Saturday, July 30, 2016

Secret Celebration: How Spanish Jews Kept Purim Under the Inquisition

Secret Celebration: How Spanish Jews Kept Purim Under the Inquisition

Despite merciless persecution, Jews found a way to observe Purim during the Spanish Inquisition.

In 1391, anti-Jewish massacres swept Spain, where Jews were given the choice of converting to Christianity or being murdered. Some 20,000 Spanish Jews became Christians during this time period and many more continued to convert throughout the 1400s under duress. However, many of these Jews who were converted under the sword continued to practice Judaism in secret. This greatly disturbed the Spaniards, who saw that many closet Jews continued to be part of the top echelons of Spanish society, like they had during the Golden Age of Muslim Spain.

Thus, in 1492 Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand expelled from their kingdom the Jews who continued to practice their faith. Previously, the Spanish Inquisition was established to hunt down Jews who continued to practice their faith in secret. In total, 165,000 Jews fled Spain, with 50,000 baptized and an additional 20,000 perishing while attempting to leave Spain in 1492. Meanwhile, 31,912 “heretics” were burned at the stake in Spain, with an additional 17,659 burnt in effigy. For secret Jews, known as Anusim, Conversos or Marranos, who lived under the yoke of the Inquisition and thus were in constant fear that they would be discovered, the Purim holiday had a special meaning since Queen Esther was also forced to practice Judaism in secret initially.

For the Anusim of Spain, Portugal, and Latin America, Purim was not a festive day full of children making noise and adults consuming alcohol. If these Jews celebrated in this manner, they would be discovered by the Inquisition. Instead, the Anusim, whose very existence was always in peril, would fast for three days, just as Queen Esther fasted for three days when the Jews of Persia were threatened with annihilation.

Spanish Megillat Esther

Scroll of Esther with Spanish translation (

As a result, the Inquisition used the Fast of Esther as an indicator of Jews engaging in forbidden religious activity. Furthermore, a three day fast was not considered healthy. According to Gabriel de Granada, a 13-year-old boy interrogated by the Inquisition in Mexico in 1643, the women of his family would divide the three day fast between them. Some would fast on the first day, while others would fast on the second and third. Leonor de Pina, who was arrested by the Portuguese Inquisition in 1619, recorded that her daughters would fast for three days during daylight, while eating during the night. When they ate, they would refrain from eating meat.

Scholars of the Anusim maintain that the secret Jews of Spain, Portugal and Latin America viewed private fasting for three days as a substitute for the mitzvah of having a public Megillah reading in the synagogue and sending gifts of food to family and friends, which were actions that would have caught the attention of the Inquisition. In fact, Professor Moshe Orfali of Bar Ilan University asserted that the Anusim fasted quite often, which they viewed as a way of demonstrating their remorse for being forced to violate the Torah.

Interestingly, the Anusim also transformed Queen Esther into “Saint Esther,” as a means of disguising their Jewish faith from the Inquisition. Anusim frequently offered all of their prayers to her. Thus, even though the Anusim lost much of their Jewish heritage over the centuries when the Inquisition was in place, they never forgot Queen Esther or the words in the Megillah which proclaim, “These days of Purim will never leave the Jews, nor will their remembrance ever be lost to their descendants.”

By: Rachel Avraham

How a Maharaja from Gujarat housed 1,000 Polish child refugees during World War II

How a Maharaja from Gujarat housed 1,000 Polish child refugees during World War II

Posted on Apr 21 2016 - 11:45am by Rosie Fernandez



In 1941, as Europe was fraught in an ugly World War, an Indian king showed compassion to Polish child refugees. Between 1941-42, 1,000 Polish children were deported from Poland to Siberia. These children, mostly orphans, travelled to India from Siberia, where Maharaja Jam Saheb Digvijaysinhji Ranjitsinhji of erstwhile Nawanagar (Gujarat), provided shelter to them near his capital Jamnagar.




