Photo by Rafael de Gilberto, courtesy Abraham Zacuto museum, Tomar

The synagogue of Belmonte

by mlopesazevedo

The synagogue in Belmonte, Bet Eliahu was inaugurated on the 4th of December, 1996, 500 years after the edict of expulsion proclaimed on or about December 5, 1496, but never carried out; instead all Jews in Portugal were forcibly baptized in 1497. The noted author, Elias Lipiner estimates that about 40 persons were given permission to leave, including the king's physician and astrologer, Abraham Zacuto.

The Jews of Belmonte, who withstood nearly 300 years of the iron monster, the Inquisition (1536-1821), survived. Marrying amongst each other, outwardly Catholic, they secretly maintained the essentials of Judaism, the women transmitting prayers from mother to daughter while the men kept track of the Jewish calender and the high holidays. With the opening up of Portuguese society after the Carnation revolution of April 1974, and an article in the New York times in 1977 , world interest in the Marranos of Belmonte increased .

The first written reference to Jews in Belmonte is in the town's royal charter granted in 1199. Although the reference is not clear evidence of Jewish presence in Belmonte, there were Jewish communities in the nearby towns of Covilhã, Guarda, Gouveia and Trancoso. A stone found in 1910 by the “discoverer” of Marranos, a Polish mining engineer named Samuel Schwartz, probably belonged to the first synagogue of Belmonte. The Hebrew inscription dated 5057 (1297) from Habacuque 2.20 reads as follows:

And Adonai is in his temple;

Sacred, silence;

Before him all the earth.

The stone is presently in the municipal museum of Castelo Branco, a copy of the sone is on display in the Abraham Zacuto museum in the Tomar synagogue.

The inauguration of the new temple on December 4, 1996 represented a victory over the Inquisition, a victory of tolerance over evil, a symbol of the heroism and tenacity of the Marranos of Belmonte who clung to their Jewish identity against all odds. Following the approval of the municipal government, the first stone of the synagogue was laid in January 1993, witnessed by Dan Tichon, president of the Israeli parliament and other Jews from around the world. The guest of honour was Salomon Azoulay, whose financial generosity made the project possible.


Canelo, Augusto David, Os Últimos CriptoJudeus em Portugal, Camara Municipal de Belmonte,, 2d, 2001,

Garcia, Maria Antonieta, Judaísmo no Feminino, Tradição popular e ortodoxis em Belmonte,

Instituto de Sociologia e Etnogia das Religiões, Universidade Nova de Lisboa, Lisboa, 1999


