“One day I thought of carrying out the following plan: to renew Portugal’s links with the communities of the Portuguese rite around the world (which would be useful to Portugal) and for the purpose re-establish the Grand Rabbinate of Portugal, to be no less important internationally than the Catholic Patriarchate of the East Indies. I took various steps for the purpose of creating a Grand Rabbinate of Portugal and to that end conferred on several occasions with Dr. Amzalak [President of the Jewish Community] of Lisbon. He was able to achieve the following: the important Jewish Community of Gibraltar would agree to be the spiritual head of that Grand Rabbinate and would contribute financially to the suitable upkeep of the rabbinate. Lisbon would also contribute as should Oporto. The other small Portuguese communities were unable to contribute given their many welfare costs.
The Oporto Community was also poor, but a second plan would provide it with the financial means and help towards the major goal in view. Since the forcible conversion of Portuguese Jews in the time of King D. Manuel, during the persecutions of the Inquisition, till today, there were and are New Christians who practice Jewish rites in secret. There are still many thousands of these crypto-Jews or Marranos in Trás-os-Montes and the Beiras, who traditionally and in secret, within the bosom of their families, practise a bastardised Judaism filled with superstitions. Revealing the existence of people who descended from the martyrs of the Inquisition to the Jewish world of Portuguese origin, people who despite centuries of persecution are still faithful to the religious traditions of their ancestors, would inevitably cause emotion in those Jewish circles linked by ties of blood and faith to these crypto-Jews. The first community to respond to this appeal was the Portuguese community of London…”
(Statement by Barros Basto to the Military Tribunal, July 1936)
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.»
Observant Jew from Poland. Although he did not have a Rabbi's semichah, he was the religious leader of the Kadoorie Mekor Haim synagogue for almost three decades (until the time of his death in 1969). During this period, Srul Finkelstein imposed halachah, and brought a new energy to the religious activities of the Community. With financial support from the Kadoorie family, the Community was able to hire (1964) a chazan, shochet, mohel and teacher named Judah Cohen to assist Srul Finkelstein for two consecutive year. The services he rendered to the Community were of such importance that he became, along with Barros Basto and Menasseh Ben Dov, a benefactor member.
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.
On the history of the Jewish Community of Oporto founded in 1923:
On the history of the Jewish Community of Oporto founded in 1923:
1) In 1923 the Jewish Community of Oporto (CIP) was officially founded in a city that had not had a Jewish community for centuries. Although the Community members were overwhelmingly Ashkenazim, the Board of the Jewish Community of Oporto established that the official rite would be the Sephardic rite. It was considered the rite most suited to the history of a city where once there had been a numerous, powerful, active and dynamic community.
2) At every stage and since its creation the Jewish Community of Oporto has mostly been made up of people of foreign origin, members coming from many different countries, and the Marranos, whilst they existed, at no time played any large much less decisive role in the Community.
3) Throughout its 95-year old history the Jewish Community of Oporto always had a sufficient number of Jewish males to constitute minyan, although this was often difficult to achieve for a number of reasons, first because of the absence of a rabbi, a celebrant or someone capable of gathering them together.
4) The Jewish Community of Oporto was served by 15 Presidents throughout its history. In addition to the long presidency of Barros Basto, almost a quarter of a century, the Community was led by Ashkenazi Jews for 50 years.
5) During the Estado Novo the Jewish Community of Oporto and its founder suffered from internal intrigues and were persecuted for Catholic based anti-Semitic reasons, indeed, Captain Barros Basto was deemed unfit to use his officer’s uniform because he had taken part in circumcision procedures.
6) When Barros Basto died in 1961, the “Rescue Work” had long ceased to function and most Marranos had assimilated through mixed marriages, emigration or the progressive liberalisation of mores in Portuguese society. Only the Community of Belmonte was saved.
7) The 25 April 1974 and the years that followed were very negative for the Jewish Community of Oporto, because Barros Basto suffered a second conviction by the Army which was much stronger than the first, because some Community members lost all their assets, and also because others, fearing precisely that, fled the country with their property and their families. The synagogue only opened its doors very infrequently.
