By: Richard Gottheil
Chief seaport of the kingdom of Belgium; capital of the province bearing the same name.
It is impossible to say at what time Jews commenced to settle in the city, as all early data are wanting. In the fourteenth century, however, a certain number of Jews must have resided in Antwerp; for in the Memorbuch of Mayence, as well as in that of Deutz, mention is made of a place called "Antdorf," in connection with Brabant, Mechlin, and Brussels, as one of the places where the Jews suffered martyrdom at the time of the Black Death, in 1348-50. There can be no doubt that Antwerp is intended ("Rev. Ét. Juives," viii. 136; Salfeld, "Das Martyrologium des Nürnberger Memorbuches," p. 286; Koenen, "Geschiednis der Joden in Nederland," p. 74).
It is uncertain whether or not the Jews of Antwerp suffered with those of Brabant and Luxemburg who were driven out of these districts in 1359 after the famous trial at Brussels, at which several had been charged with desecrating the Host of Saint Gudule. A more humane spirit seems to have prevailed here; for in 1480 the authorities succeeded in obtaining a charter permitting Jews to settle among them, upon the express condition, however, that they should give no occasion for scandal.Maranos Granted Domiciliary Rights.
Antwerp reached the height of its prosperity in the early part of the sixteenth century. As a commercial city it became the center of the East Indian trade of the Portuguese; and many of the rich merchants and bankers of Lisbon had branch houses here. In 1536, according to a document in the Belgian state archives, Charles V. gave permission to Maranos to settle in the Netherlands. This document, as well as many others relating to the Jews of the period, is not to be found in the "Plakaatboek" of Brabant; but it has been shown that this collection, made in 1648, was at a later time expurgated. The magistrates of Antwerp must have been overjoyed at this promise; for not only was the welfare of the city a matter of their concern, but they seem always to have been actuated by a spirit of tolerance not common at this period. When the letters patent of this decree reached them in 1537, they, in affixing their official seal to the document, added the words "Le tout sans fraude ou mal engin." The Maranos were only too willing to make use of this permission, and proceeded to acquire houses and set up their businesses in their new home. One of these was the rich Marano Francisco Mendes, a member of the well-known Nasi family. At the head of the branch of hisbank, which he had established at Antwerp, was a younger brother, Diego Mendes. When the Inquisition was introduced into Portugal the chief business of the firm was relegated to Antwerp, and many of the Maranos of Portugal, fearing the Holy Office, came and settled in this city.Gracia Mendesia.
It was at Antwerp that Gracia Mendesia, wife of Francisco Mendes, lived for many years, having fled there some time before the year 1535. Her nephew, João Miguez (afterward Don Joseph Nasi), is said to have occupied a prominent place among the citizens of Antwerp and to have been well received by Maria, sister of Charles V., who was at that time regent of the Low Countries. When Joseph moved to Italy, he tried to interest the Protestants in Antwerp, as well as Sultan Selim II., in his scheme for acquiring an island in the Grecian Archipelago, in which to settle the unfortunate Jews that were driven out of Spain. But the people of Antwerp did not seem to have thought much of the project, and lent him no helping hand. It was at Antwerp that large sums of money were collected and sent to Portugal and to Italy in the hope of influencing the Inquisition to relax its vigilance in the case of the secret Jews. Gracia Mendesia, after a few years, found the burden too great of trying to live up to a religion with which she did not sympathize; and with much trouble she escaped to Italy, where she could openly profess Judaism, and there continued her noble work in behalf of her oppressed brethren (Grätz, "Gesch. der Juden," ix. 366).
There are accounts of other notable exiles from the Spanish peninsula living in this, perhaps the oldest, Flemish settlement of the Maranos. Most prominent among them were the renowned physician Amatus Lusitanus (1511), and, in the next century, the traveler Pedro Teixeira, who, after having completed his journey, settled here, returned to the Jewish faith, and wrote an account of his travels (Kayserling, "Gesch. der Juden in Portugal," p. 301; idem, introduction to J. J. Benjamin, "Eight Years in Asia and Africa," pp. 1 et seq., Hanover, 1859).The Inquisition in the Netherlands.
