In 1495, D. Manuel I assumed the Portuguese throne and granted freedom to the Castilian Jews who had been enslaved. However, because of his political ambitions, he decided to marry Princess Isabel, daughter of Spain’s Catholic rulers. In the marriage contract was the perverse clause that required the expulsion of heretics (Jews and Moors) of Portugal which was the first of the great evil to which the Jews were subjected in Portuguese lands. To expel them was not a viable option for the king as this would lead to an economic disaster with the flight of capital and expertise. He tried by correspondenceletters to convince Princess Isabel otherwise but to no avail. The Jews, under the threat of punishment of death and confiscation of goods, were given the option of exile or conversion and were expected to yield to baptism. However, there was no great demand for baptism, on the contrary the Jews, to maintain their faith, prepared to leave the Kingdom and cast their fate to the winds. All, at the same time, sought to dispose of their property which led to an instantaneous devaluation of real estate including residences and farms. D. Manuel, realizing that the Jews would prefer to leave the Kingdom instead of abandoning the Mosaic faith and to prevent their emigration, ordered all Portuguese ports to be closed except for the port of Lisbon.
This caused an enormous concentration of members of the Jewish population in the Portuguese capital. Some chose to convert to Christianity so that their families would not be torn apart. Many hopeless parents preferred to kill their children and then commit suicide instead of turning them over to the king’s officers for apostasy. Some children were suffocated by their parents in a good-bye hug, others were thrown into pits. Forced baptism, however, brought in the mind of some Christians a heresy into Catholicism, not only because the “New Christians” continued to be seen as Jews but because they began to practice Judaism in the secrecy of their homes while professing the Catholic faith publicly. Thus, there came to be known the so-called Marranos or Crypto-Jews. This further increased the hatred of the converted Jew and harassment of the “New Christians” began by the establishment of the Holy Office of the Inquisition.
THE INQUISITION IN BRAZIL
In Brazil, the Inquisitional Courts were installed during the colonial period but with not as much force as in Europe. Persons were tried as heretics mainly in the Northeast of Brazil and some cases related to the behavior of the “New Christian” Brazilians, as well as out-right persecuting some Jews.
The non-converted Jews, in principle, could not be persecuted by the Inquisition, which investigated only baptized persons. However, the “New Christians” after being forced to convert, had their descendants investigated even ten generations later following conversion, in any event, it was still racism. With the emergence of colonies far from the centers of power, many “New Christians” preferred to relocate (or were expelled), which caused the concern of the local authorities who feared the resumption of Jewish practices. Considered as “ the first Brazilian teacher” , Branca Dias was a victim of this scenario. Denounced by her mother and sister (possibly under torture) still in Portugal, she responded to the accusations of praticing Judaism, served two years in prison and then immigrated with her husband to Pernambuco, Brasil where she was investigated again – dying several years later in 1558. She was condemned, as were her daughters and granddaughters.
Often, friends would turn on each other and even relatives were forced to turn in a relation to the Inquisition. This was the case with Ana Rodrigues, the first resident of Brazil to be condemned to the “auto-de-fe’ (burned at the stake). Also, the arrival of the Inquisition caused a breakdown in social relations, says historian Ângelo Assis, a professor at the University of Viçosa. Barber Salvador Rodrigues was charged with sodomy by his brothers in Belem in 1661. The inquiry disclosed a vast network of homosexuals who were eventually punished along with others in the city.
Traditionally, three visits of the Inquisition to Brazil have been mentioned. The first, between 1591 and 1595, passed through Bahia, Pernambuco, Itamaracá and Paraíba, at a time when the Iberian Union sent several Inquisitors to its colonies. The second, from 1618 to 1621, by Don Marcos Teixeira, returned to Bahia, this time with a greater focus on the search for heretic “New Christians”. The third, from 1763 to 1769, visited the provinces of Grão-Pará and Maranhão and was headquartered in Belém.
Recently, another visitation of the Inquisition was discovered between 1627 and 1628, which passed through Rio de Janeiro (where the Inquisitor Luís Pires da Veiga was threatened with stoning by the population), São Paulo and São Vicente. The big cities were the most targeted. Minas Gerais, at the height of mining exploration, was a preferred target as was Rio de Janeiro as it grew in importance. In the end, most of the accused came from there; especially during the 17th century, “Rio and Minas had an important number of inquisitorial visitations.”
The Inquisition …
- Investigated 1076 people in Brazil and condemned 29 to the stake (burnt alive or after being killed, burnt in effigy).
- There were 778 men and 298 women prosecuted, … 46.13% of men and 89.92% of women were accused of practicing Judaism.
- 38% of men and 8% of women were reported for performing witchcraft or for covenants with the devil
- The rest were accused of other heresies, especially bigamy and sodomy.
