Chapter one (pp. 9-32)











Translated from Portuguese by

Menahem Pariente







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, 1997.

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all rights reserved to Magnes Press, The Hebrew University, Jerusalem, 1997








The present book describes two important but separate episodes concerning the participation of two Jewish courtiers in the political life of the Kingdom of Portugal. To provide a better understanding of the episodes, and in view of the fragmentary nature of the narrative, it is necessary to place them in a wider historical framework. This is the aim of this chapter, which will embrace periods preceding and following the events in question, thus shaping the general historical perspective, particularly from the point of view of the relations between the Jews and the Portuguese Court.


Tempo dos Judeus (The Jewish Period)


To sum up what is known about the origins of the Jews in Portugal, it must first be emphasized that because of the lack of written evidence the time and circumstances of their arrival in the Iberian Peninsula, in the part which would later constitute the politically separate territory of Portugal, remains an insoluble problem. In fact, only old traditions, fables, and legends exist regarding the coming of the Jews to the Peninsula, whether voluntarily as settlers and merchants during the time of King Solomon or compulsorily as fugitives and prisoners at the time of the first and second destructions of Jerusalem by the Babylonians and the Romans respectively, when their dispersion in the world apparently began. Many of these traditions, fables, and legends are included in the commentaries to some Biblical texts by the Jewish-Portuguese man of letters D. Isaac Abravanel, of the court of King Afonso V, and by other Jewish commentators. These commentaries ascribe the presence of the Jews in the Iberian Peninsula to Biblical times, and they bring as proof certain phonetic coincidences between the names of the cities of ancient Spain and of the ancient Land of Israel, such as Escalona and Ascalon. Moreover, Hebrew etymology is ascribed to the names of other cities, always with the aim of proving the participation of Jewish settlers in the founding of these cities.[1]

Lucio de Azevedo rejects the historical value of such traditions "by means of which, since the 14th century, the persecuted Jews claimed the right to live in the land which their ancestors had for so many years inhabited." Having made this insinuation under the influence of subtle anti-Jewish prejudices, the author nevertheless admits as certain "that the date of their arrival is extremely old and precedes any memories, traditions, or monuments existing in ancient Spain.[2] Written documents regarding the existence of Jews in the Peninsula in general and especially in the part that was to be separated geographically and politically to create Portugal, date from the 3rd century BCE and the 6th century CE respectively, as mentioned by Leite de Vasconcelos. This last estimate is based on the epitaph of Algarve, which probably dates from the 6th century, as described and interpreted by Samuel Schwarz. According to Leite de Vasconcelos, there are references to Jews of the 10th and 11th century in Portuguese documents preceding the establishment of the monarchy.[3]

Because of the original unity of the history and geography of the Iberian Peninsula, the existence of Jewish communities in Portugal precedes Portugal's own origins. In the 12th century, Portugal became an independent entity in the Peninsula, when D. Afonso Henriques (1128-1185) established the Portuguese monarchy, becoming its first king. At this time, there were already in this new territory Jewish communities that had existed for centuries. D. Afonso Henriques continued the same policy of tolerance towards the Jewish communities as they had enjoyed under D. Alfonso VI of Castile, who had granted to the father of D. Afonso Henriques, Count Henrique of Borgonha, the Condado Portucalense (the Portuguese County), which was enlarged by new conquests and became Portugal. The reasons for this policy were either the need to use the Jews to accelerate the settlement of the territories conquered from the Moors, or the fact that the Jews were considered a highly valued source of taxes, as can be easily deduced from the complex system of ordinary and extraordinary taxation to which the Jews were subjected from the time of their earliest settlement.

Dom Yahya ibn Yahya (or ibn Ya'ish) may have collaborated with the first Portuguese monarch (or with his father, D. Henrique de Borgonha) in the conquest of new territories, in order to expand the kingdom. It was said that D. Yahya, founder the famous Ibn Yahya family, was descended from the royal house of David. The old Jewish chronicles relate that, as a reward for services rendered, he was granted by the Portuguese monarch the manor of Unhos, Frielas, and Aldeia dos Negros,[4] and a coat of arms which was used by his descendants who, in the centuries that followed, distinguished themselves as scholars, high officers of the kingdom, and leaders of the Jewish community of Portugal.[5]

Alexandre Herculano states that the Jews "had been preponderant since the first centuries of the monarchy" and that "probably nowhere in Europe during the Middle Ages, had public authority favoured the Jewish race so much as in Portugal.[6] This can be seen from the laws as well as from the administrative acts. These laws and acts which applied to the Jews would be included, as a separate unit, in the first collection of Portuguese laws in a regular code named Ordenaçoens do Senhor Rey D. Affonso V (Codigo Afonsino), which was issued in 1446, during the last century of the Middle Ages.[7] Portuguese medieval society was strictly hierarchic, and was stratified in orders and classes, which had different status before the justice of the kingdom. It was only natural that in such a society, special legislation regarding the Jews should appear and develop, thus treating the Jews as legal and social exceptions.

In fact, the sections of the Ordenações Afonsinas referring to the Jews encompass more than stern legal regulations. They also include the history and drama of the Jews in the Portuguese Middle Ages. From the moment at nightfall that the bells of the churches announced the prayer of Hail Mary (Ave Maria), the Jews could not risk taking a step outside the judarias (or judiarias), which were guarded by the king's sentries. Moreover, these sections reveal the desperate fight by the Jews to get rid of these and other serious restrictions to their freedom, which turned them into an undesirable group at the margin of society.

It should be noted that when the restrictive regulations concerning the Jews of the kingdom were translated into everyday reality, they do not seem to have worked properly. Therefore we see in the Ordenações of the 15th century frequent references to unobserved laws and their subsequent reiteration and adaptation to the new realities all this pointing to the fact that the strict regulations were not always observed. Very soon the monarchs realized the injustice of their own ordinances or at least the impossibility of their strict implementation. Whether because the Jews in self-defence, or in revenge for wrongful treatment received, tried to evade the ordinances by means of subterfuges; or because of political and administrative interests deriving from the Crown itself, the monarchs were compelled to mitigate the strictness of their ordinances. In certain cases it was done to facilitate the collection of taxes from the Jewish community, in others because they needed the intellectual cooperation of the Jews.

