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October 20, 2016 / 18 Tishri, 5777

Posts Tagged ‘Portugal’

Securing Our Future Through Historic Jewish Communities

Thursday, May 31st, 2012

Since becoming the first ordained rabbi in Jamaica in thirty-three years, I have been working tirelessly with my community to build a Jewish future on this tropical island. Every Jewish community wants to survive and indeed thrive, but there is a particular importance to the preservation and development of the world’s small, history-rich Jewish communities.

As I see it, our collective Jewish future depends on it.

Before I explain my reasoning, let’s briefly review the momentous – but often overlooked – history of our community in Kingston, Jamaica.

The Jewish community of Jamaica traces its origin to Jews from the Iberian Peninsula, who came to the Caribbean in order to escape from the Inquisition. In most cases they originated from parts of Spain that bordered on Portugal. When King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella issued an expulsion decree on March 30, 1492, the Jewish community was given exactly four months to liquidate their affairs and leave the country. Those who fled to Portugal were forcibly converted in 1497. Because the Inquisition was not introduced in Portugal for several decades, many Jews in Portugal continued to practice their religion quietly.

In 1536 the Inquisition reached Portugal and Conversos began to leave. The Portuguese held their first auto-da-fe in 1540. This obviously frightened our ancestors, who made discreet attempts to plan their escape. Slowly, Portuguese Jews made their way to a number of cities that had or developed Converso communities. Amsterdam was the largest of these communities. From Amsterdam, they pursued business opportunities in the Caribbean, settling in Port Royal or later, Spanish Town and Kingston. We can trace our current community back to Neveh Shalom Synagogue, which was founded in 1704, but our roots go back even further.

There are similar communities throughout the Caribbean and Central America, including Willemstad, Curacao; St. Thomas, Virgin Islands; and Suriname. Each of these communities still conduct services on a regular basis. Preserving these and other historic Jewish communities is critical for a number of reasons.

First, the fact that the Jews were the original Diaspora needs to be emphasized at a time when various other communities are discovering their own Diasporas. This can help build strong bonds between various national groups, allowing us to share common experiences with those who may not have obvious connections to the Jewish people. This would, of course, promote tolerance, which is always “good news for the Jews.”

Second, the experiences of the Jewish people in virtually every corner of the globe over the course of hundreds and, in many cases, thousands of years is part of the narrative that needs to be told to those who are legitimately asking questions about Jewish existence and Jewish history.

Whether in Israel or in various parts of the Diaspora, we need to be able to explain to skeptics that we have survived seemingly unending persecution and numerous expulsions and have nevertheless maintained our commitment to our people and our religion.

This narrative needs to be preserved and enhanced in actual living terms, and not just through books and museum exhibits. We must be able to tell the story of our peoplehood and be able to demonstrate living examples of that history.

Finally, when individuals travel the world looking for adventure and existential meaning, it is important that we “surprise” them with Jewish history and living, breathing Jewish tradition. Visitors are beside themselves when they discover that the Caribbean island they are exploring not only had a historic Jewish community but has living indigenous Jews who continue to gather together for communal events.

In my short time here, I have met and interacted with numerous individuals and groups who come searching for the Jamaican Jewish community in an effort to discover their own Jewish identities. Some of those who seek us out come away with a new perspective on life and a revitalized commitment to their Jewish observance. In a way, we are like a living exhibit from the Diaspora Museum in Tel Aviv.

Over the past seventy years there has been a dramatic contraction of the Jewish Diaspora. From a large and diverse population spread out among most of the countries of the world, we have concentrated ourselves in a handful of countries, living mostly in a couple of dozen large urban regions. This is quite an unfortunate demographic trend.

Dana Evan Kaplan

Hebrew Inscription Provides Oldest Archaeological Evidence of Jews in Iberia

Tuesday, May 29th, 2012


The recent discovery of a marble plate bearing the Hebrew inscription “Yehiel” in Portugal serves as the oldest archaeological evidence of Jews in Iberia. Dated sometime before 390 C.E., the two-foot-wide marble plate appears to be a tomb slab. Discovered in a Roman-era excavation near the city of Silves, Portugal by archaeologists from the German Friedrich Schiller University Jena, the discovery predates the previous oldest evidence of Jews in Iberia by nearly a century.

The slab was found in a rubble layer nearby antlers, which were carbon dated to 390 C.E. Excavation director Dr. Dennis Graen explains. “we have a so-called ‘terminus ante quem’ for the inscription, as it must have been created before it got mixed in with the rubble with the antlers.”

The history of Jews in Iberia is known from texts documenting interactions between relatively large populations of Jews and Christians around 300 C.E., but until now, there has not been archaeological evidence of the early population. At the time, Jews in Iberia (and across the Roman Empire) wrote in Latin script, making the the Hebrew inscription bearing the Biblical name “Yehiel” (and other still-to-be translated text) a unique find.

It is the first instance of a Hebrew inscription found in a Roman villa in the region.

A recent discovery at a Roman villa near Silves, Portugal stands out as the oldest evidence of Jews in Iberia.

Before the discovery, the oldest archaeological evidence of Jews in Iberia was a late 5th century C.E. tomb slab with a Latin inscription and an image of a menorah, and the oldest known Hebrew inscription appears centuries later. The discovery by the University of Jena archaeologists provides a fascinating look at a unique circumstance of Jewish and Roman populations living together in this period, and provides archaeological context for the history of Jews in Portugal. The site is still under examination, and the Biblical archaeology world eagerly anticipates a further study of the Hebrew inscription and a deeper investigation of the early population of Jews in Iberia.

Read the full press release from Friedrich Schiller University Jena.

