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50. Seal of Todros Halevi Son of Samuel Halevi of the Levi

*Todros Halevi bar Shemuel Halevi Nun-Ayin ben al-Levi Todros

*Halevi Son of Samuel Halevi, May He Rest in Eden, of the Levi

Dimensions: 35 mm. Impression.

Location: British Library, London, No. 1. 7.†

Bibliography: Levy, 1861, pp. 288–89; Jacobs and Wolf, 1887; No. 44; Birch, 1900, No. 23,205; Jewish Encyclopedia, 1907, s.vv. “Coat of Arms,” “Seal,” Pl. 1II, No. 9; Cantera y Burgos and Millás Vallicrosa, 1956, No. 252; Baer, 1966, Vol. 1.

Don Samuel, confidant and chief treasurer of Pedro IV of Castile, called “The Cruel,” was one of the most powerful Spanish Jews in history. Born around 1320, he was of the noted Halevi Abulafia family of Toledo, a city called, with some accuracy, the New Jerusalem. Pedro the Cruel, who ruled from 1350 to 1369, favored Don Samuel above his other courtiers in the early years of his reign, and Don Samuel reached the height of his power in 1358, when he was sent as the king’s emissary to negotiate a treaty of peace between Castile and Portugal. He was seized in 1360 and charged with conspiracy against the king; he died under torture shortly thereafter. The real reason for his fall seems to have been Pedro’s desire to acquire for himself the great fortune which Don Samuel had amassed.

Don Samuel has also found a niche in history as the builder of a famous synagogue in Toledo, now known as El Tránsito and ranked as a national monument, a detail of which is illustrated here. His own house is the present El Greco Museum in Toledo* (the painter lived there over two centuries later).

This seal may have belonged to Don Samuel’s son, Todros, who is said to have imitated the form of his father’s personal seal (Baer, 1966, 1:363). Todros was a very common name in the Halevi Abulafia family of Toledo and appears several times from the eleventh through the four-teenth century. A Todros Halevi was an eminent rabbi earlier, but his father’s name was Joseph, excluding him as this seal owner; this is also true of the poet Todros, son of Judah Halevi.

The impression is in the form of a quatrefoil, common in Gothic church decoration at that time and possibly in contemporary synagogues as well. In the center of the Todros Halevi seal is a three-towered castle with battlements, the coat of arms of Castile, whose name is derived from the fact that that area of Spain was filled with casdes. Around this device is a square, and, starting at a six-point star, the Hebrew inscription follows the lines of the square to the left, creating a box of letters. In the cusps or spaces beyond the square are fleurs-de-lys, a standard heraldic device.

It is obvious that the use of the coat of arms of Castile on the personal seal of a Castilian Jew is an automatic indication that the possessor had high rank. The device of the fleur-de-lys, though most often related to the royal family of France, also appears on escutcheons of the united kingdoms of Castile and León that this writer has seen. The lily flower, emblematic of royalty and of Christianity, was quite a popular motif on Jewish seals as well and appears on several from Spain, France, and Germany. It is also found as a decoration in medieval Jewish manuscripts.*

Corner of El Tránsito Synagogue, Toledo. Noh similarity of double decoration over window to seal of Todros Halevi.

Francisco Cantera y Burgos and José Millás Vallicrosa, in their definitive study of Hebrew inscriptions in Spain (1956), express doubt that this Todros was indeed the son of the famous Don Samuel because the seal impression of Don Samuel on a document of 1354 (now apparently unlocatable) has been described as showing eagles with outstretched wings rather than lily flowers. The son’s seal does not, therefore, match the father’s seal, as stated by Yitzhak Baer. Cantera y Burgos and Millás Vallicrosa suggest an “Esteemed Master Rabbi Todros ha-Levi ben Al-Levi,” of Toledo, who died in 1341, as the possible owner of the seal. It could also be that a blurred stamping of a fleur-de-lys might be mistaken for an eagle with outstretched wings by a careless observer. To support the doubts of the Spanish savants, it may be noted that the father of Samuel Halevi was named Meir, and thus logically the end of the inscription ought to read ben Meir Halevi rather than the generic ben al-Levi. This writer remains unconvinced by the conventional identification.