Nothing better defines this ambivalent attitude of the kings of Portugal and their feigned generosity than the establishment of individual privileges, concessions, and exemptions. At the time individual interpretation of the law was common, as opposed to its social interpretation. If the latter represents the expression of the judicial conscience of the community, it was quite often superseded by the personal will of the monarch, who granted letters contrary to the regulations of the law to certain privileged individuals, exempting them from the obligations of the law.

Contemporary documents and chronicles report a large number of cases in which certain Jews were granted special privileges that contradicted the ordinances.

By a law of D. Duarte, confirmed by D. Afonso V, it was forbidden for the Jews to have Christian servants. However, King D. Afonso himself, in a letter dated July 12, 1480, authorized the Jew D. Judah Negro to employ on his farm a Christian man as farm manager. It is known that the same king exempted many Jews from wearing the badge that they had to wear on their clothes and which distinguished them in a shameful manner from the rest of the population. In the same way, in spite of the strict laws compelling the Jews to live inside judarias, some continued to reside in different places among the Christians. Using widely different excuses, the kings granted many Jews special licenses to enable them to live outside the ghettos. Some ordinances adopted the same double standards and self-seeking generosity. Paradoxically and surprisingly, the text of these ordinances gives at first glance the weird albeit incorrect impression that the law tended to compel the Jews, under severe punishments indicated in the ordinances, strictly to observe their own mosaic faith. This trend appears in several passages of the Codigo Afonsino: by stating that the cattle to be consumed by the Jews were to be slaughtered by the community slaughterer according to Jewish religious laws (titulo LXXIV) and by demanding the employment of Jewish learned persons and chaplains to increase the religious life of the community (titulo LXXXI); by threatening with prison any Jew who would appear in court on the sabado (Saturday) or on other holy days of his own religion (titulo XC), and forbidding the Jews under certain circumstances to drink wine that had not been prepared according to the laws of their religion (titulo XCI). The real reason for these measures was the desire to prevent, whenever possible, conversação (contact) between Christians and Jews. To this should be added, in the case of ritual slaughtering, the intention to supervise the quantities of meat consumed by the Jews in order to ensure that no part of the meat evaded the duties due to the Crown. But whatever the reasons that determined the privileges received, the Jews depended on them to survive. Located in the lower echelons of the contemporary social hierarchy and rejected by medieval society for reasons that were apparently religious, the Jews were always subject to the protection of the mighty of the Christian nations. Barros defined that fatal dependence when he wrote about the Jews of India: "Wherever they live, they always look for the shadow or favour of the princes, for the people are wary of them."[8] Barros never visited India; he therefore evaluated the situation of the Jews of that region according to the conditions that ruled their lives in Portugal.

Evidently this protection, within the medieval conception and with few exceptions, was granted to the Jews individually or in certain cases even collectively not because of a humanitarian spirit or social justice but because the Jews as a group were considered the property of the king, who felt entitled to enjoy their riches and talents. Therefore the Jews deserved the king's protection always by grace and mercy and not by right.

Seen from this point of view, the Jews were considered good merchandise from the earliest times, when documents were written both in Latin and in Portuguese. In fact, in a royal order dated December 7, 1210 and written in Latin, D. Afonso II referred to his Jewish subjects as Judei mei, whereas an individual Jew was called meo Judeo.[9] At a later date D. Diniz called them, now in the vernacular, os meus Judeus (my Jews) when granting them a letter of protection.[10] At the beginning or end of such privileges the following sentence was invariably repeated: "And I wishing to grant them grace and mercy."

From the beginning of the monarchy, the Jews left the remains of their presence and their historical memories scattered all over the kingdom. The Ordenações Afonsinas, all belonging to the same medieval period, reflect the political and religious thinking that governed the relations between Jews and Portuguese at the time. The regulations formed the framework for several aspects of the day-today life of the Jews in the kingdom during this period. Although the picture depicted in these ordinances is narrow, it does show the socio-economical and religious profile of this ethnic group, as privileged as it was humiliated, in its historical greatness and in its daily ostracism, always subject to the will and whims of the king, the highest personification of the law at the time.

If, as we have seen before, the kings of Portugal sometimes changed the ordinances, in order to mitigate their strictness, in favour of individual Jews, on other occasions they did the opposite in order to harm the same beneficiaries as a group. Thus, in spite of the fact that one of the ordinances clearly forbade disturbing the Jews and disrupting their feasts and religious ceremonies and specifically prohibited their forced baptism to Christianity, the kings of Portugal acted differently on several occasions and adopted a policy designed to force the Jews to embrace Catholicism. In this way the germs were spread which years later would cause the total extinction of Portuguese Judaism. In the first stage, this policy used persuasive psychological means with feigned kindliness and evangelical meekness, and tried to attract the Jews with really tempting promises, which are partly reflected in the Codigo Afonsino. It is known that as a rule the regulations of this Codigo created legal conditions for the Jews inferior to those enjoyed by the Christians. In a lawsuit between a Christian and a Jew, for example, the testimony of the latter was not accepted against the former, unless it was corroborated by a Christian, whereas the testimony of the Christian against the Jew was valid in all cases (titulo LXXXVIII item 7). Strangely, there was one instance in which the Jews could have obtained greater rights and even remarkable advantages over the Christians: if they were to convert. Indeed, certain ordinances specifically benefited the converted Jews in several ways: either by extending to them the privilege of exemption from military service, an exemption which among the Christians applied only to the priests, or by giving them the right to inherit their parents' property at the time of conversion and while the parents were still alive! Such benefits were solemnly proclaimed by D. João I, who when establishing the advantages offered to converts declared that "the more the potential converts were favoured over the Christians," the quicker they would become converted to the Christian faith.

