I  S  R  A  E  L

Videos -

Maps -

Mogan David
(Flag of Israel)

Statistics  and Information

4,000 YEARS

of the Jews  
Arab Countries,


Leaving the
Middle East

4000 YEARS

and Story




Who is a Jew?

The Jewish Law


Shulchan Aruch

Daf Yomi

The Hebrew Bible


The Temples

The Synagogues

Jewish Messiah


Jewish Women
in Judaism


Jewish Culture  




Survival of Hebrew


Lost Tribes

Jewish-Roman  Wars

Middle Ages


Jewish Pirates

Why has Christendom
Attacked the Jews?


























AUTOS DE LA FE (Spanish),
AUTO DA FE (Portuguese)





Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share via e-mail Print

Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share via e-mail Print

Dr.Rivka Shpak Lissak  (12/17/2006)
unveils new findings about the lives of the Marranos in the New World.
The remarkable steadfastness which the converted Jews displayed
to their original faith attests to the vitality of the Jewish people

THE SPANISH AND PORTUGUESE EMPIRES ON THE AMERICAN CONTINENT The New World, which was conquered by Spain and Portugal, was divided into colonies and sub colonies. Under the Treaty of Tordesillas of 1494, Portugal received the eastern portion of the South American continent, in other words Brazil, and the rest was given to Spain. The original Spanish colonies were "New Spain" and Peru. New Spain comprised Mexico, today's South Western United States, Central America and a number of islands in the Caribbean Sea. The Philippines in the Far East were also part of the colony. At first, Peru, Brazil, and Panama comprised all of Latin America. In 1717, part of Peru was severed and became "New Granada". It included what are today Columbia, Panama, Venezuela and Ecuador. In 1776 additional areas were taken from Peru and the new colony was called "Rio de la Plata", and comprised what are today Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay. See also The Americas

THE IMMIGRATION POLICY OF SPAIN AND PORTUGAL REGARDING NEW CHRISTIANS  Spain prohibited New Christians (who recently converted to Christianity, including many converted Jews) until the fourth generation from emigrating to their New World empire, while Portugal was interested in settling Brazil as they did not have surplus population like Spain, permitted New Christians to emigrate and even exiled New Christians who had been arrested and condemned by the Inquisition to Brazil.

In Spain, many New Christians found ways to circumvent the law, and the fact that the Spanish government kept reiterating the prohibition proves that the prohibition was flouted. Some New Christians forged documents and fled to Portugal or northwest Europe, and thence to the New World. Others arrived as sailors or stowaways. In any event, the fact is that many New Christians managed to emigrate to the New World. Brazilian historians estimate that about 10% of 180 million residents of Brazil are descendants of New Christians. Luis de Carbajal, who was burnt at the stake in Mexico City in December 1596, declared before the flames consumed him, that Mexico had more New Christians than old ones.

CLANDESTINE JEWISH COMMUNAL LIFE      From Inquisition and other documents it emerges that the New Christians (not all New Christians were Marranos) who remained faithful to Judaism, managed to preserve Jewish life in secret for over 200 years, in the framework of communities who gathered in private houses.

The Inquisition archives in the New World, in Spain and Portugal, shed light on the efforts by Marranos  to preserve their Judaism in secret. The Inquisition kept precise records regarding the confessions of Marranos from which one can deduce this. It's important to note, that not only New Christians from Spain and Portugal emigrated to the New World. There were New Christians who originally emigrated to Europe, returned to Judaism, and subsequently emigrated to the New World. The New Christians in Portugal possessed inner Jewish resilience and were proficient in Jewish customs, because their adoption of Christianity took place on a single and collective basis, in October 1497. They not only continued to live in Jewish quarters, but the Portuguese king gave them a respite of 20 years during which they would not be sued for observing Jewish customs. The arrests only began in 1536, when the Inquisition was established in Portugal. The New Christians of Spain, in contradistinction, converted to Christianity, most of them under duress, but the act was a personal one, and the process continued over a hundred years. It was also accompanied by the terror of Christian gangs and pogroms, which led to a gradual weakening among the New Christians and made it difficult for them to observe their Judaism, especially after the expulsion of Spanish Jewry in 1492, and the severance of all contacts with Jews and Judaism. In short, there were various levels of knowledge and proficiency in Jewish customs among the emigrants.

