The Jews arrived in the Iberian Peninsula to the area which is now Portugal, during or even before the Roman occupation (3rd Century BC/ 5th Century AD). Although forming a small community (circa 30.000 people), they always had an enormous influence in the Portuguese society while they had religious freedom, which until the end of the 15th Century was greater in Portugal than in most of the other European countries. Portuguese-Jews were most prominent in the areas of finance, medicine, pharmacology, mathematics and geometry, astronomy, gold and silversmiths and armoury.

It is impossible to understand the importance and reality of Portuguese and Foreign Jews, as well as some of the most important events in modern History, without knowing the influence of Portuguese-Jews such as:
Abraaham Zacuto (astronomer and inventor of nautical instruments)
Gil Vicente (court goldsmith), Joseph Vechino (court physician)
Pedro Nunes (mathematician), Amatus Lusitanos (physician)
Garcia d’Orta (court physician and pioneer of studies on Oriental flora)
Samuel Porteira Gacon (establisher of the first Portuguese printing-press)
Francisco Sanches (scientist and physician to Catherine the Great of Russia)
Judah Abrabonel (royal treasurer to King Dom João I)
The Lady Gracia Nasi Mendes (banker), Isaac Abravanel (merchant)
and many other important Portuguese-Jews who participated in the Nation’s life.

In 1496 began a strong persecution against the Jews inspired by the Spanish King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, (the Catholic Kings) whose daughter was married to the Portuguese King Dom Manuel I, and the Inquisition was established in 1536, inspired by the newly formed Company of Jesus. Refusing to be taken into the Catholic faith thousands of Portuguese-Jews emigrated, mainly towards Italy, France, the Netherlands, the Flanders, Germany, England, Turkey and Morocco (North Africa) and to the new-world of South America. Others to save their own lives and their families accepted Baptism, but behind a Christian appearance they were Crypto-Jews and their history obviously is not fully known.

After the reforms of 1773-74 by the Marquis of Pombal, Prime Minister to King Dom José I (who was said to have Jewish blood), some important Jewish families returned to Portugal, but they were never to become again such a relevant community as they were up to the 15th Century, as by mixed marriages along the years they were absorbed into the general population. Also from the mid 19th Century onwards citizens did not have to display publicly their faith so being Jewish was not a crime anymore.

During the 2nd World War Portugal received over 100.000 European Jewish refugees, who after the war embarked to other countries. The Portuguese Consul in Bordeaux (France) Dr.Aristides de Souza Mendes who issued over 20.000 non-authorized visas, saved individually these thousands of Jewish lives, but was punished by the Government of the time costing him his job and his family’s impoverishment. He is remembered as a “Righteous among Nations” by the community.

Nowadays the known Portuguese-Jewish community is about 500/600 people.  Diplomatic relations with the State of Israel are normal after democracy was established in Portugal in 1974 and an Israeli Embassy in Lisbon started functions in 1977. There is no anti-Semitism among the general population.

The Portuguese Republic of today has publicly apologized for the past errors and  is proud and appreciates the talents, skills and contributions of its Jewish citizens that through almost nine and half Centuries helped making the Nation great.

LISBON (Lisboa)
Lisbon’s main Sephardic Synagogue at Rua Alexandre Herculano 59, has a large congregation and was built in the first half of the 1900’s. Within the Sanctuary of the “Shaare Tikvah” (Gates of Hope) Temple, one encounters the “Bima” or prayer platform in the centre, a traditional characteristic in all Orthodox Sephardic congregations. At the front of the room is the “Ark”, encased in a lovely setting of marble and gilt. There are about a dozen “Sifrei Torah” in the “Ark”, the covers of which was handmade and embroidered by the Ladies of the congregation. The Temple has also a magnificent courtyard and a grand balcony allowing the Synagogue to hold nearly 300 worshippers. The Jewish Cemetery at Avenida Dom Afonso III, 44 is believed to have been founded in 1833.

