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










From 'A History of the Jews'

By Paul Johnson (Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 1987)

Writing this epic history covering 4,000 years
Paul Johnson starts with a Prologue explaining
why he, a Christian, decided to write this epic.  
His Epilogue is what he found out


Why have I written a history of the Jews? There are four reasons. The first is sheer curiosity. When I was working on my History of Christianity, I became aware for the first time in my life of the magnitude of the debt Christianity owes to Judaism. It was not, as I had been taught to suppose, that the New Testament replaced the Old; rather, that Christianity gave a fresh interpretation to an ancient form of monotheism, gradually evolving into a different religion but carrying with it much of the moral and dogmatic theology, the liturgy, the institutions and the fundamental concepts of its forebear. I thereupon determined, should opportunity occur, to write about the people who had given birth to my faith, to explore their history back to its origins and forward to the present day, and to make up my own mind about their role and significance. The world tended to see the Jews as a race which had ruled itself in antiquity and set down its records in the Bible; had then gone underground for many centuries; had emerged at last only to be slaughtered by the Nazis; and, finally, had created a state of its own, controversial and beleaguered. But these were merely salient episodes. I wanted to link them together, to find and study the missing portions, assemble them into a whole, and make sense of it.

My second reason was the excitement I found in the sheer span of Jewish history. From the time of Abraham up to the present covers the best part of four millennia. That is more than three-quarters of the entire history of civilized humanity. I am a historian who believes in long continuities and delights in tracing them. The Jews created a separate and specific identity earlier than almost any other people which still survives. They have maintained it, amid appalling adversities, right up to the present. Whence came this extraordinary endurance? What was the particular strength of the all-consuming idea which made the Jews different and kept them homogeneous? Did its continuing power lie in its essential immutability, or its capacity adapt, or both? These are sinewy themes with which to grapple.

My third reason was that Jewish history covers not only vast tracts of time but huge areas. The Jews have penetrated many societies and left their mark on all of them. Writing a history of the Jews is almost like writing a history of the world, but from a highly peculiar angle vision. It is world history seen from the viewpoint of a learned and intelligent victim. So the effort to grasp history as it appeared to Jews produces illuminating insights. Dietrich Bonhoeffer noticed this same effect when he was in a Nazi prison. 'We have learned', he wrote in 1942, 'to see the great events of world history from below, from the perspective of those who are excluded, under suspicion, ill-treated powerless, oppressed and scorned, in short those who suffer.' He found it, he said, 'an experience of incomparable value'. The historian finds a similar merit in telling the story of the Jews: it adds to history the new and revealing dimension of the underdog.

Finally the book gave me the chance to reconsider objectively, in light of a study covering nearly 4,000 years, the most intractable of human questions: what are we on earth for? Is history merely a series of events whose sum is meaningless? Is there no fundamental moral difference between the history of the human race and the history, say of ants? Or is there a providential plan of which we are, however humbly, the agents? No people has ever insisted more firmly than the Jews that history has a purpose and humanity a destiny. At a very early stage in their collective existence they believed they had detected a divine scheme for the human race, of which their own society was to be a pilot. They worked out their role in immense detail. They clung to it with heroic persistence in the face of savage suffering. Many of them believe it still. Others transmuted it into Promethean endeavours to raise our condition by purely human means. The Jewish vision became the prototype for many similar grand designs for humanity, both divine and man-made. The Jews, therefore, stand right at the centre of the perennial attempt to give human life the dignity of a purpose. Does their own history suggest that such attempts are worth making? Or does it reveal their essential futility? The account that follows, the result of my own inquiry, will I hope help its readers to answer these questions for themselves.

Epilogue  Top

In his Antiquities of the Jews, Josephus describes Abraham as 'a man of great sagacity' who had 'higher notions of virtue than others of his time'. He therefore determined to change completely the views which all then had about God'. One way of summing up 4,000 years of Jewish history is to ask ourselves what would have happened to the human race if Abraham had not been a man of great sagacity, or if he had stayed in Ur and kept his higher notions to himself, and no specific Jewish people had come into being. Certainly the world without the Jews would have been a radically different place. Humanity might eventually have stumbled upon all the Jewish insights. But we cannot be sure. All the great conceptual discoveries of the intellect seem obvious and inescapable once they have been revealed, but it requires a special genius to formulate them for the first time. The Jews had this gift. To them we owe the idea of equality before the law, both divine and human; of the sanctity of life and the dignity of the human person; of the individual conscience and so of personal redemption; of the collective conscience and so of social responsibility; of peace as an abstract ideal and love as the foundation of justice, and many other items which constitute the basic moral furniture of the human mind. Without the Jews it might have been a much emptier place.

Above all, the Jews taught us how to rationalize the unknown. The result was monotheism and the three great religions which profess it. It is almost beyond our capacity to imagine how the world would have fared if they had never emerged. Nor did the intellectual penetration of the unknown stop at the idea of one God. Indeed monotheism itself can be seen as a milestone on the road which leads people to dispense with God altogether. The Jews first rationalized the pantheon of idols into one Supreme Being; then began the process of rationalizing Him out of existence. In the ultimate perspective of history, Abraham and Moses may come to seem less important than Spinoza. For the Jewish impact on humanity has been protean. In antiquity they were the great innovators in religion and morals. In the Dark Ages and early medieval Europe they were still an advanced people transmitting scarce knowledge and technology. Gradually they were pushed from the van and fell behind until, by the end of the eighteenth century, they were seen as a bedraggled and obscurantist rearguard in the march of civilized humanity. But then came an astonishing second burst of creativity. Breaking out of their ghettos, they once more transformed human thinking, this time in the secular sphere. Much of the mental furniture of the modern world too is of Jewish fabrication. The Jews were not just innovators. They were also exemplars and epitomizers of the human condition. They seemed to present all the inescapable dilemmas of man in a heightened and clarified form. They were the quintessential 'strangers and sojourners'. But are we not all such on this planet, of which we each possess a mere leasehold of threescore and ten? The Jews were the emblem of homeless and vulnerable humanity. But is not the whole earth no more than a temporary transit-camp? The Jews were fierce idealists striving for perfection, and at the same time fragile men and women yearning for flesh-pots and safety. They wanted to obey God's impossible law and they wanted to stay alive too. Therein lay the dilemma of, the Jewish commonwealths in antiquity, trying to combine the moral excellence of a theocracy with the practical demands of a state capable of defending itself. The dilemma has been recreated in our own time in the shape of Israel, founded to realize a humanitarian ideal discovering in practice that it must be ruthless simply to survive in a hostile world. But is not this a recurrent problem which affects all human societies? We all want to build Jerusalem. We all drift back; towards the Cities of the Plain. It seems to be the role of the Jews to focus and dramatize these common experiences of mankind, and to turn their particular fate into a universal moral. But if the Jews have this role, who wrote it for them?