New Christians established secret synagogues in private houses, and their congregations were organized in communities throughout the Spanish and Portuguese empires. There is testimony of three communities in Mexico City and communities in Guadalajara, Vera Cruz and Pueblo in New Spain and in a series of communities in New Granada, in Peru in La Plata and in the Caribbean Islands, which were under Spanish rule. Likewise, there were communities in Bahia and Rio de Janeiro, and in northeastern Brazil there was a concentration of communities in Recife, Natal, Pernambuco and others. From the confessions it emerges that there were rabbis and Jewish scholars in the communities and members of the communities gathered every afternoon for prayer. Some of the Marranos were circumcised. For example out of a group that was burnt at the stake in Mexico City in one of the auto da fe ceremonies, 57 were circumcised.

One of the most striking facts is the New World Marannos’ success in maintaining close ties with New Christians in Spain and Portugal, France, Italy and Belgium, and with New Jews - Marranos who returned to Judaism - in northwest Europe and even with Sephardic communities in the Ottoman Empire. These ties were facilitated by virtue of a ramified system of international commercial and family ties. For example, Anthony de Fonesca had brothers in the Canary Islands, Lisbon, France and Pernambuco, in northeast Brazil. Thanks to these ties, money was raised for various purposes: redemption of captives of Jewish origins, who were taken captive by barbarian pirates, transfer of money to Holland to finance its war against Spain, contributions to Jews in the Holy Land, bribing government officials and the Inquisition etc.

The New Christians also had a secret code, which they used to preserve the secrecy of their correspondence. Preserved in the archives of the British Museum are the documents of Mendes da Costa, written in a secret code. New Christians identified each other throughout the world by placing the right-hand on their heads, in the course of conversation. There was also a question, used as a means of identifying a person of Marrano stock by to the answer. They provided mutual assistance, when someone had to escape the Inquisition. New World had secret harbors, where one could board a vessel belonging to a New Christian who observed Judaism and escape to Europe. For example, the two brothers of Luis de Carbajal, who was burnt at the stake in Mexico City in December 1596, managed to reach Europe in a vessel, which took them on at a secret location near Campiza. Marranos arriving from Madrid or Seville at the port of Veracruz in New Spain knew that they had to go to the home of Fernando Rodriguez. They stayed in his home for several days, and only then proceeded to Mexico City to the home of Simon Vajiz, one of the leaders of the city's Jewish community.

CAMOUFLAGE MEASURES  BY THE MARRANOS  The need to preserve their Judaism in secret from the Inquisition led the Marranos to adopt different camouflage measures:

Circumcision-according to Jewish law the foreskin was removed. But since the Inquisition was aware of the obligation of circumcision and its nature, and was accustomed to strip the prisoners in order to check if they underwent circumcision, there were Marranos who tried to trick the Inquisition by making a longitudinal cut instead of removing the foreskin. But there were those who were willing to take the risk and were circumcised.

Outward Fulfillment of Church Obligations - Marranos visited church and attended mass and communion - eating the sacred bread and drinking wine - but only a few went to confession. Those who went to confession obviously did not confess their Judaism. While visiting church, Marranos refrained from looking at the holy bread when they received it, and hastened to spit it out immediately upon leaving church.

Smiting Images of the Saints and Concealing Their Faces - One of the accepted ceremonies in the secret gatherings of the Marranos for the purpose of prayer was smiting the statues of the Christian saints. On January 21, 1639, 12 Marranos were burned at the stake in Lima the capital of Peru for smiting statues. Since maintaining the statues of the saints in the home was a common practice amongst Christians, the Marranos were accustomed to retaining statues of saints in their houses for security purposes, but their faces were turned to the wall. Only when Christians visited the house would the statues be turned to face the room.

