The first Jews settled in Martinique at the start of the 17th century, establishing themselves in Dutch commercial outposts. In 1667 a synagogue was founded. However, the Jesuit opposition to Jewish settlement produced an order by Louis XIV expelling the Jews from the French islands in 1685. Most of the 96 remaining Jews in Martinique left for Curacao. In the 1960s and 1970s, Jews from North Africa and France settled in Fort de France.
The community maintains a synagogue and community center. The latter includes a Talmud Torah, youth club, and chevra kaddisha. Kosher food is available, and there is a store that sells only kosher products.
For up to date information on Kosher restaurants and locations please see the Shamash Kosher Database
THE JEWS OF MARTINIQUE AND GUADELOUPE The Jewish Press, Dr. Yitzchok Levine, September 2007
Dr. Yitzchok Levine, a frequent contributor to The Jewish Press, is a professor in the Department of Mathematical Sciences at Stevens Institute of Technology, Hoboken, New Jersey. "Glimpses Into American Jewish History" appears the first week of each month. Dr. Levine can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.orgPosted Sep 05 2007 in the Jewish Press
Note: This article is based on The Jewish Nation of the Caribbean by Mordechai Arbell, Gefen Publishing House, Jerusalem, 2002. Unless otherwise indicated, all quotes are from this source.
Martinique and Guadeloupe are two small islands located between the Caribbean Sea and the North Atlantic Ocean. Martinique is north of Trinidad and Tobago, whereas Guadeloupe is southeast of Puerto Rico.
"The Jewish history of Martinique and Guadeloupe is relatively short, spanning only about 60 years. It began with the first arrivals from Amsterdam in the 1620s who came to manage Dutch interests in Dutch commercial outposts established on the island and continued until the expulsion of the Jews in 1685."
In 1635 the French conquered and occupied these islands. Upon their arrival in Martinique they found a number of Jews who had arrived earlier from Amsterdam and who served as agents and managers for various Dutch enterprises.
"The French did not disturb the resident Dutch Jews, whose number was not significant. They were dispersed among the warehouses, plantations, and stores all over the island and, as far as is known, did not form a community. The Jews were able to work and prosper under twenty years of French rule, tolerated and protected by the French governors, who needed their commercial and financial acumen and whose services they used."
However, the successes of the Jews gradually aroused the jealousy of the French settlers and merchants. "At the same time, the growing number of Catholic monks and priests arriving in the colony could not bear to see Jews residing in French-ruled territory."
Things changed dramatically for the Jews after the recapture of Recife, Brazil by the Portuguese in 1654. Hundreds, if not thousands, of Jews left Brazil in fear of what might happen to them under the Inquisition. Ships loaded with Jews roamed the Caribbean looking for places for these refugees to resettle.
When a ship carrying Jews anchored not far from Martinique, Governor M. du Parquet was inclined to grant their request to settle on the island. The Jesuit fathers residing on Martinique would not hear of it.
The governor of Guadeloupe, M. Houel, learning of the refusal to allow the refugees to settle in Martinique, welcomed them to settle on his island. Many former Jewish inhabitants of Tamarica (Itamarica), Brazil, an island not far from Recife, were allowed to settle on Guadeloupe. They were granted the same privileges as the other residents of the island.
Under the terms of surrender between the Dutch and Portuguese in Brazil, the Dutch and the Jews were allowed to leave Brazil with their movable property and their money. Thus, the Jews who came to the Caribbean seeking places to resettle came with means. The residents of Guadeloupe naturally anticipated that the new arrivals would spend lots of silver and gold as they established themselves in their new home. They were not disappointed.
When Governor du Parquet of Martinique saw that he was losing a rare opportunity, he expressed his anger to the Jesuit fathers. The Father Superior went to Guadeloupe and tried to convince Governor Houel to expel the Jews. Houel told the Father Superior to mind his own business, and the Jews were allowed to stay. Shortly afterward, another ship carrying a number of Jewish refugees arrived in Martinique. This time Governor du Parquet received them with open arms.
The permission given to the Jews to settle in Martinique and Guadeloupe attracted some French Jews of Spanish-Portuguese origin from Bayonne and Bordeaux, most often related to those who had come from Brazil, increasing the number of Jews in the French islands.
It is difficult to evaluate the exact number of Jews in Martinique and Guadeloupe in 1658. A conservative estimate might be about 300 among a population of about 5,000 whites.
The Jesuit fathers, who saw the settlement of Jews as a battle they had lost, did not rest and continued with incessant efforts to rid the island of Jews.
