Abraham Saba (1440–1508) was a preacher in Castile who became a pupil of Isaac de Leon. At the time of the expulsion of the Jews from Spain he took refuge in Portugal, where he met with further misfortune; for scarcely had he settled in Oporto when King Manuel I of Portugal ordered all Jews to be expelled from Portugal, all Jewish children to become Christians, and all Hebrew books to be burned (December 24, 1496). Saba's two sons were forcibly taken from him, and he fled from Oporto, abandoning his entire library and succeeding only at the risk of his life in saving his own works in manuscript.
He fled to Lisbon, but before reaching there was told of a new order of the king decreeing the death of any Jew with whom a Hebrew book or tefillin (phylacteries) were found. He hid his manuscripts and tefillin under an olive-tree and entered the city. Upon leaving Lisbon he attempted to recover his hidden treasure, but being discovered by the king's guards, he was thrown into prison, and after a six months' confinement was sent across the frontier. He went to Fez, Morocco, where he resided for ten years. Soon after his arrival he fell ill; his great privations and terrible sufferings having undermined his health.
On his recovery he recommitted to paper from memory the following works, the original manuscripts of which had been lost in Portugal:
- Eshkol ha-Kofer (A Cluster of Camphire), a commentary on the Book of Ruth and Book of Esther
- Ẓerorha-Ḥayyim (Bundle of Life), commentaries on the Song of Songs and the treatise Berakot
- Ẓeror ha-Mor (Bundle of Myrrh), a commentary on the Pentateuch, containing interpretations according to both the ordinary sense and the mystical method of the Zohar
- Ẓeror ha-Kesef (Bundle of Silver), legal decisions (compare Monatsschrift, 1853, pp. 246, 247, and the Leiden Catalogue, pp. 94, 96).
- A manuscript of his commentary on the Book of Job was in Jellinek's library. Saba wrote also a commentary on Pirkei Avot, mentioned in his commentary on Genesis, pp. 3 and 5.
According to Azulai ("Chida", Shem ha-Gedolim), who read the anecdote in a work entitled Dibre Yosef, Abraham in journeying from Fez to Verona became sick on the ship in mid-ocean during a great storm. The captain, unable to control the ship, had given up all hope, and implored Rabbi Abraham to pray for divine assistance. Abraham stipulated that in case of his death his body should be delivered to the Jewish community of Verona, and then prayed for the safety of the vessel. His prayer was heard, the storm abated, and the ship went safely on. Two days later Abraham died, and the captain, keeping his promise, brought the body to Verona, where it was buried with great honors.
Abraham Saba is not to be confounded with R. Abraham Saba of Adrianople, who is mentioned in the responsa of R. Elijah Mizraḥi, No. 52. Note: This last statement requires verification, since the title page to Ẓeror ha-Mor clearly states that its author resided in Adrianpolou, see here: http://hebrewbooks.org/30801.
- Steinschneider, Cat. Bodl. No. 4301;
- H. Grätz, Gesch. d. Juden, 2nd ed., viii.219, 379;
- H.J. Michael, Or ha-Ḥayyim, No. 199.