domingo, 12 de outubro de 2014

The origins of the Oporto Jewish Community



The origins of the Oporto Jewish Community

There is no consensus about the time the Jews entered the territory where Portugal is today. From the first Phoenician voyages through the Mediterranean, in King Solomon’s time, 3000 years ago, until the period after the destruction of the Second Temple, by the Romans, there are numerous theses about the beginning of the presence of Jews in the Iberian Peninsula. Specifically in Oporto, it is possible that Jewish tradition dates back to immemorial times. However, the earliest documentary references which have endured to the present are dated from the 12th century. 



The old Jewish Quarter

There is evidence of the existence, in the 12th century, of a Jewish Quarter in the heart of the primitive city of Oporto, within the Cerca Velha (Old Wall) in the Morro da Sé (Cathedral Hill). The Jewish community concentrated there used a synagogue located on the Rua da Sinagoga (Synagogue Street), current Rua de Sant'Ana (Saint Ana Street). It was a house of prayer, a house of study, and a house of assembly. At that time, to reside in the village, the Jews needed an authorisation issued by the Bishop of Porto, the actual owner of a city where the bourgeoisie formed the most prominent social group. Among the most prominent bourgeoisie, there were several Jewish families, who were responsible, too, for the rapid development of the borough walls, toward the Ribeira (Riverbank). 



The Jewish Quarter of Monchique

In the 14th century, the Jewish Quarter of Monchique was the most important of the Jewish Quarters of Old Oporto and its surroundings. The synagogue, a house of prayer, of study and of assembly was its most important institution. Both religious and social affairs were discussed at the synagogue. The existence of this synagogue is witnessed in a granitic epigraph, which has survived until our days. From the text of the Epigraph glitters that the synagogue was built outside the city walls and the environment of the Court was familiar to the Jewish population. The text alludes to King D. Fernando’s Chief Rabbi - Don Yehudah ben Maner (or Don Yehudah ben Moise Navarro) - and to the person responsible for the work, possibly the Rabbi of Oporto - Don Joseph ibn Arieh (or Don Joseph ben Abasis).



The Jewish Quarter of Olival

At the end of the 14th century, the most famous Jewish Quarter of Oporto was created: the Jewish Quarter of Olival. It is King D. João I who, in 1386, during his stay in the city, determines the concentration of all Jews in one place of the city. The Jewish settlement boundaries were demarcated by high walls, houses with no way out to the exterior of the Jewish Quarter and by two massive iron doors adorned with Hebrew allegories. The Jewish Quarter had its own officers and a certain degree of autonomy from the town, even having its own court to resolve the Jewish issues. The Jews from Oporto also built, within the Jewish Quarter, a large and sumptuous synagogue. 



The Edict of Expulsion

On December 5th 1496, the Edict of Expulsion of the Jews (moreover, of Judaism) from Portugal was signed by King D. Manuel I. The edict did not have the same effects in Oporto it had in other lands. There was no global stampede, nor was violence exerted on the Jews, and these, in general, by force of circumstances, accepted their conversion to Christianity, becoming “new Christians”, although they secretly maintained their faith in the G-d of Israel. On the Rua da Vitória (Victory Street), heart of the old Jewish Quarter of Olival, there is a plaque that reminds the expulsion of the Jews from Portugal and evokes the courage of those who, for centuries, remained in the country and in the city, clandestinely keeping their faith and raising, in spirit and truth, their praises and prayers to Adonai.



The Court of the Holy Office or Inquisition

In 1536, the Court of the Holy Office or Inquisition was implemented in Portugal: an ecclesiastical court designed to prosecute crimes against faith, putting an end to heresy and apostasies. In Oporto, the action of the court was limited. However, in 1618, an inquisitorial visitation  led to the detention and confiscation of assets of one hundred and fifty new Christians of great social standing,  a fact, which, to a great extent, managed to rip the social, economic and financial fabric of Oporto, generating a large migratory wave of new Christians. Although many had been diluted among the population, continuing some of them to be investigated and prosecuted, a wall of silence fell heavily on the new Christians from Oporto. Only three hundred years later would they reappear.