There are only a few data relating to the fate of the Jewish inhabitants of Antwerp in the second half of the sixteenth century. It is quite probable that the introduction of the Inquisition into the Netherlands by Philip II. and his agent, the duke of Alva, was sorely felt by them, though the city authorities did all in their power to keep these secret Jews among them. It is known that the city councils of Arnheim and Zütphen answered Alva that there were no Jews in their towns; and this was in a measure true also of Antwerp. This treatment of the Jews, especially at Antwerp, was of great assistance to its particular commercial rival, Amsterdam, which so greatly benefited by the large influx of Spanish-Portuguese Jews.
Many Maranos could not come to Antwerp, for the path to this haven was not always free; and at Vlissingen, where they had to pass the customs officials, many hindrances were put in their way. Such difficulties, for instance, arose (February, 1541) in the case of a certain Don André de Carvajal, although he energetically denied being even a New-Christian. He said that he was of noble birth, a native of Toledo, a good Catholic, a doctor of theology of the University of Salamanca, and that he had never entered the Abrahamic covenant. No wonder, then, that the converted Jews addressed a memorial to the emperor in that same year, in which they explained that, although they wished to come to Antwerp to engage in useful occupations, they were molested by the government officials, who accused them of being Jews, Maranos, heretics, and apostates. If they had in any way unwittingly transgressed any of the emperor's ordinances, they begged to be judged on these counts by the burgo-masters and judges of Antwerp.
No answer seems to have been given by the emperor. The officials of the city took up the cause of the converted Jews, and in 1545 refused to publish an imperial decree ordering all merchants that had come from Portugal to leave the country within a month. When, in 1549, this edict was reissued, the burgomasters at first refused to sign the document. Their head, Nicolas Van der Meeran, even went so far as to demand an interview with the regent Maria (who happened to be at Rupelmonde), in order to plead the cause of the Maranos and to exculpate the city for having disobeyed such unjust commands. He was unsuccessful, however, and the margrave of Antwerp, Van der Werve, received an order to arrest Gabriel de Neigro, Emmanuel Manrequez, and Emmanuel Sarano, three of the most prominent of the Maranos. Van der Meeran received small thanks for his pains, the queen ordering Du Fief, the procurator general of Brabant, to cite him before a tribunal. Though the charge fell through for want of the necessary proof, its effect was seen in the removal of most of the Maranos from Antwerp; only those being allowed to remain who had resided there for six years, and who promised thereafter to follow allthe prescriptions and ceremonies of the Catholic Church. The reason for this severe treatment, which was due to Alva, is probably to be found in the fact that many of the Maranos were glad to escape the yoke of the Catholic Church and to join the Protestants. This, at least, was the case with the families of Marc Perez and Emmanuel Tremellius.Return of Maranos Discountenanced.
The Peace of Westphalia, in 1648, enabled a large number of Maranos to return to Antwerp; and, together with the establishment of the Calvinist conventicles, secret synagogues in the city are mentioned. Among these Maranos may be mentioned Don Manuel Alvarez Pinto y Ribera, owner of Chilveches, Abulleque, and La Celada, nobleman of Spain and knight of St. Jago, from whom the widely spread family of Pinto takes its origin (Israel da Costa, "Adelijke Geslachten" in his "Israel en de Volken," 2d ed., p. 469). There are accounts of a debating and literary society in 1681, called "Academia de la Virtud," founded by Spanish Jews, similar to the many societies of this kind founded at Amsterdam (Da Costa, ib. p. 469).