Historians should beware of seeking providential patterns in events.  They are all too easily found, for we are credulous creatures born to believe, and equipped with powerful imaginations which readily produce and rearrange data to suit any transcendental scheme.  Yet excessive scepticism can produce as serious a distortion as credulity.  The historian should take into account all forms of evidence, including those which are or appear to be metaphysical. If the earliest Jews were  able to survey, with us, the history of their progeny, they would find nothing surprising in it. They always knew that Jewish society was appointed to be a pilot-project for the entire human race. That Jewish dilemmas, dramas and catastrophes should be exemplary, larger than life,  would seem only natural to them. That Jews should over the millennia attract such unparalleled, indeed inexplicable, hatred would be regrettable but only to be expected. Above all, that the Jews should still survive, when all those other ancient people were transmuted or vanished into the oubliettes of history, was wholly predictable. How could it be otherwise? Providence decreed it and the Jews obeyed. The historian may say: there is no such thing as providence. Possibly not. But human confidence in such an historical dynamic, if it is strong and tenacious enough, is a force in itself, which pushes on the hinge of events and moves them. The Jews believed they were a special people with such unanimity and passion, and over so long a span, that they became one. They did indeed have a role because they wrote it for themselves. Therein, perhaps, lies the key to their story.



(from 'The Book of Jewish Knowledge")  

by Nathan Ausubel, pp112-3,  Crown Publishers 1979)

After Constantine the Great (ruled 306 - 37) had made Christianity the state religion of the Byzantine Empire, its spread elsewhere in Europe was inevitable. Thereupon the systematic and savage persecution of the Jews fanned out in every direction on the Continent, but this time with unimpeachable sanction of the Gospels and under the direction of the Church.  Not withstanding that in his Edict of Toleration which he had issued in Milan in 313c.e. Constantine had magnanimously included the sufferance of Jews, he did not grant them civil equality with either Christians or pagans.  His stated reason for their exclusion from the rest of society was that they were "a nefarious and perverse sect." And only two years later, he promulgated a series of repressive edicts, including one that forbade Jews to seek converts and another banning their intermarriage with Christians.

All this  enmity and hyper emotionalism expressed against the Jews - whatever the precipitating socio-economic and political considerations that lurked behind them-were fed by a underdercurrent of religious fanaticism. Who can deny that, whatever the cumulative hostility that had been built up against the Jews during pagan Hellenistic times, it received a new and startling factor even more powerful than the lies and fairytales invented by the Greek, Roman, and Egyptian provocateurs from the early Christian writings and decrees of the Church.

The religious basis for anti-Semitism in Christendom was derived from the accusation, as it appears in the Gospels and it was  unquestioningly accepted by all Christians, that the Jews where to blame for the crucifixion of Jesus. The epithet "Christ Killer" became a synonym for "Jew" and subsequently was bandied about with unthinking ease through the ages by countless Christians, including popes, theologians, philosophers and poets. The Gospels, although presumably written by the Disciples, who were born and raised as devout Jews, are nevertheless, full of overt hostility toward the Jews.

What devout Christian has not been inflamed in his deepest feelings on reading in an uncritical state of mind about the clamor the [Jewish] mob raised before Pontius Pilot the Roman procurator, for the life of Jesus. "Let him be crucified," they are alleged to have cried. Then, as if to crown its own infamy and make it appear the more unspeakable the Gospel writer puts these incredible words into the mouth of the shouting mob: "His blood be on us, and on our children." (Matthew 27:25.)

It was principally on this particular passage that the religious anti-Semites of history pounced, nailing it down as the source of supreme sanction for the unremitting persecution of t­he Jewish people. They argued that the Jews had out of their own mouths condemned themselves with these words voluntarily accepting their blood-guilt as "Christ-killers" bringing it down on the heads of their children and their children's children for all eternity. Some modern Christian students of the Gospels, reading this passage critically, have come to the conclusion that it is nothing but an editorial comment that was patently inserted into the dialogue pf the trial-scene in the Passion-drama of Jesus in order to make the cynicism and the diabolical meanness of the Jewish "mob" appear the more revolting. Certainly, it passes all credibility to believe that the Jews, in screaming their hatred for Jesus before the Roman procurator-the man who was both their oppressor and their relentless enemy-would gleefully accept the mark of Cain for themselves and all their descendents so readily and with such relish! John Chrysostom (d. 407), who was later sainted by the Church took the lead in harassing the large Hellenized Jewish community in Antioch, Syria. He roundly abused the Jews saying they were possessed by demons and that their synagogues were serving as rendezvous for devils. During the Feast of Purim in 405, he incited a Christian mob to attack the Jews in their quarter of the city. Taking holy fire from him, Bishop Cyril of Alexandria shortly thereafter led another devout rabble against the Jews of that metropolis. The synagogues were torn down virtually stone from stone in a holy frenzy and Jewish homes were pillaged leaving many dead and wounded behind. The several hundred thousand Jews of Alexandria were driven out, most of them never to return, from the city where their forefathers had settled in the time of Alexander of Macedonia, more than seven hundred years before.

The American non-Jewish historian, Herbert J. Muller has correctly observed: "The martyrdom that Christians suffered in their early history was negligible compared with the martyrdom they later inflicted on the Jews . . . The [Christian] victims of the Roman Empire were a few thousand in number . . . Israel cannot number or name its million of martyrs. ..."


