Jewish Heritage of Brazil


A reader I do not know sent me the following unsolicited article.  And while I do not classify the world’s Christians as being real Christians nor the “Holy Office” as holy, and do not know if some of the 12,000 from tribe of Judah will come from Brazil (though some may as the article suggests), I thought this article would be interesting for Brazilian readers and others as normally Brazil is viewed as  an entirely “Catholic” nation:

In this article, I intend to give several proved arguments to show that Brazilians partially have Jewish descent. The facts mentioned here may be unknown to many, yet they’re historically true and can be proven. The percentage of the Brazilian population that descends from the Jews is an issue, though. Some sources point out that at least 1/10 (a tenth) of the population in Brazil today are of Jewish descent; others would say 45% or even 50-60%.

Brazilians primarily descend from the Portuguese (who colonized the country), the Africans (former slaves) and the Indians.

So, how did the Jews get to Brazil?

The Jews called the Iberian Peninsula Sepharad (Obadiah v. 20). There have been Jews in the Iberian Peninsula since remote times. If you search for Tarsis in a biblical map, you’ll see it was located in the Iberian Peninsula. The Bible refers to Tarsis in a number of verses (2Cr. 9:21, 20:36; Ps. 48:7, 72:10; Isa. 23:14; Jon. 1:03). The Hebrew name for “Hebrew” is transliterated “Ivri” and it is said that the Jews gave Sepharad the name of “Iveria,” which, according to a Jewish website, means “the place of the Hebrews” (note that similarity with “Iberia”).

In 1492, Queen Isabel I de Castela and King Fernando II of Aragon expelled all Spanish Jews who did not want to convert to Catholicism (those who did were called Marranos, Conversos or new-Christians) from Spain, many of whom (about 60,000) left for Portugal where they could practice their religion freely for a few years. In 1497, a law was enacted in Portugal that demanded the expulsion of the Jewish community from the country. Afraid of letting too many people (and their money) go, Dom Manuel (King of Portugal) demanded the conversion of all Jews to Catholicism in a 10-month period – if they didn’t, they’d have to leave Portugal and their colonies overseas. In April 1499, a law was enacted that prohibits all new-Christians from leaving the nation. []

Brazil was a Portuguese colony from 16th to the 19th century. The Jews arrived in Brazil in 1500 (year of its discovery) on the first Portuguese ships to get to the country. There were times when they could freely practice their religion, but the Holy Office visited Brazil twice (1591-95/1618) seeking any trace of Crypto-Judaism (Jews who practiced their Jewish beliefs secretly, pretending otherwise). They were forced to be baptized and receive Portuguese names and surnames (the most common ones being Rodrigues and Nunes).

“During the first 250 years of our (Brazil’s) formal history, the Jewish presence, though expressive, has been kept clandestinely by force of the edicts of expulsion from Portugal (1496-1497) and the violence of the Inquisition… Paradoxically, the end of the discrimination against the new-Christians (1773) and the diminishment of the inquisitorial impetus made any Jewish trace disappear from the Brazilian lifestyle…” (Morashá Magazine, 26th Edition, 1999, “A Presença Judaica no Brasil” – translation mine)

A July, 2008 Morashá Magazine feature an article entitled “Jewish origins of the Brazilian people” (Portuguese: “Origens judaicas do povo brasileiro”) by Rachel Mizrahi. She wrote: “No other country in the Americas has its history as marked by the presence of the Jewish people as Brazil has.”

She continues: “Though there were legal prohibitions, great number of new-Christians sought American possessions. In Brazil, they could be found in all capitanias (a type of province), positioned in diverse occupations…”

Anita Novinsky (writer specialized on the subject of the Jewish history in Brazil) wrote in page 67 of her book “Cristãos Novos na Bahia” (“New-Christians in Bahia” – Bahia being today a state to the northeast) that 10-20% of the white population in Salvador (the colony’s capital and main port) were of Jewish descent.

An article entitled “The Jewish Community in Bahia” (Portuguese: “A Comunidade Judaica na Bahia”) by historian Esther Regina Largman on (Orthodox Jewish Magazine – 36th edition, March 2002) reveals the following comments (translation mine): “The memory and history of the immigrants, once impregnated by apathy and lack of interest, are being rescued by new studies. Characters that, in a life of fear, crossed oceans, leaving behind their language, their habits, their customs e even their own families… The accused in the courts of the Inquisition are precious witnesses. When the Carta de Lei (“Letter of Law”) of May 25, 1773 from Marquês de Pombal enacted the distention between new-Christians and old-Christians during the reign of Dom José II, the remnant had already forgotten their origins – so they had become good Catholics… “

A French traveler called François Froger went to Rio de Janeiro in 1695 and said at least ¾ of its population was of Jewish descent [1].

66% per cent of the marriages between 1670 and 1720 in Rio de Janeiro were between new-Christians.

In the 18th century, the Jews (Marranos) constituted approximately 15-20% of the population in Bahia, Rio de Janeiro, Minas Gerais [2], while half of the white population in Paraíba was also of Jewish origin [3]. These statistics do NOT include the Brazilian new-Christians who were not persecuted or arrested (because the numbers are counted based on the Holy Office’s inquisitorial historic documents).

The Dutch invaded Brazil in 1624 and ruled mainly over Pernambuco until 1654. They brought many Marranos with them, and many others came from other parts of the colony to Pernambuco where they had relative freedom to practice their religion. They even built a synagogue (which was later brought down by the Spanish as they took over the territory). During the “Dutch occupation,” there were more Jews in Recife (capital of Pernambuco) than in Amsterdam [4].

