web analytics
March 3, 2015 / 12 Adar , 5775
At a Glance
Sections
Sponsored Post


Early Caribbean Jewish Communities (Part II)


The Jewish Community Of Curacao

 

      In 1527 the Spanish took possession of Curacao. By the early 16th century they had determined that the island had little gold and not enough fresh water for the establishment of large farms; hence, they essentially abandoned it. It was therefore relatively easy for a Dutch fleet under the command of Johan van Walbeeck to conquer the island in 1634 for the Dutch West India Company, a quasi-private, government-backed company. Since Samuel Coheno served as an interpreter for van Walbeeck, he was most probably the first Jew in Curacao.
 
      In 1651, Joao d’Ylan brought no more than 12 Jewish families from the Amsterdam Portuguese community to Curacao. Most of these settlers were originally from Spain and Portugal. They formed the initial nucleus of the Jewish community of Curacao. On February 22, 1652, the Dutch West India Company granted a considerable tract of land to Joseph Nunez da Fonseca, otherwise called David Nassi. As a result, the Jews lived on Plantation De Hoop (The Hope) and worked the land. This endeavor, however, was abandoned due to Curacao’s arid soil, and the Jews concentrated on trade.
 
      It was only a matter of time before the Jewish community became so prosperous that almost the entire commerce of the island was in their hands.
 
      When, in 1654, the Portuguese reconquered Brazil from the Dutch, all of those who openly practiced Judaism there left, fearing they would be persecuted by the Inquisition. Many of these refugees first returned to Amsterdam. In 1659 more than 70 of them[i]sailed for the New World to settle in Curacao. They brought with them considerable wealth. In addition, they brought with them a spiritual treasure – a sefer Torah from the Amsterdam Portuguese Jewish Community.
 
      In 1651 an improvised synagogue, named Congregation Mikve Israel (Hope of Israel), was set up in a small house. This first house of worship probably stood in the fields where the colonists had originally toiled. In 1692 the Jews were allowed to build a new synagogue. Thus, the Jews of Curacao were treated somewhat more liberally than the Jews residing in Curacao’s sister colony of New Netherland (New York). Services were held there in rented quarters until 1730, when Shearith Israel consecrated its first synagogue building on Mill Street in Lower Manhattan.
 
      The first haham of this community was probably Rabbi Yeosiahu Pardo, son of David Pardo, haham of Amsterdam. Yeosiahu Pardo was a pupil of the famous Saul Levi Morteira, whose daughter he had married. In 1667 the younger Pardo became the first religious leader of the holy brotherhood Honen Dalim in Amsterdam. In (about) 1669 he became head of Yeshiva de Los Pinto, which had been founded in Rotterdam before being relocated to Amsterdam. In (about) 1674 he assumed leadership of Yeshiva Gemilut Hassadim, also located in the Amsterdam. That same year he was appointed haham of Curacao, remaining there until 1684 when he left to become haham of Jamaica.
 

Jewish Education In Curacao

 

      Given that Haham Pardo had been educated at Yeshiva Etz Chaim in Amsterdam, it was not surprising that the yeshiva he oversaw in Curacao was conducted more or less along the lines of Etz Chaim. Both institutions stressed the teaching of halacha. There were six levels of classes, which in addition to Jewish law concentrated on the following subjects:
 

      1. Introduction to reading (in Hebrew and Ladino) and berachot (benedictions);

      2. Prayers with their respective melodies;
 
      3. Parsha of the week with its translation into Ladino;
 
      4. Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers), Shir HaShirim (Song of Songs), and Neviim (Prophets). These subjects were all translated into Ladino;
 
      5. Rashi and writing;
 
      6. Grammar, Gemara (Talmud)) and talmudic commentaries).
 
      The Haham taught highest class. It’s noteworthy that students who came from poor homes received stipends from the community.
 

