4000 years of Jewish History

Why has Christendom
attacked the Jews?

Muslims and Jews in History

Expulsion of the Jews From
Arab Countries

The Treatment
of Jews
in Arab/Islamic Countries



Lost Tribes

What Happened to the Muslims After 1492?






















Cape Verde



Sao Tome




Latin America









Click underlined section

Outbreaks Against Lisbon Jews.

Lisbon Scholars.

New Christians at Lisbon.

Visit of Reubeni.

Eighteenth Century.

Synagogue Founded 1813.

Distinguished Jews of Lisbon.

Sites of Lisbon


Capital of Portugal. It had the largest Jewish community in the country and was the residence of the chief rabbi ("arraby mor"). It had several "Judarias" or Jewish streets, one of them in the part of the city called "de Pedreira," between the cloisters do Carmo and da Trinidade; another, laid out later, was in the quarter da Conceiçaõ. In 1457 a third Judaria was created, the de Alfama, near the Pedro gate. In the Rua Nova, passing through the most beautiful and the liveliest part of the city, resided the rich and prominent Jews, the large synagogue being in the same thoroughfare. A small synagogue was erected by Joseph ibn Yaḥya about 1260, at his own expense.

For a long period the Jews of Lisbon were left undisturbed. The first storm broke upon them during the war between Dom Ferdinand of Portugal and Henry II. of Castile. The Castilian army forced its way into Lisbon; several Jews were killed, and the Rua Nova was plundered and destroyed by the rapacious soldiery (1373). The grand master of the Knights of St. Bennett of Aviz, later King John I., successor of Dom Ferdinand, protected the Jews in the capital against pillage. As a sign of their gratitude, the Jews, in addition to their contribution to the gift of 10,000 livres made to the king by the city, presented to him 70 marks and made him a loan of 1,000 reis.

Outbreaks Against Lisbon Jews.                                                       TOP

The Jews of Lisbon, who in 1462 paid for "serviço real" alone 50,000 reis (about 3,500 francs), were engaged in various mercantile pursuits and trades. When Dom Duarte imposed restrictions upon free intercourse between Jews and Christians, representatives of the Jewish community at Lisbon applied to the king for the removal of the restrictions, and the king granted the request in a letter to the community dated Dec. 5, 1436. The prosperity and consequent luxury of the Jews aroused the envy and hatred of the Christians, even to the point of violence. Toward the end of the year 1449 some young men maltreated several Jews at the fish-market, and the royal corregidor had them publicly whipped. This aroused the anger of the people against the Jews, who were attacked, and a number of whom were killed, despite their brave resistance. Probably the fight would have ended in a terrible massacre but for the armed intervention of the Count de Monsanto. The attack was renewed, and the king was compelled to adopt severe measures against persons convicted of aggressions against the Jews. The profound hatred against the latter was increased by the arrival of immigrants from Castile, who sought shelter at Lisbon.

In 1482 the populace again assailed the Jews, plundered their stores, and destroyed their dwellings; it was at this time that Isaac Abravanel lost his entire possessions, including his valuable library. To increase their troubles, the pestilence broke out simultaneously with the immigration of their coreligionistsfrom Spain. By order of the city council the refugees from Spain were required to leave the city at once; though, through the intervention of the king, John II., the city council was compelled to grant to Samuel Nayas, procurator of the Castilian Jews, the right to stay there, and to the Castilian physician Samuel Judah the right to practise medicine (Rios, "Hist." iii. 338-349). In 1497, by order of King Emanuel, the Jews were driven out of Portugal; the Lisbon community ceased to exist, and the large synagogue was transformed into a church.

Lisbon Scholars.                                                                                 TOP

The number of Jewish scholars of Lisbon is not especially large. Besides the members of the old families Ibn Yaḥya and Negro, who were born in the Portuguese capital and lived and studied there, there were the chief rabbis Judah and Moses Navarro, Judah Cohen, and others, as well as the rabbis Joseph and Moses Ḥayun and a certain Don Abraham, who was a physician and, in 1484, became also rabbi at Lisbon. Lisbon is the birthplace of Isaac Abravanel and his sons, and of Jacob ibn Ḥabib, and at Lisbon lived Joseph Vecinho (physician to King John II.), Abraham Zacuto, and Abraham Ẓarẓar. The learned Eliezer Toledano in 1485 established in this city a Hebrew printing-press, of which several books were the product. Among these was the Pentateuch with the commentary of Moses ben Naḥman (1489). In Lisbon Samuel ben Yom-Ṭob wrote (1410) a Torah roll now preserved in Bern; Samuel de Medina, in 1469, a Pentateuch; and Eliezer, son of Moses Gagos, in 1484, a ritual work for Isaac, son of Isaiah Cohen.

