The painting titled “The Banishment of the Jews“, by Roque Gameiro” [Photo Source: A TRIBO DOS PINCÉIS: Quadros da História de Portugal (1917)]

Background

Until the 15th century, some Jews occupied prominent places in Portuguese political and economic life. One such example was Isaac Abrabanel, the treasurer of King Afonso V of Portugal and an important commentator of the Torah (bible). Many also had an active role in Portuguese culture, and they kept their reputation of diplomats and merchants. During the period leading up to the end of the 15th century, Lisbon and Évora were home to important Jewish communities.

On the Hebrew date of the 9th of Av in the year 1492, the Jews of Spain were expelled from their country by the Catholic Monarchs ruling Castile and Aragon. Many of the Jews that survived the expulsion and the violence against Jews that was its aftermath, fled to Portugal. Unfortunately, just a few years later in the year 1496, these refugees along with the native Portuguese Jewish population were expelled.

Events Leading Up to the Expulsion

*The expulsion followed the death of King Joao of Portugal in 1494, during the period of the reign of his son King Manuel I, shortly after he ascended the throne. When his legitimacy as heir to the throne was challenged, Manuel wished to marry Princess Isabel of Spain, daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella, in order to solidify his position. As a precondition to the marriage, the Spanish monarch demanded that Portugal expel its Jews—many of whom were refugees from the 1492 Spanish Expulsion who found refuge in the neighboring country of Portugal. Manuel agreed, and five days after the marriage agreement was signed, on Tevet 23 (5257), he issued a decree giving Portugal’s Jews eleven months to leave the country.

Appreciating the Jews’ economic value, Manuel was unhappy with the potential loss of this economic asset, and devised a way to have the Jews stay in Portugal—but as Christians. Initially, he instructed the Jews to leave from one of three ports, but soon he restricted them to leaving from Lisbon only. When October of 1497 arrived, thousands of Jews assembled there and were forcibly baptized. Many Jews decided to stay and keep their Jewish faith secret; they were called Marranos or Crypto-Jews.

Over the next 350 years, the infamous Inquisition persecuted, tortured and burned at the stake thousands of “Marranos” throughout Spain, Portugal and their colonies for continuing to secretly practice the Jewish faith.

*Some of the information for this post was taken from Chabad.org