Portuguese Jewish community in Hamburg
From about 1590 on there has been a Portuguese Jewish community in Hamburg
-History:The first historic name for the city was, according to Claudius Ptolemy's reports, Treva.But the city takes its modern name, Hamburg, from the first permanent building on the site, a castle whose construction was ordered by the Emperor Charlemagne in AD 808...

, whose qehilla קהילה existed until its compulsory merger with the Ashkenazi congregation in July 1939. The first Sephardic settlers were Portuguese
History of the Jews in Portugal
The history of the Jews in Portugal reaches back over two thousand years and is directly related to Sephardi history, a Jewish ethnic division that represents communities who have originated in the Iberian Peninsula .-Before Portugal:...

Marranos were Jews living in the Iberian peninsula who converted to Christianity rather than be expelled but continued to observe rabbinic Judaism in secret...

s, who had fled from their own country under Philip II
Philip III of Spain
Philip III , also known as Philip the Pious, was the King of Spain and King of Portugal and the Algarves, where he ruled as Philip II , from 1598 until his death...

 and Philip III
Philip IV of Spain
Philip IV was King of Spain between 1621 and 1665, sovereign of the Spanish Netherlands, and King of Portugal until 1640...

, at first concealing their religion in their new place of residence.

Seventeenth century

In 1603 the aldermen ("Bürgerschaft") made complaints to the senate (city government) about the growing influx of Portuguese Jews. The senate asked the Lutheran theological faculties of Jena and Frankfort-on-the-Oder for their opinions in the matter, and in 1612, after many negotiations, it was agreed that, in consideration of a payment made for their protection, the Jews should be tolerated in the town as strangers, though they were not to be allowed to practise their religion publicly. This practice was not new in the city's policy, because also Reformed Dutch merchants and Anglican Britons (Merchant Adventurers of London
Company of Merchant Adventurers of London
The Company of Merchant Adventurers of London brought together London's leading overseas merchants in a regulated company, in the nature of a guild. Its members' main business was the export of cloth, especially white broadcloth...

) had negotiated similar toleration agreements with the senate. Thus the senate argued towards the aldermen, that the Sephardim were just another group of foreign merchants enhancing Hamburg's international commercial relations, emphasising their Portuguese nationality.

By its "Kaufmannshantierung" (merchant regulation) the senate granted all foreign merchants, including the Portuguese equal rights as to export, import and wholesale trade in 1612, while all crafts, dominated by the gild
A guild is an association of craftsmen in a particular trade. The earliest types of guild were formed as confraternities of workers. They were organized in a manner something between a trade union, a cartel, and a secret society...

s, remained closed for foreigners. According to a "rolla" or list of that time, they numbered 125 adults, besides servants and children. From 1611 they possessed a cemetery in the neighbouring Holstein-Pinneberg city of Altona
Altona, Hamburg
Altona is the westernmost urban borough of the German city state of Hamburg, on the right bank of the Elbe river. From 1640 to 1864 Altona was under the administration of the Danish monarchy. Altona was an independent city until 1937...

, which was used until 1871. In 1617 they obtained the right to choose four sworn brokers from among their own people as members of Bourse of Hamburg (Germany's first stock exchange); and later on this number was increased to fifteen. In the wake of the establishment of the Sephardic community also Ashkenazi Jews gained - since 1610 - for the first time access to the city, however, at first only as employees in Sephardic households or companies.

These Portuguese Jews, mainly engaged in the wholesale trade, greatly helped the commerce of the town. They were the first to open up trade with Spain and Portugal; they imported from the colonies sugar, tobacco, spices, cottons, etc., and they took a prominent part in the foundation of the Bank of Hamburg (1619). Of their eminent men the best known is the physician Rodrigo de Castro, who lived in Hamburg
-History:The first historic name for the city was, according to Claudius Ptolemy's reports, Treva.But the city takes its modern name, Hamburg, from the first permanent building on the site, a castle whose construction was ordered by the Emperor Charlemagne in AD 808...

 from 1594 till his death in 1630. In recognition of his valuable professional services the senate granted him the privilege of owning real estate in the town. Other notables were: Jacob Rosales, alias Manuel Boccario Francês y Rosales Hector Rosales (1588–1662, in Hamburg 1632–1655?), who distinguished himself as an astronomer, Emperor Ferdinand III conferring upon him the title of "comes palatinus (Pfalzgraf)
Count palatine
Count palatine is a high noble title, used to render several comital styles, in some cases also shortened to Palatine, which can have other meanings as well.-Comes palatinus:...