New Christians at Lisbon                                                                     TOP

After their expulsion from Lisbon no Jews resided there openly, but there was a large number of "secret Jews," or "Christaõs Novos" (New Christians), who were compelled to attend the Church ceremonies, but in secret lived in accordance with Jewish precepts. The Portuguese people hated these New Christians, or Maranos, far more than the confessed Jews, though King Emanuel favored them in order to win them by kindness to the Christian faith. But the king was powerless to protect them in face of the incendiary speeches of fanatical priests. On May 25, 1504, Whitsunday, a number of New Christians happened to meet in the Rua Nova, and were chatting together, when suddenly they were surrounded by a crowd of turbulent youths who insulted and reviled them. One of the New Christians finally drew his sword and injured some of the tormentors. A tumult ensued, which soon was checked by the appearance of the governor of the city with an armed guard. Forty of the rioters were arrested and condemned to be whipped and to be exiled for life to the island of St. Thomas, but through the intervention of the queen they were pardoned.

This uprising was the forerunner of the terrible massacre of the secret Jews in Lisbon which occurred in April, 1506. During the celebration of the Jewish Passover on the night of April 17 in that year, a party of New Christians was suddenly attacked and seventeen of them were arrested, but were set at liberty after two days. The people, enraged at this act, talked of bribery, and were ready to burn all New Christians at the stake. Two days later, on April 19, a number of Christians and New Christians attended a service in the Church of the Dominicans, in order that they might beseech God to stop the terrible, devastating pestilence. Suddenly, in a side chapel called the "Jesus Chapel," a crucifix radiating an extraordinary brightness attracted the attention of the Christians, who saw therein a miracle. One of the secret Jews was incautious enough to express his lack of faith in the wonder. This was the spark that caused the conflagration. The people were excited to the highest pitch and committed most fearful deeds of violence. The unbelieving New Christian was seized by the hair, dragged out of the church, and killed forthwith by the infuriated women, and his body was burned on a hastily erected pile on the Rocio Praça. Two Dominican monks, Joaõ Mocho, from Evora, and Bernaldo, an Aragonese, marched through the streets carrying the crucifix, calling aloud "Heresia! Heresia!" and exhorting the people to extirpate all heretics. The mob was soon joined by German, Dutch, and French sailors, and a terrible massacre began. On the first day, over five hundred New Christians were killed and burned; next day the brutalities were renewed in even worse form. Babies in the cradle were not spared; women seeking shelter in the church were dragged from the altar, outraged, and flung into the flames. The day's work ended with the murder of the tax-farmer Joaõ Rodriguez Mascarenhas, the richest and most hated New Christian; he was dragged to the Rua Nova, killed by the populace, and burned amid great rejoicing. Over two thousand (according to other authorities, four thousand) secret Jews were killed during the course of forty-eight hours.

The king, who was far from the capital at the time, was deeply incensed, and proceeded with severity against the criminals. The ringleaders were hanged, and many others were quartered or decapitated. The two Dominican monks who stirred up the people were expelled from their order and garroted, and their bodies were burned. Every resident of the city of Lisbon (which thereafter was no longer allowed to call itself "the most faithful") who was found guilty of either robbery or murder was punished corporally and subjected to loss of property (Damião de Goes, "Cron. de D. Manoel," pp. 141 et seq.; Garcia de Resende, "Miscellanea," xi. 6; Pina, "Chron. de D. Affonso," v. 130; "Shebeṭ Yehudah," p. 93; Usque, "Consolaçam," p. 200; hence the statement in "'Emeḳ ha-Bakah," p. 90; Herculano, "Inquisicaõ em Portugal," i. 142 et seq.; De Mendoça, "Historia de Portugal," vi. 955; Rios, "Hist." iii. 363 et seq.; Kayserling, "Gesch. der Juden in Portugal," pp. 145 et seq.; Grätz, "Gesch." ix.).

Visit of Reubeni                                                                                    TOP

Page from The "Abudarham," Lisbon, 1489.(From the Sulzberger collection in the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, New York.)

