Rede de Judiarias de Portugal

Jewish History

The Jewish Communities in Middle Age
Since the end of the Roman Empire there existed a Jewish minority in the territory that later became Portugal.
At the founding of the nation, in 1143, this minority was already widespread in some important locations as Santarém who had the oldest national synagogue.
The Jewish population increased favored by the necessity that the first kings (12th century) felt to populate the territory which was being conquered from the Moors.
In all places where the number of Jews exceeded the ten was created a community whose organizational center was the synagogue. Its bell called the faithful not only to pray but also to provide them with any information coming from the king or any decision of the chief rabbi. The synagogue was the seat of community government.
In the 13th century, D. Afonso regulates the relations between Christians and Jews as they were beginning to create difficulties for the minority. This means that: Jews could not have Christian servants under penalty of heritage loss; any Jew converted to Christianity that returned to the original religion could be sentenced to death; Jews could not occupy official positions so that Christians would not feel harmed.
At the time of the King D. Dinis each community had one or more Jewish quarters. In that time, the chief rabbi had men, called ombudsmen, in major Jewish centers in the country: Porto (Region of “Entre Douro e Minho”); Torre de Moncorvo (“Trás-os-Montes”); Viseu (“Beira”); Covilhã (“Beira”/”Serra da Estrela”); Santarém (“Estremadura”); Évora (“Alentejo”) e Faro (“Algarve”). Those ombudsmen exercised true jurisdiction over all national Jewish communities.
 The synagogue was a place so important of religious (as the church for Christians) and civil standpoint; was a meeting point for the community members and always aggregated the school and mikveh (ritual bath place).

The Last Sepharad Secret Jews
- The economic life until the end of 15th Century-
The trade growth in the Portugal of Middle Age owes much to Jews work. The royal charters recorded that, like in Évora (1166), Covilhã (1186) and Pinhel (1200).
This kind of economic activity financially promoted the Hebrew population, fact that allowed jealousies and complaints, such as during the charging interest on cash loan or lease price.
In Castelo Rodrigo, in the north highlands of Serra da Estrela, already in 1321 the county complained to D. Dinis saying that “Jews lent Money to such interest that ruined the village’s inhabitants and neighboring villages”.
In agriculture, vineyards and olive trees and therefore, the production of wine and oil in wineries and oil mills was very important, for example, in communities from Serra da Estrela.

The coming of Spanish Jews
The Jewish population kept growing throughout the Middle Age. If in 1400 there were in Portugal about 30 communities and a few thousand families, on the date of Columbus arrival in America there existed more than 100 Jewish Quarters and tens of thousands of inhabitants.
The reasons for the population increase are the follows:
- the absence of anti-Jewish surveys in Portugal;
- the growth of the movement against the Jews in Spain (Navarra, Aragon and Castile) since mid-fourteenth Century;
- the establishment of the Inquisition and the expulsion of the Jews from Andalusia (Spain) in early reign of the Catholic Kings;
- the outset of the Portuguese discoveries with the opening of new sea and trade routes.
In total would live in Portugal about 30 000 Jews – 3% of the population. In 1492, year of America’s discovery, the Catholic kings promulgated the edict of expulsion of Jews from Spain.
Precisely, also in the year of the unification of the whole territory of the country (with the final stage of the Christian reconquest – taking Granada), truly begins the Sepharad Diaspora.
D. João II hosts many of these Jews, a total that would surpass the 120 000 people. Some used Portugal as a passage place and others fled Spain to other regions.
Some of the most prestigious families in the portuguese sephardic history are Guedaliah ibn Yahya (since D. Afonso Henriques), the Abravanel (Abarbanel) and Benveniste. All are still spread across all continents, including Portugal and represent the living history of the national diáspora and much of the international elite of Jewish history.

The Jews of the Discoveries time
Four years after the event in Spain, the successor of D. João II, D. Manuel, married to the daughter of the Catholic kings and pressured by them, also promulgated the edict of expulsion. Far from being consensual, this policy did not please everyone, especially in terms of science and writing.
D. Manuel was also not pleased to see escape much of the dynamic of the kingdom. Therefore, implements a strategy involving conversion and forced baptism. This attitude was criticized by many people, including the Catholic Church as was the case of the Ceuta’s Bishop, D. Diogo Ortiz, partner of the Jew Mestre José Vizinho da Covilhã in the scientific joint (for Discoveries) of D. João II.
D. Manuel knew that would lose those who he should hold. So, he tried to enact measures that simultaneously favored the converted and were an invitation to the stubborn abjuration.