" in 1647, he further served as Spanish minister resident
Resident (title)
A Resident, or in full Resident Minister, is a government official required to take up permanent residence in another country. A representative of his government, he officially has diplomatic functions which are often seen as a form of indirect rule....

 to the cities of Hamburg and Lübeck; Joseph Francês, the poet; Moses Gideon Abudiente (1600–1688, in Hamburg since the 1620s), the grammarian; and Benjamin Musaphia
Benjamin Musaphia
Benjamin ben Immanuel Musaphia , also called Benjamin Musaphia or Mussafia and Dionysius, was a Jewish doctor, scholar and kabbalist....

 (1606–1673, in Hamburg 1634?–1643), the physician (personal doctor of King Christian IV of Denmark
Christian IV of Denmark
Christian IV was the king of Denmark-Norway from 1588 until his death. With a reign of more than 59 years, he is the longest-reigning monarch of Denmark, and he is frequently remembered as one of the most popular, ambitious and proactive Danish kings, having initiated many reforms and projects...

), philosopher, linguist, and chargé d'affaires
Chargé d'affaires
In diplomacy, chargé d’affaires , often shortened to simply chargé, is the title of two classes of diplomatic agents who head a diplomatic mission, either on a temporary basis or when no more senior diplomat has been accredited.-Chargés d’affaires:Chargés d’affaires , who were...

 of Frederick III, Duke of Holstein-Gottorp
Frederick III, Duke of Holstein-Gottorp
Frederick III of Holstein-Gottorp was a Duke of Holstein-Gottorp.He was the elder son of Duke Johann Adolf of Holstein-Gottorp and Augusta of Denmark. His mother was a daughter of King Frederick II of Denmark....


As early as the year 1627 the Portuguese Jews possessed a small place of worship, styled Talmud Torah (תלמוד תורה), in the house of Elijah Aboab Cardoso
Elijah Aboab Cardoso
Elijah Aboab Cardoso was a philanthropist and founder of the Hamburg synagogue. He lived in that city in the first half of the seventeenth century. He was descended from the Spanish - originally Portuguese - Cardoso family, and was one of the first Jewish settlers in Hamburg.In 1630 Cardoso founded...

. Emperor Ferdinand II
Ferdinand II, Holy Roman Emperor
Ferdinand II , a member of the House of Habsburg, was Holy Roman Emperor , King of Bohemia , and King of Hungary . His rule coincided with the Thirty Years' War.- Life :...

 addressed bitter complaints to the senate about this "synagogue", the Catholics not being allowed to build a church in Hamburg at that time. But, in spite of this protest and the violent attacks of the Lutheran clergy, the senate continued to protect the Jews. Their first Ḥacham חכם was Isaac Athias of Venice
Venice is a city in northern Italy which is renowned for the beauty of its setting, its architecture and its artworks. It is the capital of the Veneto region...

, whose successor was Abraham Ḥayyim de Fonseca (d. Iyyar, 5411 = 1651), also Ḥacham of another synagogue, Keter Torah (כתר תורה). A further congregation established, named Neveh Shalom (נוה שלום). In 1652 the three Portuguese congregations formally constituted themselves as Holy Community of the Sephardim of Beit Israel (בית ישראל) with a large synagogue of the same name, and chose as chief rabbi ("Ḥacham do naçao") the learned David Cohen de Lara (d. 1674). With him Ḥacham Moses Israel, and, a little later, Judah Carmi were rabbis of the congregation (both died in 1673). In 1656 Isaac Jesurun was called from Venice to Hamburg, there to take the place of chief rabbi ("Ḥacham geral") . . . "for the promotion of religion and the general welfare," . . . as the oldest minute-book of the congregation says. Apparently offended by this call, Cohen de Lara took leave for a few months and afterward went to live at Amsterdam
Amsterdam is the largest city and the capital of the Netherlands. The current position of Amsterdam as capital city of the Kingdom of the Netherlands is governed by the constitution of August 24, 1815 and its successors. Amsterdam has a population of 783,364 within city limits, an urban population...