A Hanukah Story

Leo Michel Abrami

After defeating the Syrian army at Beth Tzur (165 BCE), Judah
Maccabee and his followers marched toward Jerusalem. After
liberating the city, they headed toward the Temple to re-consecrate
it to the service of the One God. They destroyed the statue of Zeus
which the Syrian invader, Antiochus, had placed in the sanctuary.
They brought back the golden candelabra, and they set it up once
again on its proper stand.
The inhabitants of Jerusalem came in great numbers for the rededication
ceremony. As the High Priest was about to proceed with
the kindling of the Menorah, he realized that he did not have any
consecrated oil. How could he give thanks to God for the wonderful
victory, without the shining lights of the Menorah?
They searched in every corner of the Sanctuary but they could
not find a single cruise of oil bearing the seal of the High Priest.
The Syrians had plundered all the oil from the Temple!
They were about to postpone the ceremony to allow the Levites
the time to produce fresh oil when a little girl, eight or nine years
old, suddenly entered the Temple and with a loud voice, proudly
"I know where there is a cruse of pure oil which has not been
desecrated by the pagans."
The eyes of all were directed at the little girl.
"Don’t you know that the priests looked everywhere,” said Shimon,
the chief officer, “and they did nor find a single cruise of oil. How
do you know that there still is one?"
"This may surprise you, officer,” said the little girl, "but I do know
where there is a cruse of oil bearing the seal of the High Priest and
I could lead you to the place.”
The High Priest hesitated for a while; he then agreed to let a
few priests follow the little girl. She took them to the room where
the priests used to store the oil destined for the kindling of the
“You see, little girl, this room is completely empty” they said “and
there is no trace of the oil we had stored here.”
“You are wrong,” she said, “if you look behind these dried leaves
in this corner of the wall, you will find what you are looking for.”
She pointed her finger to a little cavity in the wall. They went to
the place and they found a cruse of oil bearing the seal of the High
Priest. They brought it in the Sanctuary and everyone rejoiced
about the unexpected discovery.
The officer then turned toward the little girl and asked her:
"Who are you, little girl, and how did you know the place where
this cruse of oil was found?"
“Officer, I shall answer your questions. My name is Berakhah; I am
the daughter of Judah. I knew the place because I hid this cruse of
oil last year, before the Syrians began to ransack the Temple.”
"And who gave you the idea to do such a thing?" asked the officer.
“You may not believe it, officer, but I am almost certain that it was
you, for I distinctly recognize your voice,” said Berakhah. “It
happened during a staff meeting which was held in our house, I
overheard you say that the Syrians would soon begin to plunder the
treasures of the Temple. At that very moment, I made my plan.”
“And how did you manage to get into the back-room of the Temple
without being stopped?” asked the officer.
“That was quite simple.” responded Berakhah. “The day after the
staff meeting, I quietly went to the Temple. I pretended I had come
to worship Zeus. Instead, however, I disappeared in the corridor
and I entered the storeroom, while no one was paying attention to
me. I quickly took a cruse of oil and I hid it in the the cavity of the
wall and covered it with some dried leaves. I was hoping that no
one would be looking there and that I would be the only one to
know the secret.”
“And why did you do that, Berakhah?” asked the officer.
“I did it because I was confident that my father and his army would
succeed in liberating Jerusalem. I wanted to make sure we would be
able to kindle the Menorah on the day he and his soldiers would
enter the Temple to celebrate their victory."
"This was good thinking on your part,” said the officer, “and we are
all grateful to you, dear Berakhah. You have been just as inspired
