Posted on

The Lisbon Jewish Community

The present Jewish community of Lisbon has its origin in the groups of Sephardic Jews who settled in Portugal at the beginning of the century. XIX. They were mostly dealers from Gibraltar and Morocco (Tangier, Tetouan and Mogador) and some of the names still expressed a connection to their lands of Iberian origin, before the period of the expulsion. This is the case of CONQUI (of Cuenca, province of Cuenca) or CARDOSO (of Cardoso, District of Viseu). (details here)

They were people with a cultural level above average, able to read and write and speak, in addition to the liturgical Hebrew, Arabic or English and Haquitia, a Jewish-Hispanic-Moroccan dialect. They had numerous international contacts, due not only to commercial activities but also to family ties around the world. These factors explain the rapid economic and cultural flourishing not only of the Jews of Lisbon but also of the groups that settled in the first half of the 19th century. XIX, in the Azores and Faro.

Parallel to their rapid and successful integration into Portuguese life, the first groups of Jews soon sought to organize themselves as such, creating prayer rooms and acquiring lands to bury the dead according to Jewish ritual. The first tomb is that of Joseph Amzalak, who died on 26 February 1804 and was buried on land belonging to the English Cemetery of the Star, no doubt because of the English citizenship of the first Jews of Lisbon, originating, as we have seen, from Gibraltar.

At that time the Jews were still regarded as a foreign colony and the community still had no legal existence. The Constitutional Charter of 1826 recognized only Catholicism as the only religion allowed to Portuguese citizens, referring other cults to foreigners. Hence, at that time, one speaks of an Israeli “colony”, as it was spoken of as an English or German colony.

Not being able to obtain the legalization of the community, the Jews of Lisbon were creating, especially in the second half of the century. XIX, charities in the form of autonomous associations, whose statutes were submitted for the approval of the Civil Government or in the form of private foundations, generally run by ladies. These institutions played a decisive role in the union and organization of Portuguese Judaism. We will cite only three:

SOMEJ-NOPHLIM (Amparo dos Pobres): created in 1865 by Simão Anahory, with the aim of helping the poor. Later, in 1916, this association will open the Israelite Hospital that such an important role came to play in supporting Israeli refugees during World War II.

GUAMILUT HASSADIM: founded in 1892 by Moses Anahory to minister the spiritual help and to treat the Jewish burials.

ECONOMIC KITCHEN: founded in 1899 and, like the Israelite Hospital, played a fundamental role during the Second War.

Another decisive step towards the constitution of the present Jewish community of Lisbon was given in 1894 with the holding of a General Assembly of the Jews of Lisbon in order to unify the services of Shehitá (ritual slaughtering and provisioning of cacher meat). Under the impulse of Isaac Levy and Simão Anahory, a process begins, culminating in the creation in 1897 of a commission for the construction of a single synagogue and with the election of the First Committee of the Israelite Community of Lisbon, whose Honorary President is Abraham Bensaúde and the President and CEO, Simão Anahory.