Click here to join the effort!
The 1901 Jewish Encyclopedia
Certain portions of the American continent which were first colonized by the Spaniards and Portuguese, and which still remain Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking. As regards the period during which these countries were under Spanish dominion their interest for Jewish history is concerned almost entirely with the Maranos, or Neo-Christians, secret Jews who nominally professed the Catholic religion; for settlements there were made only subsequent to the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492, and Spanish law did not permit the existence of professing Jews on the soil of Spanish colonies. The same exclusion was enforced in the Portuguese colony of Brazil after the formal expulsion of the Jews from Portugal in 1508. Both in Spanish and in Portuguese America, therefore, the chief external events referring to Jews are connected with the Inquisition, but as this was never formally established in Brazil, there is a notable difference between the fortunes of the Jews in Portuguese and those of the Jews in Spanish America, which regions will accordingly be treated separately.
Portuguese America: Brazil.
Though the Inquisition was never established in Brazil, it had its "familiars" in that country, who spied upon secret Jews, and, in case of detection, seized them and sent them to Lisbon to be tried by the tribunal there. On the other hand, a favorite method of punishment by the Inquisition of Lisbon was to transport convicted relapsed Jews to the colony of Brazil, it is said, twice every year. The earliest notice of Jews in the country refers to some who had been thus banished in 1548. In the same year, however, several Portuguese Jews transplanted sugar-cane from Madeira to Brazil, and Jews were connected with the sugar industry of the country for the following two centuries. During the twenty years following the arrival of the first Jewish settlers they were joined by many volunteer exiles of the same faith, until their prominence in trade became noticeable; and edicts were issued by Don Henrique, regent of Portugal, on June 20, 1567, and March 15, 1568, forbidding Maranos to settle in Brazil. This edict, however, was repealed for the sum of 1,700,000 crusados ($714,000) given by the Maranos of Lisbon and Brazil, and the privileges of residence and free commerce were granted to Neo-Christians by an edict of May 21, 1577.
When Portugal was seized by Philip II. in 1580, Spanish regulations against the existence of Jews, secret or other, in Spanish dominions applied to Brazil also; but the insecure hold of Spain on the great Portuguese colony prevented a rigid application of the Spanish rule, and in 1610 mention is made of Jewish physicians in Bahia, then the capital of Brazil; it is stated also that the richest persons there were Jews, owning property amounting to from 60,000 to 100,000 crusados. The Dutch West India Company, founded in 1620, was largely recruitedfrom the Maranos of Brazil, and it was undoubtedly due to the troubles in that country that no branch of the Inquisition was established there.
From 1618 to 1654 the Dutch made repeated attempts to take possession of Brazil, and during the whole time the Jewish element in that country remained friendly to the Dutch and inimical to the Spanish and, after 1640, to the Portuguese. Thus, as early as 1618 Francisco Ribiero, a Portuguese Jewish captain who had relatives in Holland, is said to have assisted the Dutch in their attempts upon the Brazilian coast. When Bahia was captured in 1624 the Dutch were welcomed by about 200 Jews, to whom freedom of worship had been promised. The capital, however, was recaptured the following year by the Portuguese. Most of the Jews of Bahia moved to Recife (Pernambuco) when the latter city was captured by the Dutch in 1631. So promising was the position of the Jews in Brazil that Ephraim Sueiro, brother-in-law of Manasseh b. Israel, emigrated to that country in 1638, and was to have been followed by Manasseh himself, who dedicated the second part of his "Conciliador" to the community at Recife (1640). Two years later no less than 600 Jews from Amsterdam, including Isaac Aboab da Fonseca and Moses Raphael Aguilar, embarked for Recife. They spread throughout the country, forming congregations at Tamarico, Itamaraca, Rio de Janeiro, and Parahiba; and in 1646 some of them raised large sums to assist the Dutch in defending the coast.