Bible History Daily

Antisemitism on the Rise in Europe

Monday, May 7th, 2012

The virus of antisemitism persists in haunting Europe. In recent months, antisemitism has been exhibited all too often in European countries, not just in theory but in practice. France has been the scene for the murder of Jewish schoolchildren in Toulouse; attacks on Jewish property in Paris and Dijon; desecration of Jewish graves in Nice, and anti-Semitic graffiti throughout the country. Malmo, Sweden, with a now considerable Muslim population, has witnessed increasing outbreaks of violence against Jews. It is disquieting that Ilmar Reepalu, the mayor of the city, has denied these attacks, and dismissed criticism of his denials as the work of the “Israel lobby.”

Over the last decade, antisemitic incidents have occurred not just in France and Sweden but also throughout Europe; some of the more notable have been in the Kreuzberg section of Berlin populated by Palestinians and Turks; even more significantly, in other neighborhoods of Berlin that are not populated by Middle East immigrants; in Stockholm, Amsterdam, and major French cities besides Paris; on the island of Corfu in Greece, and in Rome.

In the 1997 Treaty of Amsterdam, the European Union called for joint efforts to combat prejudice and discrimination experienced by individuals and groups on the basis of their ethnic features, cultural background, religion, gender, sexual orientation, age, or disability. As a result of this treaty, comprehensive data and an analysis of the state of discrimination in Europe with special emphasis on antisemitism is now available in a just-published comprehensive study by the Friedrich Ebert Foundation in Berlin.

This study, Intolerance, Prejudice and Discrimination: a European Report, was based on interviews with sample populations of 1,000 people in eight European countries. It examined negative attitudes and prejudices against groups defined as “other,” “foreign,” or “abnormal.” The overall result — showing widespread intolerance, racism, sexism, dislike of Muslims, concern about immigrants, opposition to homosexuals and gay marriage, and antisemitism — is dispiriting.

Although the prejudices against the various groups differ, the study suggests that they are interconnected: that people who denigrate one group are also very likely to target other groups. Prejudices against the different target groups are linked and share a common ideology, one that endangers democracy and leads to violence and conflicts. The problem that democratic countries and well-meaning people now face is how to confront and overcome these prejudices that are so observable.

The overall saddening conclusion of the report, which deals with a number of areas of discrimination, is that group-focused enmity towards immigrants, blacks, Muslims, and Jews is widespread throughout Europe; and that anti-Semitism is an important component of this hostility. The Report defines anti-Semitism as social prejudice directed against Jews simply because they are Jews. Being Jewish is seen as a negative characteristic. Current antisemitism takes many forms: political (the Jews have a world conspiracy); secular (the Jews are usurers); religious (the Jews are responsible for the death of Jesus); racist (Jews through their genetics are not people to be trusted). The report continues with additional detail: Jews have too much influence; Jews try to take advantage of having been victims during the Nazi era; Jews in general do not care about anything or anybody but their own kind. Two additional troubling points of view were documented: the first is why people do not like Jews when one considers Israel’s policy; the second is the belief that Israel is conducting a war of extermination against the Palestinians.

Even though the study deals with a limited number of individuals and European countries, its findings are significant. The details are a warning of possible future danger. The study shows that animosity against Jews is strongest in the Eastern European countries (Poland and Hungary) and in Germany, moderate in France, Italy, and Portugal, and weakest in the Netherlands and Britain. A recent shift appears to have occurred from traditional anti-Semitism to a new anti-Semitism in relation to the Holocaust. Ominously, an inversion of perpetrator and victim has taken place.

Auschwitz was liberated on January 27, 1945, but the of the Final Solution seems to have been forgotten in the view of European citizens. The study shows that 72% of Poles, 68% of Hungarians, and 49% of Germans believe, strongly or somewhat, that the Jews today are benefitting from the memory of the camp and exploit the Holocaust. Even in the countries with the lowest expression of prejudice, the percentages of people who hold the view that Jews exploit the Holocaust are alarming. The figure for the Netherlands is 17% and in Britain 21%.

The most frequently expressed-anti-Semitic perception is the certitude that Jews have too much influence in the country of the respondent. Nearly 70% of Hungarians hold this view. In Poland, where few people even know a Jew since Poland has such a small Jewish community, some 50% hold this belief. The lowest figures are in the Netherlands where this view is held strongly by 6% and in Britain where 13.9% profess agreement with this assessment. The other four countries around 20% concur with this statement. On the question of Jews caring only about themselves, the range of views is different. Portugal joins Hungary and Poland in agreeing, 51-57%, while the other six vary between 20 and 30%. Somewhat surprisingly, a majority in all eight countries believe that Jews have enriched the culture of the country; the highest figures are in the Netherlands, (72%), Britain (71%) , and Germany (69%).

Michael Curtis

Putting the Oy Back into ‘Ahoy’

Wednesday, October 15th, 2008

  They did not sing “Yo Ho Ho and a Bottle of Manischewitz,” nor do they ever seem to appear in any of the Disney films about pirates in the Caribbean. The website piratesinfo.com carries not a single reference to them.

  And while September 19 has for a number of years now been designated International Talk Like a Pirate Day (there are even Internet courses available in pirate lingo), none of its initiators seems to have had Ladino (the language spoken by Jewish refugees expelled by the Spanish and Portuguese after the Reconquista) in mind.

  Swashbuckling buccaneers who took time to put on tefillin each morning? Better get used to the idea. Long overlooked, the history of Jewish piracy has been garnering increasing interest, with several serious books and articles telling its epic tales.

  Many Jewish pirates came from families of refugees who had been expelled by Spain and Portugal. They took to piracy as part of a strategy of revenge on the Iberian powers (though lining their pockets with Spanish doubloons was no doubt also a motive). Many of these pirates mixed traditional Jewish lifestyles with their exploits on the high seas.

* * * * *

  Jewish refugees from Portugal first settled in Jamaica in 1511, probably originally as sugar growers, and some took up piracy. The British, led by Admiral William Penn (the father of the William Penn who established Philadelphia), took over the island from the Spanish in 1655, reportedly with assistance from local Jews and Marranos (crypto-Jews), all of whom were allowed to remain.

