Who Was Uriel da Costa?

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Living under the Portuguese Inquisition, Uriel da Costa (1583-1640) fled with his family to Amsterdam to reclaim his Jewish heritage. Tragically, the years of attempting to reconstruct authentic Judaism under the scrutiny of a zealous Church led him, like many crypto-Jews of his generation, to basic misunderstandings about the fundamental ideas and practices of his ancestral religion.  A combination of a personal struggle with mental illness and an inability to accept the discrepancy between his imagined Judaism and the way it was actually practiced led him to become an outspoken critic of Jewish leadership as he wandered between Amsterdam, Hamburg and Utrecht. He was censured with repeated excommunication, and ultimately took his own life in 1640 after penning a brief autobiographical statement cataloguing his inner spiritual conflict. His writings are brief and confused, but they had a significant impact on the work of Baruch Spinoza, whose own conflict with traditional Judaism paralleled da Costa’s in many ways.

Image: from Henryk Berlewi’s book cover to a 1931 Kultur-lige biography of da Costa.

Click here for the Prezi associated with this lecture.

7 thoughts on “Who Was Uriel da Costa?

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  1. Dear rabbi, I am a direct descendent of the brother Abraham, (Jacome) of Uriel. See our history at:www.tip-siriname.com
    Last year I was in New York for a powerpoint presentation about the history of the Jews in Suriname
    And our relation with Shearit Israel.

    Maybe you can advise us , if there are people who will travel to an undiscovered place, how we can contact these people….
    Thank you for this interesting lecture
    Best regards,
    Marina ( Binah ) da Costa

  2. Binah, my name Mataan Meir Ben-Arieh, I am working on a book about a family related to the Costas , from Spain-Portugal- Italy – Amsterdam – and finally NYC ( New Amsterdam) – members of the family were also original members of Shearit Israel. The family is very , very dispersed ; the family names are HaLevi and Nasi. and Coelho. I would love to share with you the connection with the Costas – going back to Spain and Italy , before and immediately after the Inquisition.
    As I am not sure how this system Dr. Abramson has devised actually works , I would prefer to leave you my Email and hope we can pick up this conversation in a more direct fashion. I live in Washington DC . best to reach me at martinmp2006@msn.com

  3. Thanks!
    I saw this lecture twice I can not belive that really happend 3 times!
    He seems very to suffer and he really want to be jewish!
    It seems that no one really helped him to understand judaism.
    He had so much questions.
    It very sad!

  4. Dr. Abramson,
    I’m a History student from Israel, writing a seminar paper on the otherness of Uriel De Costa in the jewish community versus the otherness of Uriel De Costa toward hieself.
    I found your lecture very useful, to my paper work.
    I also thought that De Costa must have suffered from a mental illness or something like that, but I didn’t find any documentation on it.
    Can you help me with that?
    Thank You,

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