There were said to be no less than 5,000 Jews in Recife when it capitulated to the Portuguese, special clauses of the capitulation referring to the Jews. They found it, however, impossible to remain in Pernambuco, and scattered throughout North America, though a large number, including Aboab and Aguilar, the Pereyras, the Mezas, Abraham de Castro, and Joshua Ẓarfati, returned to Amsterdam, while Jacob de Velosino, the first Hebrew author born on American soil, settled at The Hague. Others went to Cayenne and Curaçao, and it is generally assumed that the first Jewish settlers in New Amsterdam came directly from Pernambuco (see see see, however, New York). There still remained a number of Maranos on Brazilian soil, whose existence is known mainly through the actions of Brazilian "familiars." Thus Isaac de Castro Tartas, who lived there, was transported to Lisbon Dec. 15, 1647. The number of Brazilian Maranos was augmented by exiles transported from Portugal between 1682 and 1707 for the crime of Judaizing. These were closely watched, and in case of relapse they were returned to Lisbon. Thus, on Oct. 10, 1723, five Jews who had been returned from Rio de Janeiro were punished at an auto da fé at Lisbon. On Oct. 19, 1739, Antonio José da Silva, poet and dramatist, who was originally from Brazil, was burned at the stake, together with his mother and wife. Nevertheless, the Jews flourished in Brazil throughout the eighteenth century, and it is reported that in 1734, after the discovery of diamonds, they controlled the market for those gems. The action of the Inquisition in returning so many Jews from Brazil to Lisbon had a deleterious effect upon the sugar trade, which the Jews almost monopolized; and many sugar-mills were closed at Rio de Janeiro until Pombal put an end to the transportation of Maranos from Brazil to Lisbon.
Spanish America: Mexico.
As early as Oct., 1511, Queen Joan of Spain issued an edict restricting the Maranos from immigrating into New Spain; and the activity of the Inquisition in the Spanish colonies of America was specifically directed against the Maranos and their descendants. Thus, Charles V., under date of Oct. 15, 1538, directed the Inquisition to attend not to the natives, but to the European immigrants and their offspring; and at an uncertain date before 1604 Philip III. issued a rescript forbidding any newly converted persons, or the offspring of such persons, to settle in the Spanish possessions in the East or West Indies. As a matter of fact, the first auto da fé in the New World took place in Mexico in 1574. Four years later three Jews were dealt with by the Mexican Inquisition. The most distinguished of the Mexican Maranos was Luis de Carabajal, who was for some time governor of one of the provinces of Mexico. He was charged with Judaizing on the accusation of Doña Isabel de Herrera in 1590, certain members of the Caceres family being included in the same charge. Carabajal's nephew of the same name was actually executed at an auto da fé in Mexico, Sept. 8, 1596. On the strength of a confession, still extant, which he wrote while a prisoner of the Inquisition he is said to have been the first Jewish author in America (CARABAJAL). In 1607 a relative of his, Jorge de Almeida, was tried by the Inquisition of Mexico on the charge of Judaizing, and during the proceedings no less than thirty-two residents of Mexico were denounced as Judaizers. On March 22, 1609, Almeida was condemned to be executed in effigy. At the trial of Gabriel de Granada, which took place in Mexico between 1642 and 1645, no less than 107 persons were charged with Judaizing, showing a considerable increase in the Jewish population of that city. Among those thus charged were members of the families Rivera, Rodriguez, Perez, Espinosa, Tinoco, Nuñez, Del Bosque, De Castro, Da Costa, Sylva, Oliviera, and Sobremonte. The last person referred to, Thomas Trebiño de Sobremonte, appears to have been kept in prison for many years, and to have suffered a martyr's death on April 11, 1649.
Peru and Chile.