A group of Polish children pose with Raja Jam Saheb in Balachadi, Gujarat, in 1945.


An exhibition titled, Passage to India: The Wartime Odyssey of Polish Children and the Good Maharaja will trail this touching tale of humanism during the World War II. The event will put on display at the UN next week.

In February 1940, Joseph Stalin initiated mass deportations of Poles to Siberia. World War II was taking over Europe and the Soviet Union, and Poland found itself in the claws of not one, but two occupiers: Stalin and Hitler. The Nazis were already carrying out methodical killing in Poland’s German-occupied territories.



From Tehran, large ships transported refugees to Africa, India, Mexico and other locales.


In Poland’s Soviet-occupied regions, large masses, that included several villages, were packed off in boxed cars with no supply of food and water. They were deported to Siberia, Kazakhstan and Mongolia Gulags.

In 1941, as Germany gained stronger foothold, the Soviet Union changed tactics, and joined the Allies. Britian, a part of the Allied group, decided to release the Poles, and transport them to India, which was a British colony then. Gradually, batches of sick and undernourished Polish children arrived in convoys.




Jam Saheb was informed about the situation of Polish refugees by pianist Ignacy Jan Padrewski, the head of Polish government in exile in London.

The Indian National Congress was not very pleased that Britain had drawn India into the war conflict. Nonetheless, several Indian rajas of the princely states came forward to play host to the refugees. Jam Saheb Digvijaysinghji, who ruled Nawanagar, and was a member of the Imperial War Council, was informed about the situation by Ignacy Jan Padrewski, the head of Polish government in exile in London.

Travelling for a month, the children arrived in India via Persia in April, 1942, and were housed temporarily in Mumbai’s Bandra area. The little refugees gained their health in their 3-month-long stay in Bandra, and picked up basic English language skill, enough to carry simple conversations. Shortly after, they arrived in Nawanagar village of Balachadi and found themselves in roomy barracks.



A group of Polish boys in Bandra in Mumbai, Maharashtra, in 1942.


Anuradha Bhattacharjee, a scholar at Jamia Millia Islamia University, says, “India, though not sovereign at the time and not at all prosperous, became the first country in the world to accept and offer war-duration at her own cost to the hapless Polish population,” she said.

Balachadi was one among the several places that housed World War II refugees. The British government brought in hundreds of thousands of displaced people from across the world: Jews from Central Europe. But some Maltese, Balkan and Anglo-Burmese refugees stayed for considerably longer periods of time in camps near Bharatpur, Coimbatore and Nainital.



Polish children perform their national dance in Balachadi, Gujarat.


India has been able to uphold with age-old philosophy of welcoming distressed refugees from various parts of the world, notwithstanding its own teeming population. May be European nations, which are better equipped, learn a lesson on being a generous host from India.



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Accidental Talmudist

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Ho Feng-Shan was a mild-mannered diplomat who saved thousands of Austrian Jews between 1938 and 1940.

Born in Hunan province in 1901, Ho’s father died when he was seven. He attended college in Munich, Germany, receiving a doctorate in political economics in 1932.

Ho became a career diplomat serving the Republic of China. Ho’s first posting was in Turkey. Next, he was sent to Vienna in 1937. When Nazi Germany annexed Austria in 1938, Ho was appointed Consul-General to Vienna.

The violent Kristallnacht pogrom of November 1938 terrified Vienna’s 200,000 Jews  and made them desperate to get out. Thousands flocked to Embassy Row, going from one consulate to the next, begging for a visa.

Every country turned them away - until they reached Ho’s door. China’s official position was to turn away all Jews, but Ho started writing visas to Shanghai to every Jew who asked him for one. He continued issuing the Shanghai visas against direct orders.

In Ho's first three months in office, he issued 1200 visas allowing Jews to leave Austria. Many went to Shanghai and from there to Australia. Others never went to Shanghai at all, but simply needed a visa in order to leave Austria.

