Can Jews be pirates?

Cultural history: Jews under the pirate flag

Caribbean. How do you think Captain Jack Sparrow would have spent Shabbat? Would the daring daredevil have retired to his cabin on Friday evening, spoken the blessing, drank from a cup of wine together with his fellow Jewish pirates and broke a Creole challah (bread)? In the meantime, would the Goyan part of the crew have kept watch on deck?

The film character Jack Sparrow had Jewish role models? An adventurous scenario - but it is underpinned by historical facts: On the one hand, the book "Jewish Pirates of the Caribbean" by the American journalist and historian Edward Kritzler is enjoying undiminished demand due to such Hollywood blockbusters. On the other hand, the photographer and artist Wyatt Gallery shows with his traveling exhibition "Jewish Treasures of the Caribbean" how important and formative Jewish communities have been in the Caribbean and neighboring countries since the beginning of the 16th century.

No foray on Shabbat

The answer to the questions about the submission and behavior of Jack Sparrow is yes. As you can see in the book, one of the most famous privateers, Moses Cohen Henriques, always observed the Shabbat. As far as that was possible on a ship: there were certainly no two kitchens. Instead he refrained from going on a raid on Shabbat. Henriques, whose family had to flee Spain before the Inquisition, was one of the most feared pirates in the early 17th century. His forays and anger were primarily directed against the Spanish ships - as a kind of revenge for the expulsion. After a coup in which, according to today's calculations, he was able to steal almost a billion dollars from a Spanish fleet, he was one of the most wanted men around the world. In old age, Henriques retired on his pirate island and became an advisor to the most famous pirate of the time, Henry Morgan.

The origin of Jewish piracy lies in Spain and Portugal. After the expulsion or forced Christianization of the Jewish population on the Iberian Peninsula, several hundred thousand Jews were forced to find new settlement areas. Of course, in addition to North Africa, the New World was also an option. Therefore, many dared to travel across the Atlantic.

In the Caribbean, mostly with the toleration of the English and Dutch, they were able to found independent communities on various islands. It sometimes took time before Jewish families were allowed to establish official congregations. Until then, they concentrated on trading, had their own ships and companies. Some also became pirates.