The First Born to the Church - Generally young people were apprised of their origin when they reached bar mitzvah age (13), but they were sworn to secrecy. They did not reveal the secrets to the first born and intended him to fill a post in the church, as a security measure, as well as to ferret out the current moods in the church.  See also Ethnic Jewish Groups

WHERE DOES THE TERM ‘SEPHARDIM’ COME FROM?    The exiles called themselves Sephardim the plural of Sepharad the Hebrew name for their native Spain  The name Sepharad appears in the prophecy of Obadiah (Obad. 20) as one of the places where the Jews exiled from Jerusalem lived. The biblical allusion is probably to Sardis, a city in Asia Minor. But Jewish tradition, especially since the eighth century C.E., tended to identify Sepharad with the western edge of the known world--the Iberian Peninsula. Thus, during the entire Middle Ages, and especially during the Golden Age of Hispano-Hebraic culture, Spanish Jews called themselves Sephardim, a name they subsequently used (and not without a certain pride in their glorious peninsular past) in the diaspora following their expulsion from Spain.

The term Sephardi is often used in contrast to Ashkenazi, which refers to another major ethnocultural branch of Judaism--the Franco-German-Slavic branch. As in the case of Sepharad, Ashkenaz is also a biblical place name (it appears in Gen. 10:3, Chron. 1:6, and Jer. 51:27), which originally seems to have meant a country in the upper Euphrates valley bordering Armenia, but which medieval rabbinic literature identified with the earliest Jewish settlements in central Europe--first Germany and northern France, then Poland and Lithuania. A cultural tradition grew from this nucleus, one with its own folkways and customs, rich folklore, religious and literary currents, a strong philosophy, and its own liturgy. Linguistically, the Ashkenazi branch of Judaism is characterized by its particular pronunciation of Hebrew in religious texts and by the use of Yiddish--a derivative of High German influenced by Slavic, other European languages, and, naturally, Hebrew--in daily life. Successive migrations have placed the Ashkenazim in other areas, especially North and South America and Israel.

Curiously enough, the opposition Sephardi/Ashkenazi has given rise to a certain confusion that dates from the end of the nineteenth century and has religious, or rather, liturgical origins. The growing Ashkenazi emigration to Palestine created the need for a chief rabbi for the Ashkenazim, parallel to the Sephardic chief rabbinate that had existed for many years. An immediate consequence of the increasing impact of Ashkenazi culture in the area of Palestine that later became Israel was to include under the authority of the Sephardic rabbinate all matters that were not Ashkenazi, even those that had no connection to the Jews of Spanish origin. And so Sephardim became the name not only of the descendants of the Jews expelled from Spain in the fifteenth century but also of all those who came from Arab and Eastern countries, be they the Jews of Conchin (India), the Yemenites, or the black Jews from Ethiopia.

From Inquisition documents, we can learn about the Jewish Marrano customs in the New World:

Candle lighting on the Sabbath and Festivals - Failure to light candles was considered a sin divinely punishable by death. The wives of the Marranos were accustomed to hide the candles under the table or to cover the windows with a black cloth. However, there were families who had candles burning daily to observe the commandments of lighting candles on the sabbath and festivals without being caught.

Gathering for Prayer - The Marranos met secretly to pray. The custom of the prayer quorum was scrupulously observed. When there was a need to invite the worshipers for a special meeting, they were accustomed to send a Negro dressed in red and playing on the tambourine, to circulate through the streets. This was a secret sign to come to synagogue. They were accustomed to fast in groups and gather in groups to read the Torah. Since Bibles were rare, the Marranos used psalms from the Dominican Psalm Book. The prayers were in Spanish and Portuguese, but there were a number of words that were recited in Hebrew, such as Adoshem, Shma Yisrael Hashem Elokeinu Hashem Ehad. There were a few who knew additional words such as: talit, tefilla, teref and treifa. There were also isolated individuals who knew the Shmona Esreh prayer. During prayers there was no separation between men and women. They were accustomed to reciting the Shama Yisrael prayer by raising their arms or by crossing them on their chest. Likewise they were accustomed to cover their eyes with the left hand, while placing the right-hand on their hearts, when the direction of the prayer was towards Jerusalem.

Kashrut Observance - Marranos observed the customs of Jewish ritual slaughter. They had a special knife for slaughtering and they hung the animal by its hoofs after slaughter, so the blood could drain out. They salted the meat, did not eat fish without scales, did not use animal fat for cooking, but only olive oil, made their own wine for kiddush, or used a liquid produced from cocoa beans. They did not have separate utensils for meat and dairy, but pig derivatives did not enter their homes.

