Jews came to the Iberian Peninsula during the reign of the Roman Empire, much earlier than the kingdom of Portugal was created. Some of them might had to migrate due to the destruction of the First Temple in Jerusalem or later when the Second temple was destroyed, but these facts are not sure. Others came from the northern Africa. Between the V and the VIII century Visigoths ruled and did not allow to practice Judaism. In 711 CE came the Moors, the Muslims, but they were quite tolerant at that time and Jews could practice their faith and live in Portugal as long as they payed taxes, same as Christians. They no longer had to hide their faith and were allowed to work as doctors, craftsman, poets, writers, philosophers and scientists. This golden period lasted until 1036 when the Cordoba caliphate finished.
After the Reconquista the first Portuguese kings trusted rabbis as they tax/financial specialists. Synagogues were built, the communities grew. Unfortunately the catholic clergy began to create tensions. In 1478 the Inquisition began in Spain. In 1492 the Spanish rulers Isabel and Fernando expelled Jews from the country. Only those who converted to Christianity could stay. Those who secretly continued their religious practice were called marranos. More than 90 thousand seeked shelter in Portugal, but just four years later a royal law would give one choice: convert or leave the country. Children were taken away from their parents and baptized. One of the darkest moments was April 1506, the so called Lisbon massacre or the Easter Slaughter. Thousands of Jews were attacked, accused of being heretics, hundreds were killed and burned at a stake.
Things did not get any better as 30 years later the Inquisition was established and continued until 1767. Around two thousand so called New Christians were condemned and burned alive. Those who converted were later on called Crypto-Jews as they never left their own traditions. Others migrated to England, the Netherlands Turkey or Italy where that could come back to their original faith.
The comeback was not earlier than the beginning of the XIX century. In 1801 a new Jewish cemetery was established in Lisbon. First synagogue dated from 1813 and the proper one “Shaaré Tikvá” was built in 1904. Only in 1912 after the end of the Monarchy the Portuguese Jewish community is actually legal. And Jews can finally emancipate. In Porto the Jewish community was created in 1923 and the Mekor Haim synagogue was opened in 1938. Capitão de Barros Basto, who converted back to Judaism, played an important role in helping the crypto-Jews to embrace their original faith.
During the WWII Portugal was neutral and criticized the Nazi racial discrimination laws. Many Portuguese diplomats helped refugees to come to Portugal and later on continue to the United States, Palestine or Brazil. The most significant person was Portuguese consul in Bordeaux Aristides de Sousa Mendes, who gave visas to 30 000 people. After Sousa Mendes came back to Portugal Salazar stripped him away of all his honors. Still Sousa Mendes said he could not act in a different way. He is one of the Righteous Among the Nations.
After a short introduction to the history of the city itself a local guide will introduce you to the history of Jews in Portugal which dates back to the Roman times. You will walk around the old Jewish quarters. Next you will have a guided visit to the Kadoorie Mekor Haim synagogue, including it´s very interesting museum.
It is the largest synagogue in the Iberian Peninsula, inaugurated in 1938, when in other countries synagogues were burned. It also played an important role helping refugees during the WWII on their way to freedom and respect.
During the tour you will find out where was the secret synagougue dating back to the XVI century and what exactly cryptojudaism was. Why some people were called New Christians and other Cryptojews or Marranos? What is the fenomena of the portuguese town of Belmonte?
We can advise places to have lunch including kosher options. River cruise (six bridges cruise) and a visit to a Port Wine cellar (Taylor´s makes the only kosher Port Wine) with wine tasting. We can guarantee a wonderful day. Depending on the clients needs the tour can also include the cities main attractions.
1. Thank you so much for the most informative tour. Keep teaching travellers about the richness of Judaism.
Ena Cord, US
2. Thank you, Roza, for giving us a wonderful day. Stephen and I enjoyed our day very much. We were glad to be able to converse with you about history, anti-Semitism and intolerance throughout the world. We wished we'd had more time. Next time, we hope.
Octavia. US/Check Republic
3. Dear Roza, we thank you so much for your unforgetable tours!
Marina and Baruch, Suriname/Holland
4. Dear Roza,
I wanted to thank you again for a nice afternoon in Porto. It was really a lot of fun and really remembered most of the days in Porto.
Sonja, Alexandra and Vadim, Israel/Germany