How many people were tortured to death during the Spanish Inquisition?

Jewish Views on Christianity

Spanish Inquisition

Portuguese Inquisition

Goa Inquisition


From Holocaust a Call to Conscience

Project Aladdin was a multi-faceted cultural initiative launched in March 2009
under the patronage of UNESCO,
with the aim of countering Holocaust denial and all forms of racism and intolerance, while promoting intercultural dialogue, particularly among Muslims and Jews

The historical interaction of Judaism and Islam started in the seventh century with the origin and spread of Islam in the Arabian peninsula. Judaism and Islam share a common origin in the Middle East through Abraham, and there are many shared aspects between the two religions in their fundamental religious outlook, structure, jurisprudence and practice.

At the heart of the two faiths is a monotheistic vision which resists any compromise on the idea of the transcendence and unity of God who is envisaged as just and merciful and who has revealed a way of life in accordance with these values for the benefit of human society.

Islam and Judaism do not have clergy who by virtue of sacrament are separate from the rest of the community.  Religious authority is essentially a function of individual mastery of the religious sources to be able to guide the community in accordance with their teachings.

Muslims regard Jews and Christians as "People of the Book". In the Dar al-Islam - the territories ruled by Muslims - they always enjoyed more protection than heathens. For centuries across the Muslim world, Jews and Christians were subject to the rules of the dhimma statutes: in exchange for payment of extra taxes, they were granted limited rights.

There are different opinions among scholars regarding the character and origin of the Jewish communities that the Prophet Mohammed encountered in Arabia.  Clearly, they shared enough of the message of the Prophet Mohammed for the latter to assume that the Jews of Medina would eagerly rally around him.  Their failure to do so led to the ensuing discord, arguments and hostility between them.

The restrictive conditions which ensured the Jews' inferior status were codified in the Pact of Umar. But despite their dhimmi status, the Jews were free to practice their religion and were better off under the Muslim rule than under the Byzantine Christians.

Medieval Islamic civilization developed into its most productive period between the years 900 and 1200, and Jewish civilization in the Islamic world followed suit.  The fact that, with the spread of Islam, Arabic became the language of the Middle East, North Africa and Spain, including the Jews of those countries, facilitated cultural cross-influences.  For several centuries, most Jewish writing in those regions, both secular and religious, was in Arabic, written in Hebrew letters.

Beginning with rabbis like Saadya Gaon in Iraq, and continuing especially in Muslim Spain, Jewish thinkers followed in Muslim footsteps and applied the same kind of loving study and exploration to the Hebrew language that Muslim scholars were doing to Arabic, the language of the Quran. They developed the study of Hebrew grammar, which was something new in Jewish thinking.  Over time, they worked out the understanding of Hebrew grammar that is in use today.

During this period, some of the greatest works of Jewish philosophy, grammar, law, philology, and lexicography were written, in parallel with great advances in these fields in the Islamic world.  Jewish poetry in Hebrew found a renaissance during this period as well, and its meters, styles, and contents parallel those of its Muslim Arabic counterpart.  In Spain, Jewish civilization flourished along with the flowering of the Islamic and secular sciences and culture throughout the region, known in Arabic as al-Andalus.

The relatively open society of al-Andalus was reversed and then ended by the coming of North African armies to help defend against the Spanish Christians, who were pushing the Muslims southward from their strongholds in the north. Jews were highly restricted under the Islamist Berber regimes and eventually began moving northward to newly conquered Christian areas where, for the time being, they were treated better.

The reversal of Jewish good fortune in Spain was mirrored in other parts of the Islamic world, where by the thirteenth century the open and humanistic qualities of Islamic society began to give way to a more feudalistic mentality of rigidity and control.  Many Jewish communities were forced into ghettos and in places Jewish and Christian communities were destroyed.  As the Islamic world declined, so too did the Jewish communities within it, and Jewish intellectual, cultural, and religious creativity generally tended to shift toward the Jewish communities of Europe. But as a rule, the Jewish communities that remained in the Muslim world were generally protected in keeping with the Pact of Umar and as long as they accepted their second class status, lived peacefully and cooperatively with their Muslim neighbors.

Nowhere was this more true than in the Ottoman Empire. When in 1492 the king of Spain, Ferdinand, issued an edict to expel from Spain all remaining Jews who did not convert to Christianity, the Ottoman Sultan Bayazid II offered refuge to the Jews. For centuries, Jews lived in relative calm under Ottoman rulers, and an increasing number of European Jews sought refuge in their territories.  According to Bernard Lewis, "the Jews were not just permitted to settle in the Ottoman lands, but were encouraged, assisted and sometimes even compelled".

The newly-arrived Jews made important contributions to scientific and technical progress of the Ottoman Empire. One of the most significant innovations that Jews brought to the Ottoman Empire was the printing press. In 1493, only one year after their expulsion from Spain, David & Samuel ibn Nahmias established the first Hebrew printing press in Istanbul. Jewish literature flourished in the relatively tolerant atmosphere of Ottoman Empire.

Living conditions for Jews in several Muslim countries began to deteriorate in the nineteenth century with the decline of Ottoman power and the rise of nationalist fervor and religious radicalism as a reaction to the growing influence of European colonial powers. Anti-Semitic stereotypes first appeared in the Muslim world during this period.

In the twentieth century, the collapse of imperial rule and the rise of modern nationalism led to the clash between the Jewish aspiration for self determination in what the Jews regarded as their ancestral homeland and the struggle for national self-determination on the part of the regional and local Arab populations.  This territorial conflict has degenerated in recent times to increasingly assume the character of a religious conflict.

While not seeking to go into the causes and effects, rights and wrongs of the political conflict in the Middle East, the increasing religious characterization of a territorial struggle has come from various quarters, presenting the conflict as a clash of civilizations between the Muslim world and Western society. Extremists portrayed the others as devoid of moral character and without religious legitimacy, with Israel and the Jews portrayed as a hostile "bridgehead" into the Arab world in particular and the Muslim world in general.

