Nieto, David (DNB00)

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NIETO, DAVID (1654–1728), Jewish theologian, was born at Venice on 10 Jan. 1654 (Keyserling, Gesch. d. Juden in Portugal, Leipzig, 1867). In a Hebrew letter addressed to Christian Theophile Unger of Hamburg (Magazin für die Wissensch. d. Judenth. iv. 85) he states that he was dayyan (judge), and preacher to the Jewish community of Leghorn, but, when free from official duties, he followed the profession of medicine. In September 1701 he went to London to fill the vacant post of ’hakham, or rabbi, to the congregation of Spanish and Portuguese Jews, and he continued his practice of medicine there.

Nieto was a capable writer, and his literary career commenced at Leghorn with the treatise ‘Pascalogia,’ which was written in 1693 in Italian, and printed in London in 1702. Colonia was printed on the title-page, because ‘he was afraid Christians in Italy might be debarred from reading a work coming from the heretic London.’ In this work Nieto explains the discrepancies between the Latin and the Greek churches and the Jewish synagogue as regards the time of Passover or Easter. He was probably induced to discuss the question by the fact that in 1693 Easter fell on 22 March, and the Jewish Passover on 21 April.

On 20 Nov. 1703 Nieto preached in London a sermon (in Spanish), in which he was understood to identify God and nature. Charges of heresy were raised, and he justified his teaching in a Spanish treatise, ‘Tratado della divina Providencia,’ London, 1704, by arguments and quotations from the Bible, the Talmud, and the Midrash. The question was referred to ’Hakham Zebi Ashkenazi of Amsterdam, who decided in Nieto's favour. This decision, in Hebrew and Spanish, is annexed to Nieto's justificatory treatise. In 1715 Nieto wrote in Hebrew ‘Esh-dath’ (Fire of the Law), but published it in a Spanish translation, ‘Fuego Legal,’ London, 1715. It was an attack on Nehemiah ’Hiyun, who was suspected of being an emissary of the followers of the Pseudo-Messiah Sabbathai Zebi, and had lately issued a Kabbalistic book, ‘Oz la-elohim.’ His London congregation seems to have prospered under his guidance, and several charitable institutions were founded, including the orphan asylum, sha‘ar orah va-abi yethomim (i.e. ‘Gate of light and father of the orphans’), in 1703, and the society for visiting the sick, bikkur ‘holim, in 1709.

Nieto died in 1728, on his seventy-fourth birthday. An epitaph describes him as ‘an eminent theologian, profound scholar, distinguished doctor, and eloquent preacher.’

In addition to the works already noticed Nieto wrote: 1. ‘Hebrew Poems,’ ‘hiddoth (riddles), annexed to ‘Sermon Oracion y Problemática,’ London, 1703. 2. ‘Los triunfos de la pobreza,’ London, 1709. 3. ‘Matteh Dan’ (the rod of Dan = David Nieto), or Second Part of Khuzri; five Dialogues on the Oral Law, London, 1714, being a supplement to Rabbi Jehudah ha-levi's Khuzri. Dr. L. Loewe translated the first two dialogues into English (London, 1842). 4. ‘Binah la-‘ittim,’ a Jewish calendar for 1718–1700. 5. ‘Noticias reconditas de la Inquisicion,’ by Carlos Vero ( = D. Nieto). Villa forma ( = London), 1722. The book consists of two parts; the first, written in Portuguese, contains documents supposed to have been written by an official of the Inquisition; the second, in Spanish, criticises the cruelties of the Inquisition. 6. ‘Respuesta al Sermon predicado por el arçobispo de Cargranor,’ i.e. Reply to a Sermon preached by the Archbishop of Cargranor in Lisbon before an auto de fé, 6 Sept. 1705. In English, by M. Mocatta, ‘The Inquisition and Judaism,’ London, 1845. 7. ‘Sha‘ar Dān.’ A Talmudical concordance; incomplete, Bodl. MS. 2265 and Gaster's ‘Cod. Hebr.’ p. 60. A portrait, engraved by J. McArdell, is in the possession of Mr. L. van Oven.

[Wolf's Bibl. Hebr. iii. 201 seq.; Kayserling's Gesch. d. Juden in Portugal, p. 325; Graetz, Gesch. d. Juden, x. 322 seq.]

M. F.