(23S5) Why Portugal’s Expulsion of the Jews was so Different and so Consequential (29 Jun 2023)

June 29th, 2023, 7:00 pm - 8:30 pm

The recording of this class us at https://youtu.be/tBq5KfOXM8M.

The chat file from the class has interesting information.  It is at https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/1Dd5FYyILhrMdzJqlv4pl_lWyQ2N2oC-Y?usp=sharing.

The end of the Jewish presence in the Iberian Peninsula began with the Expulsion from Spain in 1492.  At this point the Portuguese Golden Age and its vast maritime trade empire across Africa and Asia was just starting.  But for the Jews of Portugal this was a turbulent and tragic period and by 1497 organized Jewish presence in Portugal, and by extension in the Iberian Peninsula, came to an abrupt end.  The ancestral Jewish presence in the Iberian Peninsula was to become a distant and nostalgic memory.

In the previous decade and even more so in 1492, many Jews from Spain fled to the relative safety of neighboring Portugal.  By the last decade of the 1400s the number of Jews residing in Portugal had thus greatly increased.  The inflow of Spanish Jewish refugees added to the native Jews brought the resident Jewish population in Portugal to around 20% of the total Portuguese population.  And it was not just a matter of numbers.  The increase in resources and skills was significant.

The increased Jewish presence created a dilemma for King Manuel I of Portugal.  On one hand he realized that Portugal needed the financial, scientific, and logistic resources that the Jews provided.  But on the other hand his in-laws and financial backers the Catholic Monarchs of Aragon and Castille demanded the expulsion of the Jews.

This class will explore the following questions:

  • How did King Manuel resolve his dilemma?
  • Just what was the 1496-97 Expulsion from Portugal
  • Why was this expulsion so different from all of the others?
  • What were the ripple effects in Portugal itself?
  • How did these events affect Jewish life in Europe and in the Ottoman Empire including the Land of Israel?
  • What does this all have to do with the Jews of America?

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Rabbi Shlomo Pereira is a native of Lisbon, Portugal and moved to the United States in 1982. His passions, aside from Judaic Studies and Economics, include history in particular Iberian Jewish history.

Rabbi Pereira received his rabbinical ordination in Jerusalem in 2004 and has served in the last two decades as assistant rabbi and education director at Chabad of Virginia.  He has taught extensively in topics ranging from Jewish history and law to Jewish philosophy and mysticism and is the founder-director for the Richmond chapter of the Jewish Learning Institute.  He is the author of two widely circulated research documents — Hadrat Melech, biographical notes on the Jewish sages throughout the centuries and Chachmei Halacha, an overview of the major works in Jewish law over the last fifteen hundred years.  More recently, he co-authored with Rabbi Eli Rosenfeld of Chabad Portugal two bilingual books of commentaries by rabbis who called Portugal home in the fifteenth century  — Jewish Voices from Portugal on commentaries on the Torah portion and Jewish Ethics from Portugal on commentaries on Pirkei Avot (“Ethics of the Fathers”).

An economist and university professor by trade, Rabbi Pereira received his Ph.D. in Economics from Stanford University in 1987 and has been a faculty member at William & Mary since 1995 where he is the Thomas Vaughan Professor of Economics and Public Policy.  His main research and teaching interests are in the area of economics of the public sector, specifically on taxation, social security reform, infrastructure policies, and environmental issues.  Having served frequently as advisor for successive Portuguese governments over the last two decades, he made a definite technical contribution toward the introduction of a carbon tax in Portugal in 2015.  He is the author of over 120 refereed research articles in international journals and of several policy books.

Rabbi Pereira lives with his wife Elisheva in Richmond, Virginia. They have five children and eleven grandchildren who live in the USA and in Israel  His email is RebShlomo@ChabadOfVA.org.