  By 1720, as many as 20 percent of the residents of Kingston were Jews. Over time, Ashkenazi Jews arrived and their synagogues operated alongside the Sephardic ones (the congregations all merged in the 20th century). Jewish tombstones dating back to 1672 have been found there, with Portuguese, Hebrew and English inscriptions.

  Some Jews went into local Jamaican politics, and there were so many in the Jamaican parliament in the 19th century that it became the only parliament on earth that did not hold deliberations on Saturday. The Jewish community of Jamaica today numbers a couple hundred and calls itself the United Congregation of Israelites in Jamaica (UCIJA). The active synagogue there is built in Sephardic style and is one of the few left in the world with a sand floor. Naturally, its official website includes a page on the pirate ancestors of Jewish residents (ucija.org/pirates.htm).

  According to an article earlier this year in the Israeli weekly Bakihilot, municipal workers in Kingston recently uncovered a long forgotten pirate graveyard. Among the tombstones are those with Jewish stars and Hebrew inscriptions, together with pirate symbols such as the skull and crossbones.

  Similar Jewish pirate graves have been found near Bridgetown in the Barbados and in the old Jewish graveyard in Curacao. Jamaican-born Jewish historian Ed Kritzler claims that Jewish pirates once operated there, raiding the Spanish Main wearing tallis shawls. He’s just published a book titled Jewish Pirates of the Caribbean and conducts private tours of the “Jewish pirate coves” of Jamaica.

  Kritzler’s book includes the saga of one Moses Cohen Henriques, who participated in one of history’s largest sea heists against Spain. In 1628, Henriques sailed together with Dutch Admiral Piet Hein, of the Dutch West India Company, who hated Spain after having been held as a slave for four years on a Spanish galleon. They raided Spanish ships off Matanzas Bay in Cuba, commandeering large amounts of gold and silver.

  Henriques set up his own pirate “Treasure Island” on a deserted island off the Brazilian coast on which Jews could openly practice their religion. (He also served as adviser to Henry Morgan, perhaps the most famous pirate of all time; Errol Flynn played Morgan in the movie “Captain Blood.”) After the recapture of Brazil by Portugal in 1654, some of these Jews would sail off to set up a brand new Jewish community in a place called New Amsterdam, now known as New York.

  In many cases Jewish pirates collaborated with Holland, a friendly and welcoming state for Jews. One such pirate was Rabbi Samuel Pallache, a leader of the Moroccan Jewish community in Fez. Born in The Hague, he was son of a leading rabbi from Cordoba who ended up in Morocco. From there he was sent to Holland as envoy of the Moroccan sultan, who was seeking allies against Spain. He became a personal friend of Dutch Crown Prince Maurice, who commissioned him as a privateer, and served for years as a pirate under a Netherlands flag and with Dutch letters of marque. Rabbi Pallache recruited Marranos for his crews.

  In other cases Jewish pirates worked for the Ottomans. A Jewish pirate named Sinan, known to his Spanish prey as “The Great Jew,” was born in what is now Turkey and operated out of Algiers. He first served as second in command to the famous pirate Barbarossa. (No connection to the fictional Barbarossa of the Disney films.) Their pirate flag carried a six-pointed star called the Seal of Solomon by the Ottomans.

  Sinan led the force that defeated a Genoan navy hired by Spain to rid the Barbary Coast of corsairs. He then conquered Tripoli in Libya, and was eventually appointed supreme Ottoman naval commander. He is buried in a Jewish cemetery in Albania.

  A Jewish pirate named Yaakov Koriel commanded three pirate ships in the Caribbean. He later repented and ended up in Safed as one of the Kabbalah students of the Ari (Rabbi Isaac Luria) and is buried near the Ari’s grave.

  A pirate named David Abrabanel, evidently from the same family as the famous Spanish rabbinic dynasty (which included Rabbi Isaac Abrabanel), joined British privateers after his family was butchered off the South American coast. He used the nom de guerre “Captain Davis” and commanded his own pirate vessel named The Jerusalem. According to at least one report, he was the person who discovered what is now called Easter Island.

  Several Jewish corsairs operated against Spanish ships off the coast of Chile. There are reports that their galleys were kosher and they abstained from raids on the Sabbath. A maritime museum in Chile today holds letters of communication among these pirates composed in Hebrew.

  One pirate leader was named Subatol Deul. On a trip up the coast he stumbled across a ship under the command of the pirate Henry Drake, son of Sir Francis Drake. They decided to create an alliance of anti-Spanish pirates, the “Black Flag Fraternity.”

  Deul and Drake reportedly buried treasure on an island near Coquimbo in 1645. A chapter in the book Piracy & Plunder: A Murderous Business, by Milton Meltzer, is devoted to Deul’s swashbuckling career.

  There also were Jewish corsairs based in Curacao next to Venezuela. The local Curacao rabbi once berated his community’s pirates when they thoughtlessly attacked a ship owned by a fellow Jew. At least it wasn’t done on the Sabbath.

  The history of Jewish pirates goes far back: Josephus mentions Jewish pirates operating in the seas off the Land of Israel in Roman times. There is a drawing of a pirate ship inside Jason’s Tomb in Jerusalem. The Hasmonean Hyrcanus accused Aristobulus, his brother, of “acts of piracy at sea.” In its last days, the Seleucid empire (the one fought by the Maccabees) was plagued by Jewish and Arab pirates.

  Pirates operated from coves along the Levantine coast for centuries, and my own city of Haifa was once known as The Little Malta because of its notorious pirates. (The local pirates these days seem to specialize mainly in computer software.)

