Crypto Jews of Portugal

The Jews that integrated into Portuguese Christian society were able to retain relative autonomy and their own organization by a delicate balance of compromise, concession and interdependence, until the 15th. century. According to legend, the first Jews came to the Iberian Peninsula at the time of Nabucodonosor, King of the Chaleans (6th century) or even before, at the time of Solomon who reigned in Israel from 974B.C. to 937B.C. While these hypotheses may lie in the legendary domain, it has been ascertained that the Jewish presence in Iberia preceded and accompanied that of the Romans. From the 5th. century onward the Jews reinforced their position and remained active in Peninsular society during the Visigoth and Muslim periods of occupation.

When the kingdom of Portugal was formed, in the 12th century, there were already a number of important Jewish communities in several cities re-conquered by the Christians.

Generally speaking, Portuguese Jews enjoyed the protection of the Crown during the first dynasty. D. Afonso Henriques entrusted Yahia Ben Yahi III with the post of supervisor of tax collection and nominated him the first chief rabbi of Portugal. D. Sancho I (1185-1211)continued the same policy as his father, making Jose Ben Yahia, the grandson of Yahia Ben Yahia, High Steward of the Realm. The clergy, however, invoking the restrictions of the Lateran Council, brought considerable pressure to bear against the Jews during the reign of D.Dinis (1279-1325), but the monarch maintained a conciliatory position.

Later, anti-Jewish movements became increasingly apparent in the Iberian Peninsula during the political crisis of 1383-1385, which accentuated the rivalries between Portugal and Castile. The crisis culminated in the establishment of the Avis dynasty and the accession of Joao I to the throne. In 1391, serious incidents between Christians and Jews in Seville and other places, provoked a growing wave of Jewish migration from Spain to a welcoming Portugal. Thus, the beginning of the second dynasty (1385) also initiated a new era for the Portuguese-Jewish population which was to embark on a period of great prosperity.

In the period 1279 to 1383, there were some 31 communes in various parts of the country, but in the 15th century this number increased so rapidly that soon there were 135 judiarias or Jewish quarters in different places.

Nevertheless, if this was the golden age of the Jewish community in Portugal, when crucially important contributions were made to the development of the county at the economic, cultural and scientific level, it was also a period during which the first, major social tensions between Jews and Christians were to appear.

Intolerance largely stemmed from the emerging mercantile, middle class which was alarmed by the not inconsiderable competition of Jewish capital.

During the reign of King Joao I (1385-1432) decrees were passed which required Jews to wear a special habit with a distinctive emblem and to obey a curfew at night. In the reign of D. Duarte, from 1433-1438, laws were introduced which prevented Jews from employing Christians. D.Afonso V, however, was to return to the more tolerant policy of the first dynasty and some of the rights that had been withdrawn were restored, particularly those which allowed Jews to hold public office.

In 1492 Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain signed a decree expelling all Jews who refused to be converted to Christianity. A considerable number moved into Portugal where the king authorized their entry on payment of 8 cruzados a head, and on the understanding that after 8 months they would move on elsewhere.
The measures taken by D.Manuel I, (1495-1521) were as complex as they were ambiguous. At first the king maintained a neutral attitude and revoked the decree of his predecessor, freeing Jews who had been made slaves. However, on drawing up his marriage contract with the daughter of Ferdinand and Isabells, he yielded to the demands of Spain and agreed to expel the Jews from the kingdom. The decree, signed in December of 1496, anticipated that the departure of the Jews would take place by October of the following year. Measures were taken to convert Jews to Christianity and to control the ports of exit. Lisbon was the only permissible port of exit and a completely inadequate number of vessels were provided for a mass exodus. In practical terms, the king was fully aware of the advantage to be gained by the Jewish community remaining in the country and did everything to hinder their departure. These impositions culminated in the creation of New Christians when thousands of Jews who were waiting to leave the country were baptized in Lisbon. The attitude of the king reflected the vicissitudes and contradictions of the policy of Iberian union, in the ambit of which each of the two kingdoms, Spain and Portugal, sought to play a leading role.