It appears from the legislation collected in Livro II of the Codigo Afonsino,[11] which applied especially to the Jews, as well as from subsidiary sources, that the Portuguese Jews were organized in corporations called comunas which were governed by the Arrabi-Mor (Chief Rabbi), who had supreme authority in the whole kingdom, and by Arrabis menores (lower judges) as local magistrates. The Arrabi-Mor was appointed by the king, whereas the Arrabis menores were elected by the members of the community themselves. The Arrabi-Mor appointed seven ouvidores (magistrates), with jurisdiction in the seven districts into which the kingdom was then divided, to help him administer justice to their fellow Jews. Apart from administering justice, the Arrabi-Mor was also in charge of protecting the Jews under his jurisdiction against local hostility. There were periods during which the Portuguese Jews had little recourse against persecution, but also enjoyed periods of clear horizons, especially when they could employ the powerful weapon of intervention and protection by using the influence of the Arrabi-Mor with the king. This weapon, at first glance negligible and secret, became necessary when the legal situation was defined by the exclusive will of the monarch and the latter solved all problems according to the balance of power and not according to the law. On the other hand, the fact that the Jews lived in a climate of external hostility on the part of the people of the country, and were subject to discriminatory laws on the part of the government, made the protection of kings and princes a necessity. This protection ensured the internal autonomy of the Jewish communities and the physical existence of their members. In general, intervention took place as a reaction to hostilities against the Jews that had already been carried out, and in some cases to warn against them. The manner of intervention was always the same: the Arrabi-Mor came to court and presented the facts to the monarch, asking him to take the necessary steps. The monarch would accede to his requests to command an end of the hostilities or to order the fulfillment of the laws that prohibited and were meant to prevent such outbreaks.

When the number of members of the Jewish community in any part of the kingdom exceeded ten, they were compelled, at least in theory, to live in separate neigbourhoods called judarias, separated to some extent from the Christian population and guarded by the king's sentries, who limited their freedom of movement. This separation sometimes coincided with the Jews' own inclination to keep themselves separate for religious reasons. There are indications that in certain cases, the judarias were established voluntarily rather than imposed by the Christians. Inside the judarias religious and administrative life developed in full autonomy, with synagogues and schools, doctors of law, arrabis, preachers and chaplains.

Other restrictions on the liberty of the Jews were decreed after the kingdom was established. Jews were forbidden to occupy certain public offices and were humiliated by being forced to wear a badge sewn to their clothes. They suffered this discrimination under the pretence of preventing offence to the Christian population. But such requirements, as well as other restrictions, were not strictly observed, because the monarchs, at the request of the Arrabi-Mor and with some hesitation, in general adopted an attitude of relative tolerance towards their Jewish subjects.

By paying heavy tributes, the Jews of the kingdom enjoyed not only the protection of the monarch but also a relatively autonomous judicial and administrative status. Only in rare cases mainly before an appeal court were the Jews subject to the jurisdiction of Christian courts which had, however, to observe the Jewish Oral and Written Law at this stage of the trial. Initially the scope of the jurisdiction granted by the monarch to the Jewish judicial and administrative authorities varied greatly from time to time and from one community to another within the same period. Later, however, the private rights of the Jews were consolidated and codified in specific ordinances, which would become part of the above mentioned Codigo Afonsino as will be seen from the chronological explanation which follows.

After the death of the first king of Portugal, D. Afonso Henriques, his son D. Sancho I (1185-1211) continued his father's policy of tolerance towards his Jewish subjects, while consolidating the conquests made by his father. According to certain authors, he appointed as Chief Treasurer of the kingdom Joseph ibn Yahya, who was descendant of the founder of this famous family. Joseph ibn Yahya, or a descendant of the same name the chronological sequence of the first Yahyas has not yet been sufficiently clarified built a great synagogue in Lisbon, as is related in the Jewish chronicles.

In the reign of D. Afonso II (1211-1223), some laws were passed which limited the freedom of the Jews. One of these laws banned the Jews from holding such public offices as were liable to upset the Christians. According to another law which was meant to encourage conversion to Christianity, no Jew had the right to disinherit his son as a result of his conversion. As mentioned above, such a convert was even entitled to receive in advance his part of the future inheritance during the lifetime of his parents.

D. Sancho II (1223-1248) provoked a hostile reaction of his clergy I by protecting the Jews and allowing them to take part in the administration of the state. His successor, D. Afonso III (1248-1279), also incurred serious disapproval by his ecclesiastical authorities for similar behaviour. It is known that in 1274 this king issued a law called Da comunidade dos judeus (On the Community of the Jews),[12] and that during his lifetime the arrabis judged civil cases involving Jews, whereas criminal offenses were judged by Christian judges, when one or even both sides were Jewish. D. Diniz I (1279-1325), the "farmer king", continued and extended the policy of tolerance towards his Jewish subjects, granting them privileges and mitigating the heavy tribute levied on them. This earned him more serious ecclesiastical disapproval than that addressed to his predecessors. At the beginning of his reign he even reached an agreement with the Jews of Braganza, promising them special protection. The Arrabi-Mor of his kingdom, D. Judah and his son and successor in this office, D. Guadelha, must have influenced the king in his inclination "to grant favour and mercy" to the Jews, according to the expression in use at the time. The monarch had a close relationship of collaboration and friendship with both these Jewish leaders, and gave them privileges, as a reward for important services rendered to the state, in the collection and administration of public rents.

In the year 1306, D. Judah built a lovely synagogue in the old judaria of Lisbon.[13] It is reported that the successor of D. Judah, D. Guadelha, complained that a royal letter given by D. Diniz in 1294, as well as others given by his predecessors, were being ignored and that this had resulted in arbitrary behaviour by the Christian judges in lawsuits between Jews and Christians. D. Diniz took notice of the complaint and ordered the end of the abuses and the restoration of the privileges, as they had been granted by himself and by his predecessors.

D. Guadelha continued in office during the reign of D. Afonso IV (1325-1357). But when this monarch came to the throne, the policy of tolerance towards his Jewish subjects was changed. Pressed by the clergy, D. Afonso IV decreed several laws against the alleged Jewish dominance in the kingdom, and regulated with extreme strictness contracts suspected of being usurious. His son and successor, D. Pedro I (1357-1367), nicknamed O Justiceiro in the history of his people, also favoured the conservation of the rights of the Jews and punished their persecutors in a strict and impartial way. This king even mitigated the harshness of some laws issued during the reign of his father. At the request of the Jews of Lisbon, he extended by a special law of 1366 the deadline for entering the judarias at nightfall. At the time, D. Moses Navarro was Arrabi-Mor of Portugal, as well as Chief Treasurer of the kingdom. In 1362 D. Moses Navarro, together with his wife D. Salva, established a large morgado (entailed estate) in favour of their sons Joseph and Isaac,[14] and this provoked much hostile gossip as this was a transgression of the anti-Jewish laws of the kingdom.

