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July 30, 2016 / 24 Tammuz, 5776

Posts Tagged ‘Portugal’

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.

 

Obidos:

 

         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.

 

Tomar:

 

         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.

 

Porto:

 

         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.

 

Belmonte:

 

         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.

 

Evora:

 

        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.

 

Algarve/Faro:

 

         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

 

      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.
 

Jamaica

 

      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

Escape From The Inquisition

Thursday, December 1st, 2005

 The Inquisition

“In 1478 at the request of the Spanish sovereigns Ferdinand and Isabella, Pope Sixtus IV (1471-84) issued a papal bull allowing for the creation of the Spanish Inquisition. It lasted until it was “abolished” in 1834, although its most fervent activity was during the 15th and 16th centuries. The Spanish Inquisition is the notorious for two reasons. First, it was more cruel precisely because it was administered by the secular government. Second, it was concerned, in large part, with the conversos. These were Jews who had converted either under duress or out of social convenience, and were suspected of secretly practicing the Jewish faith.”[1]

“The Spanish Inquisition was particularly terrifying because of its inherent characteristics. The accused never knew who their accusers were. Once arrested, the accused heretic’s properties were seized. These properties were then administered at first by the Crown, and later by the General Inquisitor. This fostered the means for anyone to accuse for personal reasons, or to get gain. In many areas, ‘. . . men began to wonder whether a man’s worldly wealth, as well as his descent, was now become [sic] an incriminating circumstance’ (Roth, 1964, The Spanish Inquisition. United States of America: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.  p. 60). The Inquisition certainly did not limit itself to purifying only those of the Jewish faith. This was especially true if the accused was found to have any Jewish blood in his ancestry. Even if the accused was now a devout Christian, he was tried as severely as possible because of his roots. The accused was also not allowed to have a lawyer or counsel for his defense, and the names of all witnesses were kept secret from him.”[2]

“More than 13,000 Conversos were put on trial during the first 12 years of the Spanish Inquisition. Hoping to eliminate ties between the Jewish community and Conversos, the Jews of Spain were expelled in 1492.

“The next phase of the Inquisition began around 1531, when Pope Leo X extended the Inquisition to Portugal. Thousands of Jews came to Portugal after the 1492 expulsion. A Spanish style Inquisition was constituted and tribunals were set up in Lisbon and other cities. Among the Jews who died at the hands of the Inquisition were well-known figures of the period such as Isaac de Castro Tartas, Antonio Serrao de Castro and Antonio Jose da Silva. The Inquisition never stopped in Spain and continued until the late 18th century.

“By the second half of the 18th century, the Inquisition abated, due to the spread of enlightened ideas and lack of resources. The last auto-da-fe in Portugal took place on October 27, 1765. Not until 1808, during the brief reign of Joseph Bonaparte, was the Inquisition abolished in Spain. An estimated 31,912 heretics were burned at the stake, 17,659 were burned in effigy and 291,450 made reconciliations in the Spanish Inquisition. In Portugal, about 40,000 cases were tried, although only 1,800 were burned, the rest made penance.”[3]

In 1497 all Jews living in Portugal were forced to convert to Christianity. These Jews were known as “New Christians” or Marranos. Despite the obvious dangers involved, a considerable number of these New Christians while outwardly professing to be devout Catholics, secretly kept as many mitzvos as possible. They remained loyal Jews for hundreds of years, and married only other “New Christians” who did the same. Of course, if at all possible, these New Christians sought ways to flee from Portugal. Their goal was to go to a country that would allow them to openly practice Judaism. Very few families actually succeeded in doing this.

