The nation of Portugal was the site of much Jewish culture, from the tangible synagogues of the past centuries to the intangible threads of Jewish heritage that lives on in the present. One of our all-inclusive glatt kosher European riverboat cruises will take us to Portugal, via the azure waters of the Douro River. We will embark on a luxurious and educational riverboat journey across the Jewish heritage of the Iberian Peninsula, from the tourist-friendly destination of Porto to the scholarly streets of Salamanca. After enriching ourselves on what Portugal (and Salamanca, our only stop in Spain) has to offer, guests are free to visit other locales in the Douro region at their leisure, such as Lisbon, the capital city of Portugal. The second oldest capital city in Europe, Lisbon was the site of a pivotal event that changed the Jewish ways of life in the Iberian Peninsula.

Prosperous Origins

As the capital of Portugal, Lisbon held the largest Jewish population in the middle of the medieval era. Like many Jewish communities in the Iberian Peninsula pre-Alhambra Decree, the Jews of Lisbon saw prosperity and persecution, pursuing mercantile livelihoods and other trades. It war around the 15th century, near the end of the so-called “Dark Ages” of Europe that tremors were beginning to threaten Jewish security.

Betrayal at the Port

In 1492, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella decreed the expulsion of all Jews from their newly-christened kingdom of Spain. Several distraught Jews fled to Portugal, where King Manuel initially offered them refuge. One of the many Jews that sought shelter in the country was Abraham Zacuto, an astronomer of renown whose findings helped Vasco de Gama navigate the seas of the world.

Unfortunately, asylum was revoked when Manuel’s bride to be, Isabel of Spain, insisted that he expel all Jews from Portugal as her parents had done. Manuel was hesitant at first but relented. To retain their services, Manuel encouraged the conversion of Jews in his protection, and to make it more difficult for them to leave quietly, he made Lisbon the only port that they could use to exit Portugal. In 1497, the amassed Jews of Portugal crowded Lisbon and were met by priests that tried to baptize them. Those that could not leave, or refused to relinquish their Jewish faith, were summarily enslaved. From this coerced conversion came the “New Christians” of Portugal. Some genuinely converted, while others retained Judaism and practiced it in secret, becoming the Crypto-Jews. Despite this supposed conversion, prejudice did not stop, as evident by the Lisbon Massacre of 1504.

Overcoming the Past

Douro River Cruise
Portugal has attempted to make amends for the injustices done in the past. Even in the 19th Century, it was already welcoming Jews back into its border, albeit for economic reasons. Today, Lisbon once again has the largest population of Jews in Portugal, numbering 300. In 2020, join us on a Glatt Kosher vacation to the Douro region of this country, and discover the legacy of Jews in Portugal throughout the ages.