Thursday 19 February 2009

For 1stst time since Inquisition, Portuguese cheese gets kosher seal

"Portugal is seeing a Jewish revival over the past few years."

For the first time since the Spanish Inquisition* in Portugal, a dairy product has been given an official kosher certificate. The ground-breaking product is a hard, goat's milk cheese, manufactured by the descendant of Anusim (Jews who were forced to convert to Christianity).

Last year, José Braz, owner of the Queijos Braz factory, contacted Daniel Litwak, the chief rabbi of Portugal's second-largest city, Porto, and asked him to arrange a kashrut certificate for Serra da Estrela cheese, which Braz manufactures. Braz believes that his own family were members of Portugal's Jewish community in the 14th and 15th centuries, but like many others were forced to convert to escape persecution by the Inquisition.

"When I spoke to José, he told me he wanted to reconnect to his Jewish roots - this was the reason for contacting me," says Litwak, who was born in Argentina. "I was surprised because his brand was doing rather nicely all over Europe. He did not need the certificate to increase his turnover."

New York-born Michael Freund, the chairman of Shavei Israel, a Jerusalem-based organization that helps people with Jewish roots become more involved in their Jewish community, who immigrated to Israel some 10 years ago, told Haaretz that Portugal "is seeing a Jewish revival over the past few years." "Recently, the first kosher wine in Portugal since the Inquisition has become available, then the first olive oil and now the cheese," Freund says. "I see a definite connection between how many of the Anusim are rediscovering their roots and the increased interest."

Source: article by Cnaan Liphshiz in Haaretz
Photo: Shavei Israel

* The Portuguese Inquisition was established on the Spanish model in 1547 to root out heresy. In 1774, Sebastião José de Carvalho e Melo, Marquis of Pombal (1699-1782) abolished the legal requirement of "purity of blood" for holders of office and the distinctions between Old Christian and New Christian (Jewish converts and their descendants).

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