During the troubled reign of D. Fernando (1367-1383), which was marked by lack of success and by the war with Castile, the offices of Chief Rent Collector and Chief Treasurer of the kingdom were held by D. Judah Aben Menir, who is identified by some authors as the son of Moses Navarro, the Chief Treasurer of D. Pedro I. As a reward for services rendered to the Crown, D. Judah received from the monarch several properties as gifts. He also held the position of Arrabi-Mor, and at his request D. Fernando issued an ordinance in 1373 extending the jurisdiction of the Arrabiado. Another Jewish confident of the king was David Negro of the Yahya family, who together with D. Judah was implicated in the tumultuous events involving plots and counterplots which marked the last days of the reign of D. Fernando and the beginning of the regency of his Widow D. Leonor. Upon assuming the reins of the regency, the latter removed, or promised to remove, the Jews from important public offices. This was done at the request of the homens bons[15] of Lisbon, who had complained to the queen about the dominance of the Jews in the administration of the kingdom. Meanwhile, the queen proclaimed her young daughter, D. Beatriz, the wife of the king D. Juan I of Castile, as Queen of Portugal. This provoked a rebellion on the part of the people, who did not wish to submit to Castile, and the Master of Avis was proclaimed king under the name D. João I (1385-1433).

The proclaimed monarch, who started a new dynasty in Portugal, upheld in theory the edict banning the Jews from public office as well as the obligation that the Jews live separately and wear on their clothes a badge to distinguish them from the Christians. In practice, however, he answered positively to several requests expressed by the community through D. Moses Navarro, who is mentioned in the ordinances of the kingdom as bearing the title "Master Mousem, our physician and Arrabi-Mor." This Moses Navarro was probably the grandson of the Arrabi-Mor of the same name who had served at the time of Pedro I, and with whom many authors confused him. Indeed, the monarch allowed many Jews fleeing from the cruel persecutions of 1391 in neighbouring Castile to enter the kingdom. In these persecutions tens of thousands of Jews were killed and thousands were forcibly converted. D. João even allowed the Jews who had been converted by force to return to Judaism.[16]

In 1392 the same king confirmed the bulls issued in 1347 and 1389 in which Pope Clement VI and Pope Boniface IX respectively recommended to their faithful to behave properly towards the Jews. According to these bulls, which had the force of law in Portugal, it was forbidden to compel the Jews to accept baptism, to disturb their religious ceremonies, and to desecrate their cemeteries.[17] By a law of 1403, D. João I exempted his Jewish subjects from appearing on Saturdays before the courts of the kingdom, in order to enable them to observe their day of rest according to the laws of their religion.[18] But the most important act performed by the monarch in relation to the Jews of the kingdom was the consolidation of the special legislation referring to them. In the law of 1402 (or 1412) he commanded that all the laws issued by his predecessors be systematized and he reformed and regulated them. This compilation by D. João I reiterated the judicial autonomy of the Jews, defined it more clearly, and expanded it.[19] But D. João was in favour of converting the Jews by persuasion. By a law of 1422 he granted exemption from military service to Jews who had already become Christians and to those who would convert from then on, with the purpose of attracting a larger number of Jews to convert.[20]

After the death of D. João, his son D. Duarte (1433-1438) came to the throne. The beginning of this king's short and unfortunate reign is linked to a dramatic event in which Master Guadelha, physician and astrologer of the court, a "Jew and an important scholar" in the words of Acenheiro, was involved.[21] Another chronicler reports that when the prince was preparing for his coronation, "Master Guadelha, a Jew, his physician and great astrologer" appeared and advised him to postpone the ceremony by several hours, in view of the fact that the relative position of the stars at the hour of the coronation was unfavourable, foreboding a short and difficult reign. The king, who was a rationalist and a sceptical person, apparently chose not to follow the advice of his astrologer, whose warnings had surprising and tragic confirmation.[22] During his short reign of five years, D. Duarte issued several laws unfavourable to the Jews, meant mainly at limiting conversação (contact) between the Jews and the Christian population.[23]

After the death of D. Duarte, his six-year-old son, D. Afonso V, came to the throne (1438-1481). According to the above mentioned chronicler, Rui de Pina, the advice of Master Guadelha in relation to the position of the stars was taken into consideration for the coronation of D. Afonso V.[24] During his minority the king was replaced by his uncle D. Pedro, who in his capacity of regent published in 1446 the first Portuguese civil code, the Ordenações do Senhor Rei D. Afonso V. As noted above, all the legislation then applicable to the Jews was collected and reconfirmed in Livro II of these Ordenações. In spite of the fact that all the laws restricting the freedom of the Jews were officially confirmed in his code, D. Afonso was one of the kings who most favoured the Jews, and he protected them from the hatred of the fanatical mob. He had friendly relations with several contemporary Jewish scholars and admitted to the court as his counsellor and favourite the theologian and Bible commentator, D. Isaac Abravanel, the most famous personality of Portuguese Jewry. When the king passed away, Abravanel wrote a moving elegy in Hebrew.[25]

The son of D. Afonso, D. João II (1481-1495), succeeded to the throne after his father's death and promptly entered into a major struggle with the noblemen of the kingdom. The noblemen, led by the most powerful noble of the time, the Duke of Braganza, who had secret contacts with Castile, started secretly to plan the death of the new king. D. Isaac Abravanel may have participated in this plot either directly or indirectly. After the conspiracy was discovered and crushed, D. João II tried to promote his plans for the expansion of Portugal overseas. In this task he accepted the cooperation of the Jews, especially as court physicians and as astronomers, cosmographers, mathematicians and polyglots, in his plans for navigation and maritime discoveries. The monarch also allowed into the country tens of thousands of the Jews who had been expelled from Spain in 1492, even if some chroniclers maintain that this was done for purpose of gain and under certain conditions. On the other hand advantage was taken of the fact that some of these immigrants could not fulfill one of the conditions that they would leave the Portuguese territory after a stay of 8 months and they were declared the property of the king and cruelly enslaved. Moreover, by order of D. João II, their small children were seized and sent to settle the inhospitable island of São Tomé, where they were educated in the Catholic religion. According to the chroniclers, many of these children were devoured by wild animals.[26]