Sabbath Observance - They were accustomed to prepare hot food on Friday and it was retained on the stove during the Sabbath. Towards the Sabbath eve they changed clothes and everybody wore clean clothing. They opened their stores on the Sabbath, but refrained from using sales stratagems.

Yom Kippur - was fixed on the tenth of September. They fasted on Yom Kippur, which was called "The Day of Forgiveness" or "The Day of the Great Fast". On Yom Kippur eve they customarily asked forgiveness from members of the family and friends in case that they had offended them during the year. Likewise, it was customary, following the concluding meal before the fast, which included fish and vegetables, to go down on bended knee in chronological order before the mother of the family and a grandmother in order to receive a blessing. The boys were blessed that they should be like Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, whereas girls were blessed to be like Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah. On Yom Kippur they were accustomed to pray all day in a secret synagogue and in order to avoid suspicion, it was customary to take an afternoon break when the worshipers went out walking through town.

Passover - Before Passover they would customarily purchase new dishes. This did not arouse suspicion because people used earthenware dishes, which were broken easily. The women would customarily bake the matzos by themselves. They were round and called "tortas". Prior to the meal they ate lettuce, bitter herbs and radish. They did not have a Hagoda (Order of the Passover Night celebration) and they read from the Latin translation of the Bible about the Exodus from Egypt. The person conducting the Seder wore white clothing. The festival lasted seven to eight days.

Purim - was not considered a happy festival in the New World. The Marranos felt a sense of identification with Esther and Mordechai and the Jews of Persia and Medea, who suffered persecution at the hands of Haman. The king of Persia did not know that Esther was a Jewess, and she fasted three days before she approached him to intercede on behalf of the Jews. The Marannos observed the "Fast of Esther", and used the Latin version of the Book of Esther for the purpose of reading the Book of Esther.

The Ninth Day of Av - In July, the Marranos were accustomed to observe the Fast of the Ninth Day of Av, which commemorates the destruction of the First and Second Temples. They refrained from eating meat and fowl for three weeks prior to the fast.

Tabernacles - From the middle of the seventeenth century they stopped celebrating the festival, for fear of exposure.

Rosh Hashanah - was not observed.

Hanukkah - They were accustomed to lighting candles in a Hanukah candelabrum for the eight days of the festival, to commemorate the victory of the Maccabees and the purification of the temple.

Marriage - Mothers and grandmothers were responsible for arranging marriages. The first preference - even prior to love - was marriage into a Marrano family. However, there were many marriages within the family to guarantee the religion was preserved. For quite a few years, there was a permanent connection, via an emissary, with Italy and other parts of Europe and even the Ottoman Empire, in order to provide grooms and brides for Marranos in the New World. Some of the grooms were circumcised, as emerges from the Inquisition documents. After the wedding night it was customary to abstain from sexual relations, until hymeneal bleeding stopped. Husbands and wives did not bear the same family name. There was a custom which originated in Spain in 1480, to adopt the family name of the grandfather or grandmother of one of the parents. The menu of the wedding meal included honey cake among other things.

Customs of Burial and Bereavement - When a person died, they turned his face to the wall, washed him in warm water and wrapped him in imported linen fabric, originally produce in Rouen, France and subsequently in Holland. The cloth was woven in factories that belonged to people of Jewish origin. The custom of tearing one's clothes was common amongst the Marranos. After the burial of the dead they ate hard-boiled eggs without salt. The egg symbolized the cycle of life, and the absence of salt came to emphasize the bitterness of the loss. Marannos observed the custom of shiva, and during the seven days they were accustomed to turn the mirrors towards the wall and empty water vessels, in order to get rid of evil spirits. During the shiva, friends and relatives would customarily bring food. They would recite the Kaddish three times a day for 11 months in the framework of a prayer quorum.

Belief in the Advent of the Messiah - Of course they did not believe in the Holy Trinity or Jesus as the Messiah. They were firm in their belief that when the Messiah of David's seed would arrive they would be saved and would live in peace and tranquility in accordance with their faith.

Fast and Prayers for Forgiveness - Marannos bore a heavy sense of guilt for betraying Judaism. They were accustomed to fast frequently and composed a special prayer to ask forgiveness and absolution from the Lord God of Israel.