  The fact that some Jews seemed to have taken so easily to the pirate lifestyle may have been due in part to other skills developed by Jews over the centuries. Cartography, for example, was considered a Jewish specialty in the 15th and 16th centuries, and Christopher Columbus is believed to have consulted the work of a Jewish cartographer, one Abraham Cresque of Mallorca, who produced the Catalan Atlas in 1375. Portuguese Jewish cartographers and scientists contributed to Vasco Da Gama’s voyage of discovery to the Cape of Good Hope in 1497. Jews also worked on ships as navigators.

* * * * *

  Perhaps the most important Jewish pirate of all was the Caribbean pirate Jean Lafitte, a familiar name to many American schoolchildren. He and his men, pirates trained in cannon fire, came to the aid of General (later President) Andrew Jackson and played a critical role in winning the Battle of New Orleans in the War of 1812. A Jean Lafitte National Historic Park stands today on the outskirts of the city.

  What is still largely unknown is that Lafitte was a Jew, born either in Western France or in what is now Haiti. A while back my friend Edward Bernard Glick, a retired professor of political science living in Oregon, published an article in the Jerusalem Post (July 14, 2006) on Lafitte’s Jewish origins and it stirred up a storm of interest. Parts of Rabbi I. Harold Sharfman’s book Jews on the Frontier also discuss Lafitte’s life.

  According to Glick, “[Lafitte] was a Sephardi Jew, as was his first wife, who was born in the Danish Virgin Islands. In his prime, Lafitte ran not just one pirate sloop but a whole fleet of them simultaneously. He even bought a blacksmith shop in New Orleans, which he used as a front for fencing pirate loot. And he was one of the few buccaneers who didn’t die in battle, in prison or on the gallows.”

  Glick claims the British tried to recruit Lafitte to guide them through the swamps to ambush the Americans, but Lafitte instead showed General “Old Hickory” Jackson Britain’s battle plans to attack New Orleans. The rest is history.

  Years before the Battle of New Orleans, Louisiana Governor William C. C. Claiborne placed a reward of $500 on Lafitte’s head. Lafitte retaliated by putting a $5,000 bounty on the head of the governor. Neither collected.

  Lafitte later commanded his own “kingdom” named Campeche on the island of Galveston, Texas, then nominally under Spanish rule. Some of Lafitte’s trading activities were conducted by Jao de la Porta, a Portuguese Jew from Spanish Texas. Among their clients was Jim Bowie, made famous at the Alamo and also for the special knife.

* * * * *

  Mention of Jewish pirates can pop up in some unexpected places. Just before Rosh Hashanah this year, the liberal Huffington Post website carried a post by humorist Andy Borowitz “reporting” that the group of Somali pirates who had just hijacked a ship full of Ukrainians in the Gulf of Aden was calling a halt to the piracy in honor of the Jewish High Holidays.

 Wrote Borowitz: ” ‘To all of our Jewish friends, we say a hearty Shana Tova,’ said pirate spokesman Sugule, moments before the pirates hoisted a Star of David flag over the captured ship. Sugule took pains to indicate that while the pirates were taking a Rosh Hashanah break from their usual plundering and pillaging schedule, they were doing so only out of respect for Jewish pirates and not because they are Jewish themselves. ‘None of us Somali pirates are Jewish,’ he said. ‘Except for Abe in accounting, who’s half.’ “

 And there are others who are getting into the spirit of things. The Bangitout.com Jewish humor website listed a set of halachic challenges for Jewish pirates, including the following:

  If you have a hook instead of a hand, on which arm do you put tefillin?
   Does your treasure map show how far the eruv extends?
   How long do you wait, after capturing a plundered ship, to put up a mezuzah in the captain’s cabin?
   Should you cover your eye patch with your hand when you say the Shema?
   Can you wear a leather boot over your peg leg on Yom Kippur?
   Are you able to carry on the plank on Shabbos? If your parrot is on your shoulder, is that carrying?

  Personally, I think the biggest challenge to Jewish pirates occurs at Purim. After walking around all year decked out like that, what could they possibly dress up as? Accountants?

  In a way, the legacy of Jewish pirates is alive and well in Israel today. One of the most outstanding examples of the Jewish state’s derring-do was when it stole five gunboats out of the port of Cherbourg in France – ships that had already been paid for by Israel but that France, as punishment for Israel’s Six-Day War victory, was refusing to deliver.

  Israeli agents operating through a front corporation seized the ships on December 25, 1969 and sailed them to Haifa. The details of that piracy are engagingly told in The Boats of Cherbourg (1997) by Abraham Rabinovich.

  So let’s swab the decks, count our doubloons and grant the Jewish pirates their proper place in history. In other words, it’s time to put the oy back into “ahoy.”

  Steven Plaut, a professor at Haifa University, is a frequent contributor to The Jewish Press. His book “The Scout” is available at Amazon.com. He can be contacted at steveneplaut@yahoo.com.

Steven Plaut

David Mendes And Zipporah Nunes Machado

Wednesday, July 4th, 2007

      One of the truly amazing aspects of Jewish history is that there were Jews who secretly maintained as much religious observance as they could while living under the merciless eye of the Inquisition in Spain and Portugal.

       These Jews, while outwardly professing Christianity, wanted nothing more than to escape to a country where they could openly practice the religion of their forefathers. In 1531 the Inquisition was officially instituted in Portugal. Yet, more than 200 years later, we find certain Marrano families who married only amongst themselves and clung to Judaism.

        Two people who came from such families were David Mendes Machado and his wife, Zipporah. Both were born in Portugal during the Inquisition – he in 1695 and she in 1714. Both were baptized, since this was the only way their families could outwardly appear to be loyal Christians while maintaining their secret Jewish practices. Indeed, Zipporah’s Christian name was Maria Caetana.