The Jewish Community of Oporto

In the early 20th century, the city of Oporto witnessed events that will forever be linked to the history of the Jews in Portugal and in the world, by means of the action undertaken by an officer from the Portuguese army converted to Judaism: Captain Barros Basto, who fought in the trenches of World War I, where he even survived a poison gas attack. Of Crypto-Jewish descent through his father and son of a Catholic mother, he converted to Judaism in the year 1920, before a Beit Din (Rabbinical Court) in Tangier, and married with Lea Montero Azancot, a young Jewish woman of the Jewish Community of Lisbon. Captain decided to live his life in the city of Oporto, where, for centuries, there had not been a Jewish community. He was the founder of the Jewish Community of Oporto, together with Jewish merchants recently arrived from Lithuania, Poland, Germany and Russia.



The emergence of "Portuguese" Jews

In 1925, some Portuguese citizens presented themselves before Captain Barros Basto saying they were Jews. They were descendants of Jews victimized by the Edict of expulsion and the inquisitorial persecution and still practiced Jewish rituals in secret in their homes or in the fields. The rituals already contained Christian influences and were rather uncharacterized in relation to the official current of Judaism in the world, that those crypto-Jews had no idea still existed. Crypto-Judaism, discovered by Samuel Schwarz, a Polish Jew, in 1915, and internationally catapulted by historian Cecil Roth, would be the target of a global rescue attempt anchored in the Jewish Community of Porto.


The «Rescue Work»

Materially supported by the Portuguese Marranos Committee – an international organisation based in London and designed to support the rescue of the Portuguese crypto-Jews –, a lonely man puts into motion a human rescue project that is unmatched in the history of mankind. It is the «Rescue Work», which quickly becomes famous, provoking a remarkable sentimental impact within the Jewish communities around the world. Cecil Roth was so impressed with the strength and character of the captain that called him «the Apostle of the Marranos». 



Portuguese Marranos Committee

The Portuguese Marranos Committee was born to support the Portuguese crypto-Jews’ «Rescue Work», created by Captain Barros Basto and the Jewish Community of Porto. Having Paul Goodman, who would become a great support for the captain, as honorary secretary, the Organization brought together the efforts of the Anglo-Jewish Association, the Alliance Israélite Universelle and the Spanish and Portuguese Congregation of London, the latter founded in 1657 by Spanish and Portuguese Jews. On the basis of the foundation of this organization was a visit made to Portugal by Lucien Wolf, who was also a rapporteur of the League of Nations, and he confirmed the actual existence of crypto-Jews in Portugal.



Israelite Theological Institute of Porto

To accomplish the rescue of crypto-Jews, the Jewish Theological Institute (Yeshivah Rosh Pinah) was created by the Jewish Community of Porto. Active during the 1930’s (mainly between 1929 and 1935), this Institute, composed of high school education and Jewish education, aimed to train young crypto-Jews to be guides in their birth communities. Altogether, the Institute had about 90 students. In parallel, Barros Basto undertook numerous trips to Trás-os-Montes and to the Beiras in order to rescue the crypto-Jews, distributing, among them, the newspaper Ha-Lapid (the Torch), communication organ of the Jewish Community of Porto between 1927 and 1958, and communities, with or without legal existence, were created in Vila Real, Bragança, Pinhel, Covilhã and in other latitudes.



Menasseh Kniszinski Ben Dov

Menasseh Kniszinsky Ben-Dov, from lithuanian origin, was part of the first Boards of the Jewish Community of Porto. The services he rendered to the Community were of such importance that he became, along with Barros Basto, a benefactor member. The students of the yeshivah (Jewish school) had a great affection for him and said he was so physically strong he could lift two men at the same time. An orthodox Jew, it is said that once he picked up his granddaughter from school and heard a gentile boy saying one day he would marry her. Two months later, Kniszinsky left Portugal, taking the whole family.



The construction of synagogue of Oporto

The construction of the Kadoorie Mekor Haim synagogue is umbilically intertwined with the «Rescue Work». Determined to turn Oporto into the «religious lighthouse» for the Portuguese crypto-Jews, the captain remembered, at some point, to build, in the city, a synagogue which would be enormous in size and in beauty, something that represented a serious motif of pride for the crypto-Jews. The eclectic and majestic style of the synagogue aimed at, in the words of Barros Basto, “giving [the Portuguese crypto-Jews] a high conception of their parents’ religion”, becoming a visible monument of the Rescue Work and "its connection to the Jews of the World". The project might seem overly ambitious, but it also went on. A journalist of the time noted, during the period of the construction of the synagogue, that «a piece of Palestine» was being engraved in Oporto». 



