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The Jews at the time of the Discoveries in Portugal


Jews at the time of the Discoveries in Portugal, Jews were a minority in Portuguese territory since the end of the Roman Empire, growing democratically throughout the Middle Ages.

Very diverse in Portugal and thanks to the memory of urban toponymy the Juderias, however the Communes at the time of the Discoveries were quite different, the Judiaria was the space where the Jews initially lived, mixed with the Christians, the commune was already the religious entity, administrative, judicial, fiscal and cultural, autonomous from the Christian, being able to integrate several Juderias as it happened in Lisbon, where the Commune was dispersed by three Juderias; big or old, new or small or taracenas and Alfama (still visible today). The Synagogue was the house of prayer, the court chamber and school when it did not exist.

When we speak of communes and Jews, we cannot ignore the situation of a very tolerated people in which the Jews lived and all of Christendom, with the aim of “calling them” to voluntary conversion with the recognition of Christ as the Messiah promised by the prophets. Around the communes there were churches and monasteries begging, expressing the dominant religion over the tolerated religion, the same did not happen in the neighboring kingdoms.


The Jews at the time of the Discoveries in Portugal

The freedoms, uses and customs of the communes, were expressed in the letters of privilege, granted to each community in the act of creation by the sovereign, the monarch earned in exchange for these “benefits” the right to demand individual and collective taxes, just updating the amounts and demanding other taxes on time, as well as asking them for loans to face their wars, marriages or others, the Jews thus became directly or directly the bankers of the crown, giving them large sums which proved to be an authentic oppression for the poor. The general tribute paid by the Jews annually to kings was designated as a pecking order and was then named in the legislation of Dom Afonso IV for royal service.

Sefarad, the Peninsula, Hispania, Portugal at this time and the different kingdoms that at the end of the 15th century would constitute the Spain of the Catholic Kings.

There is no doubt that the Jews at the time of the Discoveries in Portugal would have an intimate connection to medicine and especially to the study of astrology and cartography, however the missing documentation on the topic, the contribution of Jews, Muslims and Christians is all too evident. , with this mixture of knowledge arrives at the Portuguese Discoveries, João de Barros in the First Decade writes that Infante Dom Henrique “sent a master already come from the island of Mallorca, an exemplary man in cartography in the art of sailing, to teach his science to Portuguese officers.

The Jews at the time of the Discoveries in Portugal

José, a shoemaker from Lamego who, knowing Dom João II’s interest in Asia, made himself available to the King, since he had been in Babylon (today Baghdad), together with Rabbi Abraão de Beja they would have the mission of going to Ormuz and to bring information about the spice route, both spoke Arabic which allowed them to go unnoticed in Turkish territories or even among other Jews, serving as “spies” at the king’s service.

Another figure that certainly contributes to success was Abrão Zacuto, mathematician, physicist and astronomer who had taught at the University of Salamanca, author of the Almanac Pepétuo, who was responsible for supervising the route of the ships that would take Vasco da Gama to India, through the regiment of the solar declination tables, as well as the perfecting of the astrolabe, teaching Portuguese pilots the names of the winds around the North star. Zacuto would eventually be baptized, having left Portugal for Turkey in 1502 where he returned to Judaism.

In trade, this peaceful climate that the Jews found in the kingdom, which eventually allowed them to expand economically, even dominating to the detriment of Christians, some areas of the economy at the time, which would create mercantilist competition, especially in the large cities, creating a religious xenophobia that led to anti-Jewish feelings of rejection of the minority, as the Jew was not limited to occupying a single profession, he was a merchant, physicist, tenant, dealer, doctor, among others.


The Jews at the time of the Discoveries in Portugal

The 15th century saw an even greater increase in the number of wealthy Jews expelled from Castile with the establishment of the Inquisition in 1481 who would lend large sums of money to the king and the royal family, with rewards of social prestige and power, including the Negro families, Abravanel, Palaçano Latam. Having been the first capitalist group in Portugal, being the first creditors of the crown, the church and individuals, from the nobility to the people, sometimes considered an oppression, creating the stereotype that the Jew was a user who enriched at the expense of the work of the true children of God.

These assumptions led to tougher measures such as the physical distinction of the individual from the minority in their garments or the closing of the Jews in tight and confined neighborhoods, and they could even be arrested and see their goods learned after the touch of the Aves Marias, however there were cases of good relations between Christian families and Jewish families, with Christians being condemned if they frequented the houses, parties or table of the Jews as well as if they allowed the same in their homes, since these meetings worried the ecclesiastical authorities.

With the death of Dom João II, his brother-in-law ascends the throne, and his desire to marry Princess Dona Isabel de Castela, daughter of his Catholics and the almost certainty of arrival in India, Dom Manuel “is” forced to expel the kingdom’s Jews, a condition for marriage, knowing that not all Portuguese people supported this decision. Tracing a plan that would end up creating a religiosity of Judaism and the confiscation of all its assets, even ordering that their children be removed, baptized and handed over to Christian families.

The Jews at the time of the Discoveries in Portugal

Many Jews were baptized in the Palace of Estaus, with the aim of being able to leave and later return to Judaism, fleeing to Turkey or other Italian cities like Naples, in this way the king created a legal device that forbade them to leave the kingdom, encouraging the marriage between New Christians and New Christians, linking all their birth accents and sometimes changing their nicknames, extinguishing the Jewries, allowing them access to municipal offices.

With this, the king is no longer tolerant, sovereign of the three religions, moving towards unity, a king, a kingdom, a religion, leaving the importance of the Jews at the time of the Discoveries in Portugal as a second point.

The importance of the Sephardites who left Portugal, end up being paramount in the creation of Amsterdam and later New York is undoubtedly unequivocal.

We hope that this article surprised you by the positive about the importance of the Jews in the Portuguese Discoveries, we invited you to know better in our Jewish itinerary, take your doubts right now !!!

About the Author
O Hugo é uma pessoa extremamente comunicativa que adora viajar e ama o que faz. Ainda jovem começou a trabalhar como taxista na cidade de Lisboa que fez com que ficasse a conhecer a cidade e o País como ninguém e para além disso ganhou um gosto especial por comunicar quer seja com as gentes locais ou com muitos turistas com que se cruzada em cada dia. No entanto a vontade de saber mais e dar asas ao que realmente gostava de fazer, decidiu voltar a estudar Turismo na melhor escola de Turismo em Portugal e mudar toda a sua vida para fazer aquilo que realmente gosta, dar a conhecer o seu pais ao Mundo de uma forma genuína e autentica.