- Of the total of investigated, 27.76% were merchants and farmers and 12.86% were artisans.
Bnei Anussim in Brazil
As the way to the new world opened, from the fifteenth century on, Brazil came to represent a better life and a hope of returning to the “old” religion. For decades, the “people of the nation”, as the Portuguese Jews were known, actively participated in the colonization and development of Brazil. Meanwhile, the grip of the Inquisition spread to the new colonies but it failed to quench the flames of Judaism. Many families preserved Jewish customs and rituals along with a sense of unity with the Jewish people. These ties have been transmitted from generation to generation to the present time.
Today, a large group of bnei anussim (“the forced ones”) – descendants of the original anusim – in Spain, Portugal, the United States and other countries – are regaining their sense of belonging and claiming their historical rights to return to the bosom of the Jewish people.
RETURN TO JUDAISM IN THE BRAZILIAN NORTHEAST
Over the last decades, the Brazilian northeast has been the scene of a movement of awareness of Jewish identity by a significant group of its inhabitants. Descendants of the “New Christians” who settled in the region still in the colonial period of Portuguese America, called bnei anussim (the forced ones) or Marranos, began a difficult process of resumption of their ethnic-cultural and religious origins. A number of the “New Christians” who lived in Pernambuco when the Dutch left Brazil did not choose exile and their descendants are still to this day practicing vestiges of Judaism in the backlands of the states of Paraíba, Piauí, Ceará and Rio Grande do Norte.
Rio Grande do Norte draws attention to the fact that it holds half of the northeastern women in the community researched. What is important is to emphasize that the predominance of persons living in Pernambuco and Paraíba in this community today reflects the historical reality that, since the time of the colonial period, these captaincies contained a concentration of the largest number of Marranos.
CUSTOMS OF ANUSSIM IN FAMILY TRADITIONS
Judaic practices whose origins have been largely forgotten have continued by family customs and traditions in the course of time are presented here. For example, if a person has a “Portuguese” surname (especially the same names appearing on the lists of surnames used by Jews during the time of the Inquisition), Jewish cultural and religious practices from that time can be compared to the customs still practiced today by family traditions. The origin of these practices often can be discovered with the help of older family members , uncles, aunts, grandparents, great-grandparents and other older relatives to research possible Jewish ancestry.
Has anyone, father, grandfather, or other relative ever said anything about being part of a Jewish family?
– Does anyone in the family speak any unknown languages? Does that language sound like Spanish?
– “Did any relatives avoid or try to avoid Catholic churches and ceremonies?”
– Were the Churches, even Catholic, whose family members frequented, have no images?
– Were the spaces in churches divided, with a place for men and a place for women?
– What is the relationship or attitude of family members to the Catholic Church and members of the clergy? (a relationship of aversion, irony, annoyance, anger or contempt may indicate Jewish origin).
– “Did anyone in the family attend secret meetings, prayer groups or gatherings where only men or only parents could go?”
– Are biblical names common among family members?
– Was consanguine marriage common? Did great-grandparents, grandparents, parents or relatives marry cousins or instances where an uncle married a niece?
Rites of Birth and Childhood
Was there a practice where the head of a rooster was placed on the door of the room where the birth would take place?
– After a birth, would the mother not change her clothes for 30 or 40 days?
– Would the mother remain at rest in her bed and away from contact with other people (because according to the Mosaic Law, the woman becomes unclean for several days after giving birth (Leviticus 12)? Similarly, was there a practice to avoid contact with a spouse during the menstrual period, which is also considered impure (Leviticus 15: 19-33))?
– During the thirty days after the birth would the mother only eat chicken, morning, afternoon and night to give “sustenance”, strength, for recovery?
– Was a silver coin thrown into the baby’s first bath water?
– Was a prayer said eight days after birth in which the baby’s name is mentioned?
– Was circumcision or even baptism performed on the baby boy on the eighth day of birth?
– Was a candle or lamp lit in the room where the birth was going to occur (because the baby boy should not stay in the dark until he was baptized or circumcised)?
– Soon after a baptism, was the oil scraped from the chrism and salt put in the child’s mouth?
– Did the bride and groom and their godmothers fast on the day of the wedding?
– “At the ceremony, were the hands of the bride and groom wrapped in white cloth while a prayer was being said?
– Was the wedding ceremony followed by a light meal: wine, herbs, honey, salt and unleavened bread?
– Did the groom and bride use the same plate and glass?
– Was the practice of fasting common?
– Was it forbidden to eat meat with blood?
– Were nerves were also removed from the meat with a special knife?
– Was the blood lying on the floor during the animal’s slaughter covered with dirt or even purposely poured over the ground and then covered with dirt?
– “Was the sharpness of the knife used to slaughter animals tested on a nail”?