as your father. Thanks to you, we shall now be able to kindle the
Menorah and celebrate Hanukkah."
That is why, friends, when we light the Menorah every night of the
holiday, we should remember all the little girls like Berakhah, who
participated in the wonderful event of Hanukah.



Leo Michel Abrami

Após terem derrotado o exército sírio em Beth Tzur (165 BCE), Judas
Macabeu e os seus seguidores marcharam em direcção a Jerusalem. Depois da
libertação da cidade, foram em direcção ao Templo para o voltar a consagrar ao
serviço de um único Deus. Destruiram a estátua de Zeus, que Antióquio, o invasor
sírio tinha colocado no Santuário. Trouxeram de volta o candelabro dourado e
puseram-no no seu lugar.
Os habitantes de Jerusalém vieram em grande número para a cerimónia.
Quando o Sacerdote ia começar a acender a Menorah, verificaram não ter
nenhum óleo sagrado. Como iriam agradecer a Deus pela maravilhosa
vitória sem as luzes a brilhar da Menorah?
Procuraram em todos os cantos do Santuário mas não encontraram uma
única bilha que contivesse o selo do Sumo-Sacerdote. Os Sírios tinham
roubado todo o azeite do templo!
Estavam quase a adiar a cerimónia para deixar que os Levitas tivessem
tempo de produzir azeite fresco, quando uma menina, de 8 ou 9 anos
entrou, de rompante no Templo e disse alto e bastente orgulhosa:
"Eu sei onde está uma bilha de azeite que não foi profanada pelos pagãos"
Todos os olhos se viraram em direcção à menina.
"Não vês que os sacerdotes procuraram por todo o lado", disse Shimon,
que conduzia a cerimónia, " e não encontraram nenhuma bilha. Como é
que sabes que ainda há uma"?
"Talvez fique surpreendido", disse a menina, "mas eu sei onde está uma
bilha com o selo do Sumo-Sacerdote e posso levá-lo até lá".
O Sacerdote hesitou um momento, depois concordou em deixar alguns
sacerdotes seguir a menina. Ela levou-os à sala onde os sacerdotes
guardavam o azeite para acender a Menorah.
"Vês, menina, a sala está vazia e não há nada que nos indique onde
está o azeite que guardámos aqui".
"Está errado", disse ela, "se olhar atrás destas folhas secas neste
cantinho da parede, vai quer o que anda à procura".
Ela apontou para uma pequena cavidade na parede e eles encontraram uma bilha de
azeite com o selo do Sumo-Sacerdote. Trouxeram-na para o Santuário e todos
rejubilaram com a descoberta inesperada.
Shimon virou-se para a menina e perguntou-lhe:
"Quem és tu menina, e como é que sabias onde estava escondida a bilha
do azeite?"
"Vou responder às suas perguntas. Chamo-me Berakhah, sou filha de
Judas. Sabia o lugar porque escondi esta bilha o ano passado, antes de
os Sírios começarem a destruir o Templo".
"E quem te deu a ideia de fazer isto?"
"Não vai acreditar, mas quase de certeza que foi o senhor, porque eu
reconheço a sua voz", disse Berakhah. "Aconteceu numa reunião que
houve em nossa casa, ouvi dizer que os sírios iriam saquear os bens do
Templo. Nesse momento, fiz o meu plano".
"E como é que conseguiste ir até às traseiras do Templo sem que
ninguém te visse e mandasse parar?"
"Isso é muito simples", respondeu Berakhah. “No dia após a reunião, fui
atè ao Templo. Fiz de conta que tinha vindo rezar a Zeus. Depois,
desapareci pelo corredor e fui até ao armazém, quando ninguém estava a
olhar para mim. Num instante, tirei uma bilha de azeite e escondi-a na
cavidade da parede e cobri-a com folhas secas. Esperei que ninguém
estivesse a olhar e que fosse a única a saber do segredo".
"E porque é que fizeste isso, Berakhah?" - perguntou o oficiante.
"Porque estava confiante de que o meu pai e o seu exército conseguissem libertar
Jerusalém. Quis ter a certeza de que poderíamos acender a Menorah no dia em que
ele e os seus soldados entrassem no Templo para celebrar a vitória".
"Foi uma excelente ideia da tua parte", disse o oficiante, "e estamos-te todos muito
gratos, querida Berakhah. Estavas tão inspirada quanto o teu pai. Graças a ti, agora
podemos acender as velas da Menorah e celebrar Hanukkah".
É por isso, caros amigos, que acendemos a Menorah todas as noites do
dia festivo e devemos lembrar todas as meninas como Berakhah, que
participaram no maravilhoso evento de Hanukkah.