After the catastrophe a number of secret Jews left the country; the greater part of these fugitives returned to Lisbon, however, and for a time they were protected by the king, but were always hated by the people. The arrival of David Reubeni at the capital of Portugal produced a feverish excitement among the secret Jews. They believed him to be their savior and honored him as the expected Messiah. A New Christian of Lisbon, a young man of twenty-four, Diogo Pires, who held a government position, openly confessed the Jewish faith and, calling himself "Solomon Molko," became an adherent of Reubeni. By means of large money payments, the rich New Christians in Lisbon were able to postpone, but not prevent, the introduction of the Inquisition.

Lisbon was the seat of a congregation called "The Brotherhood of San Antonio," which existed among the secret Jews; it met in the Rua de Moneda, in a house which contained a secret synagogue, where Diaconus Antonio Homem conducted the service. He suffered for his attachment to Judaism by death at the stake on May 5, 1624. Not a few of the secret Jews who were distinguished as poets, physicians, and scholars, and who in Italy and Holland openly avowed themselves to be Jews, called Lisbon their birthplace, or resided there at some time. In this city Duarte Pinhel, or Abraham Usque, wrote his Latin grammar (1543), and Amatus Lusitanus and Abraham Farrar practised medicine. Moses Gideon Abudiente, Manuel de Pina, and others were born at Lisbon (see Auto da Fé; Inquisition; Portugal).

Bibliography: Kayserling, Gesch. der Juden in Portugal, Leipsic, 1867;

J. Mendes dos Remedios, Os Judeos em Portugal, i., Coimbra, 1895;

Rios, Hist. ii. 274, 281;

iii. 179, 337.G. M. K.

Eighteenth Century                                                                             TOP

Besides the Maranos who continued to reside in Lisbon after the expulsion, the city has at all times contained a certain number of avowed Jews also, mainly from neighboring Africa. This is evidenced by the edict issued Feb. 7, 1537, by John III., in which the Jews were ordered to wear badges so that they might be distinguished from Christians. A greater spirit of tolerance toward the Jews began to prevail in government circles with the accession of the Braganza dynasty (1640), which had been considerably assisted by Jewish financiers in its struggles against Philip IV. of Spain. But, owing to the fear of the Inquisition, which continued to persecute the Neo-Christians or Maranos, and to the fanaticism of the populace, only a few Jews ventured to settle in Lisbon. It was only toward the middle of the eighteenth century that a Jewish community began to be formed by the inflow of Jews from Gibraltar, who, as British subjects, could practise their religion freely, though privately. The decrees of 1773 and 1774, which were issued by King Joseph under the influence of his minister, the Marquis de Pombal, and which deprived the Inquisition of all tyrannical and arbitrary powers, gave a new impulse to the settlement of Jews at Lisbon, and toward the close of the eighteenth century there were a considerable number of them in the Portuguese capital, and the need of a near-by burial-place began to be keenly felt. For this purpose a small piece of ground was leased, in 1801, in the English cemetery situated in the Rua da Estrella, and the first to be buried there was a certain Jose Amzalaga (d. Feb. 26, 1804). The lease, which had been made privately without special legal sanction, was renewed, in 1833, at an annual rental of 1,000 reis.

Synagogue Founded 1813                                                                   TOP

At the beginning of the nineteenth century there were in Lisbon several widely known Jewish firms, which rendered great services to Portugal by supplying grain during a famine that occurred about 1810. In recognition of these services the government agreed to permit the foundation of a synagogue, although hitherto the laws of the country had not permitted the practise of any form of religion other than the Roman Catholic. The synagogue, under the name "Sha'ar ha-Shamayim," was founded in 1813 by R. Abraham Dabella; the Jews, however, had no legal status; they were only tolerated. According to the information given in 1825 by the prelate Joaquim José Feireira Gardo to the French historian Capefigue, there were in Lisbon at that time about 500 Jews, the majority of whom were engaged in brokerage and in foreign trade, and they owned three private synagogues.