The truth, however, is that what we are witnessing is not a clash of civilizations as much as a clash within civilizations.  It is a clash between those elements of a religious culture whose sense of historic injury and humiliation leads to alienation and conflict within their own societies as well as to those outside their religious culture; and those who seek to constructively engage other societies as part of world culture and a positive interaction with modernity.

This "clash within civilizations" means that enlightened voices on both sides of the divide have a responsibility to work together not only to be greater than the sum of their different parts but also to provide the essential alternative testimony - i.e. that of interreligious and intercultural cooperation and mutual respect.  In particular, Muslim and Jewish leaders have a duty to their communities and faith traditions to counteract the destructive exploitation of their religious civilizations and to draw their inspiration from those past examples of the glory of cooperation and collaboration among the children of Abraham - Muslims, Christians and Jews - for the benefit of all.


The Holocaust and Muslims

EXPULSION of the JEWS    Top


From: The Expulsion of the Jews from Muslim Countries, 1920-1970:
A History of Ongoing Cruelty and Discrimination

Shmuel Trigano (November 2010)
(Institute for Global Jewish Affairs)

Fellow of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
and Professor of Sociology at the University of Paris-Nanterre


THE TREATMENT of JEWS              Top

By Mitchell Bard
Jewish Virtual Library

Introduction   Top

Arabs sometimes claim that, as "Semites," they cannot possibly be anti-Semitic. This, however, is a semantic distortion that ignores the reality of Arab discrimination and hostility toward Jews. Arabs, like any other people, can indeed be anti-Semitic.

The term "anti-Semite" was coined in Germany in 1879 by Wilhelm Marr to refer to the anti-Jewish manifestations of the period and to give Jew-hatred a more scientific sounding name.(1) "Anti-Semitism" has been accepted and understood to mean hatred of the Jewish people.

While Jewish communities in Arab and Islamic countries fared better overall than those in Christian lands in Europe, Jews were no strangers to persecution and humiliation among the Arabs and Muslim. As Princeton University historian Bernard Lewis has written: "The Golden Age of equal rights was a myth, and belief in it was a result, more than a cause, of Jewish sympathy for Islam."(2)

Muhammad, the founder of Islam, traveled to Medina in 622 A.D. to attract followers to his new faith. When the Jews of Medina refused to convert and rejected Muhammad, two of the major Jewish tribes were expelled; in 627, Muhammad's followers killed between 600 and 900 of the men, and divided the surviving Jewish women and children amongst themselves.(3)

The Muslim attitude toward Jews is reflected in various verses throughout the Koran, the holy book of the Islamic faith. "They [the Children of Israel] were consigned to humiliation and wretchedness. They brought the wrath of God upon themselves, and this because they used to deny God's signs and kill His Prophets unjustly and because they disobeyed and were transgressors" (Sura 2:61). According to the Koran, the Jews try to introduce corruption (5:64), have always been disobedient (5:78), and are enemies of Allah, the Prophet and the angels (2:97 98).

The Dhimmi    Top

Still, as "People of the Book," Jews (and Christians) are protected under Islamic law. The traditional concept of the "dhimma" ("writ of protection") was extended by Muslim conquerors to Christians and Jews in exchange for their subordination to the Muslims. Peoples subjected to Muslim rule usually had a choice between death and conversion, but Jews and Christians, who adhered to the Scriptures, were allowed as dhimmis (protected persons) to practice their faith. This "protection" did little, however, to ensure that Jews and Christians were treated well by the Muslims. On the contrary, an integral aspect of the dhimma was that, being an infidel, he had to openly acknowledge the superiority of the true believer--the Muslim.

In the early years of the Islamic conquest, the "tribute" (or jizya), paid as a yearly poll tax, symbolized the subordination of the dhimmi. Later, the inferior status of Jews and Christians was reinforced through a series of regulations that governed the behavior of the dhimmi. Dhimmis, on pain of death, were forbidden to mock or criticize the Koran, Islam or Muhammad, to proselytize among Muslims or to touch a Muslim woman (though a Muslim man could take a non Muslim as a wife).

Dhimmis were excluded from public office and armed service, and were forbidden to bear arms. They were not allowed to ride horses or camels, to build synagogues or churches taller than mosques, to construct houses higher than those of Muslims or to drink wine in public. They were not allowed to pray or mourn in loud voices-as that might offend the Muslims. The dhimmi had to show public deference toward Muslims-always yielding them the center of the road. The dhimmi was not allowed to give evidence in court against a Muslim, and his oath was unacceptable in an Islamic court. To defend himself, the dhimmi would have to purchase Muslim witnesses at great expense. This left the dhimmi with little legal recourse when harmed by a Muslim.(4)

Dhimmis were also forced to wear distinctive clothing. In the ninth century, for example, Baghdad's Caliph al-Mutawakkil designated a yellow badge for Jews, setting a precedent that would be followed centuries later in Nazi Germany.(5)

Violence Against Jews    Top

At various times, Jews in Muslim lands were able to live in relative peace and thrive culturally and economically. The position of the Jews was never secure, however, and changes in the political or social climate would often lead to persecution, violence and death. Jews were generally viewed with contempt by their Muslim neighbors; peaceful coexistence between the two groups involved the subordination and degradation of the Jews.

When Jews were perceived as having achieved too comfortable a position in Islamic society, anti-Semitism would surface, often with devastating results: On December 30, 1066, Joseph HaNagid, the Jewish vizier of Granada, Spain, was crucified by an Arab mob that proceeded to raze the Jewish quarter of the city and slaughter its 5,000 inhabitants. The riot was incited by Muslim preachers who had angrily objected to what they saw as inordinate Jewish political power.