The drama of the Jews of Portugal reached its climax during the reign of D. João's successor, D. Manuel (1495-1521). At the beginning of his reign D. Manuel showed tolerance towards the Jews and even restored to freedom those Jews whom his predecessor had turned into slaves.[27] The distinguished Abraham Zacuth, one of the exiles from Spain, who had been admitted as an astronomer and mathematician to the court of D. João II, became D. Manuel's counsellor for the intense and secret preparations then in progress for the voyage of Vasco da Gama to India.[28]

On the other hand, the monarch wanted to marry the eldest daughter of Fernando and Isabel of Aragon and Castile with the secret motive of obtaining the Spanish throne by means of this marriage. He therefore submitted to the dictate of the Catholic Monarchs, his future in-laws, to follow their example of 1492 and to decree the expulsion from his kingdom of the Jews who chose not to accept baptism.[29] The decree was issued on December 4, 1496, and stated that "until the whole month of October of the year of the birth of our Lord of 1497, all the Jews and free Moors who live in our kingdom, must leave it on pain of death and of losing their property in favour of those who would accuse them.[30]

Faced with the dilemma of converting or leaving the country, the majority of the Jews prepared to leave Portugal, following the example of their brothers in Castile five years earlier. In spite of the fact that he had granted a 10-month deadline to leave the country, Fernando and Isabel's son-in-law decided to surprise the Jews before the deadline expired. Foreseeing that many Jews would prefer exodus to baptism, he ordered the seizure of young Jewish children in order to convert them by force and prevent Jewish emigration. This event took place on Easter Sunday of 1497, and to carry it out it was necessary to repel with cruelty the desperate resistance of the parents, thereby causing scenes of terror and death which were described with amazement and pity even by Catholic chroniclers of the time.[31] Finally, about 20,000 Jews gathered at the port of Lisbon waiting for boats to leave Portugal, as promised in the expulsion decree itself. D. Manuel's men did not let the Jews leave. Instead they dragged all the Jews into the churches, where they were forcibly baptized. During this strange action by D. Manuel, other dramatic events occurred which were echoed intensively in contemporary Jewish[32] and Christian chronicles. The latter reported the protests of the liberal elements among contemporary Portuguese clergy, who condemned the violence employed, They accepted that true Christian doctrine rejected the use of force as a means of conversion and that Jesus himself never ordered the "coercion of the spirit," according to the expression of the bishop, D. Jeronimo Osorio.[33]

The decree of expulsion therefore was not carried out. It was issued only as an artifice to obtain by violence the conversion of all the Jews of the kingdom. The years that preceded the conversion were remembered by the Portuguese distinctively and characteristically as Tempo dos Judeus ("the time of the Jews") and were followed by the extinction and prohibition of Judaism and by the violent conversion of its members, who were suddenly transformed into New Christians. The expression "the time of the Jews" was designed, by common usage and in documents, to refer to the period between the establishment of the monarchy and this violent act by D. Manuel, when the public existence of Jews was allowed in Portugal.

In fact, half a century after the conversion, the famous Seer of Trancoso, nicknamed Bandarra, stated that on one occasion, in the house of the New Christian Manoel Alvares, the wife of the latter said that in the time of the Jews it was said that the Messiah would come." This statement appears in the minutes of the lawsuit of the Lisbon Inquisition against the Seer of Trancoso, dated 1541.[34] In another document, dated 1540, it is also recorded that when the Inquisitors were questioning another visionary, Luis Dias, the Messiah of Setubal, they had asked him "if his father and mother had become Christians in the tempo dos judeus (the Jewish period).[35] The same thing happened in Brazil, according to the minutes of the Inquisitorial Visitation of 1591. Bento Teixeira, who is considered the first Brazilian poet, had been consulted by Lianor da Rosa "if the said niece of his had married the said Gaspar de Almeida formerly, in the tempo dos judeus, if the children of such a marriage would be legitimate.[36]


The New Christian Period


The era of the New Christians started with the catastrophe of the violent conversion that took place in 1497. For the Jews who had not succeeded in leaving Portugal, whether legally or clandestinely, this era replaced the tempo dos judeus.

Probably with the intention of easing the adaptation of the ex-Jews to their sudden change of status, D. Manuel granted them, by royal letter of May 1497, a period of twenty years during which their religious life would not be subject to ecclesiastical inquiry, so that they could live freely and without fear.[37] The letter was issued before the forced conversion, when the deadline for the Jews to leave the country as provided in the decree of expulsion had not yet expired. This proves that the author of the act of violence himself admitted that from the beginning he had no intention of enforcing the expulsion contained in the decree, and also that the converts would continue to be Jews, under the disguise of New Christians.

In any case, the days of calm promised by D. Manuel to the pseudo-converts for the period following their conversion never materialized. The angry mob charged the New Christians with the same medieval accusations that had previously been made against the Jews.

Driven by hatred resulting from religious intolerance and economic rivalry, the anger reached its peak in April 1506 when thousands of New Christians were massacred and all their belongings looted during a popular uprising. It is true that the monarch gave orders to punish the killers and appeared to be protecting the New Christians and as a reward even allowed them for a certain period to leave the country freely.[38] But several years later the king himself attempted to set up the tribunal of the Inquisition, which was to be organized as in Castile, and aimed at trying the New Christians and imposing severe punishments, including the death penalty, for the secret practice of Judaism.