8) After 1990, the Jewish Community of Oporto acquires a fresh spirit and gradually begins to try to fulfil the purposes set out in its articles of association: the practice of the Jewish religion, the dissemination of Jewish culture and moral and material aid to brothers of the faith. The doors of the synagogue are open every Shabbat and on Yom Tov.
9) After 2012 and until the present year, the Jewish Community of Oporto has experienced fresh vigour in terms of Jewish life, Jewish culture, social influence, material wealth, Tzedakah, etc. The Kadoorie Mekor Haim synagogue, Arthur Barros Basto and the Jewish community as a whole have all benefited, as both the Jewish Community of Oporto and the Jewish Community of Lisbon intervened in the creation of legislation that currently permits Portuguese nationality to be granted to the descendants of Sephardic Jews.
10) The fact that the history of the Jewish Community of Oporto and of the Kadoorie Mekor Haim synagogue has until now been almost unknown or sketchy at best, always encouraged some opportunists to talk about them as they saw fit, whilst others, for decades on end, reduced both to simple negative formulas.
Benefactors Members of the Jewish Community of Oporto
Arthur Carlos de Barros Basto
Menasseh Kniszinski Ben Dov
Srul Finkelstein (approved on January 2018)
Sir Elly Kadoorie
Sir Elly Kadoorie
Lord Lawrence Kadoorie
Sir Horace Kadoorie
Baron Edmond de Rothschild
Baron Edouard de Rothschild
Chief Rabbi David de Sola Pool
Moses Bensabat Amzalak
Giuseppe Pardo Roques
Samuel Van den Berg
Chief Rabbi Israel Levy of France
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.
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.
(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.
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.
THE JEWISH COMMUNITY OF PORTO AND AMÍLCAR PAULO
1. In 1946, issue nº 132 of Ha-Lapid attributed great relevance to a young student who was to become one of the icons of Jewish culture in the Porto of his time. “A young, 18-year-old, crypto-Jew from Trás-os-Montes, born in the municipality of Freixo de Espada à Cinta, Amílcar do Nascimento Calvo Paulo was welcomed into the Abraham Alliance to become a public servant of God Most High. The new Jew received the name Levi Ben-Har. Mazal tob to this rescued young man.”
At the time the Jewish Community of Porto numbered some twenty Portuguese Marranos and the following families of foreign origin: Warmbum, Kiefe, Kolback, Jafe, Platchek, Beigel, Pressman, Finkelstein, Cymerman, Gotlieb, Knikinsky, Yamansky, Elbogen, Palumbaum, Hertz, Salomon, Rubenfeld, Wright, Bronstein, Levi, Simon eGarcea, among others.
Knowing that the Jewish people were at a crossroads in history, the new Jew closely followed the Partition Plan for Palestine, the foundation of the State of Israel and the wars unleashed by the Arab world right after the decision of the United Nations General Assembly held at Lake Success. He probably sang the hatikvah at Kadoorie Mekor Haim synagogue on “Victory Day”, celebrating, drinking and singing with his peers, just as Jewish families the world over celebrated, drank and sang. The moment had been awaited for two millennia.
2. Arthur Carlos de Barros Basto, President of the Jewish Community of Porto from 1946 to 1948, was now a shadow of the man he had once been. More than a decade had elapsed since he had been libellously accused of engaging in homosexual acts, which involved him in criminal and disciplinary proceedings within the army.
Theoretically speaking, the Constitution of the Estado Novo could be as good as desired for society by its advocates, but judging from the way it was applied to this case [which became known as]: the “Portuguese Dreyfus”, it represented precisely the opposite of everything that had been said about it. With effect, in the summer of 1937, the Army Higher Disciplinary Council considered it proven that Captain Barros Basto “performed circumcisions on various students according to a precept of the Jewish religion”, and accordingly had no “moral capacity for the prestige of his function and the propriety of his uniform”.
Resorting unduly to ius puniendi the Council decreed that “separation from the service” was the penalty appropriate and proportional to the seriousness of the crime. In actual fact, it was an unjust and contra legem punishment in the light of principles whose precocity is imposed on all laws. This decision had disastrous effects comprising Barros Basto’s financial ruin and the loss of enthusiasm that had so defined him, conclusively bringing to a close the “Rescue Work” of all those who were captive to ignorance of official Judaism.