Similarly, in 1465, Arab mobs in Fez slaughtered thousands of Jews, leaving only 11 alive, after a Jewish deputy vizier treated a Muslim woman in "an offensive manner." The killings touched off a wave of similar massacres throughout Morocco.(6)

Other mass murders of Jews in Arab lands occurred in Morocco in the 8th century, where whole communities were wiped out by Muslim ruler Idris I; North Africa in the 12th century, where the Almohads either forcibly converted or decimated several communities; Libya in 1785, where Ali Burzi Pasha murdered hundreds of Jews; Algiers, where Jews were massacred in 1805, 1815 and 1830 and Marrakesh, Morocco, where more than 300 Jews were murdered between 1864 and 1880.(7)

Decrees ordering the destruction of synagogues were enacted in Egypt and Syria (1014, 1293-4, 1301-2), Iraq (854-859, 1344) and Yemen (1676). Despite the Koran's prohibition, Jews were forced to convert to Islam or face death in Yemen (1165 and 1678), Morocco (1275, 1465 and 1790-92) and Baghdad (1333 and 1344).(8)

As distinguished Orientalist G.E. von Grunebaum has written:

It would not be difficult to put together the names of a very sizeable number of Jewish subjects or citizens of the Islamic area who have attained to high rank, to power, to great financial influence, to significant and recognized intellectual attainment; and the same could be done for Christians. But it would again not be difficult to compile a lengthy list of persecutions, arbitrary confiscations, attempted forced conversions, or pogroms.(9)

The situation of Jews in Arab lands reached a low point in the 19th century. Jews in most of North Africa (including Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Morocco) were forced to live in ghettos. In Morocco, which contained the largest Jewish community in the Islamic Diaspora, Jews were made to walk barefoot or wear shoes of straw when outside the ghetto. Even Muslim children participated in the degradation of Jews, by throwing stones at them or harassing them in other ways. The frequency of anti-Jewish violence increased, and many Jews were executed on charges of apostasy. Ritual murder accusations against the Jews became commonplace in the Ottoman Empire.(10)

By the twentieth century, the status of the dhimmi in Muslim lands had not significantly improved. H.E.W. Young, British Vice Consul in Mosul, wrote in 1909:

The attitude of the Muslims toward the Christians and the Jews is that of a master towards slaves, whom he treats with a certain lordly tolerance so long as they keep their place. Any sign of pretension to equality is promptly repressed.(11)

The danger for Jews became even greater as a showdown approached in the UN over partition in 1947. The Syrian delegate, Faris el-Khouri, warned:

"Unless the Palestine problem is settled, we shall have difficulty in protecting and safeguarding the Jews in the Arab world."(12)

More than a thousand Jews were killed in anti-Jewish rioting during the 1940's in Iraq, Libya, Egypt, Syria and Yemen.(13) This helped trigger the mass exodus of Jews from Arab countries.

See also (from My Jewish Learning, 23 September, 2011)

Muslims & Jews in the Middle Ages by Mark R. Cohen, Professor of Near Eastern Studies at Princeton University

Jews and Muslims  Sept. 11 and the Second Intifada in Israel interrupted years of improvement in Muslim-Jewish relations by Ira Rifkin, a national correspondent for Religion News Service based in Washington, D.C. He is the author of Spiritual Perspectives on Globalization: Making Sense of Economic and Cultural Upheaval


Preface to :  The Mezzuzah in the Maddonah's Foot'  
Trudi Alexy, 1994

(Click here for Glossary)

"Marrano" is a pejorative name meaning "swine," given to secret Jews by suspicious Christians during the Spanish Inquisition. I have used it in the book reluctantly—only because it is a historical term with which most people are familiar and because it symbolizes the demeaned status and fear suffered by Jews who were forced to con­vert during that terrible time.

Why does this ugly term have so much resonance for so many people? Why does a book such as mine, which deals primarily with the experiences of Jews in Spain during the past fifty years, keep in­spiring conversation and debate about the mysterious Marranos? What is it about the Marrano experience that provokes such in­tense fascination?

The drama of the Marranos' dogged determination to cling to their way of life, holding fast to their beliefs and practicing their laws and traditions when being found out meant torture and death, symbolizes, for many, the importance of a connection to one's an­cestral roots and the miraculous survival of the spirit, even in the most hostile of environments.

One of the many stories recounted in this book compares Judaism to the scraggly cactus, which, unlike other beautifully flow­ering but more fragile plants, not only survives in an arid climate under a burning sun, but thrives. Marranos are the human counter­parts to that cactus.

Speaking with people throughout the U. S. and Canada about Spain, the Jews, and the Holocaust, it is the history of the Marranos that seems to have the most powerful impact—stirring the imagi­nation, rousing the curiosity, and touching the hearts of nearly all who learn about them. I should not be surprised. After all, the Mar­ranos' influence on my own life was profound: finding out about them inspired me to search for my lost Jewish heritage.

Seldom before has the pull towards one's own people, the need to belong, the stubborn resistance to assimilation, and the challenge to prevent the blurring of identity emerged with more urgency than now. Today, when frustration over centuries-old suppressed ethnic and religious differences is erupting all around us with atrocities such as the world has not witnessed since the Holocaust, the Mar­ranos' stubborn but contained commitment to their spiritual her­itage stands as a shining example of fortitude under fire. But the burden of secrecy inherited from their martyred ancestors by pres­ent-day crypto-Jews living in Majorca, Portugal, and South and Central America, as well as in our own American Southwest, passed on from generation to generation through five fear-ridden centuries, is graphic evidence of the enormous price they are still paying. May their tragic legacy help us to create a world in which all people can safely and openly affirm their true identities.


 (From Jewish Virtual Library)

Introduction  Top

New Christians (Jews who converted to Christianity) began to leave Spain after the forced conversions in 1391.  This reached a climax when the Jews were expelled in 1492 followed by the forced  Portuguese conversion of 1497. Pressure to leave was increased by the activities of the Inquisition introduced  in Spain in 1481 and Portugal in 1536.

To stem emigration decrees that were passed forbidding New Christians from emigration, other than to South America,  led to traders going to other countries and not returning sometimes by pretending to go on pilgrimage.  Once safe their object was to practice Judaism openly.  While not all those emigrating were secret Jews the Spanish and Portuguese administration had difficulty distinguishing those who were secret Jews.