A thriving community of Jewish refugees developed in Shanghai, because of Ho’s visas.

Ho continued issuing visas until he was called back to China in 1940. It is estimated that Ho issued more than 10,000 visas to Jewish refugees.

After the Chinese Revolution, Ho sided with the Nationalist government and moved to Taiwan. He continued to serve as an ambassador and was posted to Egypt, Mexico, Bolivia, and Colombia.

Ho retired in 1973 and moved to San Francisco. He died in 1997, at age 96.

Ho never spoke of his wartime heroism. His family knew nothing about what their father had done to save Jews until survivors started to speak out. Their stories reached Yad Vashem, and in 2000, Feng-Shan Ho was awarded the title of Righteous Among the Nations.

For sticking his neck out to save thousands of lives, we honor Ho Feng Shan as this week’s Thursday Hero at Accidental Talmudist.

With thanks to Khy Brochez

Leonor Medeiros
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Bishop Chrysostomos, 1943

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Bishop Chrysostomos, the spiritual leader of the Greek island of Zakynthos, stuck his neck out to save all 275 of the island’s Jews during the Nazi occupation of Greece.

On September 9, 1943, Germany occupied the Italian territories, including Greece. Immediately, the German commander ordered all Greek Jews to be assembled for deportation to Poland. The mayor of Zakynthos, Lucas Carrer, was ordered to prepare a list of Jews on the island.

Mayor Carrer made the list but before handing it over to the Nazis he went to the local church leader, Bishop Chrysostomos, for counsel. 

The bishop told the mayor to burn the list. He then went to the German commander and begged him not to deport the Jews. They were law-abiding citizens with the same rights as all other Greeks. The officer was unmoved and insisted on receiving the list of all Jews on the island.

Bishop Chrysostomos took out a slip of paper, wrote his own name on it, and handed it to the German officer. “Here is the list of Jews you required,” he said.

This action confused the Nazi, and gained the bishop and mayor the time they needed.

Together, they warned all the Jews of Zakynthos that their lives were in danger. They urged their Jewish brethren to hide in the mountains, and promised that Greek islanders would provide them with food and shelter.

The people of Zakynthos, led by their brave bishop and mayor, kept their hidden Jews alive until the island was liberated by the Soviet army in late 1944. 

In 1978 Bishop Chrysostomos and Mayor Carrer were honored as Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem in Jerusalem. 

For their great leadership and courage in saving the lives of 275 Jews, we honor Bishop Chrysostomos and Mayor Carrer of Zakynthos, Greece as this week’s Thursday Heroes atAccidental Talmudist.

With thanks to Jason VanBorssum

Leonor Medeiros
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Preserve os endereços dos destinatários. Encaminhe como cópia oculta (Cco ou Bcc).

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Rabinos Sefardíes: Rab Shaul HaLevi Mortera (1596-1660)

Rabinos Sefardíes: Rab Shaul haLevi Mortera (1596-1660)