Located in Alfama (Al-Hama) the old medieval quarter of Lisbon the Rua da Judiaria (Jewry Street) is the only remnant of what was once one of the great Jewish communities in Europe. There were four Jewish quarters in Lisbon: the largest was in the Magdalena quarter, a second was in the old area of Pedreira (quarry) outside the city walls, the third was in the Alfama area, the fourth known then as “Little Jewry” was where a block of houses extended between the Church of São Julião and the present building of the Bank of Portugal.

Located at Largo do Carmo, at the top of the hill of Santa Justa, this former Gothic Convent ruined by the earthquake of 1755, contains three old Hebrew-inscribed tombstones, one of which dates from the 6th Century AD.

ROSSIO SQUARE (Praça Dom Pedro IV)
Lisbon’s main square provides a dramatic account of the Jewish history in Portugal. The former Palace of Estaos which once stood in the Rossio Square was destroyed by the earthquake of 1755 and on its site in 1842 was built the neo-classic National Theatre of Dona Maria II.  The former Palace was the headquarters of the Tribunal of the Inquisition which started in 1497. During the Inquisition Jews were forcibly Baptized at the Church of São Domingos located in the adjacent square. To this day pious Jews still recite to themselves the “Kadish” (Prayer of the Dead) when passing by the National Theatre.

The Museum of Popular Art displays a large mural depicting the various peoples of Portugal, including Jews who are shown wearing Stars of David in their clothing. This Museum is located in the Belém district.

MUSEUM OF ANCIENT ART (Museu das Janelas Verdes)
Located at Rua das Janelas Verdes, this excellent Museum features a painting by Vieira showing a circumcision scene which includes the “Mohel” (ritual circumciser), the Godfather holding the child, the Rabbi holding a prayer book, and the Mother with her face turned away so not to watch the child’s pain. Another painting by Gonçalves shows a man, allegedly considered to be Moses, holding the Tablets of the Law. The famous poliptic by Nuno Gonçalves with six wood-paintings showing all Portuguese social classes of the 14th/ 15thCenturies, has on the 2nd painting from the right, the Head-Rabbi of Portugal with a star of David on his clothes and holding an Hebrew prayer book.

The Abraaham Zacuto Museum located at Rua Nova, formally the Rua da Judiaria once the city’s Jewish quarter, was an ancient Synagogue built in the traditional Gothic style of the Middle-Ages. Within the Synagogue there is an inscribed stone belonging to the Arch of an early Belmonte Synagogue. The inscription reads: “and the Lord in His Holy Temple let all the earth be hushed to His presence” (Habakkuk 2.20).  This archaeological find clearly suggests that Belmonte had a Jewish community long before the Inquisition was established, and most probably a very important one. This old Synagogue, now the Abraaham Zacuto Museum is also the physical proof of the early existence of a dynamic Jewish community in Tomar. Connecting with the Synagogue is a room with large storing clay-pots and in the backyard a Medieval water-well. Abraaham Zacuto was a much esteemed Jewish astronomer and inventor of nautical instruments to the Portuguese King Dom Manuel I (1495-1521).

Coimbra is one of the major towns of Portugal where there was an Inquisition court. One can find some remains of the Jewish quarter. The University has one of the best and most complete libraries in Europe, where is kept a very rare Hebrew Bible dating from the 12th Century. Here one may go deeper into an analysis of the 16th Century, which explains the political facts that lead to the establishment of the Inquisition. There are other important places to visit in Coimbra which in the 13th Century was the capital city of Portugal.

In the Municipal Museum is the corner-stone of a 13th Century Synagogue supposed to be from an early Belmonte Synagogue.

The Municipal Museum next to the Town-Hall has on display in its courtyard a polished granite stone with Hebrew inscriptions. Uncovered in 1968 during the demolition of some houses in Rua Nova, this tablet has been identified as part of a Synagogue dedicated in 1497.

