It’s Tisha B’Av and Portugal wants its Jews back

“You venture to call Ferdinand a wise ruler…he who has impoverished his own country and enriched mine!” – Sultan Bayezid II of the Ottoman Empire, 1492

Generally speaking, Tisha B’Av is a day that is understood to be as a day of mourning for the destruction of and perpetual lacking of our Holy Temple. But we have also come to find out that, “serendipitously” or by what some would deem hashgacha pratis, this day on the Jewish calendar has witnessed many other calamitous events in our history.

Notable events include: The commencement of the First Crusade which commenced on August 15, 1096, which eventually claimed 1.2 million Jewish lives. Expulsions of the Jews of England and France in 1290 and 1306 respectively. On August 2nd, 1941, Hermann Göring ordered SS general Reinhard Heydrich to make all the necessary preparations for the Final Solution. Then one year later, the first transports reached Treblinka and the extermination of the Jews of the Warsaw Ghetto began. The dismantlement of Gush Katif on August 14th, 2005.

Yet aside from all of these events in Jewish history (and especially the Holocaust), there is one event that holds significance not just for the Jewish people but for the entire world: the expulsion of the Jews of Spain in 1492.

Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain

It does so for one main reason: as we’ve come to find out from scholars, it’s not only possible that Christopher Columbus hailed from Portugal (and not Genoa, Italy, as he didn’t speak Italian) but he was also a Marrano i.e. a Jew who fakes conversion to Christianity. Therefore it came as no surprise that he “sailed the ocean blue” just a few days after the expulsion of the Jews from Spain, having postponed his voyage to avoid embarking on the holiday. The rest of the story as we know, led to the eventual discovery of the most financially blessed and generous nation on the face of the earth.

In his book, “Sails of Hope,”, Simon Weisenthal argues that Columbus’ voyage was motivated by a desire to find a safe haven for the Jews in light of their expulsion from Spain. Likewise, Carol Delaney, a cultural anthropologist at Stanford University, concludes that Columbus was a deeply religious man whose purpose was to sail to Asia to obtain gold in order to finance a crusade to take back Jerusalem and rebuild the Jews’ holy Temple. (And we’ve known since elementary school that his initial purpose was in fact to NOT to find a new continent, but to search for unheard of wealth.)

Beth and hei in the top left-hand margin. A signed letter written by Columbus to his son Don Diego in which he tells him that he has received his letters.
Beth and hei in the top left-hand margin. A signed letter written by Columbus to his son Don Diego in which he tells him that he has received his letters.

At the time of the expulsion of the Jews, Portugal saw a virtual “merger” with Spain as a result of the marriage between King Manuel I and Princess Isabel of Spain in 1494. In 1497, under pressure from the Spanish court, Portugal came to expel their Jews as well. Prior to their expulsion, Jews made tremendous contributions to Portugal’s “Golden Age of Discovery”.

Portugal was home to many famous Jews during this period. Abraham Zacuto wrote tables that provided the principal base for Portugese navigation, including those used by Vasco Da Gama on his trip to India. Isaac Abravanel was one of the principal merchants and a member of one the most influential Jewish families in Portugal. Jews became the intellectual and economic elite of the country. They were involved in all aspects of the explorations, from financing the sailing fleets to making scientific discoveries in the fields of mathematics, medicine and cartography. Many were employed as physicians and astronomers as well royal treasurers, tax collectors and advisors. As a result, Manuel was never content with his decision, mainly because he appreciated the economic value of the Jews to the country.

Fast forward over 500 years. EU states claim that current efforts in investing millions into Jewish heritage sites are part of a fight against rising anti-semitism in Europe. Yet underneath the facade of this sudden love for the Jews, lies the underlying reason. The major economies of Western Europe are teetering on collapse due to rising debt. Germany, who were one of the culprits in our Tisha B’Av history, have been forced to bail everyone else out (because as we all know, karma tends to be an angry b***h). Portugal, who are one of the beneficiaries of these bailouts i.e. part of the PIIGS Quintet of FAIL, are about to witness the collapse of their stock market as well as their government. Two key ministers have already resigned and there is a threat that the center-right coalition government won’t last another week. Their crisis has sent neighboring markets into a tailspin with renewed fears over the Eurozone crisis.


As a result, they have just now followed Spain in asking for their Jews back…three days before Tisha B’Av. What began as a Facebook campaign in atonement for the Inquisition ended in national legislation.

As with many events in Jewish history, this one holds a bit of irony…given the fact that the EU just declared, on Tisha B’Av, that any future agreement between itself and Israel will not involve anything beyond the 1967 lines, which includes territories captured by Israel in a war of self-defense…ie the Golan Heights, Judea and Samaria, and last but not least, East Jerusalem, where the Old City resides and is obviously the home of the Temple Mount.

So basically what Europe is trying to tell us on this most calamitous day of our history is: “We have no money. Please come back. You won’t have your own country soon anyways, as we’re dismantling it piece by piece.”

Thanks but no thanks Portugal. And thanks but no thanks Europe. The best we can do is send you our blessings from Jerusalem. Good luck to you.



About the Author
Born in Ukraine and grew up in the NYC metro area. After working as a trader on Wall St. for 8 years, made aliyah in 2010. After living in Jerusalem, Tzvi returned to NYC and started a company to import boutique wines from Judea & Samaria. He uses his business and my website as a vehicle educate young Jews about Israel, the Middle East and Judaism. His ultimate goal is to return to Israel and inspire young Russian-speaking Jews in the US to make aliyah.