Luis de Torres

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Luis de Torres (died 1493) was Christopher Columbus's interpreter on his first voyage to America.

De Torres was a converso, apparently born Yosef ben HaLevi HaIvri[1][2] chosen by Columbus for his knowledge of Hebrew, Chaldaic, and Arabic.[3] After arriving at Cuba, which he supposed to be the Asian coast, Columbus sent de Torres and the sailor Rodrigo de Jerez on an expedition inland on November 2, 1492. Their task was to explore the country, contact its ruler, and gather information about the Asian emperor described by Marco Polo as the "Great Khan". The two men were received with great honors in a village, and returned four days later. They reported on the native custom of drying leaves, inserting them in cane pipes, burning them, and inhaling the smoke: a reference to the use of tobacco.[4]

When Columbus set off for Spain on January 4, 1493, Luis de Torres was among the 39 men who stayed behind at the settlement of La Navidad founded on the island of Hispaniola. Coming back by the end of that year, Columbus learnt that the whole garrison had been wiped out by internal strife and by an Indian attack, which had occurred in retaliation to the Spaniards' abducting native women. The Indians remembered that one of the settlers had spoken "offensively and disparagingly" about the Catholic faith, trying to dissuade anybody from adopting it. According to Gould, this man may well have been de Torres.

The ten lost tribes of Israel[edit]

The story of de Torres addressing a native tribe in Hebrew after Columbus's first landfall on San Salvador is a product of Columbus’s writings. De Torres is also believed to have discovered the turkey and named it after the Hebrew tukki (parrot) of the Bible, though this is highly unlikely because the bird is referred to as "pavo", "peacock", in Spanish. Still another legend has him return to Spain and smoke tobacco there, which led to his being accused for witchcraft by the Inquisition.

Further reading[edit]


  1. ^ Diary of Christopher Columbus. Viernes 2 de noviembre: "Acordó el Almirante enbiar dos hombres españoles, el uno se llamava Rodrigo de Xerez que bivía en Ayamonte, y el otro era un Luys de Torres que avía bivido con el Adelantado de Murçia y avía sido judío y sabía dizque ebrayco y caldeo y aun algo arávigo."
  2. ^ "Columbus Day: Who was the first Jew in the New World?". Retrieved 2021-08-02.
  3. ^ Jewish Encyclopedia: AMERICA, THE DISCOVERY OF: By: Meyer Kayserling
  4. ^ Smith, Goldwin; Gilman, Sander (2003). Jewish Frontiers: Essays on Bodies, Histories, and Identities. Palgrave Macmillan US. p. 95. doi:10.1057/9781403973603.