Expulsion of the Jews from Portugal
Until the 15th century, some Jews occupied prominent places in Portuguese political and economical life. For example, Isaac Abrabanel was the treasurer of King Afonso V of Portugal. Many also had an active role in the Portuguese culture, and they kept their reputation of diplomats and merchants. By this time, Lisbon and Évora were home to important Jewish communities.
On 5 December 1496, under the pressure of the newly born Spanish State through the clause Marriage of Isabella, Princess of Asturias, King Manuel I of Portugal decreed that all Jews had to convert to Christianity or leave the country. One set of laws demonstrated the King's wish to completely and forever eradicate Judaism from Portugal. Hard times followed for the Portuguese Jews, with the massacre of 2000 individuals in Lisbon in 1506, the forced deportation to São Tomé and Príncipe (where there is still today a Jewish presence), and the later and even more relevant establishment of the Portuguese Inquisition in 1536. The Portuguese inquisition was extinguished in 1821 by the "General Extraordinary and Constituent Courts of the Portuguese Nation" .
Most Portuguese Jews, thousands, would eventually leave the country to Amsterdam, Thessaloniki, Constantinople (Istanbul), France, Morocco, Brazil, Curaçao and the Antilles. In some of these places their presence can still be witnessed, like the use of the Ladino language by some Jewish communities in Turkey, the Portuguese based dialects of the Antilles, or the multiple Synagogues built by what was to be known as the Spanish and Portuguese Jews (such as the Amsterdam Esnoga).
Many Jews did stay in Portugal, however. A significant number converted to Christianity as a mere formality, practicing their Jewish faith in secret. These Crypto-Jews were known as New Christians, and would always be under the constant surveillance of the Inquisition – many, if not most of these, would eventually leave the country in the centuries to come and again embrace openly their Jewish faith (such was the case, for example, of the family of Baruch Spinoza).
Some Jews, very few, like the Belmonte Jews, went for a different and radical solution, practicing their faith in a strict secret isolated community. Known as the Marranos, some have survived until today (basically only the community from Belmonte, plus some more isolated families) by the practice of inmarriage and few cultural contact with the outside world. Only recently have they re-established contact with the international Jewish community and openly practice religion in a public synagogue with a formal Rabbi.
Some return to Portugal
In the 19th century, some affluent families of Sephardi Jewish Portuguese origin, namely from Morocco, returned to Portugal (such as the Ruah and Bensaude). When the first Brazilian Constitution of 1824 allowed freedom of belief, the first Jews to openly emigrate to Brazil were also Sephardi Jewish from Morocco. The first synagogue to be built in Portugal since the 15th century was the Lisbon Synagogue, inaugurated in 1904.
- António José Saraiva: The Marrano Factory: The Portuguese Inquisition and Its New Christians 1536-1765, BRILL, 2001, ISBN 9789004120808, p. 10-12.