D. Manuel died without achieving the establishment of the Holy Office in the kingdom, as he had requested from the pontiff through the Portuguese ambassador to the court at Rome, but his successor D. João III (1521-1557) did obtain the establishment of the Inquisition by means of a bull dated 1531, finally confirmed by another one dated 1536. From then on, all the New Christians were suspected of heresy. The first Monitorio (Monitor), of 1536, imposed on all the inhabitants of the kingdom the duty of coming forward to accuse suspects, and at the same time informed people of the signs whereby heretical acts could be identified; the first known Regimento (Statute), of 1552, finally established the norms and structure of the judiciary organization of the Holy Office in Portugal. Thus the sinister machine was assembled under the direction of the first Inquisitor-General, Frei Diogo da Silva, who was later replaced by I the cardinal-infante, D. Henrique.The Monitor and the Statute were written, or at least inspired, by Frei Diogo and D. Henrique respectively.

After the death of D. João III, and in view of the fact that his heir and grandson, D. Sebastião (1557-1578), was still a minor, the regency was first assumed by the grandmother, D. Catarina, and later by the above-mentioned cardinal, D. Henrique, Inquisitor-General and brother of the late king. During the regency, the persecutions against the New Christians increased considerably. After several years of regency, D. Sebastião himself took the throne. He was a fanatical and mystic king who needed the means for a war against the infidel Moors of Africa. In return for a huge sum of money received from the New Christians,[39] the king granted them some liberties, including making it easier for New Christians to leave the kingdom.

This had previously been forbidden by the king himself and by his predecessors. However, after the young king was lost in the battle against the Moors in Alcacer Quibir, cardinal D. Henrique (1578- 1580) succeeded to the throne once more and suspended the liberties Granted by the unfortunate D. Sebastião. During the reign of the Cardinal Inquisitor-General, an old and experienced persecutor of the New Christians, life In the kingdom became increasingly more unbearable for them.

In spite of all the great afflictions and sufferings inflicted on the New Christians by the tribunal of the Holy Office, they did not always lay their arms. Many succeeded, on various occasions in escaping secretly and in forming communities of ex-Marranos in different countries in Europe, in the Americas or in the lands of the Muslims. Those who did not succeed in escaping continued their attempts to fight against their persecutors by presenting documented memorials to the Court or to the Roman Curia, boldly revealing the injustice of the Inquisition.

After the death of the cardinal, the kingdom lost its independence and fell under Spanish rule. Felipe II of Spain was proclaimed king of Portugal (1580-1598) and used against the New Christians of this kingdom the same strict methods that were in force in his own native country. Indeed, he rejected a memorial of the New Christians, in which they requested to be equal to the Old Christians so that they could occupy public offices and enjoy the same benefits granted to the king's other subjects. He also rejected their requests to intervene with Rome in order to obtain a general pardon for the "offences" of Judaism.[40] His son and successor, Felipe III (1598-1621), revoked the prohibition against leaving the country, which was in force in his father's time. For this he received a very large sum of money from the New Christians. In 1605 he also obtained, from Pope Clement VIII, a brief of general pardon which allowed him to release from jail some hundreds of persons who had been detained in the prisons of the Inquisition for heretical offences.[41]

During the reign of Felipe IV (1621-1640), the last Spanish king to reign over Portugal, Antonio Homem, a lecturer at Coimbra University, was put to death and subsequently burned in the auto de fé of May 5, 1624. He was accused of the crime of Judaism and of being the High Priest (Alto Sacerdote) of a congregation which followed Jewish practices and maintained a clandestine synagogue.

At first the king was inclined to accept the complaints of the New Christians and even stopped some autos de fé announced in Portugal. Then he changed his lenient attitude, after being warned by the clergy about the propagation of the heresy. But the New Christians insisted on their claim for a general pardon, besides demanding changes in the strict practices of the Holy Office, and partially achieved a favourable solution by a royal letter of 1627.[42]

The reigns of the three Felipes were characterized in general by intense inquisitorial activities, including the extension of the Inquisition to far-away Brazil, as well as by parallel activities of the New Christians in claiming their rights. These claims were sometimes partially answered, especially when the exchequers in Madrid and Lisbon were destitute and depended on the collection of funds to solve the problem. While the long discussions between the New Christians and the Felipes went on, and independently of the successes or failures of the New Christians, solemn and theatrical autos de fé took place in Portugal in the presence of the king and of the court. In these demonstrations of fanaticism, hundreds of people suspected of heresy were humiliated and became penitents, many of them perishing in the flames.

After the restoration of the monarchy in Portugal under D. João IV (1640-1656), the situation of the New Christians in the kingdom deteriorated, probably as a result of suspicions about their collaboration with the Spaniards, which had achieved some benefits for them in the form of relative tolerance. Indeed, in various articles submitted to the Cortes that assembled in 1641, the cancellation of all privileges obtained by the New Christians during the time that the country had been under Spanish rule was demanded.

At this time, Father Antonio Vieira made his appearance. Vieira, who had arrived in Portugal from Brazil in April 1641 to become counsellor to the king on matters of state, assumed the defence of the persecuted. He even presented to the king a daring program to grant equality of rights to the New Christians of the kingdom. In return, their resources, as well as the resources of their fellow New Christians living outside Portugal, would be used to create two trading companies, one for Brazil and the other for India. These companies would follow the model of the companies established and successfully developed by the Dutch and would compete with them. In spite of the opposition of the Inquisitors to this plan, the Company of Brazil was actually established by royal decree in 1649 and the New Christians were granted exemption from sequestration and forfeiture of their possessions in lawsuits against them for heresy offences.[43] The Inquisitors were upset because they felt deprived of the necessary means for the upkeep of the Holy Office. They tried to evade the royal resolution and went on seizing property. They continued their fight with the king in this respect until his death in 1656. D João IV was excommunicated by the Holy Office for his uncompromising attitude in maintaining the exemption from sequestration of property that he had granted to the kingdom's New Christians.

