The book Jewish Pirates of the Caribbean is written by a historian, but its tales of smugglers, brigands, and high-seas violence have all the flavor of a guilty pleasure.
In 1492, the Inquisition expelled all Jews from Spain and Portugal. Many headed for the New World–specifically, for the Caribbean islands. Some Jews became explorers and exporters, discovering treasures in the Americas and sending them back to Europe for a price. (In fact, Christopher Columbus’s departure coincided with the start of the Inquisition–and Jewish Pirates makes a strong case that he may have been Jewish himself.)
Other early Jewish players in the Americas had less regard for the law, and established themselves as smugglers, raiders…and pirates. Samuel Palache, the “pirate rabbi,” had one business as a diamond smuggler and another as a spiritual leadaer. Count-Duke Olivares, a Jew who embraced Christianity, was in charge of silver mining for the Spanish Empire. And even if Columbus wasn’t Jewish, much of his crew definitely was. The final chapter is devoted to Columbus, and it leaves us with a tantalizing as-yet unsolved mystery–a possible location of the explorer’s lost gold mine.
December 6, 2010