noviembre 2nd, 2015 |

El Rabino Shaul haLevi Mortera nació en Venecia, Italia, en 1596. Él era descendiente de Judios portugueses. En 1616 escoltó el cuerpo del famoso doctor judío Eliyahu Montalto, médico personal de María de Médicis, desde París hasta Amsterdam. Allí, la nueva comunidad sefardí lo nombró como su nuevo rabino.
En Amsterdam, el rabino Mortera continuó sus estudios bajo el Jajam Ytsjaq Uziel de Marruecos. Fundó alli la escuela Keter Torah, donde él dictaba las clases  de Talmud y filosofía judia. Después de unos años, fue nombrado como Jefe de la corte rabínica de la comunidad de Amsterdam.
Más tarde fundó y enseñó en la famosa Yeshiba Ets haHayim. Entre sus estudiantes estaban el rabino Moshe Zacuto, el rabino Abraham Hacohen Pimentel (autor del libro “Minjat Cohen”) y Baruj Spinoza. El Rab Mortera fue uno de los tres dayanim que pronunciaron la excomunicación (herem )de Spinoza el 27 de julio de 1656.
Su libro más famoso  es Gib’at Shaul fue escrito en hebreo y publicado en Amsterdam,1645. Es una colección de cincuenta sermones (=derashot) seleccionados de entre más de 500 sermones, sobre las secciones semanales de la Tora .
El Rab Mortera era un experto en religiones comparadas. En esos tiempos muchos judíos que habían vivido bajo la Inquisición durante generaciones comenzaban a acercarse y a practicar abiertamente el judaísmo. Era entonces muy necesario enseñarles a estos “Nuevos Judíos”, la mayoría de los cuales habían sido educados desde pequeños en conventos, los principios del judaísmo y en particular las diferencias entre el judaísmo y el cristianismo. Rabbi Mortera escribió varios libros para estos Yehudim , en portugués y en español. Entre ellos: “El Tratado de la Verdad de la Ley de Moisés”, escrito originalmente en portugués. En esta obra el rab defiende al judaísmo contra los ataques del cristianismo y explica el punto de vista judío sobre el Mesías, la inmortalidad del alma, la revelación de Dios, etc. clarificando cuál es el entendimiento judío de los versículos bíblicos que la Iglesia utilizaba para sostener sus creencias.
Estos son algunos de los libros que el RAB MORTERA escribió para los “nuevos Judíos”  
Preguntas Que Hizo Un Clerigo de Ruan de Francia. Una respuesta a los ataques de un sacerdote católico contra el Talmud.
Providencia de Dios Con Israel  ¿Por qué Dios eligió al pueblo judío? ¿Cómo se manifiesta esta elección?
Relacion Memorable pára confucion de Aquellos Que niegan la providencia divina La creencia judía en la constante providencia y supervisión (hashagcha) de HaShem.
Obstaculos y opociciones contra la religión Christiana Una visión crítica sobre los principios del cristianismo
Varios Tratados relativos a la religión judía  Principios básicos del judaísmo para los “nuevos Judios”.
La eternidad de la ley de Mosseh La eterna ley de Moisés, la Torá, no puede ser reemplazada por un nuevo pacto(=Nuevo Testamento).
Rab Yosef Bittón

Sunday, July 19, 2015



Detail of Vila Velha in 1637 – Frans Post.Detail of Vila Velha in 1637 – Frans Post.

The erudite and respected jewish historian Isaac Emmanuel was of the opinion that there was most likely an organised synagogue in Brazil in 1633/34, this conviction was based on the solid evidence of the purchase by Simon Drago of a Sepher Torah, (the holy scroll of jewish law), in Amsterdam on the 10th of June 1633. A Torah Scroll is essential in a synagogue, indeed a synagogue cannot exist without one.

Drago had been living in Brazil for several years as a New-Christian and the historian Emmanuel imagined that the destiny of the Sepher Torah was Recife where it would be used to found a synagogue given the religious tolerance of the Dutch Administration. The prolific brazilian historian José Antonio Gonsalves de Mello held Emmanuel’s opinion with such serious regard that he mentioned the hypothesis in his seminal work “Gente da Nação”, but also stating that they had not found any evidence of the scroll in Recife [1]……………. they were looking in the wrong place !

The Island of Itamaracá is a small island of 65 square kms. situated 50 kms. to the North of Recife in the State of Pernambuco, Brazil, and is connected to the mainland, since 1940, by a single 500 mt. long bridge. The village of Nossa Senhora da Conceição, today Vila Velha, is situated on a hilltop on the southern end of the island and is one of the first, if not the first, european settlements on the american continent, and has been continually populated for at least five hundred years. The village church is the oldest church in Brazil. The area was visited by Gonçalo Coelho and Americo Vespuccio in 1501 and 1503 in the course of their exploratory expeditions which were financed by Fernão de Loronha the wealthy portuguese new-christian financier, and personal friend of Dom Manuel, King of Portugal. In 1502 Loronha was awarded van exclusive crown contract for the exploitation of the resources of Brazil, principally the dyewood “Pau Brasil”,(Caesalpinia echinata), a tree native to Brazil which provided a strong red dye of high value and much in demand in Europe at that time. Interestingly, the wood is prized even today by the bow-makers of stringed musical instruments, and is known by them as “Pernambuco Wood”.