The state government, however, did all in its power to prevent a large increase in the number of Jews at Antwerp, and in 1672 it denied their request to take up their permanent quarters at Bilborde, though they offered five million florins a year for the privilege. This refusal was probably due to a priest named Coriache, who presented to the privy council a memorial, written by the bishop of Antwerp, complaining that for the last twenty-five years or more some of the richest Jews of the city had removed their goods to Amsterdam and had there reentered the Jewish community, after having lived for many years outwardly as faithful and obedient Catholics. Such a one was Dr. Spinoza, who for several years had practised medicine at Antwerp (Carmoly, "Revue Orientale," i. 176). The authorities even went further: in 1682 they forcibly baptized a child born to Diego Curiel, on the pretext that, having been born in a Catholic country, he by right belonged to the Church. This Curiel was a member of a well-known Portuguese family; one of his relatives, Jacob Curiel, otherwise called Nunez da Costa—who had been ennobled by John IV.—was for many years the agent of Portugal at Antwerp. Another Marano, Francisco de Silva, happening to pass the host as it was being carried to a sick-chamber, neglected to kneel before it. He was thrown into prison, although the council of state refused to allow him to be brought up in court on the charge. The bishop of Antwerp, Ferdinand de Beughen, made strenuous demands for the punishment of the culprit, and the clergy even went so far as to demand the total expulsion of Jews from Antwerp. The burgomasters, when asked for their opinion by the council of state, answered that the Jews had brought to their city the diamond trade, that they were prosperous, and that they lived quietly for themselves; so that there was not much ground for complaint. But they added that it might be well to force the Jews to adopt certain marks and a distinctive dress, and to live in a portion of the city separated from the rest of the inhabitants. Whether this was done or not, history does not record.Respite.
The wars of Louis XIV. gave the Jews a certain respite. In 1694 the officers of the bishop and the magistrates attempted to put the seals on the secret synagogue; but Elijah Andrada, one of the Jews, defied them to reestablish the Inquisition in the Netherlands. The Jews seem to have been successful this time; and they even brought the matter before the courts, demanding a restitution of certain property confiscated in the name of the king of Spain.Readmission to Citizenship.
The Jews in Antwerp are again referred to in the eighteenth century, when the Spanish Netherlands, by the Peace of Utrecht (April 11, 1713), became part of the Austrian monarchy. On Sept. 16, 1715, Abraham Aaron, a Jewish merchant, received the rights of citizenship in Antwerp, which rights were essential to the carrying on of trade by him without restriction. On June 13, 1732, a certain Jacob Cantor, who had lived for thirty years in Brussels, received a certificate of citizenship from the magistrates of Antwerp. This grant was annulled later, as one of the qualifications for citizenship was the profession of the Catholic faith. In August, 1769, Abraham Benjamin, another Jew, who for many years had lived in London, desired to settle with his family in Antwerp and to carry on trade between England and the Netherlands. The magistrates were unwilling to grant such permission; fearing, perhaps, that as the government was trying to raise the status of manufactures in the Netherlands, it would not look with favor upon the reception of a man who would benefit English rather than Belgian trade. The fear was also expressed that in virtue of his rights as a citizen, Benjamin might set up a retail business. The privy council (in whose hands was the granting of citizens' rights), therefore, proposed to the governor-general to authorize the granting of citizens' rights to this Jew on condition that he pledge himself not to trade in retail; should he thus trade, a fine of a thousand florins was to be imposed over and above the ordinary penalties that might be prescribed by the magistrates of Antwerp. Accordingly the governor-general, on Oct. 28, 1769, authorized the magistrates to admit Benjamin; but they at the same time stipulated that this act should not be considered a precedent, and that the decree of 1758, which excluded the Jews from citizenship, should continue in force. In October, 1782, Benjamin Joel Cantor and his brother, Samuel Joel Cantor, merchants, made a similar request to be admitted as citizens of Antwerp. They were the grandchildren of the Jacob Cantor mentioned above; and in their petition they alleged that their father, Joel Jacob, who was a native of Amsterdam, had lived for more than eighteen years in Antwerp, and that their grandfather had been admitted as a citizen of the place. The facts alleged by these two brothers were officially confirmed; and, on the advice of the governor-general, the magistrates of Antwerp admitted the applicants to citizenship (Dec. 11 and 24, 1782), their names being registered in the Plakaatboek. Two years later Levi Abraham, a Hanoverian Jew, who had resided in Antwerp for fifteen years, made an attempt to secure the rights of citizenship, in order to carry on his trade in jewelry and in other branches. The privy council reported adversely, however, on this petition, alleging that the business he desired to carry on—namely, that of a second-hand dealer—was suspicious, at any rate one not to be recommended, and the grant was refused (Dec. 4, 1784).Reestablishment of Jews.