The Jews, immediately after settling, began to establish commercial houses, sugar cane plantations, and sugar plants on a large scale. This brought a period of prosperity to the impoverished islands and profits to their owners, Houel and du Parquet.
On 2 April, 1658, the Sovereign Council of Martinique issued a decree "prohibiting the Jews from dealing with commerce on the islands," but due to the intervention of the governor Seigneur du Parquet - a new decree several months later "reestablished the privileges given to the Jews to deal with commerce," canceling the previous decree.
The main Jewish contribution to Martinique and Guadeloupe was in agro-industry. The French islands were relatively late in developing sugar production. It was only after the settlement of the Jews from Brazil, who were experienced sugar refiners and merchants, that the sugar industry started picking up. In 1661 there were 71 sugar plants in Guadeloupe with Martinique lagging behind. However, Martinique in 1671 had 111 sugar plants with 6,582 workers and slaves working in them and by 1685 reached 172 plants.
One of the most prominent sugar producers was Benjamin d'Acosta de Andrade, a Jew born as a converso in Portugal, who had settled in Dutch Brazil and had reached Martinique in 1654. He was the owner of two of the largest sugar plants in Martinique (the site is still shown to tourists visiting the Island). D'Acosta de Andrade is known and remembered as establishing the first cacao processing plant in French territory. Cacao processing was started in Spanish colonies in America, but the processing in Martinique was advanced, modernized, and transformed into chocolate.
Discrimination and Expulsion
The prosperity of the Jewish community drew inordinate envy from the French planters of Martinique and Guadeloupe.
The Brazilian Jews did not only have the expertise, but also were able to finance their sugar plants, which needed a considerable initial investment. The majority of the French planters continued planting tobacco and gradually became more and more impoverished. Their need for cash indebted them to Jewish moneylenders. The Jews were also accused of investing their profits outside Martinique, therefore depriving the islands of their cash liquidity. Thus, a coalition formed by the Jesuit fathers and the French planters and merchants went into action to limit Jewish life and bring about the expulsion of the Jews.
The coalition managed to force the hand of Governor Prouville de Tracy to issue, in 1664, an act in which a paragraph is included saying that "those of the Jewish Nation must purchase and sell on the day of Sabbath, unless otherwise ordered by his Majesty...." The unhappy de Tracy wanted clearer instructions from France. He received ambiguous ones, namely "The King does not want to alter what has been practiced till now towards the Huguenots and the Jews..." De Tracy's only recourse was to close his eyes to the transgressions of his own act. The Jews continued keeping the Sabbath.
The only religion officially permitted on Martinique was Catholicism. As a result, Judaism was not practiced openly. In 1676 the community acquired a Torah from the Portuguese Jewish community of Amsterdam.
Theories have been put forward that a synagogue existed in Martinique, and several possible sites have been indicated. However, the prayers were supposedly conducted in a private house, transformed into a prayer-house, which gradually became an improvised synagogue.
The happy and quiet Jewish existence of the Martinique Jews continued until the death of Governor de Baas in 1677. His replacement, Count de Blenac, a devotee of the Jesuits, had served as confessor of [King] Louis XIV. His main aim was the expulsion of the Jews from Martinique.
As conditions deteriorated for the Jews of Martinique, they began to abandon the island. On Guadeloupe there were many political upheavals, and, here too, the Jews left in considerable numbers.
In 1685 Louis XIV issued an order expelling all Jews from the Caribbean islands under French control. Most of the Jews who left Martinique went to Curacao. When they left, they took their Torah and other religious objects used in their improvised synagogue.
A few Jews managed to circumvent the Black Code (Edict of Expulsion) as a result of their special connections with the authorities. Indeed, in 1732 there were still as least ten Jews residing on Martinique. But "by the time of the French Revolution there was, for all practical purposes, no serious Jewish presence in Martinique or Guadeloupe."
HISTORY by Ralph G.Bennett
The French, like the other European powers, strove to gain a foothold in the Caribbean. Their holdings included the small island of Martinique, on the eastern edge of the Caribbean to the north of Venezuela. There was an early, sizeable Jewish population on Martinique; however, there were never notable France conquered and claimed Martinique in 1635. At that early date there were Jewish merchants and traders already settled there who had arrived earlier with the Dutch. They lived in peace until the 1650's. Although the French did not conduct an Inquisition on the scale of the Spanish and Portuguese, they were a Catholic nation, and many of the settlers were Catholic clerics serving as missionaries. As with the British colonies, the French merchants in Martinique and, in this case, the Jesuit priests as well, resented the success of the Jews and caused discriminatory legislation to be enacted. In 1683, King Louis XIV ordered all Jews expelled from French colonies in the New World. Apparently the Jews, and the colonial government as well, ignored the rule, as Jews continued to settle and flourish on Martinique. After the French Revolution, all legislative discrimination against Jews on Martinique ended.
