Portuguese Jewry at the Stake, Studies on Jews and Crypto-Jews

   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.

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