Tag Archives: Inquisition

Jew of the Week: Judah Touro

A Great American Hero

Judah Touro: War Hero, Philanthropist

The Touro family was forced out of Portugal in the explusion of 1497. They first settled in the Netherlands, then tried their fortunes in the New World, being among the earliest pioneers in America. There, they established the first official synagogue in the Americas, the Touro Synagogue of Newport, Rhode Island. George Washington visited in 1790, there giving his famous speech “to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance.” Isaac Touro was the chazzan of this congregation. His son Judah Touro (1775-1854) established a small goods store in New Orleans which blossomed into a massive merchant empire. Throughout his life, Judah contributed vast sums of money for important causes, both Jewish and non-Jewish – schools, cemeteries, orphanages and hospitals, including the $20,000 necessary to build the Jews’ Hospital of New York, now known worldwide as Mount Sinai Hospital. In an early act of Zionism, Touro sent $50,000 to Jews living in Israel. In another instance, he provided the funds to establish a Jewish settlement near Jerusalem, called Mishkenot Sha’ananim. At death, he left half a million dollars to charity, an unheard of amount in those days. Two-thirds of this money went to non-Jewish causes. The other third was given to nearly every active synagogue operating in America. For these reasons, some say Judah Touro is the greatest Jewish philanthropist of all time. Most impressively, Judah Touro also served his country in the War of 1812. After getting injured, he continued to volunteer as a munitions carrier. In the Battle of New Orleans, a 12-pound cannonball smashed his leg, ripping off most of his thigh. Left for dead, he managed to survive and continued his business for another 40 years. Humble and modest, he lived in a small apartment all his life. Judah Touro’s financial advice: never take a mortgage on an existing property to invest elsewhere.

Words of the Week

Better an Israel that everyone hates than an Auschwitz that everyone loves.
– Rabbi Meir Kahane

Jew of the Week: Don Fernando de Aguilar

Shana Tova v’Metuka!

Don Fernando de Aguilar on the cover of a children’s book

Don Fernando de Aguilar (c. 1500) When Spain expelled its Jews in 1492, some chose to stay behind and convert superficially¬†to Christianity, practicing their Judaism in secret. One of these Conversos (or Marranos) was Don Fernando de Aguilar, who also happened to be the conductor of the Royal Orchestra in Barcelona. Despite the fact that Judaism was outlawed in Spain (until 1967, in fact) de Aguilar organized secret prayer services in the basement of Don Manuel’s leather shop. But there was one mitzvah they could never keep: hearing the shofar. After many years of longing for the sounds of the shofar, Don Fernando came up with a clever idea. He wrote a concert featuring the “melodies of the world”, set to play in Barcelona over the High Holiday season. Fernando expertly weaved the shofar into his opus, with packed crowds of hidden Jews listening in, along with the fooled Inquisitors. Rabbi Eliyahu Kitov writes: “It was said that no one had ever been more successful in confusing Satan on Rosh HaShanah than was Don Aguilar.”

Words of the Week

Three books are opened on Rosh Hashanah: The righteous are inscribed in the book of life; the wicked are inscribed in the book of death, and the judgment of the intermediates hangs in balance until Yom Kippur…
– Talmud, Rosh HaShana 16b

Jew of the Week: Francisco Maldonado

Doctor with a Mission

A Scene from the Inquistion

Francisco Maldonado de Silva (1592-1639) Raised as a devout Catholic, de Silva is one of the most famous Marranos in history [Marranos were the Spanish Jews forcibly converted to Christianity by the Inquisition]. His family migrated to Chile where de Silva became a doctor. He learned of his Judaism from his father, took an interest in it and started to learn more. He returned to Judaism wholeheartedly, circumsizing himself with a pair of scissors (relax, he was a doctor). Unfortunately, being Jewish was a crime and de Silva was arrested and thrown in jail for 12 years. He refused to eat their un-kosher food and would fast for 40 days at a time. De Silva was endlessly interrogated by no less than 13 inquisitors. Amazingly, he escaped from his cell after weaving a rope of corn stalks. Instead of running away, he climbed into the adjacent cell and converted two Catholics to Judaism. Tragically, he was burned at the stake with 11 other Jews in Lima, Peru on January 23, 1639.

Words of the Week

“The [Torah] has been a Magna Carta of the poor and of the oppressed; down to the modern times no State has a constitution which the interests of the people are so largely taken into account, in which the duties so much more than the privileges of the rulers are insisted upon, as that drawn up for Israel in Deuteronomy and Leviticus.”

– T.H. Huxley, famous biologist and paleontologist, father of the Huxley dynasty which includes Julian Huxley, Aldous Huxley, Francis Huxley and Andrew Huxley.