Distinguished Jews of Lisbon                                                               TOP

Although by the law the Jews were considered as foreigners, some of them took part in the political movements of the country. Levy Bensabath and his son Marcos Bensabath distinguished themselves by their struggles against the absolute government of Dom Miguel I. (1828-1834). Later Marcos Bensabath became an officer in a regiment of light infantry. In 1853 R. Abraham Dabella died, and his synagogue was managed by a committee composed of Leão Amzalak, Levy Bensabath, Abraham Cohen, Fortunato Naure, and Mair and Moisés Buzaglo. Several years later occurred the death of Salamão Mor José, and the two congregations then existing were united (about 1855). The union was of short duration, and a new synagogue was erected in 1860 in the Alley dos Apostolos; it is still the principal prayer-house in Lisbon. About that time Jacob Toledano of Tangiers was called to the rabbinate of Lisbon and officiated there until 1899. An important event for the Jews of Lisbon was the recognition of their religion by the government Oct. 30, 1868, when the community was authorized to use as a burial-place a plot of ground it had acquired for the purpose in 1865. On June 30, 1892, the government sanctioned the constitution of the charitable society Gemilut Ḥasadim.

In 1890 a plan for the complete organization of the community of Lisbon was adopted, according to which all the Orthodox Jews, both Sephardim and Ashkenazim, were to form one congregation. An interesting article (No. 31) of their constitution runs as follows: "Should the Portuguese Jews disappear from this town and from the kingdom, the German Jews here at that time may take under their care and for their own use the synagogues, estates, portable objects, and other things of value then in the possession of the Portuguese Jews or accruing to them later; but the German Jews shall restore the whole to the Portuguese congregation should it be reestablished." Besides the Gemilut Ḥasadim Society, there exists at Lisbon a useful benevolent association known as the Somej Nophlim, founded in 1865; this institution, in 1900, established a kasher restaurant for the poor, and is now (1904) contemplating the establishment of an asylum for Jewish travelers. On May 25, 1902, waslaid the corner-stone of the new Sha'are Tiḳwah synagogue, which has replaced the various synagogues formerly in use. In accordance with the law, the new building is situated in an enclosure and bears no outward sign of being a place of worship.

The community of Lisbon now numbers about 400 persons in a total population of 357,000; they are mostly natives of Gibraltar, Morocco, or the Azores, and the majority of them are ship-owners and merchants. Among those Jews who have become widely known in connection with science, letters, or the arts are the following: Alfred Benarus, professor of fine arts; Bensaude, professor at the Industrial Institute; Joseph Benoliel, professor at the Marques de Pombal Industrial School; Jacob Bensaude, professor of English at the Collège du Porto; Salancão Saragga, a distinguished Hebraist; Dr. Raul Bensaude, consulting physician to the King of Portugal, and officiating rabbi since the death of Jacob Toledano in 1899. The ḥazzan of the community is Levy ben Simon of Jaffa.

Bibliography: Kayserling, Gesch. der Juden in Portugal, pp. 338 et seq.;

Lindo, History of the Jews in Spain and Portugal, pp. 374 et seq.;

Bail, Les Juifs au Dix-Neuvième Siècle, p. 126, Paris, 1816;

Revue Orientale, i. 274;

Allg. Zeit. des Jud. 1841, p. 681;

Cardozo de Bethencourt, in J. Q. R. xv. 251 et seq.D. I. Br.


Hebrew printing flourished in Lisbon for the three years from 1489 to 1492, the first work, the commentary of Naḥmanides on the Pentateuch, being produced by Eliezer Toledano in July, 1489. The next year he produced a "Ṭur Oraḥ Ḥayyim" and two sections of the Bible. Eliezer Alantansi, who had a printing-press also at Ixar, printed the "Abudarham" at Lisbon, and two other works were produced here—Joshua Levi's "Halikot 'Olam" and an edition of the Proverbs; the printer of the lastnamed is not known. Toledano was one of the earliest to use borders. It has been suggested that the printer Ibn Yaḥya carried the Lisbon types to Constantinople and either printed from them there or used them as models for new types. J.


SIGHTS of LISBON                                            TOP

(Alan M. Tigay, Saudades)

The hub of Lisbon is the Rossio, the central square crisscrossed by bus and tram lines and surrounded by shops, restaurants and the National Theater. The stately nineteenth-century theater, at the square’s north end, is on the site of the old Ministry of Justice, where mass forced baptisms of Jews were carried out in 1497 and where the Inquisition was later administered. Just off the square is the São Domingos Church, where sentences of the Inquisition were passed.

In December 1996, the government staged a series of “acts of atonement” to mark the 500th anniversary of the edict that led to the forced conversions. One of the acts, held in the National Theater, was a reenactment of the edict’s promulgation.

