Kantor Center for the Study of Contemporary European Jewry


Comunidade Israelita de Lisboa

The Jewish Community of Portugal


Today's community has Sephardi and Ashkenazi members made up of post-war migrants from Germany, Poland, Eastern Europe and South America (mainly Brazil).

All Jews share the same Synagogue, Shaare Tikva, which has kept the original post Inquisition Sephardic Moroccan ritual.


Although Jews exiled from Spain were allowed to enter Portugal in 1492, Portugal issued an expulsion edict of its own four years later.

The Portuguese dynasty's feared that the Jews' departure would economically cripple the kingdom. In order to avoid that, they forced the public and ostensibly formal conversion of tens of thousands of Jews to Christianity. The status of these Conversos whether or not they welcomed their new faith was never fully accepted by the "Old Christians." In the 16th century, a milder Portuguese Inquisition was introduced and it remained in force until 1821. The number of Conversos declined throughout these centuries of legal limbo, and many escaped to western Europe, Morocco and the Americas. By the time the Inquisition was cancelled, the number of Conversos was unknown.

The Comunidade Israelita de Lisboa (CIL) “the Jewish Community of Lisbon“ is over 200 years old. It is the heir of the Portuguese Jewish Community which flourished during the Middle-Ages until the advent of the Inquisition above mentioned. The activity of the Inquisition led to the dissemination of the Portuguese Jews, who established themselves in Morocco, Gibraltar, London, Amsterdam, France, Hamburg, Southern Europe, Ottoman Empire, Palestine and in the Americas (Newport, R.I., New York, the Caribbean, Brazil, and others) where they founded their own 'Portuguese Synagogues', keeping alive their historical traditions, language and religious rites, identifying as 'Portuguese Nation' throughout the Diaspora.

Notwithstanding emigration of most from Portugal, many Jews stayed in the country and converted to Catholicism, while secretly maintaining their original faith and traditions. These became known as "Marranos".

Shortly before the elimination of the Inquisition (1821), some Jews, whose ancestors had emigrated to Morocco and Gibraltar, established themselves privately in Lisbon. However, not until 1912 - with the establishment of the Republic - did the Jewish Community gain official status. Religious services were held in private homes until 1904, when the first Synagogue, since the 15th Century (Tomar), was inaugurated in Lisbon (Synagogue Shaare Tikva).

After World War I, refugees from Eastern Europe were the first Ashkenazim to enlarge the Community of Lisbon, which was until then entirely Sephardic. Later, this tendency increased during World War II.

Portugal, although under the neutral Catholic dictatorship of Salazar (1932-1968), allowed more than 100.000 Jewish refugees to flee through its frontiers during the terrible years of WWII, on the condition they wouldn't stay. Together with the American Joint Committee, the CIL (Comunidade Israelita de Lisboa), organized the supply of legal identity documents for the refugees, medicine, clothing, housing and the bookings on Portuguese liner vessels that would transport them to their onward destinations, mainly to Brazil, Cuba, Central America, the USA and Canada. Some managed to reach Palestine.

Among the refugees which transited through Lisbon were personalities such as the Lubavitcher Rebbe Schneerson, Marc and Bella Chagall, the sisters Eva and Zsa Zsa Gabor as well as many others.

During the second half of the 20th century the community also suffered serious mutations due to progressive assimilation, the aging process, and emigration. During the 60s almost an entire generation of youngsters left the country, due to the four year draft, for the raging colonial war in Africa.

Communal Life

Today, Lisbon is the main center of Jewish life. There are also some 200 Conversos in Belmonte who have returned to Judaism, and a smaller Converso community in Porto. There are around 200 Jewish families in town, who contribute according to their resources.

The Community's objectives and priorities are two-fold: Jewish Education with emphasis on the young, and prevention of assimilation.

Due to the reduced number of Jews, to the influence of the Catholic environment and to many mixed marriages - although most wives have converted to Judaism - the main duty is to provide Jewish education through the services of the Community.

Indeed, there are 100 children among the members, and it is of utmost importance to develop interest and involvement in Jewish Faith and in the history of the Jewish People. Therefore the Community develops comprehensive youth and educational programs.


An ancient 15th century synagogue can be found in Tomar. Also, among others, a well preserved remnant of a Jewish quarter is in Castelo de Vide. The old Jewish cemetery in Faro is often visited. There is today an organized 'Jewish route' which covers most of the pre-Inquisition Jewish sites (Synagogues and Jewish quarters).


In 1977 after the fall of dictatorship, Portugal and Israel established diplomatic ties. The consulate general in Lisbon was raised to the rank of an embassy. Portugal opened an embassy in Israel in 1991.

Aliya : Since 1948, about 300 Jews have emigrated to Israel, coming from Portugal.


Comunidade Israelita de Lisboa
Rua do Monte Olivete, 16 r/c esq 1200-280 Lisboa
Tel: 21 393 11 30
Fax: 21 393 11 39
E-mail: administrativo@cilisboa.org
Website: www.cilisboa.org

Central Synagogue "Shaare Tikva" - Lisbon
Rua Alexandre Herculano, 59
Tel: 21 388 15 92

Board of Directors - CIL
(Elected for the period 2010/2012)
President Jose Oulman Carp
Vice-President Esther Mucznik / Henrique Ettner
Honorary President : Dr. Samuel Ruah
Chairman of the General Assembly : Dr. Joshua Ruah

Executive Director : Marcos Prist
Rabbi: Eliezer Shai di Martino
Coordinator of the Department of Jewish Education : Julio Engelstein