< Back

Book Notes: Os Judeus em Portugal no Seculo XV, Maria Jose Pimenta Ferro Tavares

Edgar Samuel

<plain_text><page sequence="1">Book Notes The Jews of Portugal Os Judeus em Portugal no Seculo XV. Maria Jose Pimenta Ferro Tavares, Universidade Nova de Lisboa, 1982. This is a book of the first importance. In her earlier history of the Jews of Portugal in the 14th century (Maria Jose Pimenta Ferro, Os Judeus em Portugal no seculo XIV (Lisbon 1970), Dr Tavares examined the role of the Jews in the society and economy of medieval Portugal in great detail. That study and this sequel to it are the first published works on the subject to be based on original research in the primary sources and not merely on the medieval chronicles. Dr Tavares has extracted all possible references to Jews from the Royal Chancery records, and from the city archives of Lisbon, Evora and Oporto, and has founded her narrative on a wealth of factual detail. Her first chapter studies the number and location of the Judiarias and of the much more numerous small-town communities. In the 14th century, she finds 31 of these, but after the heavy immigration from Castile in 1492, her map of the 15th-century communities lists over 120; yet she finds a much lower Jewish population than any other historian has suggested. A hearth tax of 1496, just before the forced conversion, shows only 5298 contributors, which suggests a Jewish population of Portugal of under 30,000 or 3 per cent, as against the 75,000 estimated by Lucio D'azevedo. The figure suggests that a high percentage of those who came into Portugal in 1492 passed on to Morocco and other countries. The Chancery records reveal that the king's courts dealt with many matters concerning the Jewry, including endorsement of the authority of the Rabbinic courts: a man is allowed to remarrry in Portugal after proving that he has given Guet to his first wife in Valladolid; two Jewish parents lay a complaint to the king that their daughter had lost her virginity while being enslaved under D. Jo?o II's order. The occurrence is no surprise, but the complaint to the king is unexpected. The chapter on the economy gives detailed breakdowns of Jewish occupations in six towns. Blacksmiths bulk large in Lisbon; tailors, shoemakers, physicians, tanners, weavers and traders are important as one would expect. The impression given is that the range of occupations, though much wider than in northern Europe, is much more restricted than after the 1497 forced conversion. One interesting detail concerns the physician Mestre Nicolau i8i</page><page sequence="2">182 Book Notes Coronel, who helps to persuade the Jews imprisoned in Lisbon to accept baptism and then two years later receives a patent of nobility with honorary Arian status. He was a kinsman of Abraham Senior, who was baptized in Castile and took the name of Coronel. It would be nice to think that the Senior Coronel family of Amsterdam and London, descend from Mestre Nicolau. It is a pity that there is no alphabetical index to the book, which contains many names. This book is essential reading for anyone interested in Sephardi history. It deserves to be published in English. Edgar Samuel</page></plain_text>