Rabbi Yaakov Sasportas

The Gaon Rabbi Yaakov Sasportas was one of the great masters of Torah. He was a G-d fearing man that knew how to awaken and enliven the faith of Jews.

Rabbi Yaakov was born in 5370 (1610) in Oran, Algeria. Born into an illustrious family that had been expelled from Spain, he was one of the descendants of Rabbi Moshe Ben Nachman, the Ramban.

From his earliest years, Rabbi Yaakov surprised those around him by his thorough knowledge in all domains of Torah. At the age of 12, he completed the study of all the tractates of the Talmud, and already by that time had a perfect understanding of the Tur. In 5388 (1628), he became famous and recognized as one of the great rabbis of his generation, yet he was only 18 years old. He was made Dayan of the rabbinical court of the city of Tlemcen in Algeria.

Rabbi Yaakov sat on the court of Tlemcen for about eight years. At that very time, the Shabbetai Tzvi movement had spread all the way to Morocco, and many were those that believed that the false Messiah Shabbetai Tzvi had really been sent by G-d to deliver Israel from exile.

Shabbetai Tzvi had been born in 5386 (1626) in the city of Izmir, and from his earliest youth he amazed everyone by his rapid comprehension and his ingenious mind. At the age of 20, he had been initiated in all aspects of the Torah, the revealed Torah and the study of Kabbalah. He assembled around himself numerous disciples to whom he taught Kabbalah. One day, convinced that he was the Messiah sent by Heaven, he revealed his secret to those close to him, and these began to spread the news that the Messiah would not delay in revealing himself and that soon the people of Israel would be delivered. A belief in the imminent revelation of the Messiah began to profoundly take hold of the people, and everyone impatiently awaited the day of deliverance.

Finally, Shabbetai Tzvi appeared publicly in the presence of a mass of believers to ask them to prepare themselves for the great day that would no longer be delayed. He told the people that it was no longer necessary to fast on the ninth of Av, for the hour of deliverance had arrived.

One of Shabbetai Tzvi’s faithful, Nathan Ashkenazi, who had proclaimed his messianism, was better known as Nathan of Gaza. His father, Rabbi Elisha Ashkenazi, was himself also an enthusiastic believer in Shabbetai Tzvi. From Germany, he ascended to the Holy Land, then traveled to Morocco accompanied by another Torah scholar from the Holy Land, Rabbi Chiya Dayan. These two rabbis spread the Shabbetai Tzvi movement in Morocco.

Rabbi Yaakov Sasportas vehemently opposed them and denounced the blind faith that claimed to make Shabbetai Tzvi the Messiah. Rabbi Aaron Hasabeoni of Fez and Rabbi Daniel Toledano of Meknes fought alongside Rabbi Yaakov against this messianic movement, and in fact the fears of these Gaonim proved true. The numerous Jews that had been swept up by the Shabbetai Tzvi movement abstained from fasting on the ninth of Av, which caused in its wake a decline in the performance of mitzvot in general.

Rabbi Yaakov was imprisoned in 5406 (1646) by the governor of Tlemcen on a false accusation that his adversaries had brought against him. He was only released after his family paid a large ransom. He thereafter left Tlemcen and settled in Sale, Morocco.

For two years, Rabbi Yaakov sat on the rabbinate in the city of Sale. However, a famine struck the entire country, forcing Rabbi Yaakov to leave. Accompanies by his family, he traveled to Amsterdam, where he was welcomed with great honor by the Jews of the community. There he was named director of the great Etz Chaim Yeshiva. Rabbi Yaakov continued to lead an intensive fight against the Shabbetai Tzvi movement that had by this time spread throughout Europe. During this fight, he stayed in contact through correspondence with the great Rabbis of Morocco, whom he conferred with in order to find a way of stopping the spiritual epidemic that was ravaging the Jewish people.

The fight against the false messianic movement was not that easy, for the chief rabbis of the day had let themselves be entrapped and fascinated by Shabbetai Tzvi. They considered him to be the Messiah. At the cost of great effort, Rabbi Yaakov Sasportas, the head of those fighting against Shabbetai Tzvi, managed to remove the mask of the false messiah and prove to everyone that he was nothing but a charlatan and a crook.

Finally, Shabbetai Tzvi was imprisoned by the government and forced to choose between death and renouncing his religion. Shabbetai Tzvi, it comes as no great surprise, chose the second option: He converted to Islam.

Rabbi Yaakov was in contact with one of the great scholars of that era, Rabbi Menashe Ben Israel. In 5425 (1665), they embarked together for England with the goal of requesting the English King for permission to allow Jews to live in his country.

The trip was crowned with success, and numerous Jews left Holland to live in England. Rabbi Yaakov was named Rabbi of the Jewish community of London.

Rabbi Yaakov thought at that time that he could finally live in peace, but again he was forced to take up the baton of the wandering Jew. A terrible epidemic erupted in England and claimed many victims. As a result, Rabbi Yaakov left England for Hamburg, Germany, where he served as Rabbi.

In 5453 (1693), Rabbi Yaakov returned to Amsterdam, where he was named Rabbi of the city’s Ashkenazi Jewish community.

In 5458 (1698), Rabbi Yaakov died at the age of 88, after having enjoyed his final years.




Hevrat Pinto • 32, rue du Plateau 75019 Paris - FRANCE • Tél. : +331 42 08 25 40 • Fax : +331 42 06 00 33 • © 2015 • Webmaster : Hanania Soussan