DISINTEGRATION OF JEWISH COMMUNITIES?     It emerges that the persecutions of the Inquisition failed to liquidate Jewish life in the New World. However, two primary factors account for the disintegration of the communities.

The first factor was the lack of the rabbis, scholars, and teachers who were sufficiently learned in Judaism to be able to preserve Judaism in a communal framework over generations. In the fourth generation, the ties between the Old World and the New were severed, due to a lack of family and commercial ties. The knowledge that was transmitted within the framework of the family dwindled appreciably.

The second factor was the decline in scope of Inquisition activities. Persecution had reinforced adherence to Judaism and it was precisely the decline in persecutions that weakened devotion to Judaism. In the absence of pressure by the Inquisition, the assimilation of New Christians within Christian society increased, and the financial success of many turned them into desirable matches. Mixed marriages became more common and conversely the link to Judaism became attenuated. But, as has become clear in recent years from the reawakening of descendants of the Marranos, which has prompted them to explore their Jewish roots, there were families that continued to cleave to Jewish customs for over 500 years.

One of the major issues concerning research on Crypto-Jews is the exact term which should be used. Is it Marrano, Converso, Crypto Jew, Secret Jew, Hidden Jew, New Christian, or Anusim? The following article, from Volume 3, Spring 2011, pages 150-155, of the Journal of Spanish, Portuguese, and Italian Crypto-Jews (JOSPIC-J) discusses this issue.   From Dr. Abraham D. Lavender Editor in Chief, JOSPIC-J (

In Volume 1 (2009) of this journal, it was noted that one of the major issues facing the growing academic study of “crypto Jews” is which term to use to describe the Jews in Spain, Portugal, or Italy who converted, or pretended to convert, to Christianity in the time of the Inquisition.

In the early period, Marrano was the most used term, and Converso was second. In the middle period, Converso strongly passed Marrano to become the most used term. Since 2000, Converso has decreased, but still remains a strong first, and Crypto Jew has narrowly passed Marrano to become second. New Christian ranked a distant third in the early period, but has decreased since then. Secret Jew and especially Hidden Jew are seldom used. Anusim is still rarely used in books, although it is increasingly being used in articles.


Preface to :  The Mezzuzah in the Maddonah's Foot' , Trudi Alexy, 1994

‘Marrano’ is a pejorative name meaning ‘swine’ given to secret Jews by suspicious Christians during the Spanish Inquisition. I have used it in the book reluctantly—only because it is a historical term with which most people are familiar and because it symbolizes the demeaned status and fear suffered by Jews who were forced to con­vert during that terrible time.

Why does this ugly term have so much resonance for so many people? Why does a book such as mine, which deals primarily with the experiences of Jews in Spain during the past fifty years, keep in­spiring conversation and debate about the mysterious Marrano’s? What is it about the Marrano experience that provokes such in­tense fascination?

The drama of the Marranos dogged determination to cling to their way of life, holding fast to their beliefs and practicing their laws and traditions when being found out meant torture and death, symbolizes, for many, the importance of a connection to one's an­cestral roots and the miraculous survival of the spirit, even in the most hostile of environments.

One of the many stories recounted in this book compares Judaism to the scraggly cactus, which, unlike other beautifully flow­ering but more fragile plants, not only survives in an arid climate under a burning sun, but thrives. Marranos are the human counter­parts to that cactus.

Speaking with people throughout the U. S. and Canada about Spain, the Jews, and the Holocaust, it is the history of the Marranos that seems to have the most powerful impact—stirring the imagi­nation, rousing the curiosity, and touching the hearts of nearly all who learn about them. I should not be surprised. After all, the Mar­ranos' influence on my own life was profound: finding out about them inspired me to search for my lost Jewish heritage.

Seldom before has the pull towards one's own people, the need to belong, the stubborn resistance to assimilation, and the challenge to prevent the blurring of identity emerged with more urgency than now. Today, when frustration over centuries-old suppressed ethnic and religious differences is erupting all around us with atrocities such as the world has not witnessed since the Holocaust, the Mar­ranos' stubborn but contained commitment to their spiritual her­itage stands as a shining example of fortitude under fire. But the burden of secrecy inherited from their martyred ancestors by pres­ent-day crypto-Jews living in Majorca, Portugal, and South and Central America, as well as in our own American Southwest, passed on from generation to generation through five fear-ridden centuries, is graphic evidence of the enormous price they are still paying. May their tragic legacy help us to create a world in which all people can safely and openly affirm their true identities.