In 1794 the French became masters of Belgium, and the new ideas sown by the Revolution made themselves felt here also. The Jews were freer to settle at Antwerp, which they did very soon after this; though no trace can be found of their having had a synagogue of their own. The imperial edict of March 17, 1808, divided off the Jews living in French countries into consistorial conscriptions, and these again into synagogue districts.Antwerp, together with the nine other departments of Belgium, was included in the consistory of Crefeld; but, strange to say, no delegate seems to have been sent from any one of these communities, either to the meeting of notables in Paris in 1806, or to the Sanhedrin in 1807. On the overthrow of Napoleon, Belgium was united with Holland; and Jews came in large numbers both from the Rhine district and from Holland. The organization of the various communities planned by the Austrian governor in 1814 was carried out by the Dutch. Antwerp, as a province, belonged, together with South Brabant, East and West Flanders, Namur, and Hainaut, to the fourteenth district, the chief synagogue of the district being at Brussels. The Jews of Antwerp acquired possession of a cemetery in 1828.
The revolution of 1830 again made a change, and Antwerp became part of the Belgian consistory, of which Brussels was the head. This consistory at first was made up of five, and in 1832 of seven members, Antwerp having one seat therein. Three dependent synagogues of the first class were established at Antwerp, Ghent, and Liège. Although this consistory has general charge of Jewish affairs in the country, and although the government contributes toward the annual expenses, the individual communities have a large amount of freedom. Shortly before the beginning of the second half of the nineteenth century a private collection was made and a synagogue, together with a school, worthy of the community, which was now continually increasing, was built. In 1849, according to official statistics, Antwerp had 52 registered Jewish households and 25 non-registered, which last term probably refers to those who were unable to pay regular taxes. In 1900 the Jewish population of Antwerp was 8,000. At the large synagogue the old Amsterdam Portuguese minhag is followed; but during the exodus of the Russian Jews in the years following 1881 several thousands of them settled in Antwerp, and there erected a number of synagogues and meeting-houses with a minhag closely allied to the German-Polish.
The present (1901) rabbi of the Portuguese synagogue is D. S. Hirsch, who bears the official title "Ministre Officiant du Culte Israélite."
One of the chief industries practised by the poorer Jews of Antwerp is that of diamond-cutting, the rose diamond being a specialty of their work. The diamond-cutters number between 600 and 700.
A Hebrew printing-press was established at Antwerp in 1565 by Christopher Plantin (1514-89). The type and specimens of the work done there may still be seen in Plantin's house (in the Marché, du Vendredi), which is now the "Musée Plantin." Permission to print Hebrew books was given to Plantin by the emperor Maximilian II. on Feb. 21, 1565. The first book with Hebrew characters printed in Antwerp seems to have been "Hebræa, Chaldæa, Græca et Latina Nomina Virorum, Mulierum . . . suis quæque characteribus restituta, cum latina interpretatione." In the following years there were published here ( = Anversa):
1566 "Biblia Hebraica," cum punctis; 1 vol. 4to; 2 vols. 8vo; 4 vols. 16mo.
1567 "Pentateuchus seu quinque Libri Mosis, Hebraice," cum punctis, 1 vol. 8vo.