. After the death of Jesurun (1665), De Lara went back to Hamburg, where he died.

Among the early elders of the congregation was Benedict de Castro, a son of Rodrigo, and, like his father, a well-known physician (personal doctor of Christina of Sweden
Christina of Sweden
Christina , later adopted the name Christina Alexandra, was Queen regnant of Swedes, Goths and Vandals, Grand Princess of Finland, and Duchess of Ingria, Estonia, Livonia and Karelia, from 1633 to 1654. She was the only surviving legitimate child of King Gustav II Adolph and his wife Maria Eleonora...

). In 1663 the Sephardic congregation, at that time the only acknowledged Jewish community at Hamburg, consisted of about 120 families. Among these were several distinguished by wealth and political influence: Daniel Abensur (d. 1711) was minister resident of the Polish-Saxon Augustus II the Strong
Augustus II the Strong
Frederick Augustus I or Augustus II the Strong was Elector of Saxony and King of Poland and Grand Duke of Lithuania ....

 in Hamburg; Jacob Curiel (d. 1664) and Nuñez da Costa acted in a similar capacity to the King of Portugal; Diego (Abraham) Texeira (1581–1666, in Hamburg since 1646) and his son Manuel (Isaac) Texeira (1630/31-1705, in Hamburg until 1698), who consulted Duke Frederick III of Holstein-Gottorp, King Frederick III of Denmark
Frederick III of Denmark
Frederick III was king of Denmark and Norway from 1648 until his death. He instituted absolute monarchy in Denmark and Norway in 1660, confirmed by law in 1665 as the first in western historiography. He was born the second-eldest son of Christian IV of Denmark and Anne Catherine of Brandenburg...

 and Queen Christina of Sweden in financial affairs, also administering her fortune after her abdication. From 1655 Manuel was the celebrated minister resident of the former Queen Christina in Hamburg. Jacob Sasportas taught from 1666 to 1672 at a beit ha-midrash founded by Manuel Texeira, and was often called upon, as Ḥacham, to decide religious questions. By the 1660s also an Ashkenazi congregation, without any legal recognition, had formed.

Hamburg's Sephardim took great interest in the movements of the false Messiah Shabbethai Zebi
Sabbatai Zevi
Sabbatai Zevi, , was a Sephardic Rabbi and kabbalist who claimed to be the long-awaited Jewish Messiah. He was the founder of the Jewish Sabbatean movement...

. They arranged celebrations in his honor in their principal synagogue, the young men wearing trimmings and sashes of green silk, "the livery of Shabbethai Zebi." Sasportas tried in vain to damp this enthusiasm, which was to be bitterly disappointed a few years later. Other rabbis of the congregation were Jacob ben Abraham Fidanque, Moses Ḥayyim Jesurun (d. 1691), Samuel Abaz (d. 1692), and Abraham ha-Kohen Pimentel (d. 1697).

In 1697 the freedom of religious practice which the congregation had obtained was disturbed by hostile edicts of the aldermen, and the Jews were extortionately taxed (Cf. Taxes on the Jews in Altona and Hamburg). On this account many of the rich and important Portuguese Jews left Hamburg, some of them laying the foundation of the Portuguese congregation of Altona, since 1640 part of Danish Holstein. Internal quarrels, and especially the withdrawal of Jacob Abensur (minister resident of Augustus II the Strong) and his followers, were other causes of the decline of the Sephardic congregation in Hamburg.