– “Were blood-stained eggs thrown away”?
– “Was pork not eaten because it is considered impure?”
– “Were meat and milk not cooked together?
– Did time have to pass before the intake of milk and meat?
– Was food prepared only by the mother or maternal grandmother?
– Would a boy fast for 24 hours just before his seventh birthday?
– “Was a piece of bread kissed after falling on the floor?”
– Was it forbidden to eat meat of warm-blooded animals that had not been bled beforehand?
. Were there certain restrictions on the edible types of fish, e.g., “leather” fish (without scales) that were not fit for consumption and that only sea fish could be eaten?
– Was the consumption of shellfish also prohibited?
– Were candles lit on Friday nights?
– Was Easter celebrated and did fasting occur during Holy Week? (The dates of Christian Easter and Jewish Passover often coincide.)
– Was the house cleaned on Fridays, during the day?
– Was it forbidden to do anything on Friday night (even washing hair)?
– Was there a family reunion on Friday evenings?
– On Saturdays, were candles lit before the oratory and did they burn until the end of the day?
– Was work avoided on Saturdays?
– Was Saturday the day for bathing and wearing new clothes?
– Were the common sayings used: e.g., “The Sabbath is the day of glory,” or “G-d created you”, or “HayimTovim”, for when someone sneezed?
– Did celebrations different from Catholic ones occur, like the “Pure Day” (Yom Kipur) or some spring holiday?
– Was it the custom to light eight candles at Christmastime?
– When something happened were clothes torn?
– “Was it a very common custom to sweep the floor of the house away from the door, or to sweep the house from the outside in, with the belief that if the contrary were done visitors would never return?” (In fact, this practice is linked to respect for the Mezuzah (a box with biblical text affixed to the portals of entry) and that to pass the household garbage through the front doorway would be sacrilege).
– Was a blessing made for the parents when they left and arrived at home?
– Was it normal when blessing a son, grandson or nephew to say it with the hand on the child’s head?
– As the Jewish day begins with sundown the night of the previous day, the beginning of the new day was marked by the first star’s rising into the sky. On Friday, the Sabbath began with the appearance of the first star in the sky. If a person displayed any public reaction to such a star, it would be suspect. An adult can restrain himself, but not a child, so the children were taught the legend that pointing at stars made warts grow on their fingers.
– Was there a tradition of following the phases of the moon (Psalm 104.19), correlating with the agricultural cycle?
– Were there leftovers of crops (grains) for the poor?
– Was there a tradition of not throwing food away and to enjoy everything?
– Did the practice of usury (loans with interest) occur, both in money, objects and things?
. Was there an attraction to trading in precious stones (including gold and silver)?
– Was there emphasis on overwork and intelligence?
– “Were the family traditions and customs transmitted to children”?
– Were the children educated and did they receive Catholic religious education (an old custom, in order to mislead inquisitors). (Children were usually religious, faithful but without saints and images.)
– Before drinking alcohol, was a little toast made to a saint (tradition originated in the wine poured for Elijah in the Passover ritual, the Jewish Passover)?
– Were beards generally in use? (“The use of a beard was always a Jewish custom.)
– Were expressions used such as, “What massada?” (a Jewish fortress that was destroyed by the Romans), or “to pay the siza” (siza is an imposition in Hebrew) or “to make mezuras” (a reverence to the mezuzah)?
– Was an expression used such as, “the hat is served,” which is a reference to the hats used by Jews in the Middle Ages to differentiate them from non-Jews.
– Were hands washed before meals, either for purity or purposes of hygene?
– Were objects like the Star of David (6-pointed star) used on walls and on jewelry or sometimes used as an amulet?
– Was it a practice to cover all the mirrors of the house?
– “Was all the water in the deceased’s house thrown out?
– Were the deceased’s fingernails cut as well as a few strands of hair taken and wrapped in a piece of paper or cloth?
– Was the body of a dead person washed (usually with water brought from the source in a new container which had never been used) and the body dressed in white clothes (the shroud)?
– Was the body veiled for a day?
– Was a procession made to the church and from there to the graveyard?
– Was a handful of earth thrown on the coffin when it was lowered into the grave?
– Was the house then washed after the funeral?
– “For a week, did the room of the deceased remain illuminated?
– Was “the bereaved family’s house completed closed for a week with incense burning in the rooms”? (Almost no one visited the house during this period.)
– Did the men refrain from shaving for thirty days?
– Was the deceased’s place kept at the table, his/her plate filled and was food given to a poor person?
– Was meat not eaten for a week after a death in the family?
– After death, was there fasting on the third and eighth day and once every three months for a year?
– Was food placed near the bed of the deceased?
– Was the bed of the deceased made with fresh linen and the a light lit nearby for a year?