Rev. David Mendes Machado


         According to Naphtali Taylor Phillips,[i] David Machado escaped from Portugal with Dr. Nunes and his family in 1732. However, Rabbi David and Tamar De Sola Pool point out that this date must be incorrect:


                        According to the tradition transmitted by his descendants, Hazzan Machado began life as a Marrano, that is a Jew who could practice the faith of his fathers only in the secrecy of his heart and hearth. His older brother, whose loyalty as a Jew was discovered before he could escape his tormentors, was burned at the stake. In 1732, David Machado, it is said, escaped from his spiritually strangled existence in Portugal and came in the following year, 1733, to Savannah proudly professing his Judaism.

                        Though there is no reason for doubting the basic story, the dates call for revision. The records of the congregation [Shearith Israel Synagogue] show that already in 1728 David Mendes Machado was one of its contributing members. This earlier date explains how in 1736 he could enter the Jewish ministry after a life of Marranoism in which Jewish observance was a perilous matter of life and death, and the acquisition of Hebrew learning was virtually impossible. For a Marrano brought up under the watchful eyes of the Inquisition who wished to return to Judaism, there was much both to learn and unlearn, and in addition in order to be minister in Shearith Israel he had to acquire a knowledge of English. More than eight years of freedom of worship in New York could well have opened for him the gates of Hebrew knowledge, and given him familiarity with the synagogue ritual and acquaintance with the complex rules of shehitah, enabling him to become the religious leader of the synagogue. [ii]


          Reverend Machado served a cantor of Shearith Israel in New York City from 1737 until 1747. His responsibilities were not limited to leading religious services. He was also hired “to keep a public school in due form for teaching the Hebrew language, either the whole morning or afternoon as he shall think most proper. Later, the Reverend Mr. Machado had to keep school in the Hebra building, mornings from nine to twelve and afternoons from two to five.”


                        Another of his duties was to give a certificate of kashruth for all kasher beef exported to the Caribbean communities. For this service it was agreed in October, 1747, that he would be paid six shillings for every twenty barrels of kasher beef, so as to make up the relatively large increment of £ 20 a year that had been voted him. Less than two months later, on December 4, 1747, he died. The congregation paid £ 18.7.0 for funeral charges and for clothing for his widow and children. He was given a worthy tombstone with the epitaph inset on a lead plate. Some thirty years later during the Revolution, that lead was taken from his tombstone. (In those days lead, needed for bullets, was taken from windows, from the weights on fishing nets, and even from tombstones.) Therefore Hazzan Machado’s memory is preserved not through any tumulary inscription, but in a living line of descent that was outstanding in every generation in Shearith Israel’s history.[iii]


Zipporah Nunes Machado
        Zipporah Nunes came from another Marrano family. She and other members of her family were at one point imprisoned by the Inquisition for practicing Judaism. However, her father, Dr. Samuel (Diogo) Nunes (Ribeiro), was a well-respected physician, and his medical expertise was needed by the royal court in Lisbon. Therefore, the family was eventually released. Since the Church wanted to insure that the Nunes family would not return to secretly practicing any Jewish rites, it appointed two Christian “spies” who were required to live with the family.
        This made life intolerable for the family and, in 1726, they escaped from Portugal to London. (For the details of this bold escape see Glimpses Into American Jewish History: “Escape From The Inquisition” at http://www.jewishpress.com/page.do/19159/Glimpses_Into_American_Jewish_History_%28Part_9%29.html)
         In 1733 Zipporah came with her father and two brothers to settle in Savannah, Georgia. Her mother arrived some months later. She was amongst the first Jewish settlers of Savannah. (See Glimpses Into American Jewish History: “The Jewish Settlement of Savannah, GA” at
        Crypto-Jewish women displayed exceptional religious tenacity and were the primary transmitters of secret Jewish rituals on the Iberian Peninsula. A Nunes oral family tradition reveals that the women were so conditioned to leading a double life that for years after their move to America they continued to recite their Hebrew prayers with the aid of the Catholic rosary. Zipporah’s great-grandson, Mordecai Manuel Noah (1785-1851), recounted that she would repeat a silent prayer whenever the clock struck. This prayer had some reference to her imprisonment by the Inquisition.
        “Zipporah Machado was an unusual woman, charming and cultured, mistress of six languages. Her charity, which she bestowed as her means permitted, was ‘unbiased by national or sectarian prejudices.’ “[iv] She was known in her youth as a great beauty.
        In 1733 Zipporah married David Machado. They did not have children until 1746 when Rebecca was born. Sarah was born a year later. However, Hazzan Machado never really knew his two daughters, because he passed away in 1747, leaving Zipporah a widow with two young children.
        In 1753 Zipporah married Israel Jacobs of Philadelphia. “Her marriage with Jacobs was considered somewhat of a messalliance, he being a man of ordinary attainments. He was familiarly known by the term ‘Daddy,’ applied on account of his fondness for children, from whom when separated he was never happy and in whose society he spent much of his time.”[v] They had one child Rachel, who was born in either 1754 or 1760. Zipporah died in 1799 at the age of 85. Israel outlived her, passing away in 1810.
          Zipporah’s oldest daughter Rebecca married Jonas Phillips, a Revolutionary War veteran. (For information about her life see Glimpses Into American Jewish History: “Rebecca (Machado) Phillips: Colonial Jewish Matriarch” at http://www.jewishpress.com/page.do/17894/Glimpses_Into_American_Jewish_History_%28Part_13%29.html)
           Zipporah was also the great-grandmother of Uriah Phillips Levy (1792-1862), a commodore in the United States Navy, and of Manual M. Noah (mentioned above), a Grand Sachem of Tammany Hall.
             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.


[i]Family History of the Reverend David Mendez Machado, N. Taylor Phillips, Publications of the American Jewish Historical Society, 1894; 2, AJHS Journal page 45. This article is available online from AJHS at http://www.ajhs.org/reference/adaje.cfm.


[ii]An Old Faith In The New World, Portrait of Shearith Israel 1654-1954, by David and Tamar De Sola Pool, Columbia University Press, New York, 1955, pages 162-163.