3. To the great amazement of the civilised world, Marranos, that is, descendants of the Jews who fell victim to D. Manuel’s Edict, still existed on Portuguese territory in the mid-twentieth century, and displayed a particular type of behaviour. They dressed up to go to Church on Sunday, knew all the responses, received Communion, had the members of their families buried by Catholic priests under Christian crosses, but in contrast when they got home they prayed to Adonai, honoured Moses, chose their spouses from within the family, lit their candles before the Sabbath, fasted at Yom Kippur and celebrated the Passover.
The Marranos murmured that the Inquisition was still in place and fearing revenge, suppressed the word ‘Jew’. However, in the light of Halacha they were not considered as fully-fledged Jews. They were not Jews, they were not Christians, but were both at the same time, a mixture of antagonistic cultures melded into a confuse hybridism. “Religion marked by syncretism placed them between two fires: Catholics did not accept them because they were Jews; their brothers in faith, who were orthodox, refused to consider them Jews because they were unable to prove they were of uncontaminated matrilineal Jewish descent, and they were baptised in, often married in and always buried by the Catholic Church.
4. Amílcar Paulo was born at the time when the Great Rabbi of Palestine, Jacob Meir, was asked about the situation of the Portuguese Marranos. He defended that as they had always intermarried, they should be considered to be Jewish with no need for any formal recognition or conversion. This Halachic opinion was not unheard-of. Among the great rabbinical authorities, there was always those who believed that proof of Jewish descent via the matrilineal line was enough for the quality of Jewishness to be affirmed without further ado, regardless of the number of generations separating the family from official Judaism.
However, Jacob Meir’s statement caused great controversy in rabbinical circles, for he had departed from a false premise – the certainty of the Marranos’ Jewish origin through matrilineal descent – and he had also forgotten the Marranos’ strong ties to Christianity.
It was not certain that the Marranos descended through matrilineal lines from the “conversos” of 1497. The Jewish matrilineal descent of the Marranos, although devisable and presumed, did not constitute an incontestable fact for there were no documentary records of centuries of marriages, nor would it be possible to obtain them with any degree of reliability. Voluntary or forced connections to Gentiles have always been a part of the history of the Jews and it would be impossible to ensure that these had not taken place within the Marrano communities.
At this confluence, to dispel any doubts as to individual genealogies and at the same time rectify their link to the Catholic religion, the Marranos should undergo, if not conversion plain and simple, a simplified conversion which would include not only the brit milah in the case of the men, basic teachings, the necessary immersion in the mikvah and the acceptance of the mitzvoth before a qualified Beth din ( Shulchan Aruch, Anotações de Rama, Yore Dea, Cap. 268, 12).
5. At the time the Marranos did not welcome the “Rescue Work” as warmly as was to be hoped. They distrusted official Judaism and the movement of foreign leadership issuing out of Porto, which wished to do away with their particular simplistic religion, with isolated unconnected fragments of the Law of Moses mixed up with significant Catholic practices. To be strictly accurate as to concepts the shield of private Halachic restrictions means that one cannot talk of crypto-Judaism but only of Marranism.
For believers, the true religion is always the religion that is felt in the heart and practiced by force of customs that are hundreds of years old, never a set of closed, hermetic rules that come from outside rooted in another idiom. Many Marranos did not even know the Latin characters, let alone the Hebrew ones!
Lost in the mists of time, forsaken by the world for 500 years, they were not prepared to correct their centuries-old practices or to add anything at all to what they already did. They were convinced that they practised the Law of Moses in orthodox fashion. In this regard they were not at all liberal.
Their Marranism had been learnt in a rural environment lacking in culture, where tradition is very strong, the Catholic priest inspires reverential terror and mentalities are fiercely resistant to radical changes. However much the Marranos heard talk of Halachic determinations, they did not set aside their practices, nor cease entering the church humbly to avoid social censure.
6. The enthusiasm of historians, liberal Jews and other devotees of the subject of the Marranos collided with the specific singularity of Marranism and with unavoidable issues for Halacha, which were not clearly resolved. No competent Beth Din ever travelled to Portugal nor do we know of any Marranos who travelled to other countries with a view to undertaking formal conversion to Judaism.
