At the end of the fifteenth century, the Spanish Inquisition forced Jews to flee the country. The most adventurous among them took to the high seas as freewheeling outlaws. attacking and plundering the Spanish fleet while forming alliances with other European powers to ensure the safety of Jews living in hiding. This book is the entertaining saga of a hidden chapter in Jewish history and of the cruelty, terror, and greed that flourished during the Age of Discovery. Readers will meet such daring figures as the pirate rabbi Samuel Palache, who founded Holland's Jewish community; Abraham Cohen Henriques, an arms dealer who used his cunning and economic muscle to find safe havens for other Jews; and his pirate brother Moses, credited with the capture of the Spanish silver fleet in 1628--the largest heist in pirate history. Historian Kritzler here captures a gritty and glorious era of history from an eye-opening perspective.--From publisher description.
Actually, "legitimate" might not be a good word since at that time many pirates were state sponsored (they were called "privateers").
The storyline follows the Sephardic Jews (those expelled from Spain and Portugal during the Inquisition) who tried to find a place in the New World and spans several centuries. Of course, once they settled in a place where no one wanted to settle, made it flourish and succeeded beyond anyone's wildest dreams the Kings of Christendom sent out the Inquisition under the guise of "holier than thou" to convert the heretics (in the process confiscating and splitting their businesses and possessions 50/50 with the Crown) and let the Diaspora cycle start over.
One of the most fascinating characters in the book is Samuel Palache, the "pirate rabbi," who grew up in the mid-1500s in Morocco and was a formative Jewish leader, a rabbi, an advisor to the Sultan, a diplomat and, of course, a pirate. The book is sprinkled with details about Jewish life (Palache had a kosher chef on his pirate ship) from both the Old and New Worlds especially in Jamaica (the author's home) and Amsterdam.
My problem with the book is that it offers very authoritative historical statements, without any proof. For example the part where the author tells us about "King Solomon's trading post", which is only a theory since that there is no proof that Jews lived in Spain (Sephard) during the reign of King Solomon; or that Columbus' had a hidden agenda which was to find the Sephardim Jews a place to live free from the terror of the Inquisition - again - no proof of that whatsoever except that the Colón (Columbus) family allowed Jews to live at the island they owned and did not allow the Inquisition to set a foothold at said place.
Another issue I had is the editing. Some words are italicized, other words which fall in the same category (such as foreign words) are not and the same is true with capitalization. Maybe it's just me because English is my second language and those things simply stick out at me like a sore thumb.
Nevertheless, this is an enjoyable book and I learned a lot about a fascinating chapter in the Jewish history. Just beware that you'll be getting a book about tangled and colorful adventures of the high seas but not a solid history book.
They attacked and plundered the Spanish fleet while forming alliances with other European powers to ensure the safety of Jews living in hiding.
Some became pirates.
Eward Kritzler's new book,
Here's the story of one, Samuel Palache, the pirate rabbi.
Samuel Palache grew up in Morocco where many Jews who fled the Spanish Inquisition years before his birth found safety inside a walled ghetto protected by the sultan who needed their financial expertise. Some 50,000 Jews led successful lives inside the ghetto of Fez, but they were not allowed freedom of movement outside the ghetto's walls. Coming from a family of rabbis, Samuel Palache began his rabbinical training at a young age studying both the Torah and the Talmud and becoming fluent in many languages including Arabic, Spanish, Portuguese, Hebrew and Chaldean. When he reached adulthood, Palache became a merchant pirate, free to leave the ghetto in the service of the sultan.
He later tried to settle in Spain working for King Phillip II, but the inquisition forced him to flee to Amsterdam where the ideals of religious freedom produced an uneasy refuge for many of Spain's exiled Jews. There Palache became the rabbi for a small community of 50 or so Jewish merchant families. Through the remainder of his life he continued to lead pirate attacks on the Spanish coast in the service of the sultan of Morocco and to serve as a rabbi in his Amsterdam home. When he died in 1616, six mounted horses draped in black pulled the hearse. Prince Maurice and the local city magistrates marched behind it followed by the entire Jewish community which then numbered just over 1,200 people.
There are many such accounts in Jewish Pirates of the Caribbean which makes for fascinating reading. What there is not is an overarching thesis bringing the entire book together for a particular purpose. While I found Jewish Pirates of the Caribbean interesting and enlightening, I wanted it all to come to a point and for Mr. Kritzler to come to conclusions. Mr. Kritzler is interested in resurrecting largely forgotten Jewish contributions to the exploration and settlement of the New World. The Jewish navigators who sailed with Juan Cabral, the businessmen who brought the sugar industry to Jamaica along with the pirates who caused so much grief for the Kings of Spain have not been a part of any history book I've ever read before. For this, I give Mr. Kritzler full credit. And for this, Jewish Pirates of the Caribbean is an excellent book.