Don Isaac Abravanel (1437–1508) was an important forerunner of Jewish modernity. A merchant, banker, and court financier; a scholar versed in both Jewish and Christian writings; a preacher and exegete; and a prominent political actor in royal entourages and Jewish communities; Abravanel was one of the greatest leaders and thinkers of Iberian Jewry in the aftermath of the expulsion of 1492.
Cedric Cohen-Skalli’s Don Isaac Abravanel: An Intellectual Biography (Brandeis University Press, 2020) is the first new intellectual biography of Abravanel in twenty years and depicts his life in three cultural milieus — Portugal, Castile, and post-expulsion Italy — and analyzes his major literary accomplishments in each period. Abravanel was a traditionalist with innovative ideas, a man with one foot in the Middle Ages and the other in the Renaissance. An erudite scholar, author of a monumental exegetical opus that is still studied today, and an avid book collector, he was a transitional figure, defined by an age of contradictions. It is these very contradictions that make him such an important personality for understanding the dawn of Jewish modernity.
Cedric Cohen-Skalli teaches early modern and modern Jewish philosophy at the University of Haifa and is the director of the Bucerius Institute for the Research of Contemporary German History and Society.
Makena Mezistrano is the Assistant Director of the Sephardic Studies Program in the Stroum Center for Jewish Studies at the University of Washington. She holds an MA in Biblical and Talmudic studies from Yeshiva University.