Abraham Israel Pereyra

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Abraham Israel Pereyra (Pereira) was a wealthy and prominent Jewish Portuguese merchant, who lived in Amsterdam from circa 1644 to his death in 1699.[1]

Cecil Roth, following Kayserling, says Abraham Pereyra was born in Madrid "of Marrano parentage."[2] The very famous founder of the Kabbalah modern academic field of historical studies in Jerusalem, Gershom Scholem, following Roth, articulates his origins and importance in the following manner:

...a descendant of a family of marranos in Madrid and one of the wealthiest industrialists and merchant princes in Holland. Pereyra was much given to works of piety and devotion, and in 1659 he founded the yeshibah Hesed le-Abraham in Hebron.[3][4]

Meyer Kayserling, who is actually the main secondary source for the rather scant extant biographical information on the subject, writes that his name before leaving Spain was Thomas Rodriguez Pereyra and that he was "persecuted by the Inquisition."[5]

Cecil Roth, in his major biography of Menasseh ben Israel, then completes the picture writing that Abraham Pereyra had amassed a considerable fortune in business, and that escaping through Venice (also following Kayserling on this detail) he arrived in Amsterdam circa 1644, where he reunited with his younger brother Isaac Pereyra. He states, furthermore, that they had "succeeded in bringing with them from the Peninsula, unimpaired, the whole of their considerable fortune."[6]

Herbert Bloom, a student of the famous Jewish social historian Salo W. Baron, based on primary sources/documents which he researched, states that in 1655 the two brothers, Abraham and Isaac Pereyra, petitioned the government of Amsterdam for permission to establish a sugar refinery in the city. Based on a Dutch economic research work from 1908 about the Amsterdam sugar trade of the 17th century, Bloom adds the following insight: "The Pereyras are described by their fellow Jews as merchants of wealth and influence, who occupied an important place on the Exchange [Bank].".[7] The reference here is to the Amsterdam Stock Exchange, the oldest stock exchange in the world, started by the Dutch East India Company/VOC in 1602.

From a different perspective, and at a later point in Pereyra's life, Scholem adds that circa 1674, the followers of Sabbatai Zevi in Amsterdam "used to meet in the house of their leader, Emanuel Benattar, the hazzan of the Portuguese Synagogue, and seem to have been unmolested by the Jewish authorities, possibly because they had the very pious and very wealthy Abraham Pereyra" as one of the prominent members in their group.[8]

Financing of the Portuguese Jewish community religious institutions[edit]

Back to the initial period of Abraham Pereyra's mercantile activities in Amsterdam, both Roth and Méchoulan point out that he provided the main financial backing for the famous printing and publishing enterprise, as well as for the other varied intellectual activities of Rabbi Menasseh ben Israel all over Europe, until the latter's demise at the relatively young age of 52, in 1657.

In a curious but consistent parallel to the founding of the yeshibah in Hebron in 1659, mentioned above, the brothers Pereyra had also founded a yeshibah upon their arrival in Amsterdam circa 1644. They then appointed Menasseh ben Israel as the yeshibah's head or principal. This position provided Manasseh's main source of livelihood henceforth and until his death.[9] Roth also refers throughout the book to many of the financial problems of Manasseh's Hebrew printing press in Amesterdam, and indicates that the business may have had other sources of funds for its daily operations, besides the bulk sale of books. Abraham Pereyra, as the main personal benefactor of Menasseh, must have been also directly involved in helping finance and support the enterprise from its inception, and throughout its period of activity.[10]


  1. ^ Bloom, op. cit., p. 38. Kayserling, op. cit., p. 87. Bloom, as well as the other secondary sources used here, refer not only to Abraham, but also to his younger brother Isaac, who was also a merchant and entrepreneur in his own right, and who participated with Abraham in most of the family's enterprises.
  2. ^ Roth, op. cit., p. 62.
  3. ^ Scholem, op. cit., p. 529. The head scholar of the Hebron yeshiva was Meir bar Hiyya Rofe as summarized in Yaari, Avraham. "Meir ben Hiyya Rofe." Encyclopaedia Judaica. Ed. Michael Berenbaum and Fred Skolnik. 2nd ed. Vol. 13. Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA, 2007. 783-784. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 4 Dec. 2013.
  4. ^ However, Scholem's description of Pereyra is even more exuberant in the Encyclopedia Judaica entry on Sabbatai Zevi, wroten by him as a summary of his life-long studies in Sabbateanism during the 1970s:

    ...Abraham Pereyra, said to be the richest Jew in Amsterdam and certainly a deeply devout man, lent his enormous prestige to the cause and, after publishing a comprehensive book of morals for repentant sinners (La Certeza del Camino, 1666), left with his entourage for the Levant, although he was held up in Leghorn.

    Scholem, Gershom. "Shabbetai Ẓevi." Encyclopaedia Judaica. Ed. Michael Berenbaum and Fred Skolnik. 2nd ed. Vol. 18. Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA, 2007. 340-359. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 4 Dec. 2013.
  5. ^ Kayserling, id., p. 87. It is worth to reproduce here in translation from the French the entire paragraph written there by Kayserling about the subject:
    "Alias Thomas Rodriguez Pereyra, born in Madrid, persecuted by the Inquisition, he fled to Venice and from there to Amsterdam. Very esteemed because of his wealth and his talents, he was for many years the president of the Portuguese Jewish Community in Amsterdam, and as such he was also one of the adherents of Sabbatai Zevi's religious sect. Pereyra, who died in Amsterdam in 1699, had five sons and three daughters. One of the daughters, Rebecca, was the wife of Jacob de Pinto, another one, called Rachel, was the wife of Abraham Cuitiño."
  6. ^ Roth, id., pp. 62-63.
  7. ^ Bloom, id., pp 38-39.
  8. ^ Scholem, id., p. 893; see also p. 755.
  9. ^ Roth, id., p. 63
  10. ^ Roth, id., passim; specifically on pp. 316-317; Méchoulan and Nahon, op. cit., p.40, p. 70; Bloom, id., pp. XVI-XVII.


  • Amzalak, Moses Bensabat, Abraham Israel Pereyra; Noticia Bibliografica, Lisbon, 1927
  • Bloom, Herbert I., The Economic Activities of Jews of Amsterdam in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries, The Bayard Press, Williamsport, Pennsylvania, 1937.
  • Kayserling, Meyer, Biblioteca Española-Portugueza-Judaica; Dictionnaire Bibliographique, Strasbourg, 1890.
  • Méchoulan, Henry, Hispanidad y Judaismo en tiempos de Espinoza: Estudio y edicion anotada de La Certeza del Camino de Abraham Pereyra, Amsterdam 1666, (Acta Salmanticencia), Ediciones Universidad de Salamanca, 1987.
  • Méchoulan, Henry, and Nahon, Gérard (eds.), Menasseh Ben Israel. The Hope of Israel, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1987 - ISBN 0-19-710054-6.
  • Roth, Cecil, A Life of Manasseh Ben Israel, Rabbi, Printer, and Diplomat, Philadelphia, The Jewish Publication Society of America, 1934.
  • Gershom Scholem: Sabbatai Sevi: The Mystical Messiah: 1626-1676: London: Routledge Kegan Paul: 1973: ISBN 0-7100-7703-3: American Edition: Princeton: Princeton University Press: 1973: ISBN 0-691-09916-2 (hardcover edn.).