In the 17th. century, Brazil was twice invaded by the Dutch West Indies Company, (WIC), the first invasion in 1624 of the city of Salvador, Bahia was of short duration lasting only a year until 1625. The second invasion was in 1630, when the Dutch easily took the city of Olinda including the area that today is the city of Recife in Pernambuco.

Realising the strategic value of the island of Itamaracá the Dutch erected, in 1631, an adobe fort and palisade, Fort Orange, on a sand-bar at the southern entrance to the Canal Santa Cruz, the channel that separates the island from the mainland. Upon hearing of the arrival of the Dutch, Salvador Pinheiro mayor of Vila Velha, ordered earth defences to be raised around the village and had the hillsides surrounding the village made steeper to hinder the invaders, thus delaying the taking of Vila Velha until the 22nd. of May1633 when the village was overrun by the Dutch troops under the command of Sigismund Schkoppe, a German mercenary hired by the WIC. The Dutch remained in possession of the village until 1646 when an uprising by Portuguese Brazilians attacked and retook the village, forcing the Dutch to retire to their nearby Fort Orange, (2.5kms.), this situation continued until 1654 when the Dutch finally left Brazil.

 Portuguese map of the island of Itamaracá – João Teixeira Albernaz 1640
Portuguese map of the island of Itamaracá – João Teixeira Albernaz 1640

It is in this thirteen year period that we find evidence for a synagogue in Vila Velha or “Oppidum Schkoppe”, (Schkoppe City), as it was renamed by the Dutch. During the dutch occupation of Vila Velha the village had a resident Rabbi, Jacob Franco Lagarto, (Yahacob Franquo Lagarto), little is known of Rabbi Lagarto and I have been unable to find any alias that he may have used, although there is a suggestion that he was the son of one Simon Lagarto [2]. Egon Wolff, in an article published in the magazine, Menorah, states that Lagarto was the brother of the Hacham Mosseh Raphael de Aguylar, professor in the college Ets Haim in Amsterdam [3] There are multiple references to his having written a book of Talmudic Aphorisms – Tienda de Jacob (Ohel Yaacov or Jacob’s Tent), although no known copies are extant. He is also mentioned as Rabbi of Itamaracá in a poem by the famous “converso” poet Daniel Levi de Barrios. The author Jacob Nachbin claims that Lagarto organised the movement to colonize the far north of Brazil, the Guyanas and the Caribbean Islands on the occasion of the return of Dutch Brazil to the Portuguese in 1654 [4]. Another author, Simon Federbusch, suggests that he was “chief rabbi of all Jewish communities”[5].

The definitive proof of Rabbi Lagarto’s leadership of the jewish congregation in Itamaracá comes in his own handwriting, in an article, “Hooked On American Jewish History”, published in The Jewish Press in 2006 [6], the author, Dr. Yitzchok Levine mentions that in the Yosef Goldman Collection of American Jewish Books is a book in Hebrew titled “Shefa Tal” printed in Germany in 1612, which contains “a handwritten statement of ownership by a Rabbi Jacob Lugarto of a congregation in Tamarica, Brazil” !

Despite the scarce information about the life of Rabbi Lagarto, it is nown when and where he died, his grave is to be found in the Sephardi cemetery in Middleburg, Holland. His gravestone, number 24, is inscribed “DO BEM AVENTURADO HAHAM YAHACOB FRANQUO LAGARTO”, and the date of death as 8 Sebat 5427 (02 February 1667). [7]


The records of the Sephardi cemetery, (Bet-Haim), also provide us with some very important information…. the buyer in Amsterdam of the Sepher Torah, Simon Drago, also used the alias of Isaac Franco…… and is mentioned as the son-in-law of the Rabbi Lagarto ! [8]

This detail seems to have been overlooked by all the historians, the Sepher Torah was purchased in 1633 by an immediate relative of the Rabbi of Itamaracá !

Sadly the records also show the death of the Rabbi’s eight-month old granddaughter in 1640.

In January of 1634 orders came from the States General of Holland to allow religious freedom for all inhabitants in Dutch Brazil, many New-Christians, Conversos and Crypto-Jews returned to the open practice of Judaism. At that time, on the mainland some 70 kms to the North of Itamaracá in what is today the State of Paraiba, there lived a New-Christian by the name of Antonio Carvalho, (Jewish name – Isaac Nunes). As a young man in his native Portugal, Antonio had joined the Catholic Clergy and officiated as a chaplain in the University of Coimbra. In Brazil he lived opposite the Convent do Carmo and sang there in the choir in 1634, the exact date is not known, but Antonio abandoned Paraiba and moved with his family to Vila Velha in Itamaracá. [9]

In the same year, 1634, the famous jewish pirate, Moses Cohen Henriques, (the uncle of Jacob Cohen, the financial adviser and personal secretary to Count Maurice of Nassau), wrote a letter on the 9th February to the WIC in Amsterdam applying for permission to bring the first large organised group of Sephardi colonists to Brazil. The group arrived in 1635 and settled in Vila Velha on the island of Itamaracá. [10] If they came on one of Moses Cohen’s “pirate” ships which were smaller and more agile than the larger warships, and although there is no known passenger list for the group, an educated guess for their number would be between 100 and 200 souls.

From the details elaborated above we can see that there were present in Vila Velha in the early part of the period in question, the following; A Rabbi; Jacob Franco Lagarto, A Hazan (Cantor); Antonio Carvalho and a large group of Sephardim, amongst which there were certainly at least ten adult males, all the elements necessary for the formation of a Minyan!

If we add to this the possession of a recently purchased Sepher Torah and consider that even before the arrival of the Dutch and the advent of “religious tolerance” the Portuguese New-Christians risked their lives holding secret meetings in their homes to practice Jewish ritual, it is almost impossible to think that given the opportunity, a synagogue was not established.

It should also be mentioned that until the arrival of Count Maurice of Nassau in January of 1637, Itamaracá was the favoured place for the establishment of the capital of Dutch Brazil, the choice of Recife was a caprice of the Count and against the advice of such eminent councillors as Dr. Servaes Carpentier.

From The Minute Book discovered in Amsterdam in 1911 of the synagogues Zur Israel and Magen Abraham we know that these two congregations existed in Recife in 1648, Zur Israel in the original part of Recife and Magen Abraham in Mauricia, (Mauristaad), on the nearby island of Antonio Vaz. In 1649 the Mahamad, the Executive Commitee, of Zur Israel declared Magen Abraham to be under their aegis and central control, no other congregation in Brazil being recognised or permitted. Dr. Arnold Witznitzer, in his writings about this Minute Book, deduces that in 1648 there were no other congregations in Brazil, [11] while this is quite likely to be true it does not rule out the existence of other congregations prior to 1648, in fact the necessity of this arbitrary declaration by the Mahamad rather indicates that there had been. Could it be that Magen Abraham was founded by the previous congregation of Itamaracá after they were ousted from Vila Velha by the portuguese recovery of the village in 1646? Although the Dutch retained control of Fort Orange until 1654 it is unlikely that Jewish or Dutch civilians remained on the island. Dr. Wiznitzer also suggests that the tolerance shown by the Mahamad of Zur Israel towards the jews of Magen Abraham was due to the difficulty of access from Mauricia, (Antonio Vaz), to the synagogue Zur Israel in Recife [12]. A bridge connecting the island of Antonio Vaz to Recife was built by the New-Christian Balthazar de Fonseca and inaugurated in February of 1644, so visiting Zur Israel in 1648 did not present a problem.

The bridge built by the New-Christian Baltazar de Fonseca, inaugurated in 1644.The bridge built by the New-Christian Baltazar de Fonseca, inaugurated in 1644.

Obviously all this evidence is of a circumstantial nature, now we will consider the possibility of the existence of physical evidence ………..


The above map can be found in the national archives in Holland,[13] it is in itself a mystery, the author is unknown and the annotations are in several languages, Italian, Dutch, Portuguese and French, and the information on it appears to be in the nature of “military intelligence”, showing the positions and numbers of soldiers, defences, officers names and their residences, sources of water etc.. Important information for the planning of an attack by the enemy. I believe this map was produced by spies in the Dutch camp, most probably Jesuit priests, they being versed in several languages, but it was intercepted by the Dutch, thus explaining how it came to be in their possession. This hypothesis is supported by a directive sent to Ippo Eisens, the dutch governor of Itamaracá, that came from the Herren 19, (Directors of the WIC), in Amsterdam on the 1st. of August 1635 ordering the expulsion of the Jesuits from Vila Velha. Examining the map it can be seen that the Dutch were cautious with their “allies”, the indians that sided with the invaders and fought with them against the Portuguese were quartered outside the protective walls of the village, as can be seen in the top left-hand corner of the map, where theyare referred to as “Brisiliaenses”.

7-deb3e00300 (2)

In the top right-hand corner of the map we can see a group of buildings indicated as “Portugees huys”, Portuguese houses, I find it strange that the Dutch would allow some portuguese, ostensibly the enemy, to live so close to the village, unless, of course, they were considered to be allies. Due to the large number of New Christians in Brazil it was common practice at the time to refer to them simply as Portuguese, Portogalos or Portugals. I believe that the Dutch allowed them to live close enough to be under the protection of the 25 soldiers stationed nearby at the northern entrance to the village, but perhaps they were not trusted enough to be allowed residence inside the village walls.

7-deb3e00300 (1)

After the Dutch definitively left Brazil in 1654, Vila Velha fell into decadence and has remained much as it was four centuries ago up to the present day, the lay-out and number of houses are almost exactly as they were.

If the hypothesis is correct, and there was indeed a synagogue in Vila Velha, then the area of the “portuguese” houses would be it’s most likely site, and the obvious area for an archaeological survey. At present the area in question is planted with widely spaced coconut palms, and lends itself admirably to an archaeological survey using

GPR (Ground Penetrating Radar), the quest being the discovery of a Mikvah, the ceremonial bath that is an essential part of Jewish religious ritual, and undeniable evidence of a synagogue.

There is some urgency if a survey is to take place, large tracts of land around the village have been bought by speculators and developers, and projects exist that propose construction in the exact area of interest.

Christopher Sellars. 31/05/2014.

Vila Velha,

Ilha de Itamaracá,

Pernambuco, Brazil.

[1] “Gente da Nação” – Page 231

José Antonio Gonsalves de Mello.

[2]. “A Odisseia dos Judeus de Recife” – 1979, Page 135.

Egon Wolff & Frieda Wolff.

[3] “Coletanea de Artigos e Conferencias” – IHGB-1991, Page 58.

[4] “Jacob Nachbin” – 1985, Page 249.

Prof. Nachman Falbel.

[5] “World Jewry Today” – 1959, Page 65.

Simon Federbusch.





[8] Bet-Haim


[9] “As Comunidades Esquecidas” – 2002. Page 93.

José Alexandre Ribemboim.


[11], [12] “The Jewish Experience in Latin America” – 1971. Page 238.

Arnold Wiznitzer.


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