Portuguese Jewry at the Stake, Studies on Jews and Crypto-Jews
Yom Tov Assis and Moises Orfali, eds.,
Jerusalem: The Hebrew University, Magnes Press, 2009. [Hebrew] www.magnespress.co.il
TEL: 972-2-6586659 FAX: 972-2-5660341 PO Box 39099, Jerusalem, Israel. 91380.
Reviewed by Marc Eliany
This is a pioneering effort to shed light on the history of the Jews in Portugal and afterward as anusim (marranos, crypto-Jews). The reader can read a selection of essays on hundreds of years of Portuguese Jewish history and rabbinic works, the relocation of affluent and other Jews after the 1492 expulsion from Castille and other parts of Spain, the events surrounding the 1496/7 Portuguese expulsion declaration and how it was not a forced eviction, but a devious successful attempt at forced conversion to Catholicism, and a more in-depth look at the crypto-Jewish existence of many of the New Christians. The book exposes some five generations or more of crypto-Jewish life in Portugal, adversity for New Christians, their mostly horrible fate in the Inquisition, migration of individuals to the colonies, and struggles to escape Portugal and reach places like France, Antwerp, Amsterdam, and elsewhere in the Low Lands.
Yom Tov Assis in his sweeping essay on the history of Portuguese Jewry since the Muslim conquest and later during the Catholic Reconquista, sites economic reasons for disdain of Jews and not only the polemical background and religious reasons that Moshe Orfali poignantly and extensively portrayed. Asis noted that the expulsion order was prompted not only by the Spanish theological precedent and the marriage of Portuguese King Manuel to Isabelle daughter of the Catholic Spanish monarchy, but to avoid the Jews from exploring and exploiting the wealth in Goa and elsewhere in India. While rabbis like Usque noted the rationale for the expulsion degree stemming from Jewish secularization or unduly experimenting in medicine and science, Asis presents the fear of the aristocracy and monarchy of Jewish economic growth and the need to convert the Jews in order to seize their economic assets, eliminate their continuing and future economic growth and wealth, and need to make them fellow Catholics in order to utilize and exploit their knowledge, talents, and ultimately transfer former Jewish economic assets to the Catholic monarchy.
Former Jewish Castillian New Christian refugees found refuge in Portugal after the 1391 riots and returned to Judaism there. Six hundred Jewish affluent families found refuge in Portugal after the 1492 expulsion.
As early as 1493, the new Castillian Jewish refugees were blamed for causing a plague and anti-Jewish violence erupted. Earthquakes were believed to be cause by anti-Christian Jewish heresy, and Jews had to constantly be cautious not to irritate Portuguese Catholic society. In 1504 there were anti-Jewish riots stemming from the Jews being blamed for plagues and physical disasters. In 1505 during the draught in Lisbon and plagues, anusim in Evora were attacked and the synagogue in the city was destroyed.
Edgar Samuel explained that already in 1493 King Jaio II wanted to turn most of the refugees into slaves and in that year 2,000 children were taken into slavery. They were taken to Sao Tome off the western African coast, most were killed, and all were converted. Assis noted that children between the ages of 2 and 10 were caught and sent to the islands of Sao Tome and Perdidas. He noted that many died en-route and at sea.
When the Jews naively waited for boats to arrive in Lisbon to take them to exile, none arrived and 20,000 Jews were forced to convert. Previously on Pessach 1497, Jewish children until the age of 14 were taken away from their parents and baptized. Despite advice from the Bishop of Silves and official Catholic doctrine against forced conversion, the King was determined to convert the Jews and leave no Jewish presence in the Kingdom. In 1499 it was forbidden for the New Christian to migrate, and if men left for business, the women and children had to remain in the country. Relaxation in conditions for New Christians occurred in 1502 when inheritance privileges for New Christians were equal with those of Old Christians. In territories that the King conquered in North Africa, Jews could continue to live there and New Christians migrated there. Both groups maintained cordial relations until the Inquisition was founded in 1536.
In 1506, some New Christians were allowed to leave Portugal by order of monarchy, but most remained and were trapped in the country. In 1536 the Inquisition began and many anusim were informed on by their own relatives or various elements throughout the Portuguese Catholic society.
As early as 1482 the Jews of Portugal were involved in printing their religious texts, and there was even a printing press in Lerea. Some of the Jews involved in printing migrated to the Ottoman Empire; like Don Gedalya who established the first printing press in Salonika. Assis elaborates on the rich rabbinical tradition in Portugal from the Abravanel, Hayoun, and Ibn Yehiya fmilies. Rabbi David Ben Yomtov Ibn Bliya in the first half of the 14th century, a renaissance man prolific in halacha, Bible, poetry, medicine, astrology, and translation from Latin to Hebrew, published the thirteen volume Yesodot Hamaskil on the foundations of Judaism. Members of the Negro family were renown paytanim.
