The Portuguese Community in Amsterdam


Amsterdam is One of the most beautiful and magical cities in Europe, full of mysterious streets that are fun to enter, liberal, accepting and embracing.

On my last visit to the city, I decided to do something different, connect with Judaism and history, and visit the Jewish community in Amsterdam.

Amsterdam was spread because of the ability of its inhabitants to look at man as a person regardless of his origin, occupation, and religion. The special reception of the Dutch made Amsterdam a hot spot among Jews as early as the 14th century.

As part of my research, I arrived at the Portuguese Synagogue, a great excitement already at the entrance. In front of me stands a magnificent red building, full of doors and underground entrances. At each entrance, there is a sign in Hebrew describing the room and what happened then.

historical background

During the Spanish expulsion of Spain in 1492 some of the Jews of Spain fled to Portugal because of the Inquisition in their country, but even in Portugal the Jews continued to suffer persecution of the Inquisition, and some were forced to convert to Christianity. And from there they fled again and spread all over the world. Among them Amsterdam.

Communities in Amsterdam

At the beginning of the 17th century, they came to Amsterdam, where the religious climate was more tolerant, and the Jews called themselves Portuguese Jews, not Sephardic because then the Dutch Republic was in constant conflict with the Spanish kingdom.

When the Jews arrived from Spain and Portugal to Amsterdam, they continued to maintain a religious and cultural life in the Catholic style. Only when they settled in Amsterdam and saw it as religious freedom did many of them decide to return to their ancestral religion openly and to practice the Christian religion.

Initially, there were three Spanish communities in the Netherlands:

The community of Beit Ya'akov, whose existence was documented in 1610 and was founded in 1602. The community was named after Hanus Jacob Tirado

The "Neve Shalom" community, founded in 1608-1612.

The "Beit Israel" community was founded in 1618.

The three communities served the people of Spain and Portugal, and each community held its own charitable and charitable institutions and yeshivas.

In 1639, the three communities united into one large community called Talmud Torah, which is the community that exists to this day. In fact, on the day of my visit, I saw the rabbi teaching a child who is celebrating a bar mitzvah.

The Portuguese Jewish community made an essential contribution to the cultural and economic development of the Netherlands, while the Netherlands granted it freedom of religion, which is particularly prominent in Jewish history. Rabbis, scholars, thinkers, artists, bankers, and world-class business owners emerged from the Portuguese Jewish community.

The Portuguese Synagogue

The Portuguese Synagogue in Amsterdam (in Dutch: De Portugees-Israëlietische Synagogue van Amsterdam, Ladino: La Esnoga de Amsterdam) The synagogue is known as Esnoga (the word Esnoga Baldino is a synagogue) and in Dutch "Snogee".

Rabbi Yitzchak Abuav de Ponsica (1605-1693) was a rabbi in Amsterdam and the first rabbi of the New World.

Abuav led the Amsterdam community for 40 years and during his time the community flourished.

In 1670 the decision was made to build a synagogue, and in November 1670 Abuav, with the assistance of Yitzhak de Pinto, set up a headquarters to donate money for the construction of a new synagogue. The donations came from wealthy merchants and the sale of seats in the synagogue. Together, they reached about 40,000 guilders, which was a lot of money at the time.

The city architect, Elias Bauman, designed the synagogue, according to the model of the Temple built by King Solomon, which was then the largest synagogue in the world.

The cornerstone was laid on 25 March 1671, the first day of Passover in the holiday prayers. The fact that a synagogue was built in a magnificent and prominent building, whose facade faces a main street in the city, was rare in those days in Europe and is the testimony to the freedom of religion in the Netherlands.

A year later construction was halted for two years because of wars and economic and political crises. The work was renewed on May 27, 1674, and the entrance doors were opened for the first time in August 1675, and the synagogue was inaugurated with a festive prayer.

During the first 100 years following its construction, three additional synagogues were built adjacent to the building. Today the Synagogues Complex serves as the Museum of Jewish History in Amsterdam.