A Daring Escape

“Dr. Samuel Nunez – was an eminent physician in Lisbon during the Inquisition. They, although of the Jewish persuasion – had long been professing Christianity, but by pursuing their religious devotions privately, were enabled to remain secretly true to the faith of their ancestors.
The Doctor was one of the court physicians, but even this did not save him from the wrath of the Grand Inquisitor when it was ascertained that his Christianity was but a pretense; he, with the members of his family, was cast into prison, and remained there until the medical services of the Doctor being called into requisition, they were liberated by the Ecclesiastical Council upon the advice of the Grand Inquisitor, on condition, however, that two officials of the Inquisition should reside in the family as spies upon their religious practices.”[4] “The Doctor had a large and elegant mansion on the banks of the Tagus, and being a man of large
fortune he was in the habit of entertaining the principal families of Lisbon. On a pleasant summer day (in 1726) he invited a party to dinner, and among the guests was a captain of an English brigantine anchored at some distance in the river.  While the company were amusing themselves on the lawn,   the captain invited the family and part of the company to accompany him on board the brigantine and partake of a lunch prepared for the occasion. All the family, together with the spies of the Inquisition and a portion of the guests, repaired on board the vessel, and while they were below in the cabin enjoying the hospitality of the captain, the
anchor was weighed, the sails unfurled, and the wind being fair, the brigantine shot out of the Tagus, and was soon at sea, and carried the whole party to England. It had been previously arranged between the Doctor and the captain, who had agreed for a thousand moidores in gold to convey the family to England, and who were under the painful necessity of adopting this plan of escape to avoid detection. The ladies had secreted all their diamonds and. jewels, which were quilted in their dresses, and the Doctor having previously changed all his securities into gold, it was distributed among the gentlemen of the family and carried around them in leathern belts. His house, plate, furniture, servants, equipage, and even the dinner cooked for the occasion were all left, and were subsequently seized by the Inquisition and confiscated to the state.”[5]

In this manner Dr. Nunez, his wife Rebecca, his mother Zipporah, his two sons Daniel and Moshe, and his daughter Sipra (Zipporah) escaped from Portugal to London. As was the case with many New Christian men who escaped from the Iberian Peninsula, he and his sons were no doubt circumcised shortly after their arrival. On the 11th of Av, 1726, Dr. Nunez remarried his wife Rebecca according to Halacha.[6] On July 11, 1733 Dr. Nunez and his family (except for his wife who had apparently died while they were living in London) arrived in Savannah, Georgia.

Zipporah Nunez (1714-1799[7]) “was a young lady nineteen years of age when she arrived from abroad with her father. Zipporah [apparently originally named Maria] had been born in Portugal, a Catholic, and she grew up in this land to marry [in 1733] a ‘rabbi,’ Mr. [David Mendez] Machado, the hazzan of Shearith Israel [Synagogue in New York]. Her contemporaries agreed that 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.'”[8] Zipporah “was a woman of many accomplishments, conversant with several languages, and until her death maintained a lofty
dignity, and was known in her earlier years as a great beauty.”[9] “She was the mother-in-law of a Revolutionary veteran (Jonas Phillips) and the great-grandmother of a commodore in the United States Navy (Uriah P. Levy) and of a Grand Sachem of Tammany Hall (Mordechai M. Noah), all Jews.”[10] She was also the great-grandmother of Raphael Jacob Moses.[11] Raphael Moses was a successful businessman and a staunch fighter for the South during the Civil War. He had the distinction of carrying out the last order issued by the Confederacy. Many members of his extended family were all observant Jews.


[1]
http://www.geocities.com/iberianinquisition/

[2] http://www.bibletopics.com/biblestudy/64.htm

[3] http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/History/Inquisition.html

[4] 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 AJHA at http://www.ajhs.org/reference/adaje.cfm.
 
[5] Ibid., pages 46 – 47 quoting Statistics Of The State Of Georgia: Including an account of Its Natural, Civil, and Ecclesiastical History; Together with a Particular Description of Each County, Notices of the Manners and customs of Its Aboriginal tribes, and a Correct Map of the State, George White. Savannah: W. Thorne Williams, 1849.

[6] New Light on the Jewish Settlement of Savannah, Malcolm H. Stern, Publications of the American Jewish Historical Society, volume 52, 1963. Reprinted in The Jewish Experience in America edited by Abraham J. Karp, Ktav Publishing House, New York, 1969, page 72.

[7] The Record Book of the Reverend Jacob Raphael Cohen, Allen D. Corr? with biographical annotations by Malcolm H. Stern, Publications of the American Jewish Historical Society, volume 59, 1969, footnote 105. This article is available online from AJHA at
http://www.ajhs.org/reference/adaje.cfm.

[8] Early American Jewry, Volume II: The Jews of Pennsylvania and the South, 1655 – 1790, Jacob Rader Marcus, The Jewish Publication Society of America, Philadelphia, 1953, page 335.

[9] Family History of the Reverend David Mendez Machado, page 50.

[10] Early American Jewry, Volume II: The Jews of Pennsylvania and the South, 1655 – 1790, page 335.

[11] The Last Order Of The Lost Cause: The Civil War Memoirs Of A Jewish Family From The ‘Old South’: Raphael Jacob Moses, Major, C.S.A., 1812-1893, Mel Young,  University Press of America, 1995, New York, page 334.