Religious Instruction Compulsory

 

      The leaders of the Jewish community were strongly committed to making sure every Jewish boy received a Jewish education. As a result, in 1711 a regulation (haskamah) was passed requiring attendance at the medras, as the yeshiva classes were called, until age 16. Nonetheless, a number of parents decided to privately educate their sons. On the 21st of Sivan 5476 (1716) the executive committee of the congregation and its council attempted to put a stop to this practice by prohibiting members from conducting a private school during the hours the medras met. Anyone who did not follow this directive was to be punished by a minor form of excommunication and a fine of fifty pesos.
 
      In 1716, when Joseph Abudiente neglected sending his son Yehudah to the medras, the haskamah of 1711 was invoked, with the result that both father and son were prohibited entry into the synagogue. Since Abudiente stubbornly refused to submit, he was dropped from the community rolls. But when this action did not bring about Abudiente’s compliance, community leaders went so far as to urge the governor of the island, Jonathan van Beuningen, to compel Yehudah’s attendance at the medras.
 

Duties And Obligations Of The Rubissim And Haham

 
      The ruby, as a teacher in the medras was called, was required to regularly attend the medras. If a ruby was tardy, he had to pay a fine fixed at the discretion of thedirectors of the Talmud Torah which was deducted from his salary. Frequent absence on the part of a ruby could lead to his dismissal. The ruby accompanied his pupils to the tikun (the religious service conducted when a family moved into a new home), and he also was responsible for watching the boys in the synagogue.
 
      In 5510 (1749-1750), during the rabbinate of Haham Samuel Mendes de Solas, there were at least five rubissim teaching in the yeshiva: Jeoshuah Touro, Guidon Mendes, Eliau Lopes, Jeoshua Hisquiao de Cordova, and Ishac, son of Haham de Solas. It is interesting to contrast the stress the Jewish community put on education with that of the gentile population. During 1762-1763 the Dutch West Indies Company maintained only one teacher in its service for the entire white non-Jewish population of the island.
 
      Despite the tropical climate, the medras was in session year round. There was time off only on Fridays, Shabbosim, fast days, and for two or three days before each Yom Tov. No classes were held on Yom Tov and Chol Hamoed.
 
      Girls received no formal instruction. Some wealthy families did hire tutors to teach their daughters reading, writing, arithmetic, and some religious subjects in their homes. Since these tutors were almost always men, instruction was given in the presence of a girl’s mother.
 

Adult Learning Organizations

 

      Torah study did not end at 16 when a young man completed his course of instruction in medras. Following the example of their mother community in Amsterdam, the leaders of the Curacao Jewish community founded fraternal organizations known as hermandades. The members of these organizations regularly met, with the haham, on certain fixed days for Torah study. As a result, the hermandades were also referred to as “yeshibot.”
 
      Records show that there were at least thirteen such yeshibot functioning at one time on the island. The hermandades were also involved in doing chesed work and they raised funds to assist the unfortunate and the poor. The community’s peak seems to have been reached in around 1800, when more than 2,000 Jews lived on the island.
 
      It’s clear that the Jews who settled on this Caribbean island created a community that was committed to Torah, avodah, and gemilat chassadim.
 
      This article is based in part on:
 
      1) Notes on the Spanish and Portuguese Jews in the United States, Guiana, and the Dutch and British West Indies During the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries by Cardozo De Bethencourt, Publications of the American Jewish Historical Society, 1925.
 
      2) The Jews in Curacao by G. Herbert Cone, Publications of the American Jewish Historical Society, 1902.
 
      3) Jewish Education in Curacao (1692-1802) by Isaac Samuel Emmanuel, Publications of the American Jewish Historical Society, 1955.
 

      These articles are available at http://ajhs.org/references/adaje.cfm.

 

 

      Dr. Yitzchok Levine, a frequent contributor to The Jewish Press, is a professor in the Department of Mathematical Sciences at Stevens Institute of Technology, Hoboken, New Jersey. Glimpses Into American Jewish History appears the first week of each month. Dr. Levine can be contacted at llevine@stevens.edu.

