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Work of Reclamation of Marranos in Portugal Making Steady Progress, Committee Report Shows; 3 Synago

The work of the reclamation of the Marranos in Portugal is making steady progress, Charles E. Sebag-Montefiore said in presenting the report of the Portugueses Marronos Committee to the annual meeting of the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue held at Bevis Marks today. There are now three regular synagogues, he said, in Oporto, Braganca and Covhila, which are centers of Jewish instruction among the Marranos in these places and their respective districts. The foundation stone of the synagogue in Oporto was laid on July 1st and the building is in course of construction. The Portuguese Marranos Committee has voted a sum of £500 towards the Building Fund of the Synagogue and another £500 has been received for this purpose from Baron Edmond de Rothschild of Paris. An appeal has been issued on behalf of the Building Fund of the Oporto Synagogue so that it may be duly erected as a place of worship for those Marranos who have found their way back to the Jewish fold.

At Braganca, where the Jewish Community is composed entirely of former Marranos, the Synagogue, named “Sha’are Phidyon” (Gates of Redemption), has been removed to larger premises situated in the rua Direita, in the best part of the town. The Braganca Congregation has had the good fortune to receive the financial support of the Central Conference of American Rabbis which, through its president, Dr. H. G. Enelow, voted a sum of $500 from the Littauer Trust at its disposal and a donation of $250 from its own funds.

Another advance in the organization of neo-Jews among the Marranos has been the foundation of a Congregation, entitled “Sha’are Cabbalah” (Gates of Tradition), at Covilha, the Portuguese Manchester. The Synagogue at Covilha, the establishment of which received the legal sanction of the Government in July, 1929, had 40 worshippers last Yom Kippur. Samuel Schwarz, whose interest in the Jewish revival among the Portuguese Marranos has proved of far-reaching consequence to them, is the president of the General Committee of the Congregation. A Sepher Torah has been presented by Sr. Joaquim Sebag, of Porta Delgada (Azores), and the equipment of the house of prayer has been provided by the Oporto Congregation.

The crypto-Jews of Covilha have in the past produced a number of men of distinction, belonging to the well-known families of de Sousa (of whom Antonio de Sousa was in 1643 Ambassador of Portugal in London, and Tome de Sousa Governor of Brazil in 1549), de Castro, Mendes, Pinto and Mesquita. A member of the present Covilha Community is Lieut. Elias da Costa, author of a recent publication entitled “Covilha at Work.”

Attempts have been made during the period under review to establish other neo-Jewish communities, but while prayer-meetings have been held and addresses on Judaism delivered in a number of places, those endeavors have not yet come to fruition. At Belmonte, Jose Pereira de Souza gathers in his house every Sabbath a number of Marrano families whom he addresses on subjects of Jewish interest. Arrangements have meanwhile been made for Marrano groups to be attached to established communities nearest to them, those, for instance, in Caria, Chaves, Belmonte and Dundao to Covilha, and that in Macedo to Braganca.

The most pressing problem, however, still remains to be solved, the appointment of a Rabbi, who will extend and complete the work carried on by Captain Barros Basto with exemplary zeal and self-sacrifice. Special qualifications will be necessary for such a spiritual leader, but so far no candidate for the position has been found, nor are the necessary means for his engagement at present available. Captain Barros Basto has taken the initiative for the training of Jewish religious teachers among the Marranos by the establishment of a Theological Institute in Oporto, where five youths (three from Belmonte, one from Penamacor and one from Vilarinho), who have been formally admitted into Judaism, are maintained and instructed free of charge with a view to their taking up the duties of instructors among their fellow Marranos as soon as they are fit to do so.

The Portuguese Marranos Committee believe, the report says, that the work they tentatively undertook for a period of five years has fully justified itself. Three years have now elapsed since the Committee undertook the financial support of the movement for the revival of Judaism among the Portuguese Marranos, and it is felt that not only those who, by their donations and annual subscriptions, have already manifested their faith in this work, but the Jewish Community generally may now confidently be asked to maintain and further develop this unique Jewish missionary effort among the Jews. The Committee has been contributing £400 per annum towards the maintenance of the Jewish Community in Oporto. But the erection of a permanent Synagogue in that city to the glory of the God of Israel calls for a larger response from those Jews who may desire to respond to the spiritual needs of the Portuguese Marranos who now profess Judaism openly.

“We feel justified,” the report concludes, “in particularly asking the Anglo-Jewish community—founded by Marranos who had escaped the terrors of the Inquisition in Spain and Portugal—to respond to the earnest appeal we make for financial assistance not only to complete the Synagogue at Oporto but to provide the means for maintaining effectively the sacred work of saving this remnant of Israel in Sepharad which, by God’s grace and its own unexampled fidelity to Judaism, has survived to this day.”

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