 
Dr. Yitzchak Levine, a frequent contributor to The Jewish Press, is a professor in the department of Mathematical Sciences Stevens Institute of Technology, Hoboken, New Jersey. He may be contacted at llevine@stevens-tech.edu.

Dr. Yitzchok Levine

Aaron Lopez, Colonial American Merchant Prince

Wednesday, October 5th, 2005
Note: Unless otherwise indicated, all quotes are from Lopez of Newport, Colonial American Merchant Prince, Stanley F. Chyet, Wayne State University Press, 1970.

One cannot fully appreciate the life and accomplishments of Aaron Lopez (1731-1782) unless one is familiar with the history of the Inquisition. “The story of the 1492 expulsion of the Jews from Span is well known.  Not so well known is what happened five years later in the neighboring country of Portugal. Of those Jews who chose to flee Spain in 1492, large numbers went to Morocco, Italy and to the Ottoman Empire.  But, the greatest number, perhaps half of the total went to Portugal. King Jo?o II, of Portugal, allowed them to enter.  He was preparing for war against the Moors, and he needed the taxes collected from these Jews to finance that war.

“Permanent residence was granted only to 630 wealthy families who were allowed to establish themselves in several parts of the country upon payment of 100 cruzados.  Others were allowed to settle for only eight months upon payment of eight cruzados for each adult.  The king then bound himself to provide shipping so that they could leave.   One hundred thousand refugees may have entered under these conditions.  At the end of eight months, however, the king saw to it that little shipping was available and few could leave.  Those left behind were declared forfeit of their liberty and were declared slaves of the king.”[1]

The situation of the Jews continued to deteriorate. Pressure was exerted upon them to convert to Christianity. Those who did not were told that they had to leave Portugal. However, in the end, the vast majority of Jews were not allowed to leave, and any who had not undergone conversion were forcibly converted. “Holy water was sprinkled on them and they were declared to be Christians. King Manoel (the successor to King Jo?o II) then informed the Catholic Kings of Spain, ‘There are no more Jews in Portugal.'”[2]

“If any of these New Christians, as the Portuguese contemptuously designated them, thought to find security in their new status, events proved them frighteningly mistaken.” Even two centuries later those ‘of the Jewish race’ in Lisbon still had occasion to dread the threat of
persecution. A day of wrath dawned for one of their number on October 19, 1739, some 203 years after the establishment of the Inquisition in Portugal.”  On that day, Antonio Jos? da Silva, one of Portugal’s outstanding poets and dramatists, was garroted (strangled) and burned in an auto da f? (the burning of a heretic). The “crime” that led to his death was his heresy for secretly “observing the Mosaic laws.”[3]

Despite the obvious dangers that New Christians who secretly practiced Judaism were subjected to, hundreds of years after their forced conversion in 1497 one could still find families tenaciously clinging to the faith of their fathers and willing to risk their lives for Judaism. “Among the New Christians in Lisbon at the time (of Dom Antonio’s execution) was the family of Diego Jos?Lopez, born and twice-married in Portugal.” Dom Diego “remained a loyal Jew, outwardly devout Catholic professions notwithstanding.”

Duarte (Edward) Lopez was born into this well-to-do family in 1731. “Raised to practice Judaism only in secret, while maintaining outward conformity with Catholicism to all appearances, Lopez reached maturity, married and had a baby daughter before deciding to leave Portugal for a new, openly Jewish life in British North America, where he joined his older brother Moses. Moses Lopez, who had himself left Portugal in his teens, had come of age in New York City before establishing himself in Newport, Rhode Island, in the early 1740s.”[4]

“Arriving in Newport (on October 13, 1752) the Lopezes lost no time in availing themselves of their new freedom.” Duarte had himself circumcised at the age of 21. He and his wife Anna “were remarried, with the traditional Jewish ceremony. His name was changed to Aaron, and hers to Abigail. Their daughter’s name (Catherine) they changed to Sarah.”[5]  “With the help of his brother Moses (Aaron) set himself up in business. By 1760, his efforts to engage in the wholesale commodities trade had also proved successful. His business activities grew widely over the next 15 years to include whaling and a few ventures in the slave trade, as well as the export of Newport manufactures such as furniture, axes, plank and board, flour, barrel staves and salt fish.”[6] The Lopezes lived as strictly observant Jews, and Aaron played a key role in the establishment and development of what eventually became known as the Touro Synagogue. He laid the first corner stone[7] and served more than once as parnas (president) of the congregation.  He frequently donated money for the upkeep of the synagogue and in 1770 presented one of the five beautiful candelabra that are suspended from its ceiling.[8]

