Portugal Town Gets First Torah Scroll in 500 Years

5,000-Strong Village Trancoso Was Once Half Jewish

Remnants of Culture: Artifacts are all that remain of Jewish life in many Portuguese towns.
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Remnants of Culture: Artifacts are all that remain of Jewish life in many Portuguese towns.

By JTA

Published July 21, 2013.

For the first time in centuries, a Torah scroll will be installed in the northern Portuguese town of Trancoso, where many Jews lived before the 16th century.

The Torah scroll was scheduled to be installed Sunday during the dedication of a new Jewish learning center, the Isaac Cardoso Center for Jewish Interpretation, the Portuguese news agency Lusa reported.

The Torah scroll is to be placed in the newly-built Bet Mayim Hayim synagogue within the Cardoso center, which the Trancoso municipality built with an investment of about $1.5 million, according to the Gazeta de Viseu local daily. The daily reported that the city hoped the center would attract tourists.

The center opened its doors on Friday, at an event co-organized by the Jerusalem-based nonprofit organization Shavei Israel, which does outreach to people with Jewish origins in Portugal and other countries.

“This is an historic event. More than five centuries after the expulsion of Portuguese Jewry, the streets of Trancoso, Portugal, will once again be filled with Jewish singing and dancing as we bring a Sefer Torah to its new home,” Shavei Israel Founder and Chairman Michael Freund told JTA.

Today, none of Trancoso’s 5,000 residents are Jewish but the town used to be half Jewish, according to Freund. He added Trancoso and the surrounding area are home to a large number of Bnei Anousim, or “marranos” — people whose Jewish ancestors were compelled to leave the country or convert to Catholicism during the Portuguese Inquisition, which began in the 16th century.

“The dedication of this Torah scroll symbolizes the rebirth that is taking place in Portugal as growing numbers of Bnei Anousim emerge from the shadows of history and seek to reconnect with the Jewish people,” Freund said.

Earlier this month Portugal’s parliament enacted an amendment which makes Jews of Sephardic Portuguese origins eligible for Portuguese nationality.



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