On the seas Jewish pirates used to spread fear and terror. Their anger was directed mainly against the Spanish and Portuguese ships, whose countries forced them to Christianity. A little known pirate story.
Moses Cohen Henriques was a dreaded man. The Jewish pirate crossed the Caribbean in the 17th century to rob mainly ships of the Spanish silver fleet. This trade convoy has repeatedly brought fabulous treasures, for example from Mexico to Europe – loads of precious metals, gems and pearls. Cohen Henriques was Sephard, a descendant of Jews who lived on the Iberian peninsula. Therefore, the hunt for him was a retaliation on Catholic Spain.
“In 1492 the Jews were forcibly expelled from Spain. The Portuguese Jews were forcibly baptized five years later. And now it is clear that the Sephardi, the Spanish-Portuguese Jews, did not speak so well in Spain and Portugal, “explains Michael Halévy, linguist and expert on Sephardic culture.
“Now you can imagine that the joy was even greater, attacking Spanish ships, because you could avenge that you had been expelled and then in the wake of the Inquisition.”
Pirate or merchant – the border was flowing
In the 17th and 18th centuries, the Caribbean was considered a Jewish sanctuary: the English and Dutch, Spain’s enemies, allowed Jews to gain a foothold in the so-called “New World” colonies. Whether as a dealer, plantation owner or buccaneer, often provided with an official hijacking letter, so a state permit for the looting of foreign ships.
The pirates and merchants – the border ran smoothly – baptized their two- and three-masters in names like “Shield of Abraham”, “Samuel the Prophet” or “Zion”. Researcher Halévy knows that these sailors pursued a religious, a messianic idea in the conquest of the Caribbean.
Allies in the world
“If Jews lived in all four corners of the world, that was the opinion then, then Messiah would come.”
In 1628 Cohen Henriques participated in a spectacular, concerted pirate action, which was not only on their own account: on behalf of a Dutch trading company, the pirates conquered off the Cuban coast nine Spanish ships, which had loaded treasures worth 12 million guilders.
“They were defeated in an open naval battle, you can almost call it that. And the cargo was then brought to Amsterdam, which is well described from the files. “
Memories of the Inquisition
Moses Cohen Henriques became a member of the Jewish community in the Dutch-Brazilian Recife. Opposite the coastal city, he bought a whole island to hunt from there. But in 1654, the Portuguese conquered the region back, and Cohen Henriques had to give up his pirate island.
The Jewish-French corsair Jean-Marie Lafitte also fought against the Catholic conquerors. So he participated in 1815, at the Battle of New Orleans, in the destruction of the Spanish Armada. The Chilean writer Isabel Allende has Lafitte in the novel character of the young Zorro, a black-marked avenger of the poor, set a literary monument. She lets the pirate talk about his fighting spirit as follows:
“My Jewish-Spanish grandmother, a witness from the time of the Inquisition, inspired my hatred for the Spanish crown.”
Solidarity with brothers and sisters
The Jewish buccaneers, sailors, and merchants were constantly watching their deaths. Thus, in 1753, a rabbi from the Dutch island of Curaçao called for help to Jews and Jewish ships who had fallen into enemy hands.
“If Jews from Curaçao fell into the hands of Spaniards and the Spaniards were quite ready to trigger them for a handsome sum, then the other communities in Hamburg, Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Bordeaux were asked to contribute money. So it was a solidarity that did not refer to a church itself, but to the entire Sephardic-Jewish society in the new and in the old world. “
Balance grappling hook and bible
Jewish pirates also spread fear and dread on other seas, explains researcher Michael Halévy. Thus, in the 16th century, the Sephard Sinan Reis plundered foreign ships in the Mediterranean on behalf of the Ottoman Empire, even as the official commander of the Ottoman fleet. And in the 17th century, the diplomat, spy and buccaneer Samuel Palache, also a Sephard in the North Atlantic on raid. But until now it is unclear how these pirates brought grappling hooks and bible in harmony.
Apart from the prohibition of killing and theft in the Torah, the Jewish pirates would not have been allowed to “work” on Shabbat. And the infamous Caribbean buccaneer Moses Cohen Henriques, who was descended from the ancient priesthood of Kohanim, was not allowed to touch the dead. Does it mean in the third book Moses:
“To the priests, the sons of Aaron, the Lord had Moses say,” No priest may defile himself by coming in contact with a corpse. “
But unlike Christian or Muslim buccaneers, the Jewish pirates did not care about religious commandments.
The fashion with the skull
To date, only fragments of Jewish pirate life have survived. All the more, complains Michael Halévy, proliferated legends – about the former pirate capital Port Royal in Jamaica. There are tombstones with skull and crossbones on a Jewish cemetery, which are falsely called pirate graves.
“In the Jewish-Portuguese, Jewish-Spanish cemeteries worldwide, we have a great many gravestones with the motif of a skull. Often skull and crossbones, plus hourglass, plus angel wings, plus bat wings. These are all from art, from theology known “Memento mori”, motives, therefore, Remember that you are mortal! ‘. This is more Christian and not Jewish, and if something is popular, the others will. So the skull and other motives that mean you’re mortal have nothing to do with the pirates. “
Myth and interpretation
Whatever may be a myth or a later interpretation, it is clear to the Hamburg experts that the anti-Semitic persecution in Europe has strongly promoted the violent activities of many Jewish privateers.
“If you are always persecuted, always oppressed, then of course the fact that you can do a profession in the open sea, where you are only responsible to yourself, has a certain attractiveness.”
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