The Inquisition was established in Peru on Jan. 9, 1570, when Don Diego de Espinosa was inquisitor-general. Altogether thirty-four autos da fé were held at Lima from 1573 to July 17, 1806, after which the Inquisition ceased its activity. It appears that 131 Jews were condemned during this period, twenty-four of whom were burned at the stake. The most important auto da fé from a Jewish standpoint was that of Jan. 23, 1639, on which occasion no less than sixty-three Jews were condemned, ten of them to death by fire. Among the latter was Manuel Bautista Perez, reported to have been the richest man in Peru at the time, a sum equivalent to no less than $1,000,000 falling into the coffers of the Inquisition through his death. The most distinguished victim of the Chilean Inquisition was Francisco Maldonado de Silva, surgeon, poet, andphilosopher (born in 1592), who was seized at Concepcion, Chile, April 29, 1627, on information which was given by his own sister. He remained in the dungeons of the Inquisition for nearly twelve years, during which time his constancy to his faith was conspicuous; while in prison he even converted two Catholics to Judaism. He was executed at Lima Jan. 23, 1639. After the wholesale slaughter of 1639 a respite, in consideration of the sum of 200,000 ducats paid to the governor, Conde de Chinchon, was given to the 6,000 Jews who are said to have remained in Peru at that time. In the early part of the seventeenth century a number of Peruvian Jews went to Chile, possibly for purposes of trade. Between 1636 and 1641 five of these were punished for Judaizing. In 1680 a certain Leon Gomez de Silva, born in Portugal, was accused of Judaizing at Santiago, and although he cleared himself of the charge he was again accused in 1700. The Jews of Peru and Chile are said to have owned all the dry-goods stores and to have controlled almost the entire commerce of these states. They monopolized the retail trade, and established an extensive merchant marine, their agents being scattered throughout the country.
Only occasional references are found to Jews of Argentine and La Plata, the other chief seat of Jewish activity being Colombia, where an inquisitorial tribunal was established at Cartagena in 1610. At the fifty-four autos da fé held in that state up to Aug. 16, 1819, 767 persons were condemned. The proportion of Jews or Maranos among these can not be estimated.
- Cyrus Adler, Trial of Jorge de Almeida by the Inguisition in Mexico, in Publ. Am. Jew. Hist. Soc. No. 4;
- E. N. Adler, The Inquisition in Peru, ib. No. 12;
- David Fergusson, Trial of Gabriel de Granada by the Inquisition in Mexico, 1642-1645, ib. No. 7;
- Kayserling, The Earliest Rabbis and Jewish Writers of America, ib. No. 3;
- Kohut, Jewish Martyrs of the Inquisition in South America, ib. No. 4;
- idem, The Trial of Francisco Maldonado de Silva, ib. No. 11.
Since the abolition of the Inquisition and the series of revolutions by which the various states of South and Central America effected their independence of Europe, the Maranos have become absorbed in the general population. Jews are to be found throughout the more prosperous cities of the South-American continent, although, with one notable exception, not in large numbers. The Jews of the central states are largely descendants of Sephardim, who once had flourishing communities in the West Indies; but in the south they are mostly traders from Germany, Russia, and Poland, with a few from England. Except in the Argentine Republic there are no synagogues. In Panama there are a few Jews, who have a burial-ground of their own about a mile outside the city; this cemetery is kept in good order, and many of the tombstones bear Hebrew inscriptions of historic value. In Peru, Bolivia, and Chile there are very few Jews; even in the capitals of these states there are hardly enough to form a minyan for public workship. At Lima and Santiago the chief jewelers are German Jews, and one of the prominent Chilean dentists is a Danish Jew. At Valparaiso one of the leading merchants is an English Jew (Jacob Caro). In Dutch Guiana and in Venezuela there are between 200 and 300 Jews, mostly from the Dutch colonies of Surinam and Curaçao. Lately the Jewish Colonization Association has established agricultural colonies in Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil, and has sent thirty-seven Russian and Rumanian families to those settlements. There was an agency of the Alliance Israélite Universelle in Rio de Janeiro, but this was closed in 1902 on the death of the local representative.
In the Argentine Republic the Jewish population may be estimated at about 20,000. That such a comparatively large number of Jews live there is due almost entirely to the Jewish Colonization Association (Agricultural Colonies in the Argentine Republic). For every Jewish colonist who settles on the land at least six find their way to the large cities: Buenos Ayres, Cordova, Santa Fé, Rosario, and Mendoza.
In Buenos Ayres there are two synagogues, both in the Calle Liberdad; and the central office of the Jewish Colonization Association is located in the Calle Callao.
The following is a rough estimate of the Jewish population of the various states of South America:
|Guiana, Venezuela, and Colombia||2,000|
|Ecuador, Bolivia, Peru, Chile, and Uruguay||1,000|
These files are public domain.
Singer, Isidore, Ph.D, Projector and Managing Editor. Entry for 'Peru'. 1901 The Jewish Encyclopedia. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/tje/p/peru.html. 1901.