[iii]Ibid., page 163


[iv]Early American Jewry, The Jews of Pennsylvania and the South, 1655-1790, Volume 2, by Jacob Rader Marcus, The Jewish Publication Society of America, 1953, page 335.


[v]Family History of the Reverend David Mendez Machado

Dr. Yitzchok Levine

The Jews Of Portugal: Contemporary Sites And Events (Part Two)

Wednesday, January 31st, 2007

        In the first article on the Jews of Portugal, we reviewed the glorious periods of the history and depths of persecution to which Jews were subjected during the Inquisition. We continued through to the revival of the Jewish community in Lisbon. This piece highlights the contemporary Jewish sites, with the extended hand of the small Jewish community to their brethren worldwide.


         The largest Jewish community in Portugal is in Lisbon, where there are two synagogues – a Sephardic, Shaare Tikva (which was featured in The Jewish Press article on the Jews of Portugal) and an Ashkenazic, Ohel Yaacov. The Sephardic synagogue houses documents and religious objects dating back to the 1300’s.


         In Lisbon, there is also a Jewish cultural center, a kosher butcher, a special slaughtering house and a home for the aged. Additionally, there are remains of the medieval Jewish quarter and Rossio Square, the site of the Palace of the Inquisition where 1,300 Jews were burned at the stake. There is a collection of Jewish tombstones, with inscriptions written in Hebrew in the Archaeological Museum. In the National Museum of Ancient Art, there is a painting of Grao Vasco, a 16th century Jew.




         A unique ancient synagogue can be visited in the Jewish quarter of Obidos. The synagogue dates to the end of the 12th century. Obidos is a seaside village located about 80 kilometers north of Lisbon, in the Costa de Prata region. A Jewish community lived in Obidos between the fifth and seventh centuries, when the Visigoth occupied the city. Another Jewish community lived there between the eighth and 12th centuries, while it was under Arab rule.




         The city of Tomar is located in the Costa de Prata region. The first Jews settled in the town in the 14th century. The Jewish quarter occupied only one street, the present-day Rua Dr. Joaquim Jacinto. Despite its small size, the Jewish community was prosperous, and its influence was to increase greatly during the 15th century. This was the period of the Discoveries, when Tomar’s governor was Prince Henry the Navigator.


         In Tomar, an ancient 15th century Jewish synagogue and mikveh (ritual bath), one of the two surviving monuments of medieval Jewish heritage, have been preserved. The synagogue has become a national museum and features historic remains of medieval Portugese communities. In 1993, a Yom Kippur service was held at the synagogue due to the large number of Jewish tourists.


Tomar Synagogue


         Located at 73 Rua Dr. Joaquim Jaquinto, the synagogue of Tomar features a white painted, plain facade. The interior consists of a rectangular main prayer room of about eight meters on each side. Four pillars support the ceiling, with 12 pointed arches in the Moorish style, which was much appreciated in the Iberian countries during the Middle Ages.


         According to the Sephardic tradition, especially among Jews of Portuguese origin, the four pillars symbolized the four mothers of Israel: Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah, while the 12 arches are thought to represent the 12 tribes of Israel.


         The four upper corners of the room contain clay jars incorporated into the walls and positioned upside down, an ingenious traditional method employed in the Middle Ages to improve the acoustics. Modern additions include wooden chairs facing the central bimah, surrounding it on three sides. The Torah scrolls are kept in a wooden cupboard. Old stone carvings of the original structure decorate the walls of the prayer sanctuary.


         A second, smaller room is situated next to the main prayer sanctuary and is partially below the current street level. Discovered in 1985, it was originally used as a mikveh. It houses a collection of artifacts, especially ceramic bowls that are displayed around the mikveh’s pool. A well, half covered by a more recent wall, has been discovered on the patio behind the mikveh, its edges bearing deep cuts from ropes.


         Today, the building of the synagogue houses the Museu Luso-Hebraico Abraham Zacuto, the Abraham Zacuto Portuguese Jewish Museum. It is named after Abraham Zacuto (c.1450-c.1522), a mathematician and author of the celebrated Almanach Perpetuum, a book published in Leiria in 1496 that contains mathematical tables largely used by Portuguese navigators during the early 16th century and later.


         The exhibits include various archeological findings attesting to the Jewish presence in Portugal during the Middle Ages. The exhibits include an inscription, dated 1307, from the former main synagogue of Lisbon. A second notable 13th century inscription is from Belmonte, on which the Divine Name is represented by three dots in a manner reminiscent of the ancient Hebrew manuscripts from the Dead Sea.




         Another small Jewish community can be found in the Costa Verde region in the city of Porto, which served as a major center for Jewish traders during the Middle Ages. One of the sites is the earliest known Jewish Quarter found in Portugal, now Rua de Santa Ana. Visitors can also visit the beautiful Kadoorie Synagogue, built in 1927.


         Last year, a group of citizens from the city of Porto, who view themselves as descendants of Crypto-Jews, issued a request to the government of Portugal to turn a building where the remains of an ancient synagogue were found into a museum dedicated to the history of the city’s Jews.


         It is believed that the building served as the synagogue of Rabbi Isaac Aboab. Rabbi Aboab, known as the “last gaon [sage] of Castile,” was the head of the Guadalajara yeshiva. In March 1492, on the eve of the expulsion of the Jews from Spain, Aboab and a group of Jewish dignitaries managed to obtain political asylum in Portugal. The rabbi settled in the Judiaria (Jewish) quarter of Porto, along with a few hundred Jewish families.


         Five years later, the Portuguese authorities forced all the Jews in the country to either convert to Christianity or be expelled. Many of those forced to convert continued to secretly observe the Jewish commandments. Over the years, the Jews abandoned the Judiaria, and many of its buildings were handed over to the Church or various charity organizations. The synagogue building was handed over to a state charity.