The intention was to rescue thousands of people at once without carrying particularly for the conversion or formal recognition of any one person. Time passed, the Jewish world’s attention focused on Nazism, then the war, the refugees and the foundation of the State of Israel. In the midst of all this Captain Barros Basto was taken down by anonymous denunciations and the “Rescue Work” collapsed.
Whilst the great focus of the anonymous denouncers was to ruin the “Rescue “Work” in all respects and in every meaning, they would do no better or in less time or with a more suitable system. In the end they were all punished by the Jewish Community of Porto with the "penalty of cherem, for all times” in the Minutes of the General Assembly of 26 December 1937. The harm, however, had been done.
7. At all times and since its foundation the Jewish Community of Porto has mainly consisted of people of foreign origin, with members who had arrived from different countries, whilst the Marranos and the proselytes, when they existed, never played a large or indeed decisive role in the organisation. This fact was exacerbated after 1949 when the Pole Nathan Beigel took over from Barros Basto as President of the Community and, in the absence of a rabbi, entrusted the supervision of religious life in Porto’s Jewish community to his fellow countryman, Srul Finkelstein, an observant Jew.
From that time on the Porto synagogue adopted the same criterion regarding the Marranos as did the synagogues of Lisbon, Madrid, Paris, London, Brussels, Jerusalem and all others where Halacha reigned, by which terms they could not be considered for purposes of minyan. Whilst authors, tribunes and academics delighted in celebrating the virtues of Portuguese Marranism, Jewish law adamantinely imposed a process of formal recognition on the part of a competent Beth Din without which the Marranos could not officially be considered Jewish.
Based on this defence, the Marranos of the Jewish Community of Porto, whose surnames were Rodrigues, Araújo, Martins, Xavier, Carvalho, Moreno, Ranito, Mendes and Lopes, dissociated themselves almost completely from the organisation and from the synagogue. From the data available, the necessary and ineluctable intervention of a competent Beth Din – which many decades later occurred with the Belmonte community, once its members had been suitably prepared in the light of the Halacha – was not even put forward as a possibility for the Marranos who lived in Porto.
Substantial fortunes donated from abroad had been expended so that the “Rescue Work” could scour the country in search of Marranos, whilst right there in Porto, the cornerstone of all the missionary actions, there was not one single former Marrano Portuguese Jew to show for the outlay of such a large sum of money. This is a faithful depiction of the complete failure of the rescue operation that took place in the first half of the twentieth century, a depiction that is all the more truthful when one considers the untimely extinction of the official Jewish communities of Bragança, Vila Real, Pinhel, Covilhã, etc.
8. In light of Halacha Amílcar Paulo also held the status of a non-Jew, which is indisputable, as he never underwent any formal act of recognition carried out by a competent rabbinical tribunal. Although passionate about Judaism and a vibrant member of the Jewish Community of Porto, from the Halachic point of view (and even, if we like, in terms of so-called reformist, liberal Judaism) he was as non-Jewish as his brother António Paulo.
From his early years, “Barros Basto’s dauphin” had expressed a cultural rather than a religious link to the Jewish Community of Porto, focusing his interest on the uses, customs and prayers of the Marranos, on the history of the Jews and the New Christians and on the defence of Israel and of a forbidden people whose spirit always suffered yet never failed.
The excellent work carried out by Amílcar Paulo made him an expert on the concrete culture he fell in love with, although not revealing the same interest in the development of the Jewish community, the stability of the minyan, the lack of a Rabbi, Shabbat, Jewish feasts, religious teaching, kashrut, family purity, etc., a fact no doubt affected by the Halachic issue mentioned above.
9. Benefitting from the support of his fellow Poles, Nathan Beigel and Paulo Pressman, Srul Finkelstein imposed on the synagogue a twenty-year period of Halachic rule. Whilst Amílcar Paulo invested his energies mainly in culture, publishing “Os Marranos de Trás-os-Montes” and many other remarkable works, the Jewish community of Porto attempted to survive in the light of the key principles of Judaism and on its inadequate and weak minyan, maintaining and developing orthodoxy step by step, also with the financial aid of the Kadoorie family, which meant that for two consecutive years they were able to hire chazzan, shochet, mohel, and teacher Judah Cohen.