Eighteenth and nineteenth centuries

In 1710 an imperial commission, which visited the town for the purpose of making peace between the senate and the aldermen, fixed the position of Hamburg's Ashkenazi and Sephardi Jews by certain regulations ("Reglement der Judenschaft in Hamburg sowohl portugiesischer als hochdeutscher Nation", Regulation of the Jewry of Portuguese as well as of High German Nation in Hamburg), promulgated in the name of Emperor Joseph I. This edict became the fundamental law for the treatment of the Jews in Hamburg during the ensuing century.
The Portuguese, proud of their noble lineage, were very dissatisfied at being put on a level with the German Jews, and segregated themselves more and more from them. As a result of this exclusiveness, and for want of fresh accessions, their community declined in the course of the eighteenth century and lost its leading position among the Hamburg Jews. Still, it had some well-known Ḥachamim, for example Jacob de Abraham Basan, who wrote an order of prayers (still extant) for a fast-day held after the 1755 Lisbon earthquake
1755 Lisbon earthquake
The 1755 Lisbon earthquake, also known as the Great Lisbon Earthquake, was a megathrust earthquake that took place on Saturday 1 November 1755, at around 9:40 in the morning. The earthquake was followed by fires and a tsunami, which almost totally destroyed Lisbon in the Kingdom of Portugal, and...

, and Benjamin Benveniste (d. 1757). But learning and interest in Jewish affairs waned in the Portuguese community, and its institutions were neglected. The shechita
Shechita is the ritual slaughter of mammals and birds according to Jewish dietary laws...

h, formerly under its sole supervision, went over to the Ashkenazi community, which in exchange had to pay to the Portuguese one-fourth (since 1856 one-eighth) of the total proceeds of the meat-tax.

By the annexation of Hamburg into the first French Empire
First French Empire
The First French Empire , also known as the Greater French Empire or Napoleonic Empire, was the empire of Napoleon I of France...

 in 1810, all Hamburgers became French citizens of equal rights, though the Jews among them were discriminated by Napoléon Bonaparte's so-called décret infâme. The Holy Community of the Sephardim of Beit Israel became subject to the French Jewish Consistory
Consistory (Judaism)
In Jewish usage, a consistory is a body governing the Jewish congregations of a province or of a country; also the district administered by the consistory...

. In 1814 Hamburg resumed independence and sovereignty as a city-state
A city-state is an independent or autonomous entity whose territory consists of a city which is not administered as a part of another local government.-Historical city-states:...

, and in the following year the senate deprived the Jews their legal equality. Arguing it was the French state and not the Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg which had emancipated the Jews in town, the senate took the decisions of the German Confederation
German Confederation
The German Confederation was the loose association of Central European states created by the Congress of Vienna in 1815 to coordinate the economies of separate German-speaking countries. It acted as a buffer between the powerful states of Austria and Prussia...

 on the rights of the Jews, in Johann Smidt
Johann Smidt
Johann Smidt was an important Bremen politician, theologian, and founder of Bremerhaven.Smidt was a son of the Reformed preacher Johann Smidt sen., pastor at St. Stephen Church in Bremen. Smidt jun. studied theology in Jena, and was one of the founders of the Gesellschaft der freien Männer...

's manipulated formulation, as the legal grounds. The old Reglement der Judenschaft regained legal validity.

The Portuguese congregation's principal synagogue in Alter Wall was burned in the great city fire of 1842. From 1855 to 1935 the Sephardim possessed a smaller new place of worship in Markusstrasse 36, the service being maintained with all the old Spanish rites and melodies. Since the beginning of the nineteenth century they had no Ḥacham. The members of the congregation were granted equal rights (Jewish emancipation
Jewish Emancipation
Jewish emancipation was the external and internal process of freeing the Jewish people of Europe, including recognition of their rights as equal citizens, and the formal granting of citizenship as individuals; it occurred gradually between the late 18th century and the early 20th century...

) by the city-state on 21 February 1849, adopting the legislation of the Frankfurt National Assembly. Their last preacher and spiritual chief was Judah Cassuto, who officiated as Ḥazzan
A hazzan or chazzan is a Jewish cantor, a musician trained in the vocal arts who helps lead the congregation in songful prayer.There are many rules relating to how a cantor should lead services, but the idea of a cantor as a paid professional does not exist in classical rabbinic sources...

 (חזן) from 1827 to 1893. It is thought that in 1905 the Portuguese community numbered about 400.

In Altona
Altona, Hamburg
Altona is the westernmost urban borough of the German city state of Hamburg, on the right bank of the Elbe river. From 1640 to 1864 Altona was under the administration of the Danish monarchy. Altona was an independent city until 1937...

