PAINEL : July 26, 2013
JEWISH ECHOES OF THE DIASPORA
Chair/Moderador: Yisrael Gettinger – Rabbi Congregation B’nai Torah,
Dennis Sasso, Rabbi of Congregation Beth-El Zedeck-Indianapolis, USA
“Pioneers in the New World: The First Sephardic Jews in the Caribbean and Central America”
For thousands of sun-loving Americans, the Caribbean islands are a popular vacation destination. But for thousands of Jews during the 17th and 18th centuries, these islands became homes of refuge and settings of opportunity. They came from the Netherlands and Portugal to South America and the Caribbean and brought Judaism to the New World. This talk will examine the history and the impact of Portuguese Jews in the Caribbean and Central America, with special attention to the communities of Curacao, NA; St. Thomas, Virgin Islands; and the Republic of Panama.
Barry L. Stiefel, College of Charleston & Clemson University, USA
“Portuguese Identity in the Post Fifteenth Century Sephardic Diaspora”
This paper will explore the state and evolution of Portuguese identity amongst Sephardic Jews after 1500, following their respective expulsions (and forced conversion) from Iberia (Spain 1492, Portugal 1497-98, and Navarre 1498). When the Jews were forced with the decision to leave Iberia, or stay and convert, the majority were of Spanish extraction (identifying as Castilian, Aragonese, Catalan, etc.). Many from Spain moved to Portugal, only to encounter another expulsion edict five years later, which was subsequently changed into a compulsory conversion edict for 1498. This experience thus exposed many Spanish Jews to Portuguese culture and language. Before the end of 1498, Iberia was void of normative Judaism, though what is now called crypto-Judaism was beginning to formulate. Many Iberian Jews – tens of thousands, if not more – instead chose new lands of tolerance, first in the Ottoman Empire, Moroccan Sultanate, and Italian States, later in the emergent Dutch and English empires.
Wherever expatriate Iberian Jews found refuge, those of Portuguese and Spanish extraction (since Castilian, Aragonese, Catalan, and Navarrese identities soon amalgamated) tended to live side-by-side, and frequently as organized communities. Thus the question is, and the premise of this paper, to what extent was Portuguese culture and language the identity of post-fifteenth century Sephardic Jewry within their own diaspora? This questioning will be applied comparatively, looking at various geographic regions, such as the colonial Americas and India, as well England, the Lowlands, and the Mediterranean; as well as overtime unto the present. For instance, the 1728 edition of the by-laws for New York’s congregation Shearith Israel (meaning Remnant of Israel) are bilingual, in Portuguese and English. Suggesting that this was a language used, if not appreciated through tradition, by the congregation. Yet, we find congregants like the Gomez family who chose to use a Spanish translation of the Hebrew Bible (Biblia En lengua Espanola). According to many scholars, Sephardic Jews used Portuguese as a language for everyday matters and Spanish for special occasions, such as the Sabbath. So, why have Shearith Israel’s by-laws in Portuguese since this was not a mundane matter? Did place of ancestral origin – Spain vs. Portugal – have any influence in this cultural matter of the Iberian Jewish diaspora? How and why did Portuguese become associated with daily activities, Spanish with special activities, and what exactly did these Sephardim perceive as “daily” vs. “special”? These, as well many other questions for the inquiry, will be discussed and presented in the paper in order to learn more about the Portuguese component of the Sephardic diaspora.