Jewish Pirates of the Caribbean

How a generation of swashbuckling Jews carved out an empire in the New World in their quest for treasure, religious freedom—and revenge.

Tamar Yonah,

A new book by Edward Kritzler, "Jewish Pirates of the Caribbean" takes the reader into a past not normally mentioned in school. A world of Jewish adventure on the high seas, piracy, Jews working as agents for enemy nations of Spain and outsmarting and outdoing Spanish trade in the free world - all of which helped to break the Spanish empire and the evil Inquisition it spread around the world.


Ed joins Tamar and talks about the gold, silver and other treasures Jewish pirates liberated from Spanish vessels. He enlightens us with true stories about daring adventures, espionage, and revenge. Hear about the Rabbi Pirate who brought his own cook on his ship to cook him kosher meals. Learn about the Jewish pirate ferrying between countries, arranging secret alliances between nations in order to defeat the oppressive and murderous Spanish empire. Hear about the brave Jewish underground made up of Torah-learning Jews who tried to return converso Jews to Judaism under the nose of the Inquisitors. And discover the refugee Jews in the New World who loved these pirates and owed them their lives.

It was 1492, on Tisha B'av, the saddest day on the Jewish calender, when Spanish Jews were faced with fleeing Spain or being forced to convert to Catholicism. Those refusing to give up the Torah and their faith had their wealth confiscated and were imprisoned, tortured and then burned at the stake by the church.

Those Jewish families that choose to stay in Spain, their home for many generations, had to become 'conversos,' forced to pose as good Catholics, while secretly keeping Jewish traditions. They lived as second class citizens and were not allowed to leave Spain, not even to emigrate to another country or to the New World in the Americas.

The Spanish and Portuguese Inquisitions were cruel and deadly. Some Jews fled for their lives, but most had nowhere to go. There was no State of Israel that they could immigrate to. If they were suspected by the church or a jealous neighbor of still clinging to their Judaism, they were tortured, had all their wealth confiscated, and then were burned at the stake.

Christopher Columbus, believed by many to be a 'converso' Jew, made sure to leave Spain by the Inquisition's deadline. Columbus made a deal with King Ferdinand and Isabella allowing him to obtain a land where he would essentially be an independent ruler, and where the Inquisition and its inquisitors would not be able to enforce church law.

After discovering the New World, Columbus chose the island of Jamaica for his own. It was free from the Inquisition, although the Inquisition unfortunately followed European settlers to the American colonies. Jews were not allowed to practice Judaism even in the New World. If they did, they were burned at the stake there as well. It was only on Columbus's island of Jamaica that Jews could live freely.

It was in the years after the discovery of the New World, and Jewish-converso settlement there, that some Jews decided to get back at the Spanish and their Inquisitors. Piracy was one method of revenge. Jews living under Spanish colonial rule worked with more tolerant countries like Holland and England, which were enemies of Spain, and helped them fight the Spanish. The Jews knew which Spanish ships were carrying looted gold and silver back to Spain. They knew important details about Spanish forces in the colonies and used this knowledge to try to oust Spanish rule along with the deadly Inquisition. They did so by sealing deals with Holland or England to capture Spanish colonies.

The Jews helped Holland and England with much needed information, and sometimes even funded the military operations that set them free. Jews even hired out pirates in the Caribbean as mercenaries, to keep the Spanish away from the Island of Jamaica. Some Jews even became pirates themselves, obtaining for themselves wealth and vengeance against the Spaniards.

The Jews became masters in cartography, in mapping out the oceans - using astronomy to navigate missions on high seas, engineering technical instruments that few sea captains had - and in trade, and thus ensured their survival in a hostile and Jew-hating world on both sides of the Atlantic.

These Jews who would otherwise have been murdered by the Spanish and Portuguese Inquisitors escaped their clutches, and even prospered, by their bold and brave actions. They enriched the New World's colonies, especially the colonies owned by European countries that were open to letting Jews live as Jews in religious freedom.

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