Kadoorie Mekor Haim Synagogue

After the setting, in 1929, of the first stone of the Synagogue, its construction faced important delays due to financial issues. There was still a considerable amount of money missing to complete the work. Moved by the desire to immortalize the "love, respect and veneration" they had for their father, Sir Elly Kadoorie, and for their mother, Lady Laura Mocatta Kadoorie (descendant of Sephardic Jews from Portugal), the brothers Lawrence and Horace Kadoorie informed the Portuguese Marranos Committee they intended to donate 5000 pounds to finish the construction of the Synagogue of Porto. The synagogue, which was to be called "Mekor Haim", also took the name of that family of benefactors. The Kadoorie Mekor Haim Synagogue was inaugurated on January 16, 1938.



Captain was separated from the Army

One might think that the year of 1938 was a year of glory for the Jewish Community of Porto and its founder. That is not true. Captain Barros Basto had been separated from the Army a few months before the synagogue was inaugurated, for having intervened in circumcision operations on his students of the Israel Theological Institute of Oporto. The case became worldwide known as the "Portuguese Dreyfus". The Supreme Council of Military Discipline proved that he «performed the circumcision operation on several students according to a precept of the Israelite religion», and, in this sense, he had no «capacity for the moral prestige of his function and the decorum of his uniform». The great community leader was left with no uniform, no occupation, no economic resources. 



The crypto-Jews returned to a clandestine belief

The crypto-Jews felt they had lost their charismatic leader and saw in the treatment he was given a sign of what could happen to them in the future. This fact, combined with the anti-Semitism echoes that came from Europe, dictated, to the crypto-Jews, the return to a clandestine belief. The great synagogue of Oporto, built within a grandiose project, had lost its raison d’être, even before being inaugurated. The «Rescue Work» was greatly weakened in the year 1938. In a way, it had almost collapsed. 



Refugees during the Second World War

The Jewish Community of Oporto played a vital role in sheltering of hundreds refugees during the Second World War. Refugees from Germany, Poland, Austria, Belgium, Czechoslovakia, France, Netherlands, Bulgaria, Luxemburg and many other countries passed through this city, some stateless and some even originally from Argentina and Iran. One of the Jews who passed through France and ended up here in Oporto was Ralph Baruch, who later was to become the Chairman of the Viacom Media Group in the USA. He embarked on a ship from Portugal to the United States, where he stayed and settled. 



Sixth Community Section: Support for Refugees

Anyone visiting this museum today will be stepping on thevery floorboards where once many refugees spent their days and nights, with their lives in tatters. That is also where the services of the Section of the Community “Support for Refugees” operated. The majority of Jewish refugees arrived in Oporto in 1940. As they were not permitted to work, the refugees wandered sadly through the city of Oporto. They would gather to recount their stories, which at the end of the day were all the same, because they had lost touch with their loved ones, all of them had lost their nationality, all of them were lost waiting for the day that they could leave, often heading for destinations completely unknown. 



The «Apostle of the refugees»

The constant increase of Jewish families arriving to the synagogue in desperate situation led the Jewish Community of Oporto to organize a Committee of moral and material assistance to the refugees, who were thus able to rebuild their broken lives in Oporto. Many years later, the historian Michael Studemund-Halévy, of the Institute for the History of the German Jews, called Barros Basto «the Apostle of the refugees». Copies of thousands of documents gathered during that time by the Jewish Community of Oporto are today in the possession of the Holocaust Museum in Washington. 



The proclamation of the State of Israel

Ha-Lapid, official organ of the Jewish Community of Porto, did not overlook the proclamation of the State of Israel. In an article entitled "The redemption of Israel", Captain Barros Basto wrote: "The Jewish State of Israel was proclaimed at 4:0 pm, on Friday, May 14, 1948 (5 of Iyar of 5708), in a solemn session of the National Council in Tel Aviv. Mr. David Ben-Gurion, currently the Prime Minister and Minister of Defense, read the Declaration of independence: "The land of Israel was homeland of the Jewish people. Its spiritual, religious and national identity was formed here; It achieved its independence and created a culture of national and universal significance here. Jews have fought to return their ancestors’ country and to regain their state for centuries.»



