History

Rabbi Abraham ben Levi Conque, Kabbalist of Hebron

Jewish life was exciting and tumultuous in 17th century Hebron.

26.3.17, 17:00
(IMAGE: Portrait of Shabbetai Zevi, an old engraving in the Joods Historisch Museum in Amsterdam.)
 
Abraham ben Levi Conque, (also spelled Konki and Cuenque) was born 1648 in Hebron and part of the dedicated Jewish community there. A noted rabbi and teacher of Kabbalah, he authored many books on Torah and Judaism.
 
Unfortunately, Rabbi Conque was one of the many swept up in the euphoria of the Sabbatai Zevi movement, known in modern history as the false messiah. Born in Turkey, (and pronounced Shabbatei in Hebrew) he was chosen to represent the Jewish community as an emissary to Egypt in 1663. 
 
On his way, he passed through Hebron and stopped at the Tomb of Machpelah, where he prayed there with tremendous fervor, attracting much attention. A group stayed up all night with him, mesmerized by his tremendous charisma, one of them being Rabbi Conque who became one of his most dedicated followers.
 
Sabbatai Zevi became an internationally recognized Jewish leader attracting a cult following, much to the chagrin of the non-Jewish authorities. Despite imprisonment, he continued to galvanize his followers. But he was eventually forced to convert to Islam on pain of death by the Ottoman sultan. 
 
The 2009 book Hebron Jews: Memory and Conflict in the Land of Israel states,
 
"Shabbetai Zevi, the infamous self-proclaimed messiah who attracted an ecstatic following among Jews in Europe, North Afrca, and the Middle East, visited Hebron. He was said to have recited afternoon prayers in the synagogue and evening prayers at Machpelah... Reverberations from Shabbetai Zevi's betrayal lingered in Hebron for many years."
 
However even after the masses became disillusioned with Zevi, Rabbi Conque's belief was not shaken.
 
The 1906 Jewish encyclopedia states:
 
"Conque traveled, as a collector for the poor, throughout Germany and Russia, and everywhere endeavored to win adherents to the movement. At the request of a friend residing at Frankfort-on-the-Main, he wrote, in 1689, an account of Shabbethai Ẓebi's life, which reveals in the author a peculiar state of mind. The account is full of miracles and prodigies, firmly believed in by Conque. It is referred to in Jacob Emden's history of the Shabbethaian movement, Zot Torat ha-Ḳena'ot."
 
Conque was also the author of the following works:
 
"Abak Soferim" (Dust of Scholars), Amsterdam, 1704, the first part, under the special title of "Em ha-Yeled," comprises homilies on the Pentateuch; the second, "Uggat Rezafim," contains Biblical interpretations by himself and others; and the third, "Em la-Binah," consists of nineteen sermons.
"Minhat Kena'ot" (Offering of Jealousy), a treatise on jealousy.
"Abak Derakim" (Dust of Roads), a collection of sermons.
 
(IMAGE: Title page of the book Abak Soferim. The author's name is in the center paragraph in Hebrew listed as Avraham Ben Levi Conque, Hebron. Source: Hebrew BooksThe Chaim Elozor Reich / Renaissance Hebraica Collection.)
 
The last two books are mentioned by Rabbi Chaim Yosef David Azulai, better known as the CHIDA, who said he saw them in manuscript.
 
The famous great-great grandson of Rabbi Avraham Azulai, Hebron's Chief Rabbi, the CHIDA also served as a fundraiser and emissary for Hebron. He published a list of the famous sages buried in Hebron of which Rabbi Conque is included. A plaque bearing these names is displayed in the cemetery today, although their exact location is not fully known due to its razing during the Jordanian occupation from 1949 - 1967.
 
Rabbi Conque, although controversial during his time, represents a slice of life in the ancient town that was once a small but important thoroughfare for the 17th century Jewish world.
 
SOURCE NOTES:
 
* The Infamous Shabbetai Tzvi by Dovid Russoff excerpt from Where Heaven Touches Earth: Jerusalem From Medieval Times to the Present, page 72.
 
Plan your visit to Hebron today:
 
United States contact info:

http://www.hebronfund.com/
1760 Ocean Avenue
Brooklyn, NY 11230
718-677-6886
info@hebronfund.org

In Israel contact the offices of the Jewish Community of Hebron at:
http://en.hebron.org.il/
02-996-5333
office@hebron.com
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/hebronofficial
 
RECOMMENDED ARTICLES:
 
* Rabbi Chaim Hezekiah Medini, the Sde Hemed, Torah Legend from Hebron
The Rabbi from Hebron and the President of Yale
Rabbi Abraham Azulai and The Sultan's Sword