Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Was the explorer CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS Jewish ?


For quite some time I have been running a special series on my religious German blog. I am taking all kinds of celebrities and try to proof, via Wikipedia or other sites, whether this particular person is Jewish or not. Yesterday I chose the explorer Christopher Columbus because there have been quite strong rumours that he is of Jewish origin.  

However, describing Christopher Columbus means historical research, as he discovered America (he, after all, caused the colonization of the continent) in 1492 but, at the same time, the year 1492 also stands for one of the worst tragedies in Jewish history.

Was CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS (1451 - 1506) really a Jew ?

Columbus himself claimed to be from Genua / Italy. Nevertheless, until today,   various theories about his origin have been spreading around. Was he Portugese or Spanish ? Was he from Poland, Greece or even from Norway ?

Some claim that Columbus was a Jew but was forced to hide his true Jewish identity. When you look into the history of those days, you exactly understand why Columbus would have to do so. The 15 hundreds were the days of the Spanish Inquisition and the Expulsion of the Jews from Spain. The Catholic Church tried anything in order to eliminate the Jews and Judaism as a whole. The Torah and the Talmud as well as religious Jews had become a danger to Christendom and the church was afraid that the Christians may discover the beauty and truth of Judaism and thus leave the church. What if the Christians found out that their "Meshiach" J. was nothing but a fake and the church a corrupt bunch of loosers ?

The Spanish King Ferdinand II. of Aragon and his vicious wife Isabella of Castilia agreed to introduce the Spanish Inquisition. It was them together with the church signing the decree. Only a few years later, on 13 March 1492, the decree for the Expulsion of Spanish Jewry was signed by the same people. The Expulsion was announced four months before it actually took place. The Jews had only two choices: 1. Convert to Christianity or 2. Leave Spain. Many Jews left for northern Africa, Portugal, Holland, Turkey, Italy or other countries but others decided to stay and convert (become Conversos). They thought that they could keep Judaism inside their homes and to the outside they were acting as Christians. Many times this didn't work because the Inquisition was everywhere and constantly checking on every converted Jew.

For hundreds of years, the Jews had been enjoying great freedom in Spain. After the destruction of the Second Temple, thousands of Jews had moved to Babylon. There they founded famous Yeshivot (e.g. Pumbedita) and basically had a good life. After a while, it became a fashion to move to Spain and soon thousands of Jews moved because Spain meant freedom of religion. The Jewish Kabbalah mostly comes from Spain. Just look at the ZOHAR published by Rabbi Moshe De Leon in 1290.

After hundreds of years, the fanatic Muslims "Almohad" stormed through Spain and became a threat to the local Jewry. Just ask the Rambam (Maimonides). Things got really bad as soon as the Christians took over. The church started pogroms, Talmud burnings and countless Jews were tortured and killed. The Popes in those days wanted the Jews dead or converted to idol - worship and this is the reason why Columbus may have kept his true identity hidden. In case he was Jewish. 
Wikipedia states:

Some researchers have postulated that Columbus was of Iberian Jewish origins. The linguist Estelle Irizarry, in addition to arguing that Columbus was Catalan, also claims that Columbus tried to conceal Jewish heritage.[23] In "Three Sources of Textual Evidence of Columbus, Crypto Jew,"[24] Irizarry claims that Columbus always wrote in Spanish, occasionally included Hebrew in writing, and referenced the Jewish High Holidays in his journal during the first voyage.

Simon Wisenthal postulates that Columbus was a Sephardi (Spanish Jew), careful to conceal his Judaism yet also eager to locate a place of refuge for his persecuted fellow countrymen. Wiesenthall argues that Columbus' concept of sailing west to reach the Indies was less the result of geographical theories than of his faith in certain Biblical texts—specifically the Book of Isaiah. He repeatedly cited two verses from that book: "Surely the isles shall wait for me, and the ships of Tarshish first, to bring thy sons from far, their silver and their gold with them," (60:9); and "For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth" (65:17). Wisenthal claimed that Columbus felt that his voyages had confirmed these prophecies.[25]

Jane Francis Amler argued that Columbus was a converso (a Sephardi Jew who publicly converted to Christianity). In Spain, even some converted Jews were forced to leave Spain after much persecution; it is known that many conversos were still practicing Judaism in secret. The correlation between the Alhambra Decree, which called for the expulsion of all of the Jews from Spain and its territories and possessions by July 31, 1492, and Columbus's embarkation on his first voyage on August 3, 1492, has been offered as support for this claim.

I don't think that we are able today to find the correct answer to the question whether Christopher Columbus was Jewish. Maybe he was and maybe he wasn't.  The only fact we can draw from this is the date 1492. A year of celebration for the US but a year of tragedy in Jewish history. The Expulsion of the Jews from Spain and thus new pogroms and attempts of elimination organized by the church.

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