The Jews of Portugal Are Experiencing a Renaissance

May 3, 2021 | Eliana Rudee
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In the 17th century, the Dutch republic gave rights to “Hebrews of the Portuguese nation” living in Amsterdam; “Portuguese merchants” became an official euphemism for the new Jewish communities in southern France, which had been Judenrein for some 200 years; and the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue, the oldest Jewish congregation in North America, was established in New York. All this is testimony to a complex history whereby the Iberian kingdom served as both a refuge for Jews and a place of persecution. Now its Jewish community, of about 5,000 or 6,000, is once again flourishing. Eliana Rudee writes:

Through the 12th to 15th centuries, the small Jewish community in Portugal, numbering about 70,000 people, thrived and was well-regarded, [with members] occupying prominent positions in the kingdom. After the Spanish edict of expulsion in 1492, around 120,000 Spanish Jews fled to Portugal, though the Portuguese issued its own edict of expulsion in 1496, causing Jews to flee to Turkey, Morocco, Syria, Amsterdam, and elsewhere. Some remained as practicing Jews and hid; in fact, a community of “secret Jews” continued to practice in the mountains of Portugal but weren’t discovered until the 20th century. Others converted, and thousands were killed.

At the end of the 19th century, Jewish settlers from Morocco and Gibraltar, as well as Ashkenazi merchants from Poland, Russia, and Germany, began to arrive. . . . In 2012 and 2013, the main synagogue building in Porto was rehabilitated; the first festivities were held with hundreds of people, and a kosher hotel was opened to serve Jewish tourists. In 2015, legislation was approved allowing descendants of Sephardi Jews expelled from Portugal to acquire Portuguese nationality.

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