Book Review: Jewish Pirates of the Caribbean

I’m reading Jewish Pirates of the Caribbean: How a Generation of Swashbuckling Jews Carved Out an Empire in the New World in Their Quest for Treasure, Religious Freedom—and Revenge by Edward Kritzler. In the aftermath of the Spanish Inquisition, Jews, who were forced to emigrate in order to practice Judaism, often ended up in the New World.

As throughout history, Jews found creative ways to thrive in a hostile environment. One colorful character is Moroccan Samuel Palache, who may be related to author Hayim Palaggi. Son of an illustrious scholarly family, Palache received rabbinic ordination but engaged in international trade, legal and illegal,  both for profit and to find a safe haven for his people. Palache also worked to ally Holland and Morocco against Spain, but when he turned to Spain he was suspected as a double agent. The Spanish monarchy couldn’t live with the Jews, but it turned out they could not live without them either. Kritzler maintains that Palache remained loyal to his people until the end.

Equally fascinating is Kritzler’s description of the new Jewish community in Amsterdam, comprised of Portuguese refugees who had been hiding their Judaism for several generations. These former conversos suffered from a literal understanding of Jewish law and a totalitarian approach to enforcing Jewish communal norms, absorbed from the culture of the Inquisition.

The book suffers from poor editing both of individual sentences and overall structure. Yet Jewish Pirates of the Caribbean describes, with humor and psychological insight, the early settlement of Jamaica and Brazil by Spanish and Portuguese Jews. The Inquisition later followed these Jews to the Spanish and Portuguese colonies.  Kritzler highlights economic considerations involved in Jewish persecution, showing how religious fervor diminished when the monarchy could benefit from Jewish activity. Jewish Pirates tells of an unusual chapter in both Jewish and world history.

Note: If you decide to order the book via Amazon through the links above, I will earn a small commission. Thank you.

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  1. i saw this book at work a few months ago but haven’t yet had a chance to look at it.
    i’m familiar with the history of the period, but i was interested in the book because of the pirates mentioned in the title. but your review doesn’t mention pirates? the little boy in me is dissappointed.

  2. Palache was a pirate.

  3. LOZ, I added a sentence.

  4. Ordered it. Can’t wait. Jewish rogues. How much fun!