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
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.
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.
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
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.).
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;
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.
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.
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.
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
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.