The last Portuguese Crypto-Jews

Captain Barros Basto was the President of the Jewish Community of Oporto for 25 years. He represented the last hope for the Portuguese Crypto-Jews and, paradoxically, died at a time when, with the exception of the community of Belmonte, which kept the ritual traditions and the Jewish family spirit at weddings, the majority of the crypto-Jewish families in other parts witnessed the weakening of religious ties, the assimilation and the intermarriage with non-Jews, circumstances that were irreversibly exacerbated during the following decades with the advent of the open society.



«One day, I shall be vindicated!»

In 1961, Captain Barros Basto departed knowing that the great tribulation in the History of his time - Nazism, war, Holocaust, survivors’ assistance, implementation of the State of Israel, etc. - had taken projection and support to his attempt to rescue the Portuguese Crypto-Jews. He considered, however, until the end of his life, that the "separation from the Army" he had been condemned to had been the deciding factor in the failure of both the «Rescue Work» and the large Jewish community that one day he thought would be possible to build. He never lost the hope of being reinstated as of right in the military service and to see his tarnished name cleaned, claiming, on the eve of his death: «One day, I shall be vindicated!» 



Colonel Barros Basto

Captain Barros Basto was morally rehabilitated 50 years after his death, at the request to the Portuguese Parliament of his granddaughter, Isabel Ferreira Lopes, supported by a team of British and Portuguese jurists. In 2012 the Portuguese Parliament unanimously declared that «Barros Basto was separated from the Army due to a generic climate of animosity towards him, motivated by the fact that he was Jewish». In 2013 the Portuguese Army confessed that Captain Barros Basto is a “Colonel” since 22.11.1945.




Some surnames of Jews of foreign origin who have made or are part of the history of the Jewish Community of Oporto:

Knikinsky, Yamonsky, Azancot, Beigel, Flitterman, Prezman, Finkelstein, Lemchen, Piccioto, Elijah, Safra, Morgenstern, Salomon, Terlo, Warmbrun, Jeffries, Cymerman, Golshmit, Halpern, Schuman, Samuels, Cohen, Stern, Medina, Jacobsky, Simon, Weinberg, Oppenheim, Okon, Elbogen, Hendler, Tylo, Sequerra, Gozal, Grinman, Zekri, Bendayan, Joanes, Janovsky, Garcea, Rubenfeld, Kiefe, Etner, Bronstein, Hertz, Platchek, Sarfati, Kelback.


Benefactors Members of the Jewish Community of Oporto

Arthur Carlos de Barros Basto

Menasseh Kniszinski Ben Dov

Sir Elly Kadoorie

Lord Lawrence Kadoorie

Sir Horace Kadoorie

Paul Goodman

Baron Edmond de Rothschild

Baron Edouard de Rothschild

Chief Rabbi David de Sola Pool

Cecil Roth

Lily Jean-Javal

Wilfrid Samuel

Fernand Halphen

Moses Bensabat Amzalak

Giuseppe Pardo Roques

Edwin Eduards

Samuel Van den Berg

Chief Rabbi Israel Levy of France

Lucien Wolf

Marcel Goldschmidt



Sir Elly Kadoorie (1865 – 1944)

Born in Baghdad, in Iraq, Eleazar (Elly) Kadoorie is the Honorary Chairman of the Jewish Community of Porto. He was also Chairman of the Anglo-Jewish Association, of the Shanghai Zionist Association and of the Union of Sephardi Communities. He worked and made a fortune in Hong Kong and Shanghai, in areas as diverse as banking, electricity and the hotel sector. Known as the "Prince of Philanthropists", he often stated «wealth is a sacred responsibility to be administered for the good of society». He was a patron of hospitals and schools, including education institutions for women in the Middle East. Decorated in England, France, Syria, Taiwan and China, among other countries, he died in 1944, after having been interned in a Japanese concentration camp during World War II.



Lady Laura Kadoorie (1859 – 1919)

Laura Mocatta Kadoorie descends of a Portuguese Sephardic family that once abandoned Portugal, due to the persecution of the Holy Office. In her genealogy, one may find surnames like Lamego, Lousada, Miranda, Fonseca, Nunes, Mendes, Costa, Mattos (or Matos), Abravanel, Lumbroso, Ximenes and Mocatta. In Hong Kong, then under British rule, Laura undertook marriage with Sir Elly Kadoorie, with whom she had two children: Lawrence and Horace. She died in 1929, in dramatic conditions.