New Christians (Jews who converted to Christianity) began to leave Spain after the forced conversions in 1391.  This reached a climax when the Jews were expelled in 1492 followed by the forced  Portuguese conversion of 1497. Pressure to leave was increased by the activities of the Inquisition introduced  in Spain in 1481 and Portugal in 1536.

To stem emigration decrees that were passed forbidding New Christians from emigration, other than to South America,  led to traders going to other countries and not returning sometimes by pretending to go on pilgrimage.  Once safe their object was to practice Judaism openly.  While not all those emigrating were secret Jews the Spanish and Portuguese administration had difficulty distinguishing those who were secret Jews.

Emigrating Marranos could go to four different kinds of countries: Muslim lands, Protestant territories as they came into being, Catholic countries outside the jurisdiction of Spain and Portugal, and Catholic countries within the peninsular orbit.

from: The Nutshell History of Marranos of Portugal by Manuel Azevedo

Click here for more detail on Portugal  Stories  Barros Basto  Belmonte

After the forced conversion in 1497 there were supposedly no more Jews in Portugal, only Christians, Old and New. King Manuel ordered the confiscation of all synagogues and their contents. Yeshivas, kosher producing facilities and all communal property were seized. Hebrew books were prohibited and ordered to be deposited in the synagogues. Contrary to some reports, the books were not burned, Manuel may have been cruel, but he was not stupid. He sold the valuable Hebrew manuscripts, many brought to Portugal in 1492. The books turned up in places such as North Africa and Goa. Many synagogues were converted into churches, including the grand synagogue of Lisbon which was destroyed in the great earthquake of 1755. Many contemporary Misericordia churches are former synagogues such as the Misericordia chapel in Vila Real or the Misericordia church in Leiria.

Following the forced baptism, the King encouraged marriages between Old Christians who had titles and “pure blood” and New Christians. He prohibited the inter-marriage of New Christians. There would be no inquiry as to the religious practices of New Christians in their private homes for 20 years but they were not free to leave the realm. However, following the Lisbon massacre of 1506, when two to four thousand New Christian men, women and children, were slaughtered over a period of three days, the King extended the 20 year period and removed many disabilities such as the ability to emigrate and the prohibition on inter-marriage.

The Lisbon massacre, the subject of a recent book by Susana Mateus Basto and Paulo Mendes of the Alberto Benveniste Centre for Sephardic Studies and Culture at the University of Lisbon, signalled a failure of King Manuel’s policy of integration. Most of the New Christians, outwardly Catholic, had remained Jewish in their hearts. The New Christian secret Jews became known as Marranos, from the Portuguese "marrar", i.e. forced, or from the Aramaic-Hebrew Mar Anus, a forced one, like the widely used Hebrew term today, Anousim, although some historians claim the once pejorative term derives from the Castilian term for swine.

Distressed at the growing rift between New and Old Christians, the King sought permission from Rome to introduce the Inquisition that had been created in Spain in the late 15th century. However, Marrano bribes paid to high ranking Church officials in Rome, including Cardinals and no doubt the Pope himself, thwarted the introduction of the Inquisition in Portugal until 1535 and although the first auto de fe was held in 1540, the Inquisition did not get into full swing until 1580, thus enabling several generations of Marranos to develop a unique secret Portuguese Jewish culture.

The ambiguous Portuguese Marranos became known throughout Europe as "Men of the Nation". Being Portuguese in 16th century in Europe was synonymous with being Jewish. The Marranos established flourishing Jewish communities in Amsterdam, Bordeaux, London, Hamburg, Venice, Livorno, Salonica, and Constantinople, amongst others. In the New World, the relatively small number of Marranos established communities in Brazil, New York, Philadelphia, Charleston, Newport Rhode Island, as well as the Caribbean Islands. The success of the American war of Independence owes its success to the financial and material aid provided by the Marranos, then openly professing their Judaism, such as the money and ships provided to George Washington by Aaron Lopez, the wealthiest merchant of the thirteen colonies, born Duarte Lopez in Lisbon.

