Hacham Jacob Sasportas

5370 - 4 Iyar 5458      

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Hacham Jacob Sasportas

A Short Tribute

Hacham Jacob Sasportas, son of Aaron, was born in 1610 in Oran, Algeria. In 1628 he moved to Tlemcen to officiate as rabbi, and in 1634 began to serve as halakhic adjudicator and President of the Tlemcen rabbinic court. A series of libels resulted in his imprisonment, and Hacham Jacob Sasportas was forced to leave Algeria. He moved about Morocco, married Rachel, the daughter of Hacham Daniel Toledano, Rabbi of Meknes and, in 1651, reached Amsterdam where he had his index of verses appearing in the Jerusalem Talmud printed (Toldot Yaakov, 1652).

In 1655 he left for London with a delegation headed by Hacham Menashe Ben Israel, invited by Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell to participate in the debate on the return of the Jews to England, who had been expelled some 350 years previous by King Edward I. In 1658 he went on a mission for the Moroccan monarch to Spain.

He was appointed as a rabbi in London, but an epidemic of plague in 1666 forced him move to Hamburg, Germany. In 1667, evil tidings concerning Shabbetai Zevi, the false messiah, reached him from Turkey. He wrote his book, Tzitzat Nobel Tzvi, in four volumes (completed in 1673), to convince the masses not to follow Shabbetai Zevi. He returned to Amsterdam that year to preside over the Di Pinto brothers' study house, and also gave classes at the Keter Torah yeshiva. In 1675 he moved to Livorno, Italy to teach at the city's yeshiva. In 1680, at the request of Rachel Suoaso di Pinto, he left for Hague to obtain a permit from the authorities to install an eiruv (ritual enclosure) in the city.

Hacham Jacob Sasportas returned to Amsterdam in 1684, where he presided over the Etz Haim yeshiva. In 1693, following the death of Hacham Isaac Aboab da Fonseca, he was appointed Rabbi of Amsterdam.

Hacham Jacob Sasportas passed away on 4 Iyar, 5458 (1689) and was buried in the Beit Haim Portuguese cemetery in Ouderkerk, near Amsterdam. His tombstone remains intact to this day.

His works include Toldot Yaakov – an index of verses, published in Amsterdam in 1652, and Tzitzat Nobel Tzvi, published in Hamburg in 1673, of which an abridged version, edited by Rabbi Yavetz, was published in 1737 and a scholarly edition in 1954. Ohel Yaakov – a collection of his responsa, was published posthumously in Amsterdam (1737) by his son, Hacham Abraham

A few quotes from the Rabbi on 'Customs of Israel'
A few quotes from the Rabbi on 'Love of Israel'
A few quotes from the Rabbi on 'Torah Study' in which he teaches to pursue truth, and to not be ashamed of making mistakes

I have been told by a certain student that his honor, our great master and rabbi, Rabbi Shaul Levi Mortina, has expressed his doubts about that ruling and has ineffectively sought to prove its contradiction. I wrote him in protest about this a second time, asking that he present his arguments to me, and advise me of the true course…not for my honor's sake, but to honor God's Torah and reveal the truth concerning my approach with the great masters from all regions, who share their inner thoughts with me both in writing and in person, and who write me from distant lands requesting my opinion. For if I haven't the knowledge, how will my words revive their spirit and fulfill their need for a response? This is my way of expressing affection and respect for them. On the contrary, thanks to the criticism of scholars, and by sharing my true feelings with him, if he has erred I will understand and not humiliate him, and if it is I who have erred I will admit the truth. And I will not be embarrassed if he tells me I am mistaken, for I am no better than Rabbi Akiva, who interpreted "the bread of knights" to mean the bread of ministering angels, and was told by Rabbi Yishmael: You are mistaken. Moreover, I do not merit the honor of Rabbi Yishmael's teaching, nor am I Rabbi Akiva, yet I will nevertheless not cease debating, so that the rabbi may point out my errors, and I will pursue the truth, not to be annoying nor out of love of victory. And if this, to his mind, places me in error, it is actually he who is mistaken.

Ohel Yaakov, Responsum 10 to the city of Livorno, Hertz Levi Rofeh Press, Amsterdam, 1737
A few quotes from the Rabbi on 'Tzedakah and Healing'