For Aaron and his family, “The Sabbath was to be taken seriously; ‘It being Friday and late in the day I shall not have time to enlarge.’ His shop would be closed on the Sabbath (and on Sunday as well); no ship of his would depart Newport on a Saturday.  He would not conduct business on the Jewish Festivals either. ‘When I was a[t] Newport least (sic) April,’ an out-of-town client told him, ‘it happened to be on holy days and could not see you.’ Obviously it was Passover which had made Aaron inaccessible. On one occasion Aaron is known to have secured 250 pounds of matsah, unleavened Passover bread, from New York – not such a large order when one considers the size of his m?nage. Even the outbreak of the Revolution and flight from Newport could not persuade the Lopezes to forgo observance of the Passover.”

“Some of the cheese Aaron sold, it is worth noting, was ‘coushir’ (kosher), fit for use on the tables of God-fearing Jews and often shipped to their communities in the Southern colonies and the Caribbean. Not at all infrequently, as it happened, kosher provisions – ‘Jew beef’ and tongues, as well as cheese – were on sale in his shop and included in cargoes to the West Indies. A cargo might even contain so rare a delicacy as ‘chorisas’ (haroses)”[9]

“With the outbreak of the Revolutionary War in 1776, Lopez began to suffer a dramatic downturn in his business, along with most colonial merchants. As the British took Savannah in 1778, Lopez evacuated his family to Leicester, Massachusetts, where he set up a retail shop and a modest commodities trade via overland routes through Salem, Boston and Providence. Over the course of the next four years, he became a key supplier to the American forces, providing such necessities as flour and leather breeches.”In 1782, while on the way to Newport with his family, Aaron Lopez accidentally drowned in Scott’s pond in Smithfield, Rhode Island, while watering his horse. He left behind his grieving (second) wife Sarah, devoted father-in-law and business partner Jacob Rodriguez Rivera, and 15 surviving children. “What sort of a Jew was Aaron? He lived in the world of eighteenth-century American Sephardic orthodoxy and simultaneously in the world of the eighteenth-century Gentile milieu. He belonged as much to the one as to the other, and he appears to have been conscious of no inevitable conflict between the two. ‘All who knew him agree,’ wrote a Massachusetts journalist shortly after Aaron’s death, ‘that he was, in the fullest import of the words, a good citizen and an honest man.’ Nearly all we know or can surmise of Aaron’s life lends substance to this observation.”

Ezras Stiles believed “him to have been ‘without a single enemy and the most universally beloved by an extensive acquaintance of any man I have ever knew.’ Aaron’s ‘beneficence to his fam[ily] and connexions, to his nation [the Jews], and to all the world is almost without parallel.’ Such was the buenafama of Aaron Lopez.”

[1] THE FORCED CONVERSION OF THE JEWS OF PORTUGAL, Arthur Benveniste,
<http://www.cryptojews.com/Portugal.html>http://www.cryptojews.com/Portugal.html

[2] Ibid.

[3]
<http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/view.jsp?artid=714&letter=S>http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/view.jsp?artid=714&letter=S

[4] http://www.cjh.org/academic/findingaids/AJHS/nhprc/AaronLopez.html

[5] The Story of the Jews of Newport (1658 – 1908), Morris A. Gutstein, Bloch Publishing Co., 1936, page 67.

[6]
http://www.cjh.org/academic/findingaids/AJHS/nhprc/AaronLopez.html>http://www.cjh.org/academic/findingaids/AJHS/nhprc/AaronLopez.html

[7] The Story of the Jews of Newport, page 92.

[8]  History of Touro Synagogue by Rabbi Dr. Theodore Lewis, Bulletin of the Newport Historical Society, Number 159, Summer 1975, page 284.

[9] Ibid.,  page 134.

Dr. Yitzchak Levine, a frequent contributor to The Jewish Press, is a professor in the department of Mathematical Sciences Stevens Institute of Technology, Hoboken, New Jersey. He may be contacted at llevine@stevens-tech.edu.

Dr. Yitzchok Levine

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/magazine/glimpses-ajh/aaron-lopez-colonial-american-merchant-prince/2005/10/05/

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