Those Jews who had been unable to leave Portugal were baptized into the Christian faith and officially designated "New-Christians" to distinguish them from the "Old-Christians."
Many Jews accepted the new religion which had been imposed upon them and with the passage of time gradually adapted to Christian society, but equally there were many others who covertly remained resistent. While they had to all appearances yield, they never abdicated their faith which was passed down from generation to generation, and maintained within a restricted ambit and the family circle, with a degree of religiosity marked by secrecy. These were the crypto-Jews who publically followed Catholic rituals but who, in the privacy of their own homes, maintained their religion and culture and celebrated Hebrew rites on holy days.
During this period, over which the Inquistion cast a long shadow, the term marrano (which means "pig" in popular and archaic language) was used derogatorily by Old Christians when speaking of crypto-Jews. The Court of the Holy Office often took action against the New-Christians or crypto-Jews accusing them of following the Jewish faith, and therefore, of being guilty of apostasy.
Sentences and sanctions imposed by the Inquistion against the accused ranged from public forswearing of the alleged sins, the obligatory wearing of a special penitential habit, a sambenito, to burning at the stake.
Among the Jews who died at the hands of the Inquisition were well-known names of the period such as Isaac de Castro Tartas, Antonio Serrao de Castro and Antonio Jose da Silva, who was known to history as "The Jew."
Apart from the periods during which the activities of the Inquisition were suspended, it was only in the 18th century that its power was completely curtailed with the introduction of the Englightenment policies of the Marquis of Pombal, principal minister to King Jose I (1750-1777). The last public "auto de fe" at which Jews professing their religion were condemned took place in 1765, though the Inquisition was only formally disbanded in 1821.

Historical Figures

Abraham Zacuto
(c.1450-c.1522) Author of the famous "Almanach Perpetuum" published in Leiria in 1496, with tables which provided the principal base for Portuguese navigation at the end of the 15th century and the beginning of the 16th. He belonged to a family of French origin, which had emigrated to Castille in the 14th century. The expulsion decree of 1492 brought them to Portugal, where his expertise was immediately employed in the preparation of the voyage of Vasco da Gama to India. He made a sterling contribution to the development of navigation and was greatly respected as "Mathematician to the king."

Guedelha-Master Guedelha
(1432-c.1453) A member of the Negros family (Ibn Yahia), one of the most important and influential in the Jewish community in Portugal. In the reign of King Fernando, his father, Solomon Guedelha, founded a hospital in the Grande Judiaria in Lisbon. Master Guedelha was a rabbi and also doctor and astrologer to both King Duarte and King Afonso V. One of his sons, Abraham Guedelha (1450-1471), also became a chief rabbi and doctor to King Afonso V, which further increased the influence of the family.

Guedalha Palacano
(second half of the 15th century) A leading merchant, holder of a number of special prerogatives, he had considerable influence at Court. He played an important role in the history of the kingdom, by loaning huge sums to the Crown, on many occasions he financed royal activities. In 1478, he and Isaac Abravanel lent the sum of 3,384,615 reales to D. Afonso V. Guedelha Palacano was known as a loyal supporter of Prince Henry, having financed a number of overseas expeditions and justly deserved his honors and special treatment at Court.

Isaac Abravanel
(second half of the 15th century) One of the principal merchants in the kingdom and a member of one of the most important Jewish families in Portugal. In 1478, along with Guedelha Palacano, he made a huge loan to King Afonso V. He was greatly respected as a man of learning, a doctor and philosopher.

Jose Vizinho
(second half of the 15th century) Born in Viseu, he was a doctor and astrologer to King Joao II. Colombus and Joao de Barros knew him as Master Jose and he was considered to be one of the most outstanding figures in the scientific context of the great feats of navigation. He translated the "Almanach Perpetuum" by Zacuto into Castillian and Latin and navigated to Guinea to test the regiment of latitudes by meridional observation of the sun.

Abraham Usque
(16th century) Born in Portugal and given the Christian name of Duarte Pinhel, he fled from the Inquisition and settled in Ferrara about 1543, where he was associated with Yom-Tob Ven Levi Athias (Jerome de Vargas), a New-Christian of Spanish origin who owned a typography. His name is linked to the publication of the "Biblia de Ferrara" ( The Ferrara Bible) in 1553. He published other books which included "Menina e Moca" by Bernardim Ribeiro and "Consolaco as Tribulacoes de Israel" ("Consolation for the Tribulations of Israel") by Samuel Usque.

Pedro Nunes
(1502-1578) A great Portuguese mathematician and cosmographer-major, author of "Tratado da Esfera", published in Lisbon in 1537, he was a first generation New-Christian. Born in Alcacer do Sal, he studied philosophy and mathermatics at the University of Lison, where he obtained his degree and became a teacher in 1529.

Antonio Jose da Silva
(1705-1739) Known as "the Jew", he was born in Rio de Janeiro, the son of a wealthy colonial family, and was one of the victims of the Inquisition. One of the great Portuguese playwrites of the 18th century, he wrote operas and satrical plays which were tremendously critical and entertaining, one of the most interesting being "The Jew." Other well-known works include: "Guerras de Alecrim e da Manjerona" and "Vida do grande D. Quixote de la Mancha e do gordo Sancho Panca." He was imprisoned for the first time in 1726 but, after being tortured, was released. He was sent to prison again and condemned to death at the stake in a dramatic auto-de fe which took place in Lisbon on October 18th 1739.

"The Jews in Portugal" booklet issued by the Tourism Information Dept. Lisbon, Portugal...
With the support of TAP Air Portugal
Submitted by: Patricia Julia Silva Corbera