Emigrating Marranos could go to four different kinds of countries: Muslim lands, Protestant territories as they came into being, Catholic countries outside the jurisdiction of Spain and Portugal, and Catholic countries within the peninsular orbit.

Muslim Lands   Top

Christians were hated and the Jews lived openly

Catholic countries outside the jurisdiction of Spain and Portugal   Top

New *Christians began to leave *Spain in the wake of the mass conversions of 1391 and *Portugal after the forced conversions in 1497. The tide of emigration ebbed and flowed, but was always stimulated by the advent of new disasters, such as the introduction of the *Inquisition into Spain in 1481 and Portugal in 1536, and the recrudescence of intensive persecution of the Marranos, as in Portugal after 1630. To stem this continuing exodus, as early as the last decade of the 15th century the authorities in both countries issued decrees prohibiting the emigration of New Christians, and these were frequently renewed. Even the so-called irrevocable permission to emigrate which the New Christians purchased from Philip III in 1601, during the union of Spain and Portugal, was short-lived, being rescinded in 1610. However, these decrees were frequently evaded: Marranos regularly left the Peninsula clandestinely, or secured permission to take business trips abroad from which they never returned. There are even cases of their leaving for the ostensible purpose of making a pilgrimage to Rome. Once the authorities became aware of such stratagems they tried to intercept Marranos as they moved through Europe to places where they could practice Judaism openly, and men like Jean de la Foix in Lombardy acquired notoriety for his inhuman treatment of those who fell into his hands. There were even instances where the highest authorities in the Peninsula closed their eyes to New Christian emigration, particularly when it involved their settling in Latin *America, where their skills and enterprise were desperately needed. Furtively and openly, in trickles and in torrents, thousands of New Christians left the Iberian Peninsula during the nearly three and a half centuries of the Inquisition's power.

Not all the New Christians leaving the Peninsula were secret Jews. Many were devout Catholics and had no intention of changing their faith; others were religiously ambivalent or even apathetic. Some of these may have shared the general insecurity of all New Christians in the Peninsula; some may have feared implication in inquisitional proceedings because of the activities of their relatives or friends; some may have wished to hide their Jewish origins in foreign lands; and others may simply have been attracted by new challenges and opportunities. It was people like these who evoked apologies for Judaism such as Samuel *Usque's classic Consolaçam às tribulaçoens de Israel (1553; Consolation for the Tribulations of Israel, 1965), intended to persuade them to return to their ancestral religion. At the same time, considerable numbers of the New Christians were Marranos, or secret Jews, and were passionately dedicated to Judaism. This was particularly true of the Portuguese New Christians. By the 16th century the term "Portuguese" was already synonymous with the word "Jew" in much of Europe, Asia, and Latin America. During the Inquisition's extended sway over the Peninsula, the emigrating Marranos could plan to travel to four different kinds of countries: Muslim lands, Protestant territories as they came into being, Catholic countries outside the jurisdiction of Spain and Portugal, and Catholic countries within the peninsular orbit.

Muslim Countries  Top

These were the most natural places of refuge for Marranos seeking to live openly as Jews, for they were the archenemies of the Christians and Spain and Portugal were particularly hated. *Morocco had already become a haven of refuge for both Jews and Conversos at the end of the 14th century, but many more Jews and Marranos were attracted to the Ottoman *Empire at the end of the 15th century and during the 16th. Sultan Bayazid *II (Bajazet II; 1481–1512) mocked King Ferdinand for impoverishing Spain and enriching the Ottoman Empire through his expulsion of the Jews. In the 16th century numerous cities in the Ottoman Empire had Jewish settlements, among them *Cairo, *Jerusalem, *Safed, *Damascus, *Constantinople with some 50,000 Jews, and *Salonika where the population of the Marranos exceeded that of the other Jews and the non-Jews as well.

        Protestant Countries    Top

Next to the Muslim countries the Protestant lands offered the best prospects, for here too the Catholics were detested, and the Inquisition was a hated institution because it was no more tolerant of Protestant heretics than Judaizers. In places like *England and *Hamburg and other German cities, Marranos began their existence as titular Catholics and secret Jews before the Reformation. They continued in this double life long after those areas had broken with Rome, for the Protestant authorities were not eager to grant official acknowledgment to the presence of Jews in their midst. In Hamburg, destined to become one of the wealthiest and most productive Marrano centers, the settlement of Jews was not officially authorized until 1612 and Jewish public worship not until 1650. In England, where Jews had been expelled in 1290, the Marranos who settled originally in *London and *Bristol were never officially acknowledged as Jews. Spokesmen for the Marranos, both Christians and Jews, including Manasseh Ben *Israel, failed in their efforts to secure the formal recognition of Jewish resettlement. Rather than being officially granted, the resettlement was "connived at": the question was simply ignored and Marranos were allowed to live undisturbed as Jews. Actually this connivance, or de facto resettlement through official silence, proved salutary for the Jews, since the failure to grant official permission for their presence made it impossible to impose particular disabilities on them. From the middle of the 17th century at least, the Marranos were treated like all other nonconformist citizens. In 1664 the crown granted Jews an official charter of protection, thus further facilitating the development of the Marrano community. The ex-Marranos and their descendants continued to be the dominant element in British Jewry until the 19th century.

In *Amsterdam the Marranos did not arrive until around 1590, some 11 years after the Union of Utrecht (1579) and the birth of the United Provinces of the Netherlands as a Protestant state. Here too they had to wait until 1615 before Jewish settlement was officially authorized, but the Marranos in Amsterdam differed from those in other Protestant countries in that they openly practiced Judaism almost from the moment of their arrival. Thanks to the Marranos, Amsterdam became one of the greatest Jewish centers in the world in the 17th century; it had some of the finest academies and produced some of the greatest Jewish thinkers. Amsterdam was also a haven for oppressed Jews from other places, including France in 1615 and Eastern Europe after the *Chmielnicki massacres (from 1648). Erstwhile Marranos from Holland were among the first settlers in Surinam and Curaçao, where a substantial Sephardi community came into being after 1650. Other former Marranos were also found in Barbados and in other parts of the West Indies, including Martinique and the Leeward Islands.