About the Author: Dr. Yitzchok Levine served as a professor in the Department of Mathematical Sciences at Stevens Institute of Technology, Hoboken, New Jersey before retiring in 2008. He now teaches as an adjunct at Stevens. Glimpses Into American Jewish History appears the first week of each month. Dr. Levine can be contacted at llevine@stevens.edu.


If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.

Our comments section is intended for meaningful responses and debates in a civilized manner. We ask that you respect the fact that we are a religious Jewish website and avoid inappropriate language at all cost.

If you promote any foreign religions, gods or messiahs, lies about Israel, anti-Semitism, or advocate violence (except against terrorists), your permission to comment may be revoked.

No Responses to “Early Caribbean Jewish Communities (Part II)”

Comments are closed.

Current Top Story
President Barack Obama and Iran do not speak the same language..
Any Deal Is a Bad Deal
Latest Sections Stories
Schonfeld-logo1

There is a point that many parenting books miss: children do more for us than we do for them.

Brigitte Gabriel

Brigitte was a nine-year-old girl when Islamic militants launched an assault on a Lebanese military base and destroyed her home.

Respler-022715

The husband needs to make some changes!

Purim is a fantastic time for fantasies, so I hope you won’t mind my fantasizing about how easy life would be if kids would prefer healthy cuisine over sweets. Imagine waking up to the call of “Mommy, when will my oatmeal be ready?”… As you rush to ladle out the hot unsweetened cereal, you rub […]

‘Double Gold’ awarded to 2012 Yarden Heights wine & 2011 Yarden Merlot Kela Single Vineyard.

One should not give the money before Purim morning or after sunset.

The mishloach manos of times gone by were sometimes simple and sometimes elaborate, but the main focus was on the preparation of the delicious food they contained.

One of the earliest special Purims we have on record was celebrated by the Jews of Granada and Shmuel HaNagid, the eleventh-century rav, poet, soldier and statesman, and one of the most influential Jews in Muslim Spain.

Jews, wake up! Stop educating the world and start educating yourselves.

The lessons conform to the sensitivities and needs of the Orthodox community…

The program took on special significance as it marked not only the first anniversary of Rebbetzin Kudan’s levayah but also the 27th yahrzeit of Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka Schneerson, a”h.

It was only in the reign of George III (1760-1820) that Jews became socially acceptable in Britain, and Nathan became music master to Princess Charlotte and musical librarian to King George IV.

It captures the love of the Jewish soul as only Shlomo Hamelech could portray it – and as only Rabbi Miller could explain it.

Erudite and academic, drawing from ancient and modern sources, the book can be discussed at the Shabbos table as well as in kollel.

More Articles from Dr. Yitzchok Levine
Dr. Yitzchok Levine

I happen to believe that for a couple to spend a few years in kollel is a wonderful way to start a marriage.

Glimpses-logo-NEW

Penn wrote the following to a friend in England: “I found them [the Indians of the eastern shore of North America] with like countenances with the Hebrew race; and their children of so lively a resemblance to them that a man would think himself in Duke’s place, or Barry street, in London, when he sees them.”

The special charm of these letters is their immediacy and authenticity of emotion and description.

There were many who believed that some North America Indians were descended from Jews.

One might think to attribute the crudeness of the calendar to the fact that it was produced by a frontier community unable to calculate a more precise table.

“Throughout his life, he observed Tisha B’Ab as the Nahalah (anniversary) for all of his relatives who were murdered, as this is the national Jewish day of mourning.

Practically to his last days the patriarchal founder was at his office almost daily and took an active interest in all matters connected with the business.

In 1787 Jonas wrote a letter to Congress asking that the federal Constitution guarantee religious liberty in the state of Pennsylvania.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/magazine/glimpses-ajh/early-caribbean-jewish-communities-part-ii/2006/11/01/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: