Born in Morocco in 1550 to Jewish refugees from Spain, Samuel Pallache, after completing his rabbinic training, embarked on an alternative career as a sailor—but soon he and his brother found they could better enrich themselves as pirates. Pallache’s activities eventually attracted the attention of the Moroccan sultan, who led him onto an even more improbable path, as Ushi Derman writes:
The sultan, who wished to strengthen links with Netherlands, appointed Pallache ambassador to the newly formed Dutch Republic. Apart from his prestige as a famous mariner, Pallache also spoke many languages, including Spanish, Portuguese, Arabic, and French, which made him a precious diplomatic asset for the sultan.
Thus, in 1596 Pallache . . . settled in the Hague. . . . He founded one of the first informal Jewish congregations in the city, and also served as rabbi of the Jewish community. His comfortable diplomatic routine was interrupted when, at the end of the 16th century, the treasure-loving sultan ordered him to sail to Lisbon, [then part of Spain], and purchase gems in exchange for loads of wax. . . . Pallache, who was in financial trouble, offered to sell the Spaniards some inside information from the sultan’s court. The Inquisition’s authorities suspected that the rabbi was trying to bring converts back to Judaism, so they followed him; he managed to escape just in time.
Bankrupted and entangled, he sailed right back to Holland and upon his return used his contacts in order to meet with Maurice, the son of William the Silent, the founder and ruler of the Dutch Republic. Pallache offered Maurice a chance to cooperate with Morocco against their shared enemy—Spain. The prince . . . despised the Spanish as much as Pallache did, so he came up with a brilliant idea. As the Netherlands and Spain had signed a peace treaty, he suggested establishing a group of pirates made up of vagrants, adventurers, and sailors to harass Spanish shipping under Moroccan cover. Pallache, who hated the Spaniards for deporting his ancestors, was eager for a chance to get even.
Sign Up For Our E-Mail List Get the latest from Mosaic right in your inbox
Sign up now for unlimited access