The Portuguese Jews of Jamaica

The Portuguese Jews of Jamaica

The Portuguese Jews of Jamaica

The Portuguese Jews of Jamaica


This is the first comprehensive account of the Jewish population of Jamaica and its role in the economic and cultural life of the country. Beginning in the sixteenth century with the first Jewish settlers who arrived with the Portuguese, Arbell chronicles the Jews' fight for civil rights and freedoms and the ways in which their wide network of family connections enabled them to play a key role in international commerce.

The work covers religious, cultural and economic aspects of Jewish settlement in Jamaica. The facts presented in each chapter have been authenticated by research in archives and libraries in the US, England, Jamaica and Israel. Citations from documents unearthed enhance the narrative and provide period authenticity, making the book lively reading. Over twenty illustrations provide a picture of the Caribbean in the periods being reviewed.


All journeys begin with a first step. the question we must ask as we go along is, how is the quality of the trip and when, where and how does it end? Mordecai Arbell has made another important step forward for the retention of the history of the Jews in the Caribbean.

His journey began many years ago when he first came to the Caribbean as an envoy of the Government of Israel. He continued to make strides, in particular, when he undertook the recording of the material for the Beth Hafetsoth Museum, presented in an exhibition titled La Nación. Now he has created this record.

Why it is important is a significant question. the significance lies not in the before the Caribbean settlement, but in the after. After the settlement in the Caribbean of Jews from Holland, France, Spain and Portugal in the main, tolerance and assimilation began to set in, one aiding and abetting the other. Many of the descendants today do not have a clue as to whom they emanate from, what ethnicities they are the product of and why so much of their culture is unexplained. We are, after all, the product of the past and there is a real need to know what that is all about. This is where the contribution of this history may have its greatest impact.

What is of interest to a wider public is the relationship of the Nation, as the Spanish and Portuguese called themselves, to the economic and social mores of the various times. These records are invaluable as a part of understanding the wider aspects of the periods reviewed and recorded. It takes into account commerce and agriculture, brutal enslavement and religious tolerance, positive legislative experiences and taxation excesses. Each is quite a journey in itself but all together are conceptually vital if we are to understand the past.

One aspect that needs a comment is that this story is being published within the lands that are occupied by the people of . . .

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