Note should be taken of the obvious similarity in the design of this seal to the seal of Solomon son of Gedaliah (see No. 17 above). They both must come from the late fourteenth or early fifteenth century.


*That is, a reconstruction with original materials in the immediate area.

This seal has been incorrectly described elsewhere as coming from Seville because of a loose reading of M. A. Levy’s 1861 study (pp. 288–89), in which the description of this seal appears with that of the Jewish community of Seville.

*See, for examples, Pls. 22 and 27 of Hebrew Manuscript Painting by Joseph Gutmann (1978): both manuscripts come from south Germany.

Cantera y Burgos and Millás Vallicrosa were two erudite Spanish Christian scholars. Their extraordinary study of the various Jewish remnants in Spain contains a comprehensive listing of Jewish medieval seals. This work is equivalent in importance to that of Bernhard Blumenkranz for France.

*That is, a reconstruction with original materials in the immediate area.

This seal has been incorrectly described elsewhere as coming from Seville because of a loose reading of M. A. Levy’s 1861 study (pp. 288–89), in which the description of this seal appears with that of the Jewish community of Seville.

*See, for examples, Pls. 22 and 27 of Hebrew Manuscript Painting by Joseph Gutmann (1978): both manuscripts come from south Germany.

Cantera y Burgos and Millás Vallicrosa were two erudite Spanish Christian scholars. Their extraordinary study of the various Jewish remnants in Spain contains a comprehensive listing of Jewish medieval seals. This work is equivalent in importance to that of Bernhard Blumenkranz for France.

Don Samuel has also found a niche in history as the builder of a famous synagogue in Toledo, now known as El Tránsito and ranked as a national monument, a detail of which is illustrated here. His own house is the present El Greco Museum in Toledo* (the painter lived there over two centuries later).

The impression is in the form of a quatrefoil, common in Gothic church decoration at that time and possibly in contemporary synagogues as well. In the center of the Todros Halevi seal is a three-towered castle with battlements, the coat of arms of Castile, whose name is derived from the fact that that area of Spain was filled with casdes. Around this device is a square, and, starting at a six-point star, the Hebrew inscription follows the lines of the square to the left, creating a box of letters. In the cusps or spaces beyond the square are fleurs-de-lys, a standard heraldic device.

It is obvious that the use of the coat of arms of Castile on the personal seal of a Castilian Jew is an automatic indication that the possessor had high rank. The device of the fleur-de-lys, though most often related to the royal family of France, also appears on escutcheons of the united kingdoms of Castile and León that this writer has seen. The lily flower, emblematic of royalty and of Christianity, was quite a popular motif on Jewish seals as well and appears on several from Spain, France, and Germany. It is also found as a decoration in medieval Jewish manuscripts.*

Francisco Cantera y Burgos and José Millás Vallicrosa, in their definitive study of Hebrew inscriptions in Spain (1956), express doubt that this Todros was indeed the son of the famous Don Samuel because the seal impression of Don Samuel on a document of 1354 (now apparently unlocatable) has been described as showing eagles with outstretched wings rather than lily flowers. The son’s seal does not, therefore, match the father’s seal, as stated by Yitzhak Baer. Cantera y Burgos and Millás Vallicrosa suggest an “Esteemed Master Rabbi Todros ha-Levi ben Al-Levi,” of Toledo, who died in 1341, as the possible owner of the seal. It could also be that a blurred stamping of a fleur-de-lys might be mistaken for an eagle with outstretched wings by a careless observer. To support the doubts of the Spanish savants, it may be noted that the father of Samuel Halevi was named Meir, and thus logically the end of the inscription ought to read ben Meir Halevi rather than the generic ben al-Levi. This writer remains unconvinced by the conventional identification.

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Personal Seals

Additional Information

ISBN
9780814344859
MARC Record
OCLC
1055142843
Pages
125-127
Launched on MUSE
2018-10-02
Open Access
Yes
Creative Commons
CC-BY-NC-SA
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