Rede de Judiarias de Portugal

Jewish community of Lisbon

The current Hebrew community of Lisbon originates from the groups of Sephardic Jews who settled in Portugal in the beginning of the 19th century.

These were mostly marketers, from Gibraltar and Morocco (Tangier, Tetouan and Mogador) and some of their names still expressed the connection with their places of origin in the Iberian Peninsula, before the expulsion period. Such is the case of Conqui (from Cuenca, Cuenca Province) or Cardoso (from Cardoso, district of Viseu).

They were people with an above average cultural level, knowing how to read and write and speaking, besides the liturgical Hebrew, Arabic or English and the Haketia, jewish-hispanic-moroccan dialect. They had numerous international contacts due not only to their commercial activities, but also to the family ties worldwide. These factors explain the fast economic and cultural growth both of the Jews from Lisbon and of the groups that were installing in Faro and Azores in that first half of the 19th century.

Parallel to their rapid and successful integration in the Portuguese living, the first groups of Jews immediately sought to organize as such, creating prayer rooms and acquiring land to bury the dead according to the Jewish ritual. The first grave is of José Amzalak, who died on February 26, 1804, and buried on land belonging to the “English Cemetery of Estrela”, undoubtedly because of the English nationality of the first Jews in Lisbon, originating, as seen, from Gibraltar.

Then, the Jews were still considered a foreign colony, and the community had not yet been given legal existence. The 1826 Constitutional Charter recognized only Catholicism as the religion allowed to Portuguese citizens, being the other cults only permitted to foreigners. Reason why it was called Hebrew “Colony”, as happened to the English or German “colonies”.

Not being able to obtain the legalization of the community, the Jews from Lisbon created, especially during the second half of the 19th century, charities in the form of autonomous organizations, whose statutes were subject to approval by the civil government, or in the form of private foundations, usually managed by ladies. These institutions played a crucial role in the unity and organization of the Portuguese Judaism. Only three of them will be mentioned:

SOMEJ-NOPHLIM (Amparo dos Pobres): Created in 1865 by Simão Anahory with the purpose of helping the poor. Later, in 1916, this association will open the Hebrew Hospital that came to play such an important role in supporting the Jewish refugees during the 2nd World War.

GUEMILUT HASSADIM: founded in 1892 by Moses Anahory to provide spiritual aid and deal with Jewish burials.

ECONOMIC KITCHEN (COZINHA ECONÓMICA): founded in 1899 it played, just like the Hebrew Hospital, a crucial role during the 2nd World War.

Another important step to the constitution of the present Jewish community of Lisbon is taken in 1894 with the holding of a general meeting of the Jews of Lisbon in order to unify the Shehitá services (Ritual slaughter and provisioning of “Kosher” meat). Under the impulse of Isaac Levy and Simão Anahory a process is started culminating in the creation, in 1897, of a committee for the edification of a unique synagogue, and the election of the 1st Committee of the Jewish community of Lisbon, whose honorary president is Abraham Bensaúde and the effective president Simão Anahory.


Construction of the Shaaré Tikvá Synagogue

Since 1810 several houses of prayer existed in Lisbon, but these hardly met the necessary conditions for worship, as they were located in modest floors. Thus, despite the difficulties originated by the lack of official recognition, the community is able to acquire land for the construction of a new, proper and decent building.

The project of the synagogue was designed by one the greatest architects of that time, Miguel Ventura Terra. Located at the number 59 of Alexandre Herculano Street, it had to be built inside a walled yard, since it was not allowed the construction with frontage to the public road of temples not of Catholic religion, then the official religion of the State.

Launched the first stone in 1902, the Shaaré-Tikvá Synagogue is finally inaugurated in 1904, culminating a more than 50 years old effort of the Jews of Lisbon.

The Shaaré-Tikvá synagogue celebrates 100 years, see here


Official recognition of the Community

The first step towards the official recognition of the Hebrew Community of Lisbon dates back to 1868, when a license is conceded by the Government, through a charter from D.Luís giving the “Jews of Lisbon permission to install a cemetery for the burial of their coreligionists”. It is the cemetery of the old “Calçada das Lajes”, today “Afonso III”, still in operation.

This royal diploma has a real historical importance, as it represents an implicit recognition, although not yet formal, of the Hebrew Community of Lisbon. Actually, it will only be officially recognized by the Republican Government in 1912, precisely 416 years after the Edict of Expulsion and almost one century after the extinction of the Inquisition.

The official recognition of the community and the construction of the synagogue brought a new impulse to the community life in Lisbon. Thus, in 1912 is created the “Ubá le Zion” Hebrew studies association, whose great promoter is Adolfo Benarus, professor at the Faculty of Letters of Lisbon, writer and pedagogue, also founder of the Hebrew School in 1929, which once had close to a hundred students. The creation of a bulletin, directed by Joseph Benoliel, link between the community members, the organization of a library in 1915 and the foundation of the “Hehaver” Israeli Youth Association, in 1925, represent other stones of the consolidation of the Hebrew Community of Lisbon.

The support to the refugees of World War II

But from that time, the community will suffer, due to the European events, a profound change both in its action and in its composition. The anti-Semitic persecutions at the East, the fast rising of Nazism on Germany, cause the arrival at Portugal of the first Ashkenazi Jews, who quickly integrate into the Portuguese society and into the Community. The outbreak of 2nd World War, the neutrality policy that Portugal followed under the alliance with England and the granting of transit visas to close to one hundred thousand refugees, lead to an influx of tens of thousands of Jews to Portugal. The few who stayed altered the proportions of the Lisbon community, until then mostly Sephardic.

The Portuguese Jews played an important role in this period in the support of refugees, first through the creation of the “Portuguese Commission for the Assistance of the Jewish Refugees in Portugal” directed by Augusto Esaguy, and later directly through the Community’s own refugee support section, chaired by Moisés Amzalak and whose great promoter was Elias Baruel. Financed by Joint and other international Jewish institutions, the community kept the “Economic Kitchen/cuisine???” and the “Hebrew Hospital”, providing at a daily basis food, clothing and health care to the refugees. Until the 60’s the community remained demographically stable, but the creation of the State of Israel and the outbreak of the Colonial War lead to the departure of some families. Today, although smaller in number and with a tendency for gradual assimilation, the community keeps its essential services running: Synagogue, Cemetery, Social Center, Somej Nophlim Charitable Association.

The political opening of the post-April revolution and of the borders, with the entry of Portugal in the European Union, has provided the arrival to our country of Jewish Citizens from different countries, from Europe and Brazil. This coming, increasingly growing, may give a new configuration to the Jewish community in Portugal.


(Details here)

Written by Esther Mucznik