, Prussian
Kingdom of Prussia
The Kingdom of Prussia was a German kingdom from 1701 to 1918. Until the defeat of Germany in World War I, it comprised almost two-thirds of the area of the German Empire...

 since 1866, but incorporated into Hamburg in 1937, Sephardim had settled since before 1647. Their congregation was first known as Beit Yacob ha-Katan (בית יעקב הקטן). In 1770 they founded the Holy Community of Neveh Shalom (נוה שלום). They gained legal equality on 14 July 1863 through an act of the Danish-Holsteinian government. In 1887 the few remaining congregants had to dissolve the community due to lack of members.

Twentieth century

By the time of the Nazi era, Hamburg's tiny Sephardic congregation had become the only of its kind in Germany. While all anti-Semitic discriminations hit its members as hard as the Ashkenazim, the congregation was not the main target of aggressive active assaults. In 1935 the congregation, comprising 150 members, moved its synagogue into a villa in Innocentiastr. #37 and left the old synagogue to the Ashkenazi congregation of Hamburg. The Sephardic synagogue was not attacked in the night of the November Pogrom.

In July 1939 the Nazi government abolished Jewish congregations as religious organisations and transformed them into subordinate branches of the police administration in charge of publicising and supervising the observance of the ever-growing number of anti-Semitic invidiousnesses. Therefore all persons classified as Jews according to the Nuremberg Laws
Nuremberg Laws
The Nuremberg Laws of 1935 were antisemitic laws in Nazi Germany introduced at the annual Nuremberg Rally of the Nazi Party. After the takeover of power in 1933 by Hitler, Nazism became an official ideology incorporating scientific racism and antisemitism...

 were compulsorily enlisted as members, including Catholics, irreligionists, and Protestants, of whose grandparents three to four of them had been enrolled in a Jewish congregation. The Holy Community of the Sephardim of Beit Israel had to merge in the formerly Ashkenazi Jüdischer Religionsverband in Hamburg, now also comprising the afore-mentioned Gentiles, since the Nazis allowed for their purposes only one community of the new type in every town.

Systematic deportations of Jewish Germans and Gentile Germans of Jewish descent started on October 18, 1941. These were all directed to Ghettos in Nazi-occupied Europe or to concentration camps
Nazi concentration camps
Nazi Germany maintained concentration camps throughout the territories it controlled. The first Nazi concentration camps set up in Germany were greatly expanded after the Reichstag fire of 1933, and were intended to hold political prisoners and opponents of the regime...

. Most deported persons perished in the Shoa
Shoa may refer to:* The Holocaust, named Ha-Shoah in Hebrew* Shoah .* Shoa, Ethiopia, the Shewa region, sometimes spelled Shoa* Shuwa Arabic or the Baggara Arabs* Shoa Magazine, a monthly magazine published from Pakistan...


By the end of 1942 the Jüdischer Religionsverband in Hamburg was dissolved as independent legal entity and its remaining assets and staff was assumed by the Reichsvereinigung der Juden in Deutschland
Reichsvereinigung der Juden in Deutschland
The Reichsvereinigung der Juden in Deutschland was an administrative branch subject to the Reich's government, represented by its Reichssicherheitshauptamt...

 (District Northwest). On 10 June 1943 the Reichssicherheitshauptamt dissolved the Reichsvereinigung by a decree. The few remaining employees not somewhat protected by a mixed marriage were deported from Hamburg on June 23 to Theresienstadt.

Cited in Jewish Encyclopaedia

  • Protocol-Book and Acts of the Portuguese Congregation (unpublished)
  • Acts of the Municipal Archives of Hamburg (unpublished)


  • Arno Herzig, "Frühe Neuzeit", in: Das Jüdische Hamburg: ein historisches Nachschlagewerk, Kirsten Heinsohn (ed.) on behalf of the Institut für die Geschichte der deutschen Juden, Göttingen: Wallstein, 2006, p. 82. ISBN 3-8353-0004-0.
  • Mein Vater war portugiesischer Jude …: Die sefardische Einwanderung nach Norddeutschland um 1600 und ihre Auswirkungen auf unsere Kultur, Sabine Kruse and Bernt Engelmann (eds.), Göttingen: Steidl, 1992, 224 pp.

External links

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