Lord Lawrence Kadoorie (1899 – 1993)

Lawrence Kadoorie soon began working with his father in the family businesses, joining, in 1927, the Sir Elly Kadoorie & Sons business group. Chairman of great success in more than a dozen companies, he inherited the entrepreneurial spirit and the interest in humanitarian activities and patronage from his father. He promoted education and relief works around the world. Decorated in countries such as Belgium, France and England, which granted him the title of Baron in 1981, he also received the Ramon Magsaysay Prize (Asian equivalent to the Nobel Peace Prize) and was the figurehead in outstanding Jewish institutions. He married, in 1938, Muriel Gabbay Kadoorie, with whom he had two children: Rita and Michael.



Sir Horace Kadoorie (1902 – 1995)

Horace Kadoorie soon began working with his father in the family businesses, joining, in 1939, the Sir Elly Kadoorie & Sons business group. Chairman of great quality in more than a dozen companies, he was founder and President of Shanghai Jewish Youth Association, having focused much of his energy in charity and solidarity throughout the world. During World War II, he was responsible for the creation of a Committee to render moral and material aid to about 20000 Jewish refugees who came to Shanghai and, later, as a representative of the American Joint Distribution in Hong Kong, he helped thousands of refugees rebuilding their life throughout the world. Decorated in France, Belgium and England, he has also received the Ramon Magsaysay Prize, Asian equivalent to the Nobel Peace Prize. 


The ownership of the Oporto Synagogue
The Jewish Community of Oporto (CIP), founded in 1923, is the legitimate and legal owner of the building of the Oporto Synagogue and its surrounding land, located on Rua de Guerra Junqueiro, no. 340, Oporto. This is its legal position.
The Spanish and Portuguese Congregation of London (SPCL), founded in 1657, is the legitimate heiress of the building of the Oporto Synagogue and its surrounding land, if in the future the Jewish Community of Oporto were to be dissolved. This is its legal position. This is an issue finally clarified, but raised several doubts for many years. Let's take a closer look at the historical and legal details of this interesting issue.

1. The Oporto Synagogue
The Temple includes not only a prayer room, but also spaces reserved for studying, a mikveh, a nursery, a school, a library, a typography, a board room, a community dining room, a kitchen, a community grocery store, a patio where a Sukkah is built for Sukkot, a museum, as well an apartment lent to the rabbi of the Community.

2. Jewish Community of Oporto: Owner
The Jewish Community of Oporto is the legitimate and legal owner and holder of the land located on Rua de Guerra Junqueiro, no. 340, Oporto, a position it acquired, from the previous owners, through a public deed of purchase and sale, concluded on September 6th, 1928 and entered on pages 14 to 16 of deed book no. 716 of the extinct 5th Notary's Office of Oporto. This legal act was registered on September 18th of the same year, and the land was registered in favour of the Community.
The Jewish Community of Oporto is also the legitimate and legal owner of the building of the Kadoorie Mekor Haim Synagogue, built on the land located on Rua de Guerra Junqueiro, no. 340, Oporto, a position it acquired by purchasing the land from its previous owners and through Private Building Permit no. 477 (issued in its name, in 1929, by the Oporto City Council), which allowed the legal construction of the building of the Synagogue.
In legal terms, the Jewish Community of Oporto acquired (through the purchase and sale contract, turned into a public deed, a fact that was subsequently registered) the ownership right over the land, under the terms of articles 715 and 1549 of the old Civil Code and, once the land had been purchased, proceeded with the legal construction of a building, making significant changes to the property that was no longer a simple land plot and became an urban property. Consequently, the Community became the owner of the land and the building.

3. Jewish Community of Oporto: Holder
The Community always owned and continuously used the Property (land and building of the Synagogue), exercising a bona-fide, peaceful and public ownership, witnessed by everyone, which was never faced with any legal opposition and has been lasting for around 90 years. Even if the land had never been purchased through a public deed and registered [and, in fact, there is a public deed and a register], the Community would be entitled to it by way of the legal concept of usucaption, in view of the provisions laid down in articles 1287 to 1297 of the Civil Code.

