Maurice Abravanel: "I am distantly related to the late conductor, Maurice Abravanel. He was born in Salonika (at the time, part of the Ottoman empire, but now part of Greece), while my grandfather was born in Gallipoli (now, of course, part of Turkey). Many of my Gallipoli relatives married their distant cousins from Salonika. Maurice Abravanel's immediate family moved before World War I to Switzerland, while my grandfather emigrated to the US in 1910. Members of the Abravanel family still reside in Salonika, Athens and Istanbul.

As for the origin of the name, it is somewhat up in the air. Benzion Netanyahu, a scholar and the father of the Israeli politician Benjamin Netanyahu, wrote the definitive biography of Don Isaac Abravanel, the famous family member from the time of Ferdinand and Isabella. Professor Netanyahu has an appendix in his book on the possible spellings of the name, as well as the name's origin. He speculates that it might have originated in the name "Abraham," but concludes that it is impossible to know for certain".

RH: Spanish sources prefer to call him Isaac Abarbanel. H was actually a Portuguese rabbi, born in Lisbon in 1437- He was finance minister of Alfonso V of Portugal. He moved to Spain, where he became treasurer of Fernando el Católico. He was expelled from Spain in 1492 and took refuge in Naples and then in Venice, He died in 1508. Among literary scholars his son León Hebreo, or Judá Abarbanel, is much better known. Born in Portugal, like his father he took refuge in Spain, which he too had to leave in 1492. He settled in Italy, where he wrote Dialoghi d'Amore, which was translated into Spanish by El Inca Garcilaso. A mystical work, it had immense success, but it was put on the Index on the grounds that it showed signs of "cabalism and theosophy". I must investigate what those words really meant.

Ronald Hilton - 3/15/03