Qui avait caché la fiole d’huile ?
Une histoire de Hanouka
Leo Miichel Abrami

Àpeine couronné roi de Syrie,
Antiochus Épiphane prit de
sévères mesures contre les habitants
de Judée. Il décréta qu’ils devaient
tous adorer le dieu grec Zeus et offrir des
sacrifices aux idoles, mais la majorité des
Juifs refusa d’obéir aux ordres
d’Antiochus. Un vieux prêtre nommé
Mattathias organisa un mouvement de
rébellion contre le roi de Syrie et son
armée. Avec ses fils, il lutta vaillamment
pour libérer la Judée du joug de l’oppression.
Après avoir vaincu l’armée syrienne à
Beth Tsour (en 165 avant l’ère chrétienne),
Judah Maccabée, fils de Mattathias, et ses
partisans marchèrent vers Jérusalem, la
capitale du pays. Après une bataille
acharnée, ils réussirent à prendre la ville.
Ils se dirigèrent alors vers le Temple, afin
de le re-consacrer au service du Dieu Un.
Ils détruisirent la statue de Zeus qu’Antiochus
avait placée dans le sanctuaire et
le grand candélabre, la Menorah, fut
rapportée dans l’enceinte du Temple pour
être rétablie sur son piédestal. De
nombreux habitants de Jérusalem vinrent
se joindre aux Maccabées pour la célébration
de la fête. Le Grand-Prêtre et ses assistants
s’apprêtèrent alors aux derniers
préparatifs pour allumer les lumières de
la Menorah, afin de rendre grâce à Dieu
pour leur merveilleuse victoire.
Il ne leur manquait plus qu’une fiole
d’huile portant le sceau du Grand-Prêtre
pour allumer la Menorah... Les prêtres et
les Lévites cherchèrent partout : dans la
salle où ils avaient l’habitude d’entreposer
leurs réserves d’huile, ils fouillèrent tous
les recoins du Temple, mais ne purent
trouver une seule fiole intacte. Les Syriens
avaient pillé toute l’huile du Temple ! Les
Maccabées se résolurent à remettre la cérémonie
d’inauguration à plus tard, afin de
permettre aux prêtres de produire de
l’huile fraîche pour allumer les lumières
de la Menorah. Certains étaient attristés
par ce délai nécessaire, quelques-uns avaient
même des larmes aux yeux. Un grand
silence régnait dans l’enceinte du Temple
alors que beaucoup priaient à voix basse.
Soudain, une petite fille, âgée de huit ou
neuf ans, entra dans le Temple.
D’une voix forte et claire, elle s’écria
avec grande fierté :
- Je sais où se trouve une fiole d’huile
pure qui n’a pas été souillée par les païens.
Les yeux de tous se dirigèrent vers la
- Ne sais-tu pas, petite, que les prêtres
ont cherché partout, déclara Shimon, l’un
des officiers, et ils n’ont pas trouvé une
seule fiole ! Comment sais-tu qu’il existe
une fiole d’huile intacte ?
- Cela peut vous surprendre, Monsieur
l’officier, dit la petite fille, mais je sais,
moi, où se trouve une fiole portant le
sceau du Grand-Prêtre et je pourrais vous
conduire à l’endroit où vous la trouverez.
Le Grand-Prêtre hésita un moment, puis
accepta finalement de laisser quelques
prêtres suivre l’enfant. Celle-ci les
conduisit jusqu’à la salle où les Lévites
avaient l’habitude d’entreposer les
réserves de l’huile destinée à l’allumage
des lumières de la Menorah.
- Tu vois, petite, dit un Lévite, cette salle
est complètement vide. Rien n’est resté de
l’huile que nous y avions placée.
- Vous vous trompez, dit-elle, regardez
donc derrière ces feuilles, dans ce coin du
Elle leur montra du doigt une petite
cavité dans la paroi. Ils se dirigèrent vers
l’endroit et trouvèrent effectivement une
fiole d’huile portant le sceau du Grand-
Prêtre. Ils l’apportèrent aussitôt dans le
Sanctuaire et tout le monde se réjouit de
cette découverte inattendue.
L’officier se tourna alors vers la petite
fille et il lui demanda :
- Qui es-tu, petite fille, et comment
savais-tu où se trouvait cette fiole
d’huile ?
- Monsieur l’officier, je vais répondre à
vos questions. Mon nom est Berakhah, et
je suis la fille de Judah. Je connaissais l’endroit
parce que c’est moi qui ai caché cette
fiole d’huile l’année dernière, avant que
les Syriens ne commencent à saccager le
- Et qui t’a donné l’idée de faire une
chose pareille ? demanda l’officier.
- Vous aurez de la peine à le croire,
Monsieur l’officier ; c’est vous-même : je
reconnais distinctement votre voix, déclara
Berakhah, je vous ai entendu au
cours d’un conseil d’état-major qui s’est
tenu dans notre maison, et vous teniez à
prévenir les officiers présents que les
Syriens ne tarderaient pas à piller tous les
trésors du Temple...
- Et comment as-tu réussi à entrer dans
cette salle du Temple ?, demanda l’officier.
- Cela est très simple, répondit
Berakhah. J’avais fait mon plan au
moment même où vous informiez vos
soldats des intentions des Syriens. Je me
suis rendue le lendemain au Temple, j’ai
fait semblant de venir adorer Zeus, mais
au lieu de cela, je me suis enfilée dans
le couloir et suis entrée dans cette salle
alors que personne ne faisait attention
à moi. J’ai vite pris une fiole d’huile, je
l’ai cachée dans ce trou dans le mur et
je l’ai recouverte de quelques feuilles
sèches. Je savais que personne ne chercherait
en cet endroit et que je serais la
seule personne à connaître ce secret.
- Et pourquoi as-tu fait cela, Berakhah ?
- Je l’ai fait parce que j’étais convaincue
que mon père et son armée réussiraient
à libérer Jérusalem. Je voulais
être certaine que nous serions
capables de rallumer la Menorah le
jour où mon père et ses officiers entreraient
dans le Temple pour célébrer
leur victoire.
- Ce fut là une brillante idée de ta part,
chère Berakhah, dit l’officier, et nous te
sommes tous reconnaissants pour ta
présence d’esprit ! Tu as été aussi
inspirée que ne l’est ton père. Grâce à
toi, nous allons pouvoir maintenant
allumer la Menorah et célébrer la fête
de l’Inauguration et le Hanoukat
C’est pourquoi, chers amis, quand
nous allumons la Menorah tous les
soirs de notre fête, nous devons
nous rappeler toutes les petites filles
qui, comme Berakhah, ont activement
participé à la célébration de
Hanouka. ■

24 – DU 30 NOVEMBRE AU 6 DÉCEMBRE 2010 – f r.jpost.com