The Marranos prospered both in business and government wherever they went. It was a the son of a Marrano, Rabbi Manasseh ben Israel (Manuel Dias Soeiro) of Amsterdam, born in Lisbon or Madeira, who convinced Oliver Cromwell in 1656 to allow Jews back into England. The Marranos established the coffee, diamond and tulip industries in Amsterdam. They were instrumental in establishing the stock exchanges of Amsterdam, London and New York. They controlled the sugar and tobacco industries, and regrettably were involved in slavery, amassing huge fortunes.

This rising merchant class created the world’s first truly global Empire (see The First Global Village, How Portugal Changed the World by Martin Page, now in its 8th edition). Lisbon became one of the wealthiest cities in Europe. However, not even the huge bribes paid to the pope and cardinals could keep the Inquisition at bay forever. With the onset of the Inquisition, many of the wealthy Marranos left Portugal, contributing to the decline of Portugal. The poor Marranos, the old and infirm had no option but to remain, becoming even more secretive. Thousands were burned at the stake, including most of the leading intellectuals of the University of Coimbra in the early 17th century. Even Antonio Homem, the chancellor of the University and an advisor to the Pope was burned alive in 1624 (he also happened to be a Marrano rabbi). The ones that left established the oldest extant synagogues in the U.S.A; England, and Holland, Touro synagogue, Newport, R.I; 1762 (founded in 1658), Bevis Marks synagogue, London 1701 (founded 1656), and the Esnoga, Amsterdam, 1675 (amalgamated from three communities dating from 1598). The Esnoga, undisturbed by the Nazis, stands as the model synagogue for the Western Sephardic world. Bevis Marks in London is a replica, one-quarter its size.

The philosophers Baruch Espinoza, Frances Sanches, Uriel Acosta, Montaigne, and David Ricardo were all Marrano descendants. So were rabbis Ben Israel and Aboab Fonseca, the first rabbi in the Americas (Recife, Brazil, 1635). The father of French impressionism, Camille Pissaro was descendant of a Marrano born in Bragança, in the Tras Montes region of Portugal. So too were les freres Peyrere (Pereira) of Bordeaux and later Paris, contemporaries and associates of the Rothchilds. Portugal has yet to recover from this extraordinary brain drain.

It was not until the liberal revolution of the early 19th century that the Inquisition was abolished. Although the Marquis of Pombal invited Jews back to Portugal at the end of the 18th century, very few took up his offer. Some Jews from North Africa and Gibraltar did establish communities in Lisbon, Faro, and the Azores in the 19th century but eventually disappeared. The only surviving remnant maintains a synagogue in Lisbon, Shaare Tikve, and recently a museum opened in the Faro Jewish cemetery.

However, to the surprise of many, indigenous Marranos did survive nearly 300 years of the Inquisition. In 1920, Samuel Schwarz, a Polish engineer working in Portugal, encountered a community of Marranos in the interior of Portugal (Belmonte) who had managed to preserve some of the secret rituals, including prayers, of their ancestors. At first distrustful and denying any Jewish connection, they opened up only after Schwartz recited a Hebrew prayer, in which one of the women elders (women handed down the secret prayers from generation to generation) recognized the Hebrew word, Adonai.. Today Belmonte boasts a modern new synagogue and professional Jewish museum.

About the same time as Schwartz learned of the Marranos of Belmonte, Captain Barros Basto, a decorated World War I veteran founded a synagogue for Marranos, the Mekor Haim synagogue in Porto on the second floor above a store. This charismatic army captain embarked on campaign to convince Marranos to return openly to normative Judaism. In full uniform, sometime on horseback, he travelled the isolated communities of Tras Montes and Beiras, founding several Jewish communities, including Bragança, Covilha and Pinhel. Some estimate his adherents at the time upwards of 10,000. Cecil Roth, who first met him in 1926, described Basto as the most charismatic man he had ever met.

Barros Basto succeeded in creating the community and synagogue in Porto.  As a result of trumped up charges he was cashiered out of the army and died a desolate man.  This decision has been reversed by the Portuguese parliament and he has been posthumously reinstated into the army.  He is known as ‘The Portuguese Dreyfus’.  

The Portuguese government have also passed legislation entitling any Jew who fled Portugal through fear to regain their passport.