– Did a “woman’s relatives cover their heads and hide their faces with a blanket?”
– Was it a practice to go to the deceased’s room for eight days and say, “G-d bless you and a good night. You were once like us, we will be like you?”
– Was a gold or silver coin placed on the dead person’s mouth and then given to a poor person?
– Was a piece of bread passed over the eyes of the deceased and the given to a poor person?
– Were alms placed in every corner (of the house) before the funeral procession reached the graveyard?
– Were there several lights illuminating the house during the day/evenng in memory of the deceased?
– Was there “in some cities a person” who was supposed to help someone seriously ill die before the doctor arrived to examine the patient and find out that the sick person was Jewish”? (this person, behind closed doors, smothered the sick person, quietly uttering the phrase “Come on, my son/daughter, our Lord is waiting!”
Once the work was done, the body was prepared DID the person leave the deceased’s room to tell the relatives: “He/she is gone like a bird …”?
– Was it a practice to pray for the peace of a dearly departed or pray for the soul of the deceased mother or the father?
THE DESCENDANTS OF BNEI ANUSSIM AFTER THE END OF THE INQUISITION
In 1821 the Inquisition ended in Europe and only in 1823 in Brazil was this process extinguished. The shadow of this discrimination continued for some years to the present day as a priceless stain on the descendants of bnei anussim struggling to rescue their history. The light of the tunnel arrived 40 years ago when historian Anita Novinsky visited the Torre do Tombo in Portugal and found the archives of the Inquisition during her research. Thanks to her untiring work, it was possible to unearth this story, then unknown to most Brazilians and is now being studied by several groups and academicians of this remarkable professor who disseminates her work in universities and via the internet, thus making it easier for Brazilians to understand their history and who were unaware of their Jewish descent.
Various groups and communities of families throughout Brazil, particularly in the Northeast, in the states of Pernambuco, Rio Grande do Norte, Paraíba, Ceará, Sergipe and Bahia, began Jewish studies and practices based on the history and the fragments of lost traditions of their ancestors. This phenomenon has also spread to other states in Brazil, such as Minas Gerais, Rio de Janeiro, and São Paulo, especially where there are large numbers of Northeasterners who went to other regions of the country to work and escape from the northeast drought. Traditional synagogues in Brazil do not carry out conversions when a descendant of bnei anussim seeks to return to the Jewish people and when they do, conversions are rare, restricted to cases where there is mixed marriage of Jew with a non-Jew.
In 2011, in the small sefardi synagogue, Pnei Or, located in Petrópolis, Rio de Janeiro, broke this barrier and facilitated 11 conversions. In 2014, another 19 conversions were accomplished, all in strict conformity with Jewish law, thus rescuing these descendants of bnei anusim whose ancestors were forbidden to exercise their Mosaic faith.
These same converts established the Jewish Congregation Shaarei Shalom in Rio de Janeiro, the first synagogue founded by Jewish converts descended from bnei anusim. After another year, Shaarei Shalom received additional families of bnei anusim from the northeast city of Recife and along with others in Rio and performed additional conversions, thus integrating 14 more converted families who had been waiting for many years for this great opportunity but had difficulties in being accepted by older established synagogues because of religious discrimination. These conversions opened up opportunities and hope for other communities scattered throughout Brazil to realize their return to the Mosaic faith, especially in the Northeast, such as the sinagogue Beit Shmuel in Recife. This community was historically recognized in academic circles for many years and in Israel but previously it had no support in the efforts to rescue their long-forgotten identity. Today, thanks to globalization, the internet and the media, it became possible to have this recognition, including by the organized Jewish community.
People of great reputation in the Jewish community are supporting the effort that these descendants of bnei anussim, heretofore hidden under the carpet of history, can return to the Jewish people. Since 2005, meetings and congresses have been promoted on the subject, despite the resistance of several foreign-born rabbis who presently live and work in Brazil but who do not recognize the importance that the return that the bnei anussim represent to both the State of Israel and the Jewish people. Historically, and since the time of the discovery of Brazil in 1500, there are millions of descendants of bnei anusim in Brazil, their DNA showing their semitic origins and connection with the Iberian peninsula. The culture and the fragments left behind by their ancestors are in evidence, to be interpreted in the light of reason and science. These new Jews, the converted bnei anussim, also have an important role in recuing other descendants of bnei anusim who have the Mosaic faith in their soul. The obligation of all Jews is to continue efforts to increase the Jewish population by taking in those of Jewish origin that have suffered and been discriminated against since the Inquisition and Expulsions from Spain and Portugal. This work is of great importance so that the same mistakes are not repeated where Jews were victims of ignorance and prejudice by those who do not know that G-d chose this people to bring his words of love and unity to all humanity.