Read this interesting article from Jewish Encyclopaedia website:

“As early as 1610 mention is made of the physicians of Bahia, who are described as being mainly New Christians, who prescribed pork to lessen the suspicion and charges of Judaizing. Pyrard, the historian, who visited the place in 1610, states that a rumor was then afloat that the king of Spain “desires to establish the Inquisition here, on which account the Jews are greatly frightened.”

Whether the persons referred to by Pyrard were observers of the Jewish faith is doubtful; he probably meant persons of Jewish race. Certain it is that the open profession of Judaism was not tolerated at the time.

The beginnings of Jewish history at Bahia, as well as in other portions of Brazil, are wrapped in obscurity, mainly for the reason that the earliest Jewish settlers were Maranos or New Christians. They had left Portugal, when it became too dangerous for them to remain there, on account of the extreme vigilance of the Inquisition.

Though the Inquisition was never established in Brazil, its agents were there almost from the very beginning, and at a very early period New Christians were sent back to Europe to stand trial before the Holy Office. On this account it soon became necessary for the Maranos in the New World to wear the mask, much as they had done in their native land. Usually they kept their Judaism secret, particularly at Bahia, for that city soon became the seat of the Jesuits and the most Catholic place in the colony, numbering more than sixty-two churches at the beginning of the seventeenth century.

The secret Jews at Bahia seem to have been very numerous at the beginning of the seventeenth century. In 1618, Don Luiz de Sousa was especially charged by the Inquisition to send home a list of all New Christians in Brazil, with the most exact information that could be obtained of their property and place of abode. They were then among the wealthiest inhabitants of Bahia, some of them being worth from 60,000 to 100,000 crusados. “But,” observes the historian, “they were despised by their bigoted countrymen, and were in constant danger of losing their property through the agents of the Holy Office.”

At this period the Dutch commenced their ambitious schemes for the conquest of Brazil. In connection with some of the earliest intrigues, special mention is made of one Francisco Ribiero, a Portuguese captain stationed near Bahia, who is described as having Jewish relatives in Holland.

It was only when some great upheaval took place, or when some Protestant power obtained the upper hand in Brazil, that the Jewish population appeared distinctively as Jews. On such occasions the New Christians threw off the mask, joined the deliverer, and openly proclaimed their adherence to the ancient faith. While hundreds of secret Jews had lived at Bahia almost from its foundation, it was only at the period of the Dutch invasion that they appear as adherents of the Jewish faith. The Dutch war came to them as a relief, for it alone prevented the introduction of the Inquisition.”

“…the New Christians were ultimately absorbed in the Catholic population of Brazil.

After 1765, and throughout the nineteenth century, Jews are not mentioned as a class at Bahia.”

I live in Bahia and I can say there are places here with suggestive names, such as Nova Canaã (New Canaan) and other places’ names that refer to the land of Canaan and the new-Christians.

So, Brazilians are partially Jewish. It is said that descendants of ancient King David of Israel inhabit this land. These facts are not well-known. They’re suppressed and there’s some speculation about them. However, Brazilian Jewish descent is a truth that can’t be denied. This issue has increasingly raised the interest of many Brazilians to look back into the history of their families to find any clue of their real identity and background.

The Bible mentions 12,000 faithful descendants of Judah in the end (Rev. 7). It would be no wonder if some of them came from Brazil.

[1] François Froger Rélation d´um Voyage fait em 1695, 1696 et 1697 aux cotes d´Afrique, detroit de Magellan, Bresil, Cayenne et Isles Antilles par une esquadre des vasseaux du Roi, commandée par M. de Gennes faite par lê Sieur Froger, Ingenieur volontaire sur le vaisseau le Faucon Anglois. Amsterdam, chez les heritiers d´Antoine Schelte, MDCXCIX, p74-75

[2] Ferreira, Lina G., Heréticos e Impuros; Novinsky Anita, Cristãos-Novos.

[3] Maximiano Lopes Machado,Historia da Provincia da Paraiba,Edt.Universitaria, ,2°ed.,Ed.Universiddade Federal da Paraíba

[4] Wiznitzer, Arnold, Jews in Colonial Brazil, ed. Pioneira, S.Paulo, 1966.

As reported before, CG7 claims to have 1,000 congregations in Brazil (CG7 in South America, 1000 Congregations in Brazil). Graham Davies’ Bible Fund also maintains contact with a few Sabbath-keeper in Brazil (Graham Davies handled the Portuguese language work for the old WCG and did not accept the apostasy after it appeared there).  UCG had (or used to have) a few congregations in Brazil.  The Living Church of God (LCG) has at least one congregation in Brazil.

Two articles of possibly related interest may include:

Mexico, Central America, South America, and Brazil in Prophecy [Español: México, America Central, Suramérica, y el Brasil en profecíal] [Português: México, América Central, Ámérica do Sul, e Brasil na profecia] What will happen to those of Latin America? Will they have prosperity? Will they cooperate with Europe? Will they suffer in the future? What rule might the various Caribbean nations/territories play?
Which Is Faithful: The Roman Catholic Church or the Living Church of God? Do you know that both groups shared a lot of the earliest teachings? Do you know which church changed? Do you know which group is most faithful to the teachings of the apostolic church? Which group best represents true Christianity? This documented article answers those questions. Português: Qual é fiel: A igreja católica romana ou a igreja viva do deus? Tambien Español: Cuál es fiel: ¿La iglesia católica romana o La Iglesia del Dios Viviente? Auch: Deutsch: Welches zuverlässig ist: Die Römisch-katholische Kirche oder die lebende Kirche von Gott?

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