After the death of D. João IV the sequestrations were reestablished, albeit with some hesitations, by the regent Queen D. Luisa, during the minority of D. Afonso VI (1656-1668) at the demand of the Inquisitors. The persecutions against the New Christians were increased, hundreds of investigations took place, and many people were put to death in savage autos de fé. Against Antonio Vieira himself, counsellor and friend of the late king, the Inquisition instituted a long and humiliating lawsuit, using as a pretext a document in which the Jesuit and seer declared that the dead king would come to life again to fulfil on earth his messianic mission according to prophecies some of which were contained in the Old Testament.[44]

D. Afonso VI was overthrown by a coup d'état and his brother, D. Pedro II (1668-1706), came to the throne. During his reign the agitation against the New Christians reached frightening proportions. Supported by Father Vieira, who had been released from prison in the meantime, the New Christians took the initiative of requesting from Rome a general pardon and a change in the practices. In return, they offered large sums to the exchequer, which were to be used for the defence of India and for church administration at home. D. Pedro relied on the opinions of eminent theologians and was inclined to accept the claims of the New Christians. But he finally yielded to the requests of the Inquisitors and took the opposite view. Meanwhile, the well-founded complaints of the persecuted against the arbitrary acts of the Portuguese Inquisitors achieved results in Rome. In October 1674, the Pope accepted the appeal of the New Christians and ordered the complete suspension of the inquisitorial functions in Portugal.[45] These functions were only restored seven years later, in August 1681.[46] Then the tribunal of the Holy Office returned to its original power by holding several autos de fé a few months later to celebrate this victory. These festivities took place in the main Inquisitions of the kingdom with a large number of penitents, some of whom were burned alive after confessing that they practised the Law of Moses.

During the reigns of D. João V (1706-1750), the persecutions continued accompanied by violence, and the frequency of the autos de fé was increased and involved a larger number of victims. In one of the autos de fé, held in 1739, the dramatist Antonio José da Silva, nicknamed "the Jew," was killed.[47] At this time, however, the first concrete results of the growing violence appeared in the kingdom which was ruined, devastated, and depopulated, for the New Christian population was either behind bars in the prisons of the Holy Office or on the run to avoid imprisonment. Some liberal patriots, leading personalities in contemporary science and diplomacy, like D. Antonio Ribeiro Sanches, a renowned physician, and D. Luis da Cunha,[48] an ambassador to several Courts in Europe, started timidly to point out the disadvantages of the inquisitorial system of continuous persecution, which had divided the country's population into two castes: New and Old Christians. The economic ruin caused by the Inquisition was their main argument.

During the reign of D. José I (1750-1777), the minister Marques de Pombal, probably inspired by the liberal ideas of his time, made the Inquisition submit to the power of the state, and turned it into an ordinary royal tribunal. By a law of May 25, 1773, Pombal also abolished the difference between New and Old Christians, thus restoring the unity of the Portuguese nation. A year later, in 1774, the new and last Regimento (Statute) of the Inquisition was published, mitigating and liberalizing the strictness of the previous regulations, now the subject of hard criticism. But only in the year 1821, following the victory of the liberal revolution of 1820, did the Cortes Gerais decree that the tribunal of the Holy Office be abolished. At the same time, the buildings where the Inquisition had operated were opened to the public and their deadly dungeons destroyed. These were the dungeons which for three centuries had inspired dread and fear. At the same time, the Cortes declared in a different decree that "consequently not only the descendants of the families expelled but all the Jews, wherever they live, may, if they so wished, return to Portugal without any fear and, on the contrary, with full security.[49]


Modern Portugal


The tribunal of the Holy Office had used its powers in a despotic way, first on ecclesiatical authority and later on royal authority, until the decree of the Cortes Gerais of the Portuguese nation, dated March 31, 1821, which abolished it. Following the law of 1773, which had abolished the difference between Old and New Christians, the latter penetrated Christian society more easily and became assimilated. Furthermore, there was no lack of evil men who accused the New Christians of having subdued Portuguese civilization in order to replace it by a Semitic one by means of racial crossbreedings. Thus Portugal, it was claimed, was subjugated to the Hebrew race.[50]

Moreover, apart from the large number of former Portuguese Jews who were rich and sought refuge in more tolerant lands in different periods, there were others, the poor, who lacked the means to emigrate and clandestinely kept some semblance of Jewish traditions. This in spite of the great danger to which they exposed themselves. In fact, during the first decades of the 20th century, secret and semisecret concentrations of New Christians were discovered, especially in the cities and counties of the provinces of Tras-os-Montes and Beiras. These New Christians had continued to practice, as they do to this day, a domestic impoverished Judaism.[51] Initial attempts to bring them back to the fold yielded poor results and were not continued, except in a very limited way.

On the other hand, judging by the Hebrew tombstones known in Portugal, there are indications that by the end of the 18th century or the beginning of the 19th century, the first Jews of the new immigration had appeared.[52] This happened even before the abolition of the tribunal of the Holy Office, but after the decrees of Pombal which abolished the difference between Old and New Christians. These first Jews may have been descendants of the old expatriates who, in the countries of their dispersion, had apparently remained united under the name Judeus do desterro de Portugal (Jews of the exile of Portugal).

It should be added that, apart from those first and isolated immigrants, Jewish families of different origins started to settle in Portugal in the first half of the 20th century. They started small communities with synagogues and other institutions which exist until today. However, the hoped-for revival of communal life did not develop during the second half of the 20th century. The total number of Jews, which never exceeded one thousand, is now tending to decrease even further.




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[1] J. Amador de los Rios, Historia social politica y religiosa de los judios en España y Portugal, I, Buenos Aires 1943, pp. 39-60; J. J. Ferreira Gordo, "Memoria sobre os judeus em Portugal," in Historia e Memorias da Academia Real de Ciencias de Lisboa, VIII, part II, Lisboa 1823, pp. 1-2; J. Beinart, "Cuando lIegaron los judios a España?," Estudios 3 (1962), Instituto Central de relaciones culturales Israel-Iberoamérica, España y Portugal, pp. 1-32.

[2] J. Lucio D' Azevedo, Historia dos Christãos Novos Portugueses, Lisboa 1921-1922, pp.1-2

[3] J. Leite de Vasconcellos, Etnografia Portuguesa, IV, Lisboa 1958, pp. 63-66; S. Schwarz, "Inscrições hebraicas em Portugal," Arqueologia e Historia 1 (1922), pp. 133--136.

