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David Reubeni

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David Reubeni (1490–1535/1541?) was a Jewish political activist, described by the Shengold Jewish Encyclopedia as "half-mystic, half-adventurer."


Daoud Roubani is the name of a folk hero of the Pushtun tribes, and the similarity of the names is certainly striking. There does appear to be some sort of historic connection between the country of Afghanistan, and the wanderings of the Jewish people.

The evidence was found by Prof. W. Fischel, who had an opportunity to publish an overview of all Judeo-Persian writing from the ancient tombstones discovered in Afghanistan, found in ruins all over the country, suggesting the presence of an Persian- Jewish merchant community, centered in the lost early medieval capital of Afghanistan, Firuzkun. Firuzkun was reputed to be once a great city of the early Middle Ages; its name means “The Turquoise Mountain”, probably after one of the many gemstones mined nearby. (See Wikipedia entry for Firuzkun). But we know little beyond the fact of Jewish presence in Afghanistan during the early part of the first milenia.

He was no doubt sincere in pursuing his mission, which was to make an alliance with the Europeans against the Muslim conquerors in the East. He seems to have been too trusting of other people, especially Kings, and died as a martyr of the Inquisition.

In his bravery, sincerity, simple lifestyle, and devotion to his people, he can be seen as a positive role model for the Jewish Nation.

Biographical Data

The mysteries of ha-Reubeni's origins are manifold, and have not been solved to this day.

Reubeni stated that he was born around 1490 in a place referred to variously as Hobur or Khaibar, which was subsequently identified with a place of a similar name in central Arabia. But there is strong reason to believe that his true place of origin was at a port called Cranganore, along the Malabar Coast of India, where a large and well-organized Jewish community had lived for many 100's of years. He related that he had been sent by his brother, King Joseph, who ruled the kingdom with 70 elders, but who was seeking alliances against the Turks, who were bent on conquering the area for its great wealth.

He left Khaibar on December 8, 1522, and went to Nubia in northern Sudan, where he claimed to be a descendant of Muhammad. When he spoke to audiences of Jews, he told of large Jewish kingdoms in the east, possibly referring to the Jewish community at Cochin. The Portuguese had just conquered Goa.

Reubeni traveled in the Ottoman Empire in the spring of 1523 and to Venice by way of Alexandria in February 1524. Here he reported to Clement VII, claiming to represent a mission from the Jews of the east. He attracted funding from a Jewish painter named Mose, and Felice, a Jewish merchant for travel to Rome. The same month Reubeni entered the city while riding a white horse.

Reubeni obtained an audience with Cardinal Giulio and Pope Clement VII. To the latter he told a tale of a Jewish kingdom ruled over by his brother Joseph Reubeni in Arabia, where the sons of Moses dwelt near the Sambation River. He brought letters from Portuguese captains confirming his statements. The Portuguese minister, Miguel da Silva, reported to his court that Reubeni might be useful in obtaining allies. The Portuguese were competing against Selim I, who had seized Egypt in 1521 and diverted the valuable spice trade.

Jewish people raised money privately to give to Reubeni for his travel to Almeirim, the residence of King John III of Portugal, which he reached in November 1525. At first the king promised him a force of eight ships and 4,000 cannon. Engaged in persecuting suspected marranos, the king found it difficult to enter into an alliance with a Jew. While they were negotiating, the king refrained from interfering with conversos.

Reubeni's striking appearance–a swarthy dwarf in Oriental costume–and messianic claims attracted the attention of Diego Pires, a converso youth of noble birth, who had taken the name of Solomon Molcho. Jewish ambassadors from the Barbary States visited Reubeni at the Portuguese court. Some conversos were so excited by this activity that they rose in arms near Badajoz, where they freed a converso woman from the Inquisition. Portuguese authorities became worried about Reubeni's mission and the potential dangers of popular unrest.

Reubeni then went to Avignon to take his cause to the papal court, and afterward to Milan. There he again met Molcho, who had traveled to the East and made messianic claims. In Milan the two adventurers quarreled. Reubeni went to Venice, where the Senate appointed a commission to review his plans for obtaining assistance from the Jews in the East. Reubeni was warned to leave Venice. Joining once more with Solomon Molcho, he traveled with streaming banner to Bologna and Ratisbon (Regensburg) to meet the Emperor Charles V.

Reubeni offered Charles VI the alliance of Jews of the East against the Ottoman Empire. In Ratisbon, Reubeni and Molcho met Josel of Rosheim, who warned them against arousing the suspicions of the emperor. Josel was worried about raising issues of the Jews in the empire. When Reubeni and Molcho persisted, officials put them in chains and took them to the emperor in Mantua.

There both Molcho and Reubeni were examined by inquisitors. The former was condemned to burning at the stake in December 1532. Reubeni was taken to Spain and assigned to the Inquisition at Llerena. He probably died there, as nothing more was heard of him. Herculano reported that "a Jew who came from India to Portugal" was burned at an auto da fé at Evora in 1541. (see Jewish Encyclopedia, vi. 598b, s.v. Inquisition, also Evora). Another source said Reubeni died in Llerena, Spain, after 1535.

Reubeni's diary is held by the Bodleian Library, Oxford. There is said to be a copy at the Jewish Seminary at Breslau, but this place was destroyed by the Nazis in 1938. Parts were published by Heinrich Grätz in the third edition of his Geschichte der Juden (vol. ix.), and the whole was published by Neubauer, in M. J. C., ii.

See also


ru:Реувени, Давид

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