RECIFE, city in northeast Brazil, capital of the state of Pernambuco; population: 1,486,869 (2004); Jewish population estimated at 1,300.
When Recife became a prosperous center for sugar production in the 16th and 17th centuries, Portuguese New Christians were already living in the city and its environs and in many regions of the Brazilian Nordeste (North East). They worked mainly in sugar production and commerce. The significant number of New Christians in Recife took part in a variety of activities, and some bound themselves through intermarriage to prestigious Old Christian families.
The Inquisition dispatched an official inspector (visitator) and an inquisitional commission was established in 1593–1595 in Olinda, the port of Recife. New Christians were tried and arrested; some were taken to Lisbon and handed over to the inquisitional tribunal. After the inspector had left, surveillance of New Christians was continued by the bishop of Brazil, with the assistance of the local clergy. Thus the New Christian Diego Fernandez, husband of Branca Dias, was accused by the Inquisition of being a "Judaizer" and of keeping an "esnorga," a secret place to pray.
Two New Christian writers lived in Recife and stood out in the colonial period with works that reveal elements of Jewish expression: Bento Teixeira, author of Prosopopéia – one of the most important Portuguese-Brazilian colonial poems – published in Lisbon on 1601, and Ambrósio Fernandes Brandão, author of Diálogos das Grandezas do Brasil, in 1618.
The first organized Jewish community in Brazil was established in Recife during the period of Dutch colonial occupation (1630–1654) that brought Jews among other Dutch colonists and permitted religious freedom. The West India Company came to Brazil attracted by the sugar plantations and more than 120 engenhos (sugar mills) in Pernambuco.
In 1636–1640 the Dutch Jews founded the first Brazilian synagogue in Recife, the first on American soil: Kahal Kadosh Ẓur Israel. Later they founded the synagogue Kahal Kadosh Magen Abraham in Maurícia. Both were unified in 1648, with the signatures of 172 members both from Recife and Maurícia. The Jewish community was very well organized along the same lines as the mother community in Amsterdam. Ẓur Israel maintained a synagogue, the religious schools Talmud Torah and Eẓ Ḥayim, and a cemetery. In Recife there was a "Rua dos Judeus" (Jodenstraat or Jewish street) in 1636.
In 1642 Rabbi Isaac Aboab da Fonseca arrived from Holland, accompanied by the ḥakham Moses Rafael de Aguilar. Jews from Recife addressed an inquiry regarding the proper season to recite the prayers for rain to Rabbi Ḥayyim Shabbetai in Salonika, the earliest American contribution to rabbinic responsa literature. Despite official tolerance, however, the Jews were subjects of some hostility at the hands of Calvinists.
The estimates of the Jewish population at Recife vary greatly. According to Arnold Wiznitzer, it reached 1,450 members in 1645. Egon and Frieda Wolff's research indicated around 350 Jews.
By 1639 Dutch Brazil had a flourishing sugar industry with more than 120 sugar cane mills, six of which were owned by Jews. Jews also had an important role in commerce, tax farming, and finances. Jews were also engaged in the slave trade, worked in agriculture, in the Dutch militia and as artisans and physicians. The contacts with the local population – including many New Christians – was permanent, due to the economic activities. During Dutch domination in the Nordeste, New Christians came closer to Judaism.
As early as 1642 the Portuguese began preparations for the liberation of northeastern Brazil. In 1645 they began a war that lasted nine years. Jews joined the Dutch ranks, and some were killed in action. Famine had set in and conditions were desperate when, on June 26, 1649, two ships arrived from Holland with food. On that occasion, Rabbi Isaac Aboab wrote the first Hebrew poem in the Americas, "Zekher Asiti le-Nifle'ot El" ("I Have Set a Memorial to God's Miracles").
It was stipulated in the capitulation protocol of Jan. 26, 1654, that all Jews, like the Dutch, were to leave Brazil within three months and had the right to liquidate their assets and to take all their movable property with them. The majority left for Amsterdam, but some sailed to the Caribbean Islands (Curação, Barbados, and so on). Wiznitzer maintained that a group of 23 Brazilian Jews arrived in New Amsterdam (old name of New York), then under Dutch rule, on the Saint Catherine at the beginning of September 1654 and that they were the founding fathers of the first Jewish community in New York. Egon and Frieda Wolff rejected this historical connection and argued that there is no documentary basis to assume that the Jews who arrived in New York were the same that had left Recife during the expulsion of the Dutch.
New Christians continued to live in Recife. Two decades after the departure of the Dutch, the Inquisition was also acquainted with and persecuted the New Christians who had converted to Judaism during the Dutch occupation and had remained in Pernambuco. Many reports reached the Lisbon
Inquisition in the second half of the 17th century and during the 18th century regarding their clandestine observance of Jewish rituals. Portuguese policy in the middle of the 18th century eventually enabled the New Christians to mingle with the rest of the population, until their traces disappeared as they became completely assimilated.
The contemporary immigration of Jews from Eastern Europe to Recife started in the 1910s, and in 1910 a synagogue was established in a private house. The Centro Israelita de Pernambuco and the local Ídishe Shul were founded in 1918. Synagoga Israelita da Boa Vista and the Jewish cemetery were created in 1927. In 1930 Sephardi immigrants built their synagogue. The Jewish community was very active with a network of institutions, including six schools, the assistance organization Relief, a sports club, a library, a Yiddish theater group, youth and Zionist groups, and women organizations such as WIZO and Pioneiras. The community, which reached a population of 1,600, lived mostly in the neighborhoods of Boa Viagem and Boa Vista.
In 1992 the Arquivo Histórico Judaico de Pernambuco (Historic Jewish Archive of Pernambuco) was founded. In 1994 the Associação para a Restauração da Memória Judaica das Américas (Association for the Restoration of Jewish Memory in the Americas) was established and in 2000 the building where the synagogue Kahal Kadosh Ẓur Israel had been founded in the Dutch period was recognized as a "national historical patrimony" by Instituto do Patrimônio Histórico e Artístico Nacional – Iphan, a federal agency, and a memorial-museum was opened. Together with the old "Rua dos Judeus" the memorial figures in the tourist tours of the city of Recife.
A. Dines, F. Moreno de Carvalho & N. Falbel (eds.), A Fênix ou o Eterno Retorno (2001); A. Wiznitzer, Os judeus no Brasil colonial (1960); E. & F. Wolff, A odisséia dos judeus no Recife (1979); J.A. Gonçalves de Mello, Gente da Nação: cristãos-novos e judeus em Pernambuco 1542–1654 (1990); T. Neumann Kaufman, Passos perdidos – história recuperada. A presença judaica em Pernambuco (2001).
[Roney Cytrinowicz (2nd ed.)]
Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.