[4] Guedalya ibn Yahya (1515-1587), The Chain of Tradition (Hebrew), reed. Jerusalem 1962, pp. 87-88; M. Kayserling, História dos judeus em Portugal, São Paulo 1971, pp. 3-4; E. Lipiner, 0 tempo dos judeus segundo as Ordenações do Reino, São Paulo 1982, pp. 128-130

[5] J. Mendes dos Remedios, Os judeus em Portugal, I, Coimbra 1895, pp. 121-122; M. J. Pimenta Ferro, Os judeus em Portugal no século XIV, Lisboa 1970, pp. 12-13.

[6] A. Herculano, História da origem e estabelecimento da Inquisição em Portugal, D. Lopes (ed.), I, 10th ed., Lisboa s/d, p. 109.

[7] Ordenaçoens do Senhor Rey D. Affonso V, Livro II, titulos LXVI-LXXXXVIII, Coimbra 1792, pp. 421-529. See also E. Lipiner, 0 tempo dos judeus.

[8] J. de Barros, Asia, Primeira Decada, Book IX, Coimbra 1932, p. 355.

[9] Descobrimentos Portugueses: Documentos para a sua História, I edit. by J. Martins da Silva Marques, Lisboa 1944, pp. 595-596.

[10] Ordenaçoens do Senhor Rey D. Affonso V, Livro II, titulo LXXXVIII, item 5.

[11] See n. 7, above.

[12] Herculano, Història da origem...,I, p. 110.

[13] See below, Appendix II; Lipiner, Tempo dos judeus, p. 122.

[14] Chancelaria de D. Pedro I, ed. Instituto Nacional de Investigação Cientifica, Lisboa 1984, doc. [733], pp. 331-335; H. da Gama Barros, Historia da Administração Pública em Portugal nos séculos XII a XV, VIII, Lisboa 1885; pp. 283-284; Lipiner, Tempo dos judeus, pp. 59-60 and 159.

[15] In medieval Portuguese, the term refers to distinguished men, generally members of the nobility and of the municipal councils who were chosen to fulfil important public functions.

[16] Ordenações, titulo LXXVII.

[17] Ibid., titulo LXXXXIIII.

[18] Ibid., titulo LXXXX.

[19] Ibid., titulo LXXXI.

[20] Ibid., titulo LXXXIII.

[21] C. Rodrigues Acenheiro, "Chronica dos senhores reis de Portugal," Coleção de Livros inéditos da Historia Portuguesa, V, Lisboa 1824, p. 238.

[22] Rui de Pina, "Chronica do Senhor Rey D. Duarte," in Crónicas de Rui de Pina, reed. M. Lopes de Almeida, Porto 1977, pp. 492-494.

[23] Ordenações, titulo LXVII.

[24] Rui de Pina, "Chronica do Senhor Rey D. Affonso V," in Crónicas de Rui de Pina, pp. 588-589.

[25] See chapter 3 in this volume.

[26] Rui de Pina, "Chronica d'elrey D. João II," in Crónicas de Rui de Pina, pp. 1013-1019; Imanuel Aboab, Nomologio 0 Discursos Legales, Amsterdam 5389 [1629], p. 300; Samuel Usque, Consolação às tribulações de Israel, Ferrara 5313 [1553], Diálogo III, chapter 27.

[27] D. de Góis, Crónica do felicissimo rei D. Manuel, part I, reed. Coimbra 1949, pp. 23-24.

[28] G. Correia, Lendas da India, reed. M. Lopes de Almeida, I, Porto 1975, pp. 261-265.

[29] Góis, Crónica do felicissimo rei D. Manuel, part I, pp. 38-40.

[30] Ordenações do Senhor Rey D. Manuel, Livro II, titulo XLI, Coimbra 1797.

[31] Góis, Crónica do felicissimo rei D. Manuel, part I, pp. 41-43.

[32] Usque, Consolação..., Diálogo III, chapter 28; Guedalya Ibn Yahya, The Chain of Tradition (Hebrew), p. 273.

[33] J. Osorio, Da vida e feitos de el-rei D. Manuel, I, reed. Porto 1944, pp. 29-32.

[34] Proc. 7197, Inquisição de Lisboa, f. 3, session of 18 September 1541.

[35] Proc. 3734 and 16.905, Inquisição de Lisboa, f. 6v and 34, session of 10 January 1540.

[36] Primeira Visitação do Santo Oficio às partes do Brasil (Denunciações de Pernambuco), São Paulo 1925, p. 162.

[37] Mendes dos Remedios, Os judeus em Portugal, I, pp. 432-434; E. Lipiner, O sapateiro de Trancoso e o alfaiate de .Setubal, Rio de Janeiro 1993, pp. 288-289.

[38] Y. H. Yerushalmi, The Lisbon Massacre of 1506 and the Royal Image in the Shebet Yehudah, Cincinnati 1976.

[39] Azevedo, Historia, p. 131.

[40] Ibid., pp. 149-150.

[41] Ibid., p. 162; Mendes dos Remedios, Os judeus em Portugal, II, Coimbra 1928, pp. 83-84.

[42] Azevedo, Historia, pp. 180-192; Mendes dos Remedios, Os judeus em Portugal, II, pp.111-113.

[43] Azevedo, Historia, pp. 243-247; A. Vieira, Obras Escolhidas, IV, Lisboa 1951, pp. 1-26, 27-62 and 63-71.

[44] A. Baião, Episódios dramáticos da lnquisição Portuguesa, I, Lisboa 1936, pp. 255-288.

[45] Azevedo, Historia, p. 310.

[46] Ibid., p. 320.

[47] Baião, Episódios, II, Lisboa 1955, pp. 203-237.

[48] A. N. Ribeiro Sanches, Christãos novos e Christãos velhos em Portugal, 2nd. ed., Porto 1973; L. da Cunha, Testamento Politico, reed. São Paulo 1976; Mendes dos Remedios, Os judeus em Portugal, II, pp. 420-423.

[49] Apud Mendes dos Remedios, Os judeus em Portugal, II, pp. 426-431.

[50] M. Saa, A invasão dos judeus, Lisboa 1925.

[51] S. Schwarz, Os cristãos novos em Portugal no século XX, Lisboa 1925.

[52] A. Iria, Os judeus no Algarve medieval e o cemitério israelita de Faro do século XIX, Lisboa 1986.

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