Museum of Portuguese Jewish History

Secret Jews   (crypto Jews) are Jews who practised Judaism in secrecy while in public they claimed to be a member of another religion which they or their ancestors had been forced to accept. They came into existence after forced conversions by the Visigoths in Spain in the 7th century, by the Muslim Almohads in North Africa and Spain in the 12th century, in southern Italy in 1493 and known as neofiti, the *conversos or *Marranos (Heb. *anusim) of Spain after the persecutions of 1391 and the expulsion of 1492 and then Portugal in 1497. In Majorca they were known as the Chuetas)

Many who went to South America also became secret Jews (see Stories)

The Dönmeh (Turkish: Dönme) in the Ottoman Empire who publicly converted to Islam, Centred in Salonica it originated during and soon after the era of Sabbatai Zevi, a 17th-century Jewish kabbalist who claimed to be the Messiah and eventually converted to Islam in order to escape punishment by the Sultan Mehmed IV.

A group adopting Islam were the Jadīd al-Islām in Meshed, Persia.

Many converted Jews returned to Judaism.

Crypto-Jew consisted of those who held on to the Jewish customs and faith in which they had been reared. These were known as "Judíos Escondidos"—hidden Jews. They secretly preserved the religion of their fathers and, in spite of the high positions which some held, observed Jewish traditions in private. Many of the wealthiest supposed coverts of Aragon belonged to this category. Some constructed hidden synagogues in their homes, to which trusted neighbors might be invited, while others used their influence at court to protect the Jewish and Converso communities from persecution.

Today, this can also refer to Christians who consciously, or unconsciously maintain Jewish laws and traditions.

 See also Wikipedia     

Customs and questions which could suggest Crypto-Jewish ancestry
Museum of Portuguese Jewish History

The list below is a small compilation of crypto-Jewish customs that originated in XV Century Spain and Portugal. These customs are still practiced by many families throughout South America, New Mexico, Spain, Portugal and the islands of the Azores. When analyzing the list, remember that each
 family might have their own adaptations of the traditions.





In some places there was a man known as the “Abafador”, who used to help the people who were gravelly sick, before the doctor came into the house. The Abafador would close the door, and stop the sick person from breathing, saying very calmly: “come one my son (daughter), our G-d is waiting for you!” after the work was done, the Abafador would go to the relatives and say: “he went like a little bird…”






Anusim  is a legal category of Jews in halakha (Jewish law) who were forced to abandon Judaism against their will, typically while forcibly converted to another religion. The term "anusim" is most properly translated as the "coerced [ones]" or the "forced [ones]".

The religious legal terms anús/anusáh/anusim were applied to those Jews who were forced to abandon Judaism against their will, and yet had children who continued to do whatever was in their power to continue practicing Judaism under the forced conditions. The terminology derives from the Talmudic phrase "`averah b'ones (Hebrew: עבירה באונס‎).", meaning "a forced transgression." The Hebrew term "ones" originally referred to any case where a Jew has been forced into any act against his or her will. The term anús is used in contradistinction to meshumad which means a person who has voluntarily abandoned the practice of Jewish Law in whole or part.

In more recent times, the term Anusim or Reverse Marrano has been used to describe Ultra-Orthodox Jews who are religious on the outside, but are not necessarily practicing in private.


The term anusim became more frequently used after the forced conversion to Christianity of Ashkenazi Jews in Germany at the end of the 11th century. In his religious legal opinions, Rashi, a French rabbi who lived during this period, commented about the issue of anusim.

Several centuries later, following the mass forced conversion of Sephardi Jews (those Jews with extended histories in Spain and Portugal, known jointly as Iberia, or "Sepharad" in Hebrew) of the 15th and 16th centuries, the term "anusim" became widely used by Spanish rabbis and their successors for the following 600 years, henceforth becoming associated with Sephardic history.

The term may be properly applied to any Jew of any ethnic division. Since that time, it has also been applied to other forced or coerced converted Jews, such as the Mashadi Jews of Persia (modern Iran) (see Asia above), who converted to Islam in the public eye, but secretly practised Judaism at home. They lived dual-religious lives, being fully practising Muslims in public life, and fully practising Jews at home.


Sephardic Surnames,   Yoram Zara





Secret Judaism In the
of the Inquisitio


be a


Secret Jews