A myth that found supporters in the last decades declared that Barros Basto got on badly with the “Poles” in the Jewish Community of Porto because of their attitude to the Marranos. This bears no relation to reality. By consensual decision of those former members of Polish origin, Barros Basto was elected Chairman of the General Meeting, a charge he faithfully fulfilled until he died in March 1961.
On the departure from this earth of the legendary president of the Jewish Community of Porto the New State had one less problem to solve. Since the golden times of the “Rescue Work” the political police (PDPS and PIP until 1933, PVDE until 1945 and then PIDE) and the Catholic newspapers “A Voz” and “As Novidades” kept a close eye on anything concerning the Jews of Porto and the Jewish Community of Porto, going so far as to charge the organisation for allegedly sheltering Jewish refugees intent on propagating the Bolshevik ideology in Portugal.
10. The period of twenty years of Halachic rule was followed by a period of twenty years of religious vacuum. Although there were minimum instances of associative life, with very rare exceptions the local Jewish community stopped using its religious temple.
In fact, with the death of Srul Finkelstein in November 1969, the community saw the departure of the great religious driving force of Kadoorie Mekor Haim synagogue, given his assiduous religious attendance at the tefilot and his all-embracing guidance of his brothers in faith, not to mention his efficient activity as Vice-President and Treasurer of the Board. Jewish life in the city was so profoundly shaken that contrary to what had happened thus far religious services on the Shabbat and other important dates in the Jewish calendar were no longer celebrated in Kadoorie Mekor Haim synagogue but in the homes of community members or, in some cases, in Shaare Tikvah synagogue in Lisbon.
With religious services suspended, Porto’s Jewish community dispersed and the synagogue transformed into a museum that was usually closed to the public, Jewish life in the city lay moribund. There was only room for culture, that is, for Amílcar Paulo, who took his work so far that he participated in Jewish Science conferences in Jerusalem, and gained worldwide renown.
11. A visit to Porto by an historian, investigator, journalist or Jew interested in cultural issues had to include a meeting with Amílcar Paulo, who time and again accompanied visitors on trips to Trás-os-Montes and the Beiras, so that all could verify that Marranism, nourished continuously by multiple marriages between cousins, was still practised in Portugal, although it was disappearing from day to day.
As well as these long journeys he undertook with visitors, Amílcar Paulo invariably opened for them the hieratic doors of Kadoorie Mekor Haim synagogue, where he knew every nook and cranny as well as the history of each instrument or document, lavishing on his interlocutors an amicable disposition and enormously valuable technical knowledge. At the time, the headquarters of the Jewish Community of Porto was guarded by an officer of the Public Security Police, who lived there free of charge with his wife and a dog. He had been hired – according to the testimony of the late Nathan Beigel – to watch over the premises and inform the political police of the regime (DGS, between 1969 and 1974) that there were no “Jewish conspiracies” there.
1979 saw the creation of the Portugal-Israel Institute of Cultural Relations, presided by Amílcar Paulo. Head office of the Institute: Rua de Guerra Junqueiro, 340, Porto, that is, the building housing Kadoorie Mekor Haim synagogue, then a completely empty space which was expiring in the light of the key functions that a synagogue must perform in any part of the world.
It must be acknowledged that at that time the walls of Porto’s synagogue gave off no luminosity or religiosity. We see no reason not to recall that a synagogue is or should be a house of assembly (Beit Knesset) and a house of prayer (Beit Tefilah) for adult Jews to say their tefilot, encouraging and persuading each other to turn up for the religious services.
12. The revolution of 25 April 1974 brought an end to Marcello Caetano’s “Social State”. Culture broke free of all ties, crypto-Judaism ceased to be a divisive subject in society and the many works produced by Amílcar Paulo became better known, which slowly afforded the author a well-merited reputation. Other members of the Jewish Community of Porto were not so lucky.
