A city on the eastern coast of Brazil founded by the Portuguese in 1549. Its official name became Cidade do San Salvador da Bahia de Todos os Santos (The City of the Holy Savior in All Saints' Bay).

Although the year 1624 is generally assigned as the date of the earliest mention of Jews in Brazil, investigation shows that they lived there at a much earlier period.

Ruled by the Portuguese.

As early as 1610 mention is made of the physicians of Bahia, who are described as being mainly New Christians, who prescribed pork to lessen the suspicion and charges of Judaizing. Pyrard, the historian, who visited the place in 1610, states that a rumor was then afloat that the king of Spain "desires to establish the Inquisition here, on which account the Jews are greatly frightened."

Whether the persons referred to by Pyrard were observers of the Jewish faith is doubtful; he probably meant persons of Jewish race. Certain it is that the open profession of Judaism was not tolerated at the time.

The beginnings of Jewish history at Bahia, as well as in other portions of Brazil, are wrapped in obscurity, mainly for the reason that the earliest Jewish settlers were Maranos or New Christians. They had left Portugal, when it became too dangerous for them to remain there, on account of the extreme vigilance of the Inquisition.

Though the Inquisition was never established in Brazil, its agents were there almost from the very beginning, and at a very early period New Christians were sent back to Europe to stand trial before the Holy Office. On this account it soon became necessary for the Maranos in the New World to wear the mask, much as they had done in their native land. Usually they kept their Judaism secret, particularly at Bahia, for that city soon became the seat of the Jesuits and the most Catholic place in the colony, numbering more than sixty-two churches at the beginning of the seventeenth century.

The secret Jews at Bahia seem to have been very numerous at the beginning of the seventeenth century. In 1618, Don Luiz de Sousa was especially charged by the Inquisition to send home a list of all New Christians in Brazil, with the most exact information that could be obtained of their property and place of abode. They were then among the wealthiest inhabitants of Bahia, some of them being worth from 60,000 to 100,000 crusados. "But," observes the historian, "they were despised by their bigoted countrymen, and were in constant danger of losing their property through the agents of the Holy Office."

At this period the Dutch commenced their ambitious schemes for the conquest of Brazil. In connection with some of the earliest intrigues, special mention is made of one Francisco Ribiero, a Portuguese captain stationed near Bahia, who is described as having Jewish relatives in Holland.

It was only when some great upheaval took place, or when some Protestant power obtained the upper hand in Brazil, that the Jewish population appeared distinctively as Jews. On such occasions the New Christians threw off the mask, joined the deliverer, and openly proclaimed their adherence to the ancient faith. While hundreds of secret Jews had lived at Bahia almost from its foundation, it was only at the period of the Dutch invasion that they appear as adherents of the Jewish faith. The Dutch war came to them as a relief, for it alone prevented the introduction of the Inquisition.

Friendly to the Dutch.

The Dutch relied for assistance on the Jews of Bahia and the comparatively large Jewish population of Brazil, when they prepared their plans for the conquest of the country. The Dutch West India Company was formed in 1622 in furtherance of the project, and it is significant to note that one of the chief arguments in favor of the organization was, "that the Portuguese themselves, some from their hatred of Castile, others because of their intermarriage with New Christians and their consequentdread of the Inquisition, would either willingly join or feebly oppose an invasion, and all that was needful was to treat them well and give them liberty of conscience."

The Dutch were not mistaken; when their fleet was sent against Bahia, they obtained from the Jews all the information they required. The city was captured in 1623, and, true to the policy mentioned, Willekens, the Dutch commander, at once issued a proclamation offering liberty, free possession of their property, and free enjoyment of their religion to all who would submit. This brought over about two hundred Jews, who exerted themselves to make others follow their example.

Unfortunately for the Jews, Bahia was recaptured by the Portuguese in 1625; and though the treaty provided for the safety of other inhabitants, the New Christians who had placed such trust in the Hollanders were abandoned, and five of them were put to death. Many of the New Christians seem to have remained, however, for they are again mentioned in 1630. Probably those who were allowed to remain had been "reconciled" by confiscation of property.

Removed to Recife.

The Portuguese city of Recife was captured by the Dutch in 1631, and immediately thereafter most of the Jews or New Christians removed from Bahia and elsewhere to that city. It became the center of Jewish population, and was subsequently described as being "chiefly inhabited by Jews." But the authorities of Bahia became more intensely bigoted than before, and the slightest suspicion of Judaism meant transportation for trial.

After 1631, Jews appear in Bahia only individually, and then invariably in connection with arrest and trial by the Inquisition at Lisbon. The melancholy fate of Isaac de Castro Tartas may serve as an illustration. Contrary to the advice of his friends, he left Dutch territory to visit Bahia in 1646. He was at once seized, transported, and tried at Lisbon for Judaizing, and subsequently was burnt at an auto da fé.

Toward the end of the seventeenth century, Portugal banished to Brazil many New Christians who had become "reconciled." In time these became a distinct class at Bahia, and by the middle of the eighteenth century transportation of New Christians to Lisbon from Bahia and other cities had become so common that whole plantations lay idle in consequence, and ruin resulted. It was partly this that led the Marquis de Pombal to have laws enacted removing all disabilities from New Christians, making it penal for any one to reproach another for his Jewish origin, or to keep lists of persons of Jewish descent.

This deprived the Holy Office of its most effective means of accusation, and owing to these liberal provisions the New Christians were ultimately absorbed in the Catholic population of Brazil.

After 1765, and throughout the nineteenth century, Jews are not mentioned as a class at Bahia.

The city contains some Jewish residents to-day, and a list of the leading merchants published by the Bureau of American Republics contains a considerable number of unmistakable Jewish names, though these seem to be mainly of German origin.

The present constitution of Brazil guarantees to all liberty of conscience and worship.

  • Robert Southey, History of Brazil, London, 1822;
  • Robert Grant Wilson, Spanish and Portuguese South America During the Colonial Period, London, 1884;
  • Neuhoff's History of Brazil, in Pinkerton's Travels;
  • Adolphe de Beauchamp, Histoire du Brésil, 1815;
  • F. Pyrard, Voyage, etc.;
  • L. Hühner, in 9 Publications Amer. Jew. Hist. Soc.;
  • G. Kohut, Martyrs of the Inquisition in South America, in 4 idem;
  • Kayserling, Geschichte der Juden in Portugal, Sephardim;
  • also sketches in Publications Amer. Jew. Hist. Soc. Nos. 1 and 3.
A. L. Hü.
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