Total Pageviews

Friday, July 19, 2013

In the Days of Spanish Jewish Pirates and World Explorers

Nadene Goldfoot                                                          

Josephus Flavius (whose real name was Yoseph ben Mattityahu ha-Cohen, the Jewish Roman writer, told of Jewish sailors attacking Roman ships in the port of Jaffa.  He was born in about 38 CE and lived to 100 CE and was a member of a priestly family in Judah.  That was one way of getting back at the Romans who had taken Jerusalem in 70 CE, which would be when Josephus started writing for the Romans.
We Jews also took to the oceans in 1492 when the Spanish Inquisition made Jews either convert to Catholicism or leave Spain. The Genoese Italian Explorer,  Cristobal Colon,  known to us as Christopher Columbus (c.1446-1506), decided to sail for India at this same time.  Many historians have noticed this "coincidence."   His mother tongue just happened to be Spanish.  He had boasted cryptically of his remote origins and clearly tried to conceal something of his immediate background.  He had a mysterious signature to which he attached much importance.  It could have had a Jewish interpretation.  In one place he used an inaccurate Jewish chronological tradition and seemed to have avoided sailing on the 9th of Av, a day in Jewish history of when the Temple fell both times in history; once to the Assyrians and the next to the Babylonians.  He found encouragement and financial help from Jews and hidden Jews and his first reports of success were addressed to his hidden Jewish patrons.  It was formerly believed that 5 members of his crew were Jewish, but recent research has shown that only his interpreter, Luis de Torres, was Jewish. Of course the other 4 could have been better at becoming hidden Jews.   Especially interesting is that Columbus carried on written letters in Hebrew to his son.  Even Simon Wiesenthal, the famous Nazi hunter noted the presence of Jews in the 3 ships, Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria that were Columbus's flotilla of exploration.

"Spanish and Portuguese Jews are a distinctive sub-group of Sephardi Jews, mostly descended from families forcibly converted to Catholicism in Spain and Portugal which later left for other countries where some could revert to Judaism. "  The main Spanish and Portuguese Jewish communities are in Western Europe, Italy and the Americas."

The Spanish Inquisition had driven some of the Spanish Jews to seek refuge in Portugal, where many settled only to be forced from there if they remained Jewish.  Jews not wanting to convert in both countries became hidden Jews, or secretly kept their religion but pretended to become Catholics.  Evidently a few Jews became pirates as they must have been motivated by a thirst for revenge against the Spanish Crown.  They crossed the seas in ships named "Queen Esther, Shield of Abraham, and Prophet Samuel and attacked Spanish ships.  They were intelligent enough to have had political alliances with other European powers that were enemies of Spain to get away with this.

Records from the Jewish community of Amsterdam, Holland, the Mikveh Israel, tell of  Rabbi Ioshua de Cordoba, preaching sermons in 1753 on the Caribbean island of Curracao, about his concern of how to prevent pirate raids on the high seas and the need of fraternal solidarity when a Spanish ship attacked a Jewish ship.

There were 2 types of pirate ships.  One was the Corsair.  This type had an agreement with a ruler to capture and loot ships hostile to it and distributed the goods found.  It had a "license" to to attack and plunder.  The pirate ship had no contractual relationship with anyone and kept the loot for himself.  Thus we have the Buccaneers.  This name was for those pirates attacking Spanish ships and settlements, especially in the West Indies in the 17th century.  It was also used to describe an unscrupulous adventurer in politics or business, perhaps an anti-Semitic term of that period. A Privateer ship was an armed private ship commissioned to cruise against the commerce or warships of an enemy.  The commander of such a ship was a Privateer.   Personally, I'm very happy to find out that Jews were able to fight back against the terrors caused from the Spanish Inquisition this way.
From the American journalist, Edward Kritzler's research, we learn about Sinan Reis, Admiral of the Turkish fleet and ally of the well-known Barbarossa.  In 1538 he battled the united fleet of Liga Santa, which was made up of the Papal States, Holy Roman Empire, Republic of Venice and the Order of Malta.  This was in the battle of Preveza, which gave the Ottoman Empire control over the Mediterranean for more than 30 years.

