A pirate's grave in the Bay Jewish cemetery in Jamaica (photo: D.R.)
Believe it or not, Jewish pirates were powerful allies in the Ottoman wars against Spain, which had expelled and dispossessed them in 1492. They were also pioneers in discovering the New World, a new exhibition explains. Via Harissa website (with thanks: Michelle)
Sinan Reis was a member of a Sephardi family
who fled the peninsula after the decree of expulsion and found refuge in
the Ottoman Empire. He becomes Barbarossa's right arm. Among
his military exploits is the victory against the Spanish Armada in
1538 at the Battle of Preveza, considered by many historians as the
greatest maritime Ottoman victory against Spain. The ships were marked by a Star of David.
Pallache (Fallache?) was born in Morocco in 1550. A merchant, diplomat and pirate,
he worked to unite Amsterdam and Morocco in the face a common enemy: Spain. He was the first to obtain an agreement between a Christian and a Muslim country. That contract negotiated the presence of a Jewish community in
Amsterdam and construction of the first synagogue of the city, where one
can see the skull and crossbones. He received a hero's welcome when he decided to end his life here, in 1615.
"Christopher Columbus left for the Americas and discovered a new world. Jews who had been forcibly converted and who had not renounced their religion took the opportunity to flee Spain. (The exhibition curator) Martine Yana adds: "the Inquisition spread terror. People were being accused of practising Judaism in secret (the offensive word"Marranos"). They monitored chimneys on Saturday to see if they smoked, if food was being cooked. They entered the houses to smell what people were cooking. In fact lard was used for cooking, Jews used olive oil. "
" So the "Marranos" joined the explorers, sailed with the conquistadors and were among the first settlers of the colonies of the New World. "They realised that Spain and Portugal were at war with England and Holland. They found a way to get revenge, to recover part of their wealth. Each pirate allies himself with a country to which he undertakes to hand over 50% of his booty. "
"These men, says Yana," had little belief in faith and law but they kept some communal principles. Thus, they did not loot on Saturday. Furthermore, the galley slaves on Spanish vessels were often freed "Marranos". They created small Jewish towns along the coast. This was particularly the case in Jamaica, soon captured by the British who allowed Jews to practise their religion. They were heavily implicated in the resulting pirate code of conduct. They promoted the equal sharing of spoils. They insisted that they did not swear on the Bible when becoming a pirate but sitting in a boat. "
helped their community: "London was threatened by the Spaniards so the pirates reached an agreement with Cromwell to fight for him in exchange for the
return of the Jewish community in London."
The story of 20 Jewish pirates is told at the Centre Fleg, Marseille until 4 June. www.centrefleg.com
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