1568 Stanislai Grespii "De Multiplici Siclo et Talento Hebraico," 1 vol. 8vo.
1569 "Biblia Sacra Hebraice, Chaldaice," 1 vol. 4to (part of the Polyglot). "Psalmorum Liber," 1 vol. 8vo. "Alphabetum Hebraicum," 1 vol. 8vo.
1570 "Biblia Sacra Hebraice, Chaldaice" (part of the Polyglot). "Grammatica Hebræa" . . . auctore Johanne Isaaco, 1 vol. 4to.
1572 "Thesaurus Hebraicæ Linguæ—Grammatica Chaldæa," etc. (parts of the Polyglot).
1573 "Biblia Sacra Hebraice, Chaldaice, et Latine," 8 vols. fol. (Polyglot). "Biblia Hebraica," sine punctis, 1 vol. 8vo.
1574 "Hagiographa Hebraice" (Psalms, Proverbs, Job, Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah, Chronicles), sine punctis, 1 vol. 12mo. "Psalterium Hebraicum," sine punctis, 1 vol. 24mo.
1575 "Itinerarium Benjamini Tudelensis . . . ex Hebraico Latinum factum Bened. Aria Montano interprete," 1 vol. 8vo.
1580 "Biblia Hebraica," 4to.
1581 "Psalterium Hebraice," 1 vol. 16mo. Joannes Drusius—"Interpretum Veterum Græcorum, Aquilæ, Symmachi, Theodotionis . . . quæ extant fragmenta in Psalmos Davidis, Hebraice, Græce, et Latine," 1 vol. 8vo.
1582 "Biblia Hebraica," 1 vol. 4to. Jani Drusii, "Ad Voces Ebraicas Novi Testamenti Commentarius . . ." 1 vol. 4to.
1584 "Biblia Hebraica. Eorundem Latina interpretatio Xantis Pagnini Lucensis, recenter Benedicti Ariæ Montani Hispaniæ,". . . 1 vol. fol. "Psalmi Hebraice," sine punctis, 1 vol. 16mo. "Interpretum Veterum Græcorum, Aquilæ, Symmachi, Theodotionis . . . quæ extant fragmenta in Psalmos Davidis, Hebraice, Græce, et Latine ex Editione Joannis Drieschii," 1 vol. 8vo.
1588 "Prophetæ Minores, Hebraice," 1 vol. 12mo.
- For the earlier period: M. C. Rahlenbeek, Les Juifs à Anvers in Revue de Belgique, 1871, viii. 137-146, from documents in the State Archives of Belgium;
- Émile Ouverleaux, Notes et Documents sur les Juifs de Belgique sous l'Ancien Régine, in Rev. Ét. Juives, vii. 117 et seq., 252 et seq.;
- idem, viii. 206 et seq.;
- idem, ix. 264 et seq.;
- Carmoly, Essai sur l'Histoire des Israélites en Belgique, in Revue, Orientale, i. 42 et seq.
- For modern times: [H. Sommerhausen], Briefe aus Belgien, in Monatsschrift, i. 499 et seq., 541 et seq.;
- idem, Briefe aus Brüssel, in Monatsschrift, ii. 270 et seq.;
- Verordeningen voor het Israëlitisch Kerkgenootschap binnen het Koningrik der Nederlanden. The Hague, 1822.
- For Hebrew typography at Antwerp: Steinschneider, Jüd. Typographie, in Ersch and Gruber's Encyklopädie, xxvi. 74a;
- idem, Cat. Bodl. cols. 22, 33, 44, 49, 3088;
- Léon Degeorge, La Maison Plantin à Anvers, pp. 133 et seq., Paris, 1886.
- For the Jewish diamond-cutters at Antwerp: Monatsschrift, vi. 304;
- L. Soloweitschik, Un Prolétariat Méconnu, p. 115, Brussels, 1898.