Moshe Orfali presented an extensive analysis about Christian polemics against the Jews in Portugal. Orfali pointed out ambitious efforts of Catholic priests and theologians to confront Judaism, active efforts through the generations to forcefully present polemics in synagogues, and anti-Jewish polemics in the 16th and 17th centuries. As far away as Goa, the Archhegemon and head Inquisitor Dom Gaspar de Leao Pereira published a two volume work from Latin into Portuguese of Heironymos de Santa Fe against the Jews. This was a response to the large number of New Christians who flocked to such far away colonies to flee the reign of Christianity, and efforts of the Catholic church to combat such heresy. Late 16th century “Dialogues” (theological treatises) advocated conversion and expulsions of Jews and questioned the authenticity of the conversions and beliefs of the new Christians. Due to the mass conversion of Jews in Portugal, as opposed to Spain which previously had a mixture of Jews and New Christians, the New Christian population was homogenous and labeled by the general society as Jews. While the Portuguese New Christians were baptized, they were regarded by the general Catholic society as strangers and dangerous. Nonetheless the New Christians were seen as Jews guilty of original sin for Jesus’ crucifixion. The Church and the polemicists had the never ending task of eradicating heresy due to the former or hidden Jewish influences; which could never be repaired by their baptism. While polemics inspired more polemics to a great extent the secret Judaizing New Christian enclaves and communities strengthened their beliefs and formal and informal communal structures and rituals for generations (even as many as 5-6 generations until they could escape to Western Europe, Italy, the Ottoman Empire, and beyond. Orfali shows how polemical speeches and preaching fueled the inter-communal debates much more than the polemical writings. The reader is encouraged to consult the essay and further scholarship by Orfali to see the depth of Portuguese polemic literature; which usually is overshadowed by Inquisition proceedings and testimonies in the scholarly literature.
While research by the late Elias Lipiner and Dov Stucynski has been reviewed here before and needs no introduction to many of the readers of this monthly e-publication. The last essay focused will be by Edgar Samuel on the Couriel family in the 16th century. This study shows the Castillian and Portuguese roots of the family and how they fared in Portugal as New Christians and in the Inquisition, and how some succeeded to reach the Ottoman Empire and return to Judaism. Samuel shows how the family left Avila and that David Couriel sold the Santa Scholistica monastery several houses in the Jewish Quarter, and that they relocated to Coimbra, Portugal. Most striking was their link to the royal court through extramarital birth by Pokrinia of a son named Fernau Lorenco with Geronomo da Saldinia, son of Don Diego da Saldina, who was Castillian ambassador in Portugal and secretary to Doniya Joana, Princess of Asturias. Geronomo received in Rome Portuguese citizenship from the King in 1496. eventually Fernam, a physician, reached Istanbul and returned to Judaism with his wife and two sons, was reported to the inquisition in 1560 and it was noted that he had a living brother in Coimbra named Duarte Nunes who was a merchant. Initially the illegitimate son Fernau Lorenco was baptized, but since many Jews who arrived from castile were put in slavery, his mother Pokrinia was made a slave fo Geronomo, and only released in 1495 when King Manuel ordered the liberation of the Castillian Jewish slaves, and that the slave girls could return to their families. The true identity of the mother of lorenco was not known and when the Jews converted to Catholicism, they took new names. It is believed that Lorenco comes from the Couriel family. Lorenco lived in Coimbra as a merchant and married Pheliipa Nunes in 1533. Samuel elaborates local anti-Jewish processions likr thr Corpus Christi where holy utrncils for the Host ceremony were displayed, and where workers guilds marched and mimicked Jews dancing with Torah scrolls aimed at insulting the New Christians. Samuel shows hundreds of years of past family trees of Loreno’s ancestors from the Daza and Saldanha families. He lays out Fernao Lourenco’s descendants for 3 geenrations, most notably from the Nunes family. He extensively depicts 8 children of Duarte (son of Laurenco) and Gracia Nunes. The seventh son, Diego Peres da Costa, took the name of Diego Pires (after the false messiah Shlomo Molho who according to Samuel was burned at the stake in Milan in 1533) and voyaged to Peru where he was a merchant. Afterward to moved to Venico and Salona (near Split) returned to. Judaism as Avraham (or Yaakov) Couriel and according to Samuel was the ancestor of the Couriels from Split, and Dubrovnik, whose descndants later settled in Pisa, Livorno, Venice, and Trieste in the 18th century. There are many more details to read about those siblings and descendants who remained in Portugal and who were detected in archives or Inquisition documents. Samuel provided an insight to crypto-Jewish life amongst New Christians in 16th century Portugal and their predicaments and highlights.
The book is recommended for Hebrew readers in Jewish and Sephardic studies, and all those who want to track Portuguese roots of the Western European and Ottoman Sephardim. Hopefully many more such studies will be conducted and published.