LEON, family name of European and U.S. notables whose progenitors fled the Iberian Peninsula during the Inquisition. The name derives from the kingdom of Leon, Spain. Early in the 1500s, the Marrano PEDRO DE LEON tried to escape the Spanish inquisitors by moving with his family to the West Indian island of Hispaniola. However, he was apprehended and in 1515 brought back to Seville for trial. Others were more fortunate and the name Leon appears in the records of Ancona, Jerusalem, Hamburg, Salonika, London, Venice, Jamaica, Surinam, Amsterdam, and the United States. ISAAC BEN ELIEZER DE LEON of Spain, who is best known for his Megillat Esther (Venice, 1592), a commentary to Maimonides' Sefer ha-Mitzvot, spent most of his life in Ancona, Italy. He is also the author of a responsum dated 1545 that appeared in Rome. In Greece, the liturgical poet ABRAHAM DE LEON composed "El Ram al Kol Tehillah," a dirge on the capture of Rhodes by the Turks in 1522, which was included in the Bakkashot published about 1545 at Constantinople. (The poem is numbered 4042 in Davidson, Oẓar, vol. 1, 1924.) JOSEPH DE LEON served as rabbi in Jerusalem c. 1588. At Hamburg, the ḥakham of the Portuguese congregation from 1615 to 1656 was JUDAH ḤAYYIM LEON. About 1632, in Salonika, then under Turkish dominion, the rosh yeshivah was ISAAC DE LEON. At London's Spanish-Portuguese synagogue, the assistant to the haham from 1685 to 1707 was ABRAHAM JUDAH LEON. The rabbi of Venice in about 1695 was JOSEPH DE LEON. JACOB DE LEON and JACOB RODRIGUEZ DE LEON resided in Jamaica in 1698. Among the leaders of Surinam's Portuguese Jewish community during the 1780s was MOSES P. DE LEON, coauthor of a history of his community, Essai historique sur la colonie de Surinam avec l'histoire de la Nation Juive Portugaise et Allemande y établie (1788), subsequently published also in Dutch (Amsterdam, 1791). A number of men bearing the name Leon appeared in Amsterdam. In the mid-1600s MEIR DE LEON translated Solomon ibn Verga's Shevet Yehudah into Spanish (La Vara de Judá, Amsterdam, 1640). The leading figure of Amsterdam's Keter Torah yeshivah was SAMUEL DE LEON. Requests for decisions on matters of Jewish law addressed to the yeshivah were generally referred to him; his responsa were published at Hamburg in 1679. Fleeing from the Inquisition in 1685, the Marrano MANUEL DE LEON, who was born in Leiria, Portugal, arrived in Amsterdam, where he remained until his death in 1712. He produced Spanish and Portuguese verse, published in Brussels (1688), in The Hague (1691), and in Amsterdam (1712). The ḥakham of Amsterdam's Gemilut Ḥasadim fund was ELIJAH DE LEON, who was also coeditor of the Bible printed in 1661 by joseph athias . There were numerous Leons in colonial America. Joseph Rosenbloom's A Biographical Dictionary of Early American Jews, Colonial Times through 1800 (1960) lists 38, many of them descendants of Abraham de Leon (b. 1702), who settled in Savannah, Georgia, in 1733. The name was prominent in New York City during the 1850s. MOSES LEON was among the leaders of New York's Hebrew Benevolent Society and MORRIS J. LEON was active in the Young Men's Benevolent and Fuel Association; the ḥazzan of the Bnai Israel synagogue in 1854 was JOSHUA DE LEON. -BIBLIOGRAPHY: Roth, Marranos, 274, 294; H.B. Grinstein, Rise of the Jewish Community of New York 16541860 (1945), 552–4.

Encyclopedia Judaica. 1971.

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