         Two years ago, the organization gave the building to a priest named Agostinho Jardim Moreira, to be converted into an old age home. During renovations on the building, a recess was found behind a secret wall where a synagogue ark that held the Torah scrolls once stood. The location of the building precisely matches a description provided by 16th century writer Immanuel Aboab (a great-grandson of Rabbi Aboab), who wrote that the synagogue was located “in the third house along the street, counting down, from the church.”


         The Israeli ambassador to Portugal, Aaron Ram, has appealed to the city of Porto and the local bishop regarding the matter. In addition, the Center for Jewish Art at Hebrew University has asked UNESCO for assistance in preserving the site.




         The last Marrano community can be found in Belmonte in the mountainous region of Serra da Estrel. In the 20th century, long after the Inquisition had ended, they realized that their traditions − to light the candles every Friday night and to pray on Saturday – were signs of their Jewish ancestry. With the help of rabbis from Israel, approximately 80 of Belmonte’s Jews converted to Orthodox Judaism in 1991.


Belmonte Synagogue



         Currently more than 120 openly practicing Jews live in Belmonte, making up 10 percent of the town’s population. In 1997, Portugal’s first new synagogue in 70 years was dedicated in Belmonte. Israeli President Ezer Weizman and Portugal’s President Jorge Sampaio attended the dedication ceremony. The town also boasts a mikveh.




        Excavations of possible 15th century synagogues are being undertaken in Evora, in the mountain village of Castelo de Vide and in Valencia de Alcantara, which is on the Spanish side of the border. In the Evora Museum, there is a stone with Hebrew inscriptions on it (dated 1378), along with a moneybox and a bench from the Inquisition. The Public Library across the street from the Evora Museum contains a rare, first edition copy of the Almanac Perpetuum, written by Abraham Zacuto. Visitors in Evora can visit the Kadoorie Synagogue, as well.




         Mediaeval Faro, the capital of Algarve, had a Jewish quarter that was noted for being the site of’ the first printing press in Portugal, where the Pentateuch in Hebrew by Samuel Gacon in 1487 was published. After the 1496 order was given for the expulsion of the Jews, the Jewish quarter declined as a result of the dispersal of its inhabitants. This was reversed in the 19th century, when a prosperous community of Jews from Gibraltar and Morocco settled in Rua de Santo Antonio.


         Around 1830, the renewed Jewish community built two synagogues and a cemetery. The remote cemetery, which dates back to the burial of Rabbi Josef Toledano in 1838, later fell into ruin when the community almost completely disappeared. In 1993 this cemetery, situated between Rua Leao Beneto and Estrada da Penah, was restored with the combined efforts of several Jewish Portuguese and foreign organizations. Portuguese President Mario Soares attended the restoration ceremony.


         Closer to the historical center was the Synagogue of Rua Castillo. Some signs of the Jewish community’s prosperity in the 19th century are still visible, such as Abrado Amram’s residence at the palace in Rua Filipe Alisto. It is now known as the Comigo Algarve Praca.


         The Algarve Jewish community was established in 1991 with a Chanukah tea party at the home of Ralf and Judy Pinto. Since then, all the main chagim are celebrated with tea parties or dinners. When sufficient numbers are present, an erev Shabbat service is arranged. The highlight of any year is the communal Pesach Seder, which attracts some 60 people from all parts of the Diaspora.


         In 1998 the Algarve community celebrated its first bar mitzvah in 75 years, for which a Sefer Torah was brought from Lisbon. Last year, the Pintos’ son Jose and his bride Michelle were the first Jewish couple to be married in Algarve in 500 years.


         Ralf Pinto, the Algarve Jewish community spokesman – whose parents went to South Africa as refugees from Nazi Germany – has traced his family tree back to Samuel Levi Pinto, who lived in Amsterdam in 1650. As he explains, the name Pinto is of Portuguese origin, and means “painted.” Pinto and his wife moved permanently to Algarve from South Africa in 1991.


         This tiny yet vibrant Jewish community is unique in its determination to revive Jewish life and restore the Jewish heritage of Portuguese Jewry in the historic city. In an exclusive interview with The Jewish Press, Pinto appeals to the worldwide Jewish communities to join his community in restoring the Isaac Bitton Museum at the Faro Jewish Cemetery.


         As he emphasizes, “Whereas traditionally the synagogue is the cornerstone of Jewish community life, in Algarve it is the restored cemetery which takes on this role.” Charged with the task of maintaining and developing the cemetery as a historic heritage site, Ralf Pinto is now developing a museum celebrating Jewish life, at the cemetery’s entrance. He elaborates: “A 25 square-meter wooden house will be installed, adjacent to the existing Tahara house. The addition will contain the original furniture from the synagogue that stood in Rua Castilho N? 4 in the old Jewish area of Faro till 1970, when it was sold and demolished.


         “A model chuppah will be set up with dressed mannequins and recorded music. We are now looking for donations of a wedding dress, a tallit with black stripes for the rabbi, a large tallit for the actual chuppah and if at all possible, a yad for Torah reading. So, if you have these items, please donate them to us.”


         Pinto notes that the museum is a very important tourist site for the many Jewish visitors to the area and to the non-Jews who have an opportunity to learn about Jewish life. The community plans to plant 18 trees at the entrance to the museum in honor of one of the “Righteous Among The Nations”, Portuguese diplomat Aristides de Sousa Mendes, whose heroic actions paved the way for over one million Jews to escape the Holocaust.