Consisting of a few dozen people, the community lived under a climate of terror created by the brutal occupations that victimised Ozias and Meir Cymerman, the threats of robbery affecting Paulo Pressman and Leo Benaim, the flight to Spain of members of Henry Tillo’s family, COPCON’s threats to arrest other Porto Jews, already terrified by the imprisonment in Lisbon of Samuel Ruah, accused of having been a “doctor to the fascists”. In complete contrast to the above, the synagogue was often stoned by militants of right-wing political parties who accused the Community of harbouring in its midst “Communist accomplices”.
The result of this social environment was that the small and divided Jewish community in Porto became even more scattered.
13. Amílcar Paulo died in 1983, as did Paulo Pressman, then President of the Jewish Community of Porto. Jewish families living in the city included Henaler, Proxman, Janovsky, Flitterman, Finkelstein, Cymerman, Joanes, Sequerra, Gozal, Terlo, Azancot, Beigel, Bronstein, Gozal, Wilson, Solal, Bendahan, Mendler, etc.
There are no words grievous enough to describe how sorely missed Amílcar Paulo was by all those who knew him and were honoured to have had dealings with him. This great Marrano intellectual and investigator was for a long time, as far as the Jewish Community of Porto is concerned, its only protector in terms of promoting Hebrew culture which, it should be noted, always constituted and still constitutes one of the statutory objects of the organisation.
14. A decade and a half elapsed between the death of Srul Finkelstein and that of Amílcar Paulo. With the exception of the cultural activities pursued by the latter, during that period the Jewish Community of Porto performed none of the many functions that might be expected of a Jewish organisation legally recognised by a State, nor did Kadoorie Mekor Haim synagogue perform the mission that might be expected of such a large building possessing every condition to be not just a synagogue but a regional Jewish centre.
The generalised idea of bleakness and desolation in the Jewish Community of Porto and in Kadoorie Mekor Haim synagogue dates from this time and also from the time the community was led by Rudolf Lemchen (1984-1989). Indeed, for many years the synagogue was viewed as a sort of black hole that was so large in terms of concentrated mass that everything was fated to die in its core, from which no light emanated. And this, despite the fact that there were more than enough men to constitute minyan and perform religious ceremonies without restrictions.
15. Since the time when Samuel Schwarz announced to the world that Marranism existed in Portugal, seven decades passed until the first Portuguese Marranos were finally rescued and recognised officially as Jews. This occurred in Belmonte about ten years after the death of Amílcar Paulo.
The World Jewish Agency and the Sephardi Chief Rabbi of Israel, Mordechai Eliahu, expressed their solidarity with the Belmonte Marranos who lived in despair because they were not Jews like the others. They wished to generate consensus throughout the world and naturally in Lisbon, or rather, within the Jewish Community of Lisbon, where for many years they had been viewed with great distrust.
In September 1990, the Israeli Rabbi Joseph Sebag, who spoke Portuguese for he had previously worked in Brazil, settled in Belmonte and embarked on the difficult task of educating the local Marranos in the light of Jewish law. The little they knew about Halacha probably dated from reminiscences of the “Rescue Work”, which had long been extinguished.
The new Rabbi taught the Belmonte Marranos all the mitzvoth, taught them how Judaism should be lived, tried to find a mohel to circumcise the men, coordinated the building of a mikvah, ended with the “priestesses” and strictly forbade numerous traditional practices of Marranism, namely those related to Christianity. All this created some discomfort among the Marranos and angered many students of this subject.
Although the members of the Marrano community in Belmonte had already incorporated a legal entity called “Jewish Community”, the fact is that they had yet to be officially recognised as Jews. The oft-repeated argument “We are Jews through our maternal side”, was not accepted by Rabbi Joseph Sebag, who was following the orders of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel. From the start he tried to explain to these people in Belmonte that they would have to undergo a formal although simplified conversion to Judaism, because they could not prove their Jewish matrilineal descent and they and their forebears had been steeped in Christian practices for many years.
On 22 September 1991, a Beth Din performed a number of conversions and marriages of members of the community. Other rabbinical tribunals were set up in 1994 and 1995. The people of Belmonte demanded that the names of their male parent should be included in their conversion certificates. The names of the fathers that directly or indirectly corresponded to Biblical Jewish figures were accepted.