OPORTO (Porto)
The “Kadoorie” Synagogue is located in the 2nd largest town of Portugal in Oporto, located at Rua Guerra Junqueiro 340, is the very first built by and for Portuguese Jews in over 400 years. In the early 1900’s it was generally believed that the “Marranos” (Jews who were forcibly Baptized during the Inquisition) had been absorbed into the general population and that Jewish tradition was lost forever. But in 1917 Samuel Schwartz, a Polish-Jewish engineer travelling through northern Portugal, discovered a small community of converted “Marranos” still practicing Sephardic rites dating from the 16th Century which included a mixture of old Jewish and Christian practices. The interest aroused in the Jewish world by Schwartz’s discovery led to a new stirring among these Crypto-Jews.  The lead was taken by Captain Artur Carlos de Barros Bastos, a Portuguese professional soldier and himself a “Marrano”. In 1920 Captain Bastos was the first “Marrano” to publicly confess his Judaism and thus began a movement to return to the Jewish religion. Fired by enthusiasm for the faith of his fore-fathers, he self-taught Hebrew and formally entered the Jewish faith in Tangiers (Morocco) where he underwent Circumcision. In 1927 Captain Bastos and his followers organized the “Kahal Kodosh Mekor Haim”, (Holy Source of Life Congregation). Two years later with the financial assistance of the Turkish-Jew philanthropist Elijah Kadoorie and of the British-Jew Mr. Rothchild, the congregation built a Synagogue in Oporto, which to this day bears the name “Beth Hak’nesseth M’Kor Chayim  Kadoorie”.

In the 14th Century there was already an important Jewish community with houses built by the Castle’s main gate.  The late-Medieval Synagogue is located at Rua da Judiaria (Jewry Street). It is quite well preserved with a room with a chimney and a Tabernacle. This main room has a door that connects with a smaller room for the women to attend the religious services. A gap in the right-hand side of the Gothic ogive-arch of the main entrance door shows the location where the “Mesusa” was placed.
The Medieval streets leading from the Castle have a large number of Gothic ogive doorways, some displaying the Tree and Lion of Judah and others displaying old Jewish symbols. These ancient houses are still inhabited by the elderly local population.

The main town of the southern province of Algarve contains a rich account of the Portuguese-Jews of the South of Portugal. In mid 18th Century, while the Inquisition was still in force, Portugal underwent an economic crisis and was in need of expanded trade.  Two Jews from Gibraltar, Issac Aboab and Moses Levi both leading merchants accepted the offer. The arrival of these two merchants and their families started a period of resettlement up to the early 19th Century.  Following this many other Jews began arriving from Gibraltar and Morocco (North Africa) and a Synagogue was built followed by a Cemetery in 1820.  The old Cemetery dates from the 14th Century as the Jewish community previous to the Inquisition was flourishing. The “Chumosh”, an Hebrew edition of the Pentateuch was first printed here in 1487 by Samuel Porteira Gacon.

At the small town of Belmonte in the province of Beira-Baixa the Portuguese-Jewish community originates from Sephardic Jews of the 14th and 15th Centuries. Surprisingly, after the Democratic Revolution of 25th April 1974 that brought back freedom of speech and of creed in Portugal, a small group of families that were established in Belmonte for over 300 years as Catholics, came out in the open and declared that they were “Marranos” and had kept for centuries, in the privacy of their homes, the Crypto-Jewish rites. A few years later, Sephardic Rabbis from Israel visited Belmonte, investigated and recorded those old rites which had been lost throughout the ages. Nowadays, Belmonte has a flourishing industry of “kosher” wines and olive-oil, totally supervised by the local Rabbi and the close community. The old Synagogue, the Jewish Museum and the 13th Century Castle are the highlights of this town which has a high significance to Portuguese-Jews.

This archipelago in mid-northern Atlantic Ocean was un-inhabited until the Portuguese seamen discovered it in 1432 and the Continental population was invited to colonize the 9 Islands.

The Jewish Cemetery in the main town of Faial dates from the late 16th Century.

ISLAND OF SÃO MIGUEL (Saint Michael’s)
In the main town of Ponta Delgada is the “Saar-Ha-Samain” Synagogue (Gate of Heaven) at Rua do Brum 16, a beautiful sanctuary of Victorian architecture in the rear  of an inhabited old fashioned apartment erected in 1836.The ”Saar-Ha-Samain” Cemetery dates from the 16th Century.

The Porto de Judeus (Port of Jews) and ancient sea-port in the outskirts of this town, was named after the Jews who first landed here in 1497 when the Azores were occupied by the Dutch. There is also an old Jewish Cemetery at the main town of Angra do Heroísmo.