Portugal is a kosher tour favorite. This is because the country has a deep historical connection with the Jewish people. Jewish travelers from all around the world go to Portugal to discover discover new things about Jewish life in the country, heritages hidden deep in its past. One of these hidden heritages is that of Jews living in the peaceful municipality of Belmonte.
It is believed that the Sephardic Jews have been living in Portugal as far back as 10 BCE. Belmonte’s first synagogue was even dated as early as the 1290s judging from the town’s oldest Jewish relic, an inscribed granite reliquary. The community back then lived in relative peace up until the 1490s, when King Manuel I forced Jews to convert to Catholicism.
In fear of losing their lives, they kept their faith in secret. They had Sabbath candles submerged in clay jars, and made sausages out of flour and chicken and hung them on their windows, all to keep the authorities from being suspicious about the faith they kept.
As regimes changed and generations passed, the Jews of Belmonte started gaining acceptance in their religious beliefs. In the 1970s, the community in Belmonte started reaching out to other Jewish communities, but it wasn’t until 1994 when a rabbi from Israel went to Belmonte to officially reinstate the community in the Jewish faith.
Saving Portugal’s Economy
In the early 2000s, Portugal was going through some tough economic conditions. To get some relief from the economic downturn, many locals in Lisbon looked towards the explosion of tourism in Belmonte because of the newly-found Jews in the municipality. The locals in Lisbon, Belmonte, and other nearby towns were given jobs because many Jewish travelers came to see the crypto-Jews of Belmonte.
The crypto-Jews of Belmonte
Belmonte is undeniably the most Jewish town in Portugal. Other locations may have historic connections with the Jews, but none of these towns have a deeper and more well-preserved connection to Jewish history than Belmonte. Join Kosher River Cruises in 2020 as we explore Jewish heritage in Portugal and Spain. Swing by the peaceful town of Belmonte, and meet the town’s Crypto-Jews.