Was Christopher Columbus a Jew?

From the Blog Rogue Jew comes this perenial question: Was Christopher Columbus Jewish?

Was explorer Christopher Columbus Jewish?  There is extraordinary evidence pointing to that conclusion.

On March 31, 1492 the Edict of Expulsion (also called the Alhambra Decree) Every Jew in Spain was forced to shoose between conversion to Christianity or leaving the country forever leaving their possessions behind.  150,000 Jews left Spain, many went to Portugal where they received a short welcome before being asked to convert, die or leave as in Spain.

On July 31, 1492 (7th of Av), the last Jew left Spain.  Columbus sailed on August 3, 1492.  He did insist that all of his crew be onboard August 2nd.

His historic voyage was financed by wealthy and influential Jews-many themselves converts-rather than a magnanimous King and Queen of Spain.

Columbus’s voyage was not financed by Isabella selling her jewels as is often stated. The major financiers were two court officials – both Jewish conversos – Louis de Santangel, chancellor of the royal household, and Gabriel Sanchez, treasurer of Aragon.

The Jews in Spain became the target of pogroms and religious per-secution. Many were forced to renounce Judaism and embrace Catholicism. These were known as Conversos, or converts.

In response to a petition to Rome to introduce the Inquisition and find a final solution to their Jewish Problem, in 1487 Spain obtained a Papal Bull. The introduction of the Inquisition was motivated by the greed of King Ferdinand attempting to seize all the power and wealth in Spain. It was an instrument of avarice and political absolutism. Four years later tens of thousands of Jews, Marranos, and even Conversos were suffering under the Spanish Inquisition.  According to the Christians of the day, Jews were considered “Infidels” (Sound familiar?)

As Spain and Portugal was killing and expelling the Jewish people, Turkey had accepted the Chosen people of G-d and was rewarded.  Spain and Portugal’s economies declined, while the Ottoman Empire became one of the greatest powers in the world. The next two sultans, Selim I and Suleiman I, expanded the empire as far as Vienna, Austria.

God had given Abraham and his descendants a special blessing:

“I will bless those who bless you, and curse those who curse you, and through you, will be blessed all the families of the earth.” (Genesis 12:3)

Christopher Columbus may or may not have been a Jew, but he paved the way for a country that would be accepting of the Jewish people, and keeping with G-d’s blessing, has been a nation abundant in liberty, wealth, and opportunity for all people.

Several sites explain the evidence and possibilites.  Check them out!  Just do a google search

Happy Columbus day all!

Meanwhile, over at Beliefnet.org, Rabbi Brad Hirschfield asks, “Why does it matter?”:

Beyond the pride which many Jews feel at being able to claim Columbus as a Member of the Tribe, there are real lessons to be learned from his story – spiritual lessons which can help all of us on our own journeys, even if they are not as historic.

First, if any of the stories of Columbus’ Jewishness are accurate, they remind us that we can be many things at the same time, and that having those multiple, even conflicting, identities can be a real advantage under certain circumstances. Columbus, according to the Jewish versions of his biography was a Catholic-Jewish-Spanish-Italian, and in all likelihood it was being all of those things at the same time which positioned him to be who he was. His boundary crossing identity was certainly pivotal historically, and probably psychologically, in propelling him toward a life of boundary-crossing.

Second, if there really was a connection between his decision to set sail in August 1492 and that day being on or about Tisha B’Av, the ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av (a day classically associated with destruction and bad fortune for Jews), he figured out how to turn a tragedy into a triumph. That’s no small spiritual lesson for any of us.

Third, while the implications of his “discovering” the New World would takes generations to unfold, the shores upon which Columbus landed would turn out to be the healthiest, safest and most vibrant Jewish Diaspora communities in the history of the Jewish people. Columbus’ journey, like most of ours’ could not be fully appreciated within the context of his own time. He planted seeds which would take years to bear fruit. I hope that among the things people celebrate today is the fact that our own lives are like that as well.

Whoever Christopher Columbus was, and however he is remembered, this much we know: he was a boundary crossing explorer who drew on multiple identities and traditions in ways that empowered him to take incredible chances when others would not, see remarkable opportunities where others could not, and accomplish things big enough that their full implications were beyond anyone’s understanding. That is the stuff of spiritual greatness