The structure of the synagogue was built in the form of a square, with two small buildings constructed next to it, one serving as a ritual bath and the other as the office of community management and the solar apartment. In the main hall were four marble pillars that supported the ceiling. A gallery surrounded the walls on three sides, two of which served as women's help and a partition was installed in front of them. The third was without a partition and served by men. The synagogue had about 400 seats for men and about 350 for women.

The treasures of the synagogue

The Portuguese Jewish community owns one of the most important heritage collections in the world. The holy vessels, the printing press, and the manuscripts are of incredible value. The holy vessels are still used today. Some of them are displayed in the restrooms of the restroom.

The library

The oldest Jewish library in the world, established in 1616

In the early decades, most of the rabbis and cantors came from the city of Salonika and Morocco. Later, Amsterdam became a center for Jewish studies and science. As a result, the Beit Midrash Etz Chaim was established, which soon found an impressive library. Etz Chaim - Libertaria Montesinos is still one of the most important libraries in the world in Judaism.

Originally there were textbooks of the Tree of Life, and later added the books of the writer Montesinos, it contains books, manuscripts, etchings and more from Jewish history. This library represents about 400 years of Jewish life. The oldest book was donated in the 14th century by the first rabbi, Uri Ben Yosef Halevi.

Beit Haim cemetery

The name of the cemetery was given to him inspired by the name of the cemetery of the Jews of Venice called "House of Life".

The cemetery of the "Beit Hayim" community was known for its magnificent tombstones and the symbols engraved on them

Which perpetuate the memory of the residents of the Dutch Jewish community since 1614

In the Beit Hayim cemetery, which covers 40 dunams, 28,000 Jews, men and women, including rabbis, Franciscans, members of the liberal professions and others, who are involved in both Jewish society and Dutch civil society, are buried.

The uniqueness of the cemetery is that in a typical Jewish cemetery the tombstones are in Hebrew and in some instances, the name of the deceased is added in a foreign language on the back of the tombstone.

In "Beit Hayim" the inscription appears in three languages: Hebrew, Dutch and Portuguese.

And it is engraved on some of the tombstones, figures of man and angels.

Today, the Jewish inhabitants of the Netherlands continue to bury their relatives who died in the ancient cemetery.

Prominent personalities are:

Menashe Ben Israel, leader of the Amsterdam Jewish community.

Dr. Eliyahu Montalto, physician of Marie de Medici and Louis XIII kings of France.

Rabbi Shmuel Pallache, a Moroccan diplomat and Jewish pirate.

The parents of the philosopher Baruch Spinoza.

Shmuel Sarphati, the 19th-century city planner in Amsterdam.

Efraim Bueno, a renowned physician, and researcher in Amsterdam.

Shaul Levy Morteira, a famous rabbi of Amsterdam, the head of the rabbinical court who ruled Spinoza in 1656.

Joseph Mendes de Kosta, Dutch sculptor, and artist.

Since then:

1943 On the orders of the German occupier, the gates of the synagogue were locked. The Jewish Quarter that was destroyed during the Nazi occupation was primarily abandoned; Only the "rest", the Spanish synagogue, remains in use until now. Ninety percent of the 5,000 Sephardi Jews in the city were murdered in the Holocaust, thus joining Amsterdam to Salonika, Sarajevo and other Spanish communities that were either erased or severely damaged in the Holocaust.

1954 The building was transferred to the municipality of Amsterdam

1966, he thoroughly renovated it and restored it to the state in 1822.

1987, the building was renovated and adapted to the rest of the complex that was used as the Museum of Jewish History.

2004 On the ground floor of the Great Synagogue there is a permanent exhibit on the Jewish religion, and in the galleries, there is an exhibition about Jewish personalities in the Netherlands between 1890 and 1600. Sometimes concerts are held in the building.

Today there are between 20,000-25,000 Jews living in the Netherlands, 15,000 to 20,000 of them in Amsterdam. The Portuguese community has about 600 members


Portuguese Synagogue in Amsterdam

Mr. Visserplein 3

1011 RD Amsterdam

The Netherlands

Article writer: Vanesa Kasif.