Of the more than two hundred men, women and children who were members of the Belmonte community, only 85 people were officially recorded in the “Book of Conversions”. Many Marranos were excluded from this process, for the Rabbis had got their way. The book of records does in fact include the word “conversion”.
16. Converted, at long last, to Judaism via the orthodox route, these new Jews (ex-Marranos) of Belmonte now assumed that in future they would be treated as equals by their brothers in faith from other parts of the world. They were wrong. Making an about face about all they had said before the conversions, immediately people appeared saying that they (and their friends) were more Jewish than the Jews of Belmonte, as if the adjective “Jew” had different degrees and tonalities, and might be considered in an exaggerated or minimalist form.
As if this were not enough, the first genuinely Portuguese Jews in 500 years continued to be sold to tourism as being “Marranos”, and the Belmonte community was condemned to live forever under the constant attack of the flashes of tourists in their holiday apparel. This discrimination is absurd.
17. The fact that the legal entity Jewish Community of Porto, Porto’s Jewish community and Kadoorie Mekor Haim synagogue were stories unknown to many, or at best only incompletely, always led a number of opportunists to state their opinion freely, led others deliberately to confuse the three different realities in a web that is difficult to untangle, and led alleged or supposed delinquents for successive decades to reduce them to simple, negative formulas and seek to denigrate them as much as possible, frequently adding other, more scandalous behaviour to the previous abuses.
Third parties often assessed the Jewish Community of Porto by the number of people who routinely attended the synagogue or, worse, by the number of people that observers saw in the synagogue, when they came to Porto. Such assessments were always justified by stories that were, to a greater or lesser degree, offensive.
The fact is that, according to the undeniable records of the Jewish Community of Porto, it has always had – even in the time of Amílcar Paulo, which included four presidents: Barros Basto (1946-1949), Nathan Beigel (1949-1960), Paulo Pressman (1960-1965), Mejer Samuel Cymerman (1965-1966) and again Pressman until 1983 – a sufficient number of male Jews to constitute minyan and enjoy a dignified Jewish life. The long-term obstacle was the absence of celebrants and leaders able to energise and bring together a Jewish colony overwhelmingly consisting of non-observant foreign Jews who were not greatly interested in community dynamics.
Today, almost a century after its foundation, the Jewish Community of Porto is living the most important period of its history in many fields, gradually increasing its strength, immune to the traditional envy of unfortunate beings from many latitudes who desired no such outcome.
18. Today, the Jewish community in Porto is made up of Jews from many countries, mainly Sephardim. It no longer counts among its members the old families of Ashkenazim traders, who moved to other countries in the second half of the twentieth century, or the Marranos who assimilated a long time ago through mixed marriage, emigration, the liberation of customs and the weakening of religious ties. Only about half a dozen people are left from the time of Barros Basto and Amílcar Paulo, who for reasons of historic legitimacy and technical capability still hold important positions within the organisation’s company bodies.
The work carried out by the Jewish Community of Porto in these last years has completely reconfigured the Portuguese Jewish panorama. A reconfiguration of many colours based on a number of important restorations, about which we can provide a brief synopsis.
The organisation Jewish Community of Porto, was rehabilitated, today it is a religious entity based in Portugal, with many departments and laws suitable for proper management of its community affairs, including laws against slander, a canker that always destroys communities and indeed led to the destruction of Beit Hamikdash by the Romans.
Jewish life in the city of Porto has been revitalised – by promoting, welcoming and integrating Jews from other countries -, around the headquarters of the Community, the prayer rooms, a Beit Midrash, a multiplicity of activities, four kosher restaurants and three mini-markets, all supervised by the Porto rabbinate and its rabbis.
Similarly, the moss-covered building of the Kadoorie Mekor Haim synagogue, which until recently was not even registered with the Property Registry Office, has been beautifully restored, and every day there are activities of a religious and cultural nature. This is a Jewish centre that accommodates many aspects, so much so that its many spaces – two prayer rooms, study room, mini-market, mikvah, restaurant, museum, etc. – are often insufficient in light of the many comings and goings and the general attendance.
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.