An earthquake destroyed much of Lisbon in 1755 wiping out, among other things, the street pattern that made it possible to locate the old Jewish quarters. The grid between the Rossio and the city’s waterfront was laid out under the Marquês de Pombal’s ambitious rebuilding project. Most of the old Jewish quarters are on the eastern edge of the grid. In the centuries before the mass conversions, Jews lived near the present-day Church of São Nicolau and along the Rua da Madelena, a largely commercial street with tile façades and wrought-iron railings that descends to the Tagus River. On the Rua da Alfândega, a historical marker in front of the Church of Conceição Velha makes reference to the synagogue that is believed to have stood on the site. A carved figure of Moses can be seen on the arched window to the left of the church’s entrance.

The Alfama is famous for its old narrow streets that survived the earthquake. The neighborhood is often depicted in romantic scenes of Lisbon and the clubs where singers perform mournful fado songs. It was here that many Jewish refugees from Spain settled in the fifteenth century. The entrance to the neighborhood’s Jewish quarter, or Judiaría, is through the Arco de Rosario. Just inside the arch is a brick wall with a pair of decorative arched windows near the top—all that remains of the quarter’s synagogue.

Continuing up the winding stairway just inside the arch is the Rua da Judiaría. The lanes in the area are lined with hanging laundry and street lamps in the form of scalloped sconces. Typical of the era when it was a Jewish quarter, many of the houses have a narrow door that was the family entrance and a wider door that was the business entrance. West of the Rossio, a cluster of Lisbon’s best known sites show how integral the Jewish role was in Portugal’s golden age. At the spot where explorers embarked, the Monument to the Discoveries is built in the shape of a caravel ready to sail and includes many of the navigators, scientists and cartographers who helped make Portugal a world power. Among the New Christians who appear on the monument are Pedro Nunes, Pedro de Alenquer, Pero da Covilhã, Jaime de Maiorca, Fernão Mendes Pinto and Frei Henrique de Carvalho, the priest who celebrated the first mass in Brazil. At the prow is Prince Henry the Navigator, whose center for exploration was (at a time when Jews could still worship freely) a true equal-opportunity employer (see cover). The Jerónimos Monastery (Mosteiro dos Jerónimos) is one of the great ecclesiastical buildings financed by the exploration. The sixteenth-century edifice is considered one of the finest examples of Manueline architecture. On the southern portal, facing the river, the decorative sculpture above the left door includes a figure of Moses carrying the Ten Commandments. Above the main portal, which is actually an interior entrance off the building’s south side, is an unusual nativity scene. Instead of a manger, Jesus lies in what appears to be a straw basket. Some believe it was sculpted by a crypto-Jewish artisan who deliberately mixed images of the birth of Jesus and the rescue of Moses.

The Maritime Museum (Museu da Marinha) that occupies the monastery’s north and west wings includes tributes to some of the Jewish scientists who played a key role in the age of discovery. Amid the paintings, ship models and armaments is the world’s largest collection of astrolabes, the instrument that enabled navigators to ascertain their position according to celestial bodies. Before its use, ships always kept land in sight. The astrolabe was perfected by the astronomer Abraham Zacuto, who fled from Spain to Portugal in 1492 and was immediately appointed court astronomer. Zacuto personally instructed Vasco da Gama’s sailors in the use of the astrolabe and his maritime charts before they made their first voyage to India. The Maritime Museum also displays a copy of the Treatise on the Sphere, the work that earned the mathematician Pedro Nunes the title “father of cartography.” Lisbon’s main synagogue, Shaare Tikva, is located a few blocks from the Marquês de Pombal Square, at Rua Alexandre Herculano 59. Built in 1902, it is a white-stone structure set behind a nondescript gate. The sanctuary is small and magnificent. Stone pillars support the wooden women’s gallery and wooden pews flank the central bima. On the eastern wall a stone arch sweeps above the Aron Kodesh.

Shaare Tikva is home to Lisbon’s Sefardim, who constitute the vast majority of the Jewish population. The synagogue has regular holiday and Shabbat services, but tourists often help make a minyan.

Lisbon’s other congregation, Ohel Jacob, is at Avenida Elias Garcia 110, on the second floor of a rundown building. The synagogue occupies a three-floor apartment with peeling paint, exposed pipes and a threadbare carpet, but what it lacks in charm it makes up in soul. Spiritual home to Lisbon’s dwindling Ashkenazic population, in recent years it has been infused with life by anousim, who now account for about a third of the congregation. Services are irregular, so it’s best to call in advance.