Diplomatic Aspects of the Sephardic Influx from Portugal in the Early Eighteenth Century

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This year (1976) marks the 275th anniver? sary of the opening in Bevis Marks of the noble synagogue of the Spanish and Portuguese Jews. In the last twenty-five years, since the late A. M. Hyamson's Sephardim of England was pub? lished to celebrate the synagogue's 250th anniversary, the material for a history of the early years of the London Sephardi community has been very considerably enlarged or revised, almost entirely by members or guest-lecturers of this Society.1 It would take too long to go through all these new contributions now, but the period covered ranges from Professor Beinart's Lucien Wolf Lecture of last year, published in this volume of Transactions, on the personal histories, reconstructed from In? quisition records, of three of the early settlers who clustered round and supported the syna? gogue shortly after its first foundation in Cree Church Lane, to the biography by the late Oskar Rabinowicz of Sir Solomon Medina, principal army contractor to Marlborough's armies.2

The number of Portuguese immigrants, most frequently fleeing from the Inquisition, steadily grew and included prominent and wealthy Jews, not only in the service of Charles II but also in that of William III, coming from Holland.

The financial position of its leading members was one thing, that of the Congregation and its finances (called the Sedaca) another. Again and again in their correspondence from 1692 onwards, the Parnasim stress the financial burdens imposed by the increasing number of poverty-stricken immigrants 'more than in any other Kehila'J In 1705, sending a donation via Livorno of 125 pesos from the synagogue fund of Terra Santa, in a letter to the Hahamim and Parnasim of Jerusalem, they regret that the sum is not greater, but explain that its smallness 'is the result of wars and the many people which this Kahal Kados has welcomed from Spain and Portugal whom one must succour as they come fleeing the tyrannies of the Inquisition'.4 This theme of the great influx of impoverished refugees was to be a constant preoccupation of the rulers of the synagogue for the next three decades. It could indeed be borne out by an inspection of the various Treasurers' annual account books, still preserved. It is a common mistake to think of the Spanish and Portuguese as the rich man's synagogue. It was anything but this, though it included a number of ex? tremely wealthy individuals, who were able to shoulder its burdens and build its new syna? gogue.

It is possible to obtain a figure of sorts of these immigrants by studying the synagogue's marriage registers, which begin in 1692 and record many couples as 'vindos de Portugal' or occasionally 'vindos de Espanha??'come from Portugal' or from Spain. These are refugees who, having been married with church rites in Portugal, or by a private ceremony without Jewish validity, had to be remarried with full Jewish rites in London before they could enter fully into the Jewish community. Such was the firm decision of the London Mohamad

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