Simon Fernandez was a Spanish Jewish privateer who escaped from the Inquisition and collaborated with the  Welsh pirate, John Callis by harassisng Spanish and French ships which then earned him the permission to anchor in the ports of the king of England.  He sailed for the West Indies, North America and the Pacific Ocean along with Sir Walter Raleigh.

Yaacov Curiel was descended from a family of Jewish converts to Christianity or hidden Jew and became captain of the Spanish fleet.  He was captured by the inquisitorial agens and rescued by their own Marrano sailors (hidden Jews).  Then he went back to attack the Spanish ships in the Caribbean until his cabbalistic retirement in the Holy Land, which at that time was called "Palestine."

David Abrabanel, a descendant of rabbis,  was a Dutch Jewish Corsair feared by the British who had a remarkable family lineage.  He went by the alias of Captain Davis and named his ship "Jerusalem" and was known to observe Shabbat, the Jewish day of rest and observance of studying the Torah. He had earned the nickname of Pirate Rabbi.   He seized Spanish ships for 10 years.  His family had died in a Spanish attack on the high seas when he was a teenager, probably during the time they had to flee from Spain.  His family of Abravanel was a distinguished family of Spanish origin.  Isaac (1437-1508) was a statesman, philosopher and Torah exegete and served as treasurer to Alfonso V of Portugal but fled to Spain in 1483 to escape charges of conspiracy leveled by Alfonso's son against his father's ministers.  In Toledo, he entered the service of ferdinand and Isabella but was unable to avert the decree of expulsion from Spain in 1492 and so went with other Jews to Italy where he worked in the court of Naples.

Samuel Pallache was the Ambassador of Morocco in Madrid, Spain.  He was also a Corsair of the Dutch and a global trader.
Moses Cohen Henriques was a prominent Jewish  Portugese pirate in Amsterdam whose voyages took him to Cuba and Brazil.  He ended up being moderator of the most famous pirate of all time, Henry Morgan. The Henriques family were Sephardis that were hidden Jews and were found in Holland, Italy, England the West Indies and America.  The best-known branch is that of Quixano Henriques who emigrated to England from Jamaica in the 18th century and included Sir Basil Lucas Quixano Henriques (1890-1961).  He was a social worker active in welfare work in London and was the founder and leader of the Bernhard Baron St. George's Jewish settlement and was an authority on juvenile delinquency.  He became a leading advocate of Liberal Judaism.  Other descendants include a lawyer and king's counselor, and a soldier and author.

The brothers, Pierre (1770-1821) and Jean Lafitte (1776-1823) had ancestors that had fled from Spain and France. The Inquisition had followed people to Mexico, so it is not surprising that Jews would have left after 1492 quite suspiciously, fleeing from the Inquisitors.  Contemporary biographers believe that the Lafittes were born in Orduna, Spain, but they told people they were born in France.  They became two of the most famous Corsairs of the late 18th -19th centuries.  Under the aegis of France and from the swamps of Louisiana, they attacked the British ships that sailed for the Gulf of Mexico.  In 1812 at the battle of New Orleans, Jean fought victoriously alongside Andrew Jackson, the future President of the United States.  He ended his days of the Corsair life in the Yucatan.   Pierre was known for his wit and charm.  He died in 1821 near Dzilam de Bravo, Yucatan, Mexico.  .

One can go to Curacao and look up the old Jewish cemetery.  There is the tomb of Lea Jana Shneur, wife of a Jewish pirate.  On the tombstone is engraved his name and the skull and the crossbones of the pirate icon.  That surname is mighty close to Shneour, which is the surname of the rabbi of Chabad, Zalman Shneour of Vilna, Lithuania (1887-1959).  His ancestor was Zalman ben Baruch Shneour of Lyady (1747-1813) of Lyady who was the founder of Chabad, a Hassidic movement. It's very possible that this Polish-Lithuanian Ashkenazi family had its origins as Sepharidic Jews.

Resource: Jewish Pirates of the Caribbean: How a Generation of Swashbuckling Jews Carved Out an Empire in the New World... by Edward Kritzler (Nov 3, 2009)
 Guesharim Magazine article by Ernesto Antebi on Rabbi Ioshua de Cordoba
Information from Ana, translation from Spanish
The New Standard Jewish Encyclopedia

No comments: