Abulafia (surname)

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Abulafia or Abolafia(Arabic: أبو العافيةAbū l-ʿāfiya, Abou l-Afiyya or Abu l-Afia; or Hebrew: אבולעפיהAbulafia) is a Sephardi Jewish surname whose etymological origin is in the Spanish language. The family name, like many other Hispanic-origin Sephardic Jewish surnames, originated in Spain (Hebrew Sefarad) among Spanish Jews (Sephardim), at a time during when it was ruled as Al-Andalus by Arabic-speaking Moors.

To this day, the romanized version of the surname is most commonly Abolafia. Other variations also exist, mostly in English transliterations, including Aboulafia, Abolafia, Abouelafia, Aboulafiya, Abulafiya, Aboulafiyya, Abolafiaetc.


Etymologically, the surname is composed of the Arabic words:

  • Abu or Abou (أبو abū), literally "father" but also carrying the meaning "owner",
  • al or el (الـ), or simply l if the preceding word ends with a vowel, to which it attaches itself, is the definite article equivalent to "the", and
  • Afiyya or Afia (عافية ʿāfiya), literally "health, wellbeing" but also carrying the meaning "power".

Together they form Abou l-Afiyya or Abu l-Afia, rendered in Medieval Spanish as a single word, Abulafia, meaning "Father [of] the Health/Wellbeing" or "Owner [of] the Power".[1]


Moorish rule in the Iberian peninsula (Spain and Portugal), lasting some 800 years, is regarded as a tolerant period in its acceptance and co-existence between Christians, Muslims and Jews. The Jews of Spain were proficient in Spanish, Arabic and Hebrew. Thus, it was commonplace among Spanish Jews to use the Arabic language for secular names (including surnames) for use outside of the synagogue.

Among prominent Abulafias in Spain were the kabbalists Todros and Abraham Abulafia, the powerful Toledo rabbi Meir Abulafia, the poet Todros ben Judah Halevi Abulafia, and the royal treasurer Samuel ha-Levi Abulafia, for whom the Transito synagogue was built in Toledo; it remains one of the city's most beautiful monuments.

After the Catholic Monarchs' successful Reconquista (reconquest) of Spain from the Moors in 1492 (ironically, with financial assistance of Spain's Jews), the Catholic Monarchs then issued the Alhambra Decree stipulating the expulsion of the Jews from Spain (unless they convert to Catholicism, or if failing to convert or leave, then to face execution for defying the royal decree).

With the decree, many Abulafias, and large numbers of other non-converted Sephardim left Spain, and settled mostly in the Ottoman Empire (a Turkic Muslim sultanate), where the Turkish Muslim Ottoman sultan offered the Abulafias and other Sephardic Jews refuge. The surname did not entirely disappear in Spain itself, and there are still Spanish Catholics named Abolafio. Those Abulafias who left in 1492 and settled as Jews in Italy often became known as Abolaffio, Bolaffio and Bolaffi.

The Abulafias – as with most other Sephardi expellees – settled mostly in the European portions of the Ottoman Empire, largely in what is today Thessaloniki (in modern Greece), and Istanbul in modern northwestern Turkey. This area is where the surname was most concentrated until later immigration to other parts of the Ottoman Empire, such as modern Tunisia and Rhodes. The Ottoman Empire collapsed following World War I, with Turkey becoming its successor state, and after World War II and the establishment of the State of Israel, almost all the established Sephardic communities of the former Ottoman Empire moved to Israel, France and the United States. Today, Abulafia is a well known Sephardic surname in Israel, and it is also present in France, the United States, Australia and Latin America.

Following the expulsion from Spain, a branch of the Abulafia family settled in what is now Israel, first in Safed (Tzefat), where they established a long-lasting rabbinic dynasty, and then in Tiberias, where the synagogue of Haim Abulafia is still the principal Sephardic synagogue, and the rabbi's tomb is a place of pilgrimage. Haim Nissim Abulafia was chief rabbi in Jerusalem in the nineteenth century and had close dealings with Moses Montefiore, a philanthropist. Palestine was also under Ottoman rule at that time. It has been claimed that some of the Abulafias who settled in the Land of Israel would later convert, adopt Arabic as their primary language and assume Arab ethnic identities, today identifying as Palestinians and Arab Israelis. Other Abulafias were closely involved in the foundation of Tel Aviv at the start of the twentieth century.


The surname may refer to:






  • Transito Synagogue, Toledo, Spain: built around 1358 for Don Samuel Abulafia, treasurer of King Pedro the Cruel, and decorated with fine stucco work and a magnificent wooden ceiling; the El Greco house nearby is thought to be on the site of Abulafia's palace.
  • Etz Haim Abulafia, Tiberias, Israel: synagogue by the Sea of Galilee originally built in the eighteenth century for Rabbi Haim Abulafia as part of a program for the resettlement of Tiberias.
  • Agnon House, 2 Rokach Street, Neve Tzedek, Tel Aviv–Jaffa: residence of Solomon and Rebecca Abulafia, co-founders of Tel Aviv, in which the Israeli writer S. Y. Agnon lived for a time.
  • Abuelafia Bakery, established in 1879, is a prominent Arab Israeli bakery and tourist destination in Jaffa, Tel Aviv-Yafo, owned by the Arab Israeli Aboulafia family (written both as Abuelafia and Abouelafia on the storefront signage), possibly descended from converted Sephardic Jews of the 15th century.[6]