Other Catholic Countries   Top

The Catholic lands outside the control of Spain and Portugal did not offer so secure a haven as the Ottoman Empire or the Protestant countries, but they had the advantage of being outside the orbit of the peninsular Inquisitions. At the same time these areas were not without their inherent dangers, in the form of envy or rooted prejudice on the part of the local population, pressures from the Spanish and Portuguese Inquisitions upon the local authorities, and even the possibility of persecution galvanized by local initiative, and, in the case of the Papal States, an indigenous Inquisition. As a result, the existence of many of these Marrano communities, even if unclouded and prosperous for a time, was seldom free from molestations.

In the Papal States the Marranos' presence was noticeable in places like *Rome and even more so the seaport of *Ancona, where they thrived under benevolent popes like Clement VII (1523–34), Paul III (1534–49), and Julius III (1550–55). They even received a guarantee that if accused of apostasy they would be subject only to papal authority. But Paul IV (1555–59), the voice of the Counter-Reformation, dealt them an irreparable blow when he withdrew all protection previously given the Marranos and initiated a fierce persecution against them. As a result of the anti-Marrano campaign, 25 Judaizers were burned alive in the spring of 1556; 26 others were condemned to the galleys, and 30 more who had been arrested were liberated only after they had paid a substantial bribe. Thanks to the intervention of the Marrano patroness, Gracia Mendes *Nasi, the sultan at Constantinople secured the release of all Marranos who were his subjects. Plans were laid to boycott Ancona and transfer all the Marranos' former business to neighboring *Pesaro, in the friendlier territory of the duke of Urbino, but the project failed, and the duke even expelled the Marranos from his territory. A document of 1550 indicates that there were some Marranos among the Spanish and Portuguese merchants in Florence who traded on a large scale with Spain and her colonies. In *Ferrara, under the house of Este, the Marranos formed a large and thriving community by the middle of the 16th century, one of the most notable in their entire Diaspora. The dukes protected them until 1581, when Duke Alfonso II, bowing to ecclesiastical pressure, allowed many of them to be arrested. Three were eventually sentto Rome to be burned at the stake in February 1583. Marranos settled in *Venice in the 15th and early 16th centuries but were subjected to decrees of expulsion in 1497 and again in 1550. Thereafter the city policy began to change. Venice not only welcomed Marranos but kept the Inquisition at bay. Theologians like Paolo Sarpi even claimed that the Judaizers were outside the jurisdiction of the Inquisition because they had been baptized by force. Equally fortunate was the situation in the grand duchy of *Tuscany. In an attempt to woo the Marranos to Pisa and *Leghorn, Ferdinand II issued a charter in 1593 granting them protection against harassment in matters of faith. As it was in decline at the time, Pisa did not attract many Marranos, but Leghorn did: the community there thrived and by the end of the 18th century its population approached 5,000. Emmanuel Philbert granted a special privilege to induce Jews to settle in the duchy of Savoy, intending mainly to settle Marranos from Spain and Portugal in Nice in order to develop the city into a central trading port with the East. The privilege enraged Philip II of Spain, who considered the whole plan as seriously damaging Spain's interests in the Mediterranean as well as an incitement to Marranos to return to Judaism. The joint pressure of Spain and the Holy See led to the rescinding of the privilege and on Nov. 22, 1573 the duke ordered a group of Marranos who had returned to Judaism to leave his territory within six months. This decree was probably not put into effect until 1581 when Charles Emmanuel I ordered the expulsion of all Portuguese Jews from the duchy.

In *France the Marranos had to maintain some semblance of Catholicism for more than two centuries, but they were seldom molested in their secret practice of Judaism. Though they were called "New Christians" or "Portuguese merchants," their Jewishness was an open secret. In the large settlements they lived in their own quarters, had their own burial grounds, developed their own schools and communal institutions, and even trained their own rabbis after first importing them from abroad. In the course of time they gradually reduced their Catholic practices and eventually abandoned Church marriage and even baptism. In 1730 they were officially recognized as Jews. Their more formal communities were situated at *Bordeaux and *Bayonne and there were numerous lesser settlements in such places as *Toulouse, *Lyons, Montpellier, La *Rochelle, *Nantes, and *Rouen. Bayonne was the center of a cluster of communities, including *Biarritz, *Bidache, *Peyrehorade, and *Saint-Jean-de-Luz. In this last town the Marranos had the misfortune of being expelled in 1619, and then, after a partial return, seeing the town captured by the Spaniards in 1636.

Other Territories    Top

But in the far-flung Spanish and Portuguese possessions, in the Aragonese territories of *Sicily, *Sardinia and *Naples, in *Hapsburg territories like Flanders, or the colonial territories in the Far East or in the Americas, the situation of the Marranos was always precarious. There they lived continually under the shadow of the Inquisition; even where a tribunal of the Holy Office was not in operation, there were episcopal Inquisitions and occasional inquisitional "visitors" sent from the home countries to galvanize the search for heretics. Sicily and Sardinia, with Inquisitions introduced in 1487 and 1493 respectively, were practically free of Judaizers by the middle of the 16th century. There was opposition to introducing the Spanish Inquisition into Naples, but the papal Inquisition took over and managed to destroy most of the Marrano community by the middle of the 17th century. The situation of the Marranos was no less precarious in *Antwerp, where they began to arrive early in the 16th century, frequently to begin a trek across Europe to the Ottoman Empire. In 1526 New Christians' stay in the city was restricted to a 30-day period and though settlement was fully authorized 11 years later, Judaizing was strictly prohibited. With the decline of Antwerp, the center of Marrano life in the Low Countries shifted to Amsterdam.