         The community publicizes its get-togethers by means of the local press and by mailing circulars to its members, and is listed in the International Jewish Travel Guide. When visiting Algarve, Pinto urges all visitors to contact the Jewish community at Rua J?dice Biker 11 5

Shoshana Matzner Beckerman

Early Caribbean Jewish Communities (Part I)

Wednesday, October 4th, 2006

     Places like Barbados, Curacao, Jamaica, Tobago, the Lesser Antilles, and St. Eustatia probably conjure up, in the minds of many Jewish Press readers, visions of vacation resorts. But many may not know that Jewish communities existed in these places as early as the first part of the seventeenth century. Jews lived in the Caribbean (formerly referred to as the West Indies) years before they settled in New York in 1654.
      The establishment of the first permanent Jewish communities in the Western Hemisphere during the middle of the seventeenth century was viewed by Spanish and Portuguese Jews with satisfaction and pleasure. On the one hand, these settlements represented an extension of the prodigious commercial activity of Spanish and Portuguese Jews; on the other, some felt that this activity represented the realization of the Messianic age.
      Indeed, in 1650, no less a personality than Haham Menasseh ben Israel of Amsterdam wrote that in his opinion the establishment of American synagogues corresponded to prophesies in the Book of Daniel. Some years later the poet Daniel Levi de Barrios confirmed the ideas of Menasseh ben Israel in a bizarre interpretation of the text of Zechariah. According to de Barrios the prophet literally mentioned the Americas!
      It may well have been that the theories of Haham Menasseh ben Israel and Daniel Levi de Barrios were, to some extent, motivating factors behind the emigration of Jews to the Western Hemisphere during the seventeenth century. One should keep in mind that these enterprising men, while intensely interested in material gains, were at the same time idealists. Most had lost their wealth in Spain or Portugal due to the persecutions of the infamous Inquisition. In addition, they had suffered torture and imprisonment.
      Rather than abandon their Jewish religious convictions, they chose to forsake the land they loved – home of their forefathers for centuries. The New World held out the tantalizing prospect of being able to practice Judaism, if not openly then at least with less fear of persecution.
      This and the next Glimpses column will deal with some of the history of some of the more prominent early Caribbean Jewish communities.



      Barbados was captured by the British in 1605. Jews are said to have settled on this island as early as 1628. Since Jews were expelled from England in 1290 and were not permitted, until 1656, to openly live as Jews in England, those Jews who initially came to Barbados must have been forced to live as crypto-Jews (Marranos).
      Professing Jews did not reach Barbados until 1656 when Abraham de Mercado, a medical doctor, and his son, David-Raphael de Mercado, were granted permission to settle there by the British government. Until 1654 Dr. de Mercado had resided in Recife, Brazil. While there he had been one of the elders of the Jewish community. He was so highly respected that in 1641 Menasseh ben Israel dedicated one of his books to him. David-Raphael de Mercado was a man of considerable means, and in 1679 his name headed the list as the largest Jewish taxpayer in Barbados.
      Rabbi Eliyahu Lopes, who left Amsterdam for Barbados in Tammuz 5438 (July 1678), was the first haham of the Jewish community. While still relatively young, he had established a reputation as an effective preacher in Amsterdam. In 1675 he was given the honor of preaching the sermon at the dedication of the Portuguese synagogue in Amsterdam. There is evidence that Rabbi Lopes was still serving in his position as Haham in 1683. The Jewish community apparently expanded during the 1680’s, because by 1688 there were two synagogues in different parts of the island.
      The Jews of Barbados remained generally committed to the traditions of their forefathers and did not forget their former Jewish European communities. Records show that one Yirmiyahu Burgos of Barbados sent one hundred florins to Amsterdam to be dispensed to the poor and needy.
      The persecutions of the Inquisition in Spain and Portugal were responsible for a continuous influx of Jews to Barbados during the eighteenth century.



      Christopher Columbus made a total of four trips to the Caribbean and South America during the years 1492-1504. On May 4, 1494, during his second voyage, he arrived at the island of Jamaica. Columbus annexed the island in the name of his master and mistress, the king and queen of Spain. However, it was not settled by the Spanish until Juan de Esquivel came from Santo Domingo in 1509.  For the next 146 years Jamaica remained a Spanish colony.
      In 1580, King Philip II of Spain united the crowns of Spain and Portugal. It is likely that shortly thereafter Marranos from Portugal arrived with other merchant adventurers to participate in the colonization of Jamaica.
      In 1655 the island was captured by the English. Some of the Jews who fled from Recife, Brazil when the Portuguese recaptured it in 1654 ended up settling on the island of Jamaica. The Jewish community began to prosper, and in 1684 a synagogue was dedicated. Shortly after its completion Rabbi Yeosiahu Pardo arrived to serve as haham.
      Among the first settlers sent to Jamaica by the Amsterdam community were Aron de Mosseh Tartas, who emigrated in 1694, and Daniel Ribeyro de Payva, who arrived in 1717. Their ancestors and relatives were persecuted by the Portuguese Inquisition. In 1647 Isaac de Castro Tartas was burned at the stake in Lisbon; Antonio Ribeiro de Payva, an apothecary in S. Vicente de Beira born at Penamacor in about 1721, was sentenced to prison for Judaizing, and reconciled in the auto da f? of Lisbon on September 24, 1747.
      In 1760 Reverend Isaac Touro, a native of Holland, left Jamaica to serve as chazzan of the Yeshuat Israel Synagogue (subsequently known as the historic Touro Synagogue) in Newport, Rhode Island. His son Judah Touro (1775-1854), who was born in Newport, was the famous philanthropist.
      “A Tory, Judah’s father remained with his family in Newport after the British captured the city. The Touros became dependent upon the charity of the British occupying forces, which helped the family relocate to Jamaica, West Indies, where Isaac died in 1783.”[i]

      (This article is based in part on “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, 29, available at www.ajhs.org/reference.adaje.cfm.)

[i] www.ajhs.org/publications/chapters/chapter.cfm?documentID=223



      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.

Dr. Yitzchok Levine

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/magazine/glimpses-ajh/early-caribbean-jewish-communities-part-i/2006/10/04/

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