4. Minutes of the General Assembly of 1935
On February 21st, 1935, the General Assembly of the Jewish Community of Oporto recorded the following statement in its minutes: «The Jewish Community of Oporto acknowledges to being only the bona-fide depositary and curator of the immovable assets of the Spanish and Portuguese Congregation of London, which comprise a walled land plot with one thousand and two hundred square meters, where the Jewish temple known as the Kadoorie Mekor Haim Synagogue is built, a building that also belongs to the aforementioned Congregation of London.»
This statement has no legal value in what regards the production of real effects; i.e., it does not grant any legal rights, much less the ownership of the Property, to the Spanish and Portuguese Congregation of London. This could only occur via a transfer of assets formalized by a public deed.
On the other hand, the legal concept of the "bona-fide depositary and curator of immovable assets" never existed under Portuguese law and, therefore, did not exist in 1935. So, it is an impossible statement attached to the minutes produced by a General Assembly that didn't even have the quorum required for a valid deliberation. At best, there was an intention to make a reference to the legal concept of the "usufructuary"; i.e., the Community declared to maintain the ability to use and enjoy the Property, but granted the Spanish and Portuguese Congregation of London the bare ownership of the Property. But, as mentioned above, the statement in question has no legal value in what regards the production of real effects, and usufruct is also a real right.
The reason that, in 1935, led the parties to make the "declaration of will" registered in the minutes of the General Assembly was probably the smallness and fragility of the Jewish Community of Oporto that, at the time, was running the risk of being extinct or of becoming an organization that could subvert the principles of Judaism and of the Jewish moral, if faced by adversities that might appear at any time, particularly in the context of a political regime marked by personal power and guided by the Catholic moral. The political regime of the "Estado Novo" and its Constitution had been created in 1933.
So much so that the purchase of the land occurred in 1929, almost 6 years before the approval of the minutes under analysis, and, at no time, was the fact that the property was owned by the Jewish Community of Oporto called into question by the Spanish and Portuguese Congregation of London, or by others.

5. Spanish and Portuguese Congregation of London: Contributions
The Spanish and Portuguese Congregation of London contributed, both directly and indirectly, to the purchase of the land and to the construction of the building of the Synagogue. There were also contributions sent by Jews from all over the world. The Jewish Community of Oporto has a complete list of the donors from all the different nations and of the amounts sent by each one of them, both for the purchase of the land, and for the construction of the great Kadoorie Mekor Haim Synagogue. However, that entity's moral and financial contribution was, undeniably, the largest and most decisive one.
The documents kept at the archive of the Jewish Community of Oporto allow considering those contributions as donations made in the spirit of generosity. The donors acted guided by the desire to, without being given anything in return, contribute to the existence of a Jewish Community and a Jewish way of life in Oporto. Those contributions were never given by the donors with the goal of obtaining something in return.

6. Spanish and Portuguese Congregation of London: Heiress (successor in interest)
The legal position of the Spanish and Portuguese Congregation of London in what regards the assets of the Jewish Community of Oporto is that of legal and legitimate heiress. In fact, the Statutes of the Jewish Community of Oporto, approved and legally registered in 2014, stipulate that, if the Community were to be dissolved, all its assets would revert to that organization.

Article 20
(Destination of the assets)
1. In the event of the dissolution or extinction of the Jewish Community of Oporto as a religious legal entity, the Kadoorie Mekor Haim Synagogue and the surrounding land shall revert, for historical and moral reasons, to the Spanish & Portuguese Jew’s Congregation of London, founded in 1657.
2. The previous paragraph shall not apply to assets that might be allocated to a specific purpose or that might have been left or donated with specific obligations.

It is important to say that according to the old statutes of the Jewish Community of Oporto, which were produced in 1923 and remained in effect until 2014, if the Community were to be extinguished (something that was close to happening throughout its history), all its assets, including the land and the building of the Synagogue, would revert to the Portuguese Jewish community located closer to Oporto, and not to the Spanish and Portuguese Congregation of London.

Conclusion
The Jewish Community of Oporto and the Spanish and Portuguese Congregation of London are umbilically linked and both have rights over the Oporto Synagogue: the former is the owner, the latter is the heiress.




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