KEEPING KOSHER IN MARTINIQUE YeahThatsKosher, George Medovoy July 2008
You might not think of ever finding kosher food on the island of Martinique, a far-flung French outpost in the Caribbean archipelago with an eternal summer and an infectious African-Creole culture. But don’t be fooled — Martinique is also home to a community of 400 Jews mainly from Morocco and Tunisia, most of whom arrived on the island via France.
With typical self-sufficiency, Chabad runs a kosher food store on its premises, while a kosher restaurant operates out of the home of one of the community’s members. To reach the rabbi and find out more about the hours of the store and the restaurant, it is best to call him directly on his cell. If you call before you arrive, dial the international code first, 011, and then 596-696-7107-70.
Jews have lived on Martinique since 1645, when the Portuguese expelled them from Brazil and they sought refuge on the island. Today, Martinique is an official “department” of France, enjoying many of the modern economic and educational infrastructures of the French state. When you arrive at Martinique’s Aime Cesaire International Airport, the flag you see is the French tricolor, the language spoken is French, and many of the shops you visit carry the latest French fashions and perfumes. The Jews here are French citizens and work mostly in the building industry.
The 17th-century Jews who arrived here from Brazil brought the know-how for producing sugar cane, which Martinique uses to make Rhum Agricole, a high-quality product based on pure sugar cane juice rather than the more common molasses.
As our plane approached the airport, we could see sailboats off Martinique’s famous Diamond Rock – a far cry, I whispered to myself, from those early Jewish refugees who were expelled from Brazil and suddenly cast upon the open seas. Touched in the west by the Caribbean Sea and in the east by the Atlantic Ocean, Martinique was discovered in 1502 by Columbus, who called it “the island of flowers.” We found it to be a fascinating blend of island and French cultures.
In the busy capital of Fort-de-France, your first exposure to native culture may come at the Grand Marche Couvert, the big covered market on rue Antoine Siger, where hawkers in colorful costumes sell everything from fresh vegetables and spices to herbal remedies to help you sleep.
You may also be lucky enough to hear the sounds of zouk, an island music that mixes a Latin beat with rhythms that reach back to Africa.
In spite of its relatively small size, it offers a surprisingly diverse geography, with lovely bays, coves and white sand beaches in the south, to rolling hills, mountains and even rainforests and cascading waterfalls in the north. Martinique is 425 square miles in size, 50 miles long at its longest, and just over 24 miles wide at its widest. Both coasts are dotted with magnificent ocean overlooks.
Martinique, known internationally for its production of rum, has 10 distilleries. As our guide joked: “Don’t drink a lot, but drink often.” The country’s rums bear an official French classification — like the classification given to French wines — known as Appellation d’Origine Controlee. No other rum in the world carries this government standard.
White rum is the youngest, aged for as little as three months in wooden casks. The longer the rum is aged in oak barrels, the darker its color – from amber to dark — and the more complex its taste. Old rum, sometimes aged for more than six years, can be as wonderful as an excellent cognac.
Rum is so tied to Martinique’s history that it has even been used to win military battles. In 1804, the British captured a landmark rock off Martinique’s southern coast and named it as a ship, HMS Diamond Rock. After many unsuccessful attempts to re-take the rock, the French dropped barrels of rum in the water and finally took it back…from drunken British soldiers!
For more information about Martinique, visit www.martinique.org or call (212) 838-7800.
The island is 429 miles southeast of Puerto Rico, with flights from Miami via San Juan. The temperature averages 79 degrees, with cooling from pleasant trade winds. Martinique’s official currency is the Euro.
It is also one of the far-flung centers of Chabad, with a large, Sephardic-style synagogue in the university town of Schoelcher, just north of the busy capital of Fort-de-France. Young Rabbi Moshe Yehuda Nemni, who is from London and speaks French, English, Hebrew and Yiddish, carries the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s torch here, promoting Jewish identity. The synagogue, located at 12 Anse Gouraud in Schoelcher, also has a mikveh and a large social hall next door for social functions. Religious services are held every day and draw at least 100 people on Saturday.
Visitors from abroad are warmly welcomed and often invited to either the rabbi’s house or the homes of individual members for Shabbat meals. “Because we’re an island,” he said, “everything is limited, so we can’t depend on other towns around us. The only reason we are holding strong (here), is because the Rebbe told us to fight for Judaism…” As my wife and I made our way to Chabad, we noticed several Jews with kippot who were walking to the synagogue for Friday evening services.