In their colonies the Portuguese set up an Inquisition at *Goa and the Spaniards established one in the *Philippines. Episcopal Inquisitions were always present in Latin America: *Brazil never had a formal tribunal, but tribunals were established in the Spanish colonies at Lima (*Peru, 1570), Mexico City (1571), and Cartagena (1610). Latin America in particular attracted considerable numbers of New Christians. The advantage of these territories was that they offered the New Christians a familiar culture and the possibility of direct even if infrequent contact with the mother countries. For New Christians wishing to live fully as Catholics, the distances from the Peninsula and the sparseness of the population of most of the territories aided in the obliteration of the record of their Jewish origins. On the other hand, these factors also facilitated the Marranos' practice of Judaism.

Activities of the Marranos      Top

Religious considerations were important in determining the direction of the flight of many of the Marranos, but they were not the only ones. Of great and sometimes decisive importance were the economic and social opportunities available in the various lands open to them at the time of their escape. These opportunities often made it more desirable for Marranos to continue living as secret Jews in Catholic lands (even those under Spanish and Portuguese domination) than to seek a refuge where they could practice Judaism openly. Conversely, in each of the territories where the Marranos – or for that matter all New Christians – appeared, they were allowed to enter and remain because they served definite economic, social, and political ends. In almost every one of their new homes they quickly rose to prominence in international and domestic trade, and banking and finance. They helped to establish great national banks and were prominent on the stock exchanges. They played an important role in large trading companies, such as the Dutch East Indies and West Indies Companies, and even in the rival company established at Portugal to help oust the Dutch from Brazil. As well as insurance companies, they established manufacturing plants for soap, drugs, and other items, and made signal contributions in minting, handicrafts, armaments, and shipbuilding. In the area of international trade they assumed virtual dominance and controlled, frequently to the point of monopoly, the traffic in such commodities as coral, sugar, tobacco, and precious stones. The Marranos' common background and culture, their presence in the leading commercial centers, and often their ties of kinship, enabled them to establish an efficient and closely knit international trading organization. Great banking and trading families, like that founded by Francisco Mendes at Lisbon, had branches throughout Europe. The Marranos' international connections served to stimulate communications between nations and their separate competitive development. In this way the activities of the New Christians fostered the stability of their countries of settlement and facilitated their transition from a medieval to a modern economy. The Marranos also attained prominence in the professional life of the lands of their dispersion. From their midst came great diplomats like João Miguez, the duke of Naxos (Joseph *Nasi), and his mother-in-law, Gracia Mendes Nasi (Beatriz de Luna), who also distinguished herself as a great philanthropist and patron of the Jewish arts, as well as the equally colorful Diego Texeira de Sampaio (Abraham Senior *Texeira). The Marranos produced scientists like Immanuel Bocarro Frances, distinguished physicians like Amatus *Lusitanus (Juan Rodrigo), Elijah Montalto (Felipo Rodrigues), and Antonio Ribeiro Sanchez, and a host of other distinguished names in secular literature, theater, and music.

Reciprocally, many of the states and nations in their Diaspora gave the Marranos an opportunity to develop their own institutions and culture. The printing press became a foremost instrument in the development of this culture. Ferrara's press, which published the famous translation of the Bible into Spanish and Samuel Usque's Consolaçam as tribulaçoens de Israel in Portuguese in addition to liturgical and other works, was the center of Marrano culture in the middle of the 16th century. By the end of the 16th century, Venice had the leading press and in the next century it was situated in Amsterdam. Other cities, too, like Leghorn, Hamburg, and London, had important presses, and printing in numerous smaller places helped to spread further Jewish culture. Especially noteworthy is the extensive literature published by these presses. Including prayerbooks and sermons, books of precepts and customs, translations into Spanish and Portuguese of classics in Jewish philosophy and thought, apologetical works and polemics, and also novels, poetry, and plays, it was particularly directed toward the Marranos who had left the Iberian peninsula and sought to find themselves in Judaism, although still assailed by doubts.

Marrano writers of note are far too numerous to mention them all. Among the more important ones were such men as the apologists Immanuel *Aboab, Saul Levi *Morteira, Lorenzo *Escudero (Abraham Ger or Abraham Israel Peregrino), Isaac *Cardozo, Isaac Orobio de *Castro, and David *Nieto; poets like David Abenatar *Melo, Daniel Lopez *Laguna, Solomon Usque, João (Moses) Pinto *Delgado, and Daniel Levi (Miguel) de *Barrios; playwrights like Antonio Enriquez *Gomez and Antonio Jose da *Silva; and versatile writers like the prolific Joseph Penso de la *Vega, writer of plays, short stories, and one of the earliest and most comprehensive treatises on the stock exchange. Many Marranos also attained fame outside the Jewish fold. The aristocracy of many societies in Europe and the Americas was enriched by these people and their descendants. Frequently, like Benjamin *Disraeli, they attained the highest diplomatic, military, and administrative positions. Like their Jewish counterparts, they also made a name for themselves in the business and cultural world.

An authentic Marrano community was discovered by Samuel *Schwartz in Portugal in 1917; and from time to time there emerge individuals or even groups whose faith is not Jewish who have retained some of the practices and customs of the Marranos, at times even without awareness of their Jewish ancestry.


Roth, Marranos, 195–375; Roth, Italy; M.A. Cohen (translator), in: S. Usque, Consolation for the Tribulations of Israel (1965), 3ff.; idem, in: The Jewish Experience in Latin America (1971); idem, in: AJHSQ, 55 (1966), 277–318, 451–520; H. Kellenbenz, Sephardim an der unteren Elbe (1958); H.C. Lea, The Inquisition in the Spanish Dependencies (1908), esp. bibl.; H.J. Zimmels, Die Marranen in der rabbinischen Literatur (1932); Rosanes, Togarmah, 4–6 (1934–45 = Korot ha-Yehudim be-Arẓot ha-Kedem); S. Ullmann, Histoire des Juifs en Belgique, 2 vols. (1932–34); J.S. da Silva Rosa, Geschiedenis der portugeesche Joden te Amsterdam (1925); S. Assaf, in: Zion, 5 (1932); I.S. Revah, in: REJ, 118 (1959/60), 30–77; see also works by J.T. Medina in bibliography to *Inquisition.

[Martin A. Cohen]


       The Marranos:  A History in Need of Healing