States – Jewish Ones outside Holy Land

People are always itching to move. Especially Jews, who have always yearned  for redemption  and return  to their ancestral home. Even before that hoped  for day,  as the years  stretched on  a new  idea  arose  in many  heads. Why not establish a halfway house, a place to rest our weary bones until the Moshiach’s shofar blast calls us home? These  sorts of ideas were propagated not only by Jews, but also by non- Jewish nations with their own agendas and ambitions.


The idea of a home away from home was not all that earthshaking since sovereign Jewish kingdoms existed in the past. Besides the famous Khazar kingdom that retained its Jewish flavor for centuries, there was the smaller kingdom of Adiabene in Mesopotamia, whose Jewishness fizzled out after a handful of generations.

This was during the last decades of the second Temple when Queen Helena of Abiadene converted to Judaism, moved to Eretz Yisroel, and built palaces south of the Bais Hamikdash.  People stepping off the bus to visit the Kosel are within a stone’s throw of the place. Two years  ago, the Abiadene  palaces hit the headlines when archaeologists unearthed an ancient palace in the vicinity and speculated that this may well have been one of her multiple edifices.

During that same time, a lesser known and  wilder  sort  of  Jewish  kingdom was rearing its ugly head. This private enterprise was run by two brothers, Asinai and Anilai, whose widowed mother had tried, unsuccessfully, to implement Chazal’s rule that whoever fails  to teach  his son a skill,  teaches him  banditry,   by  apprenticing   them to a weaver. The restless youngsters found the work so deadly monotonous that they developed a preference for arriving late every morning and risking their boss’s strap.

To escape his heavy hand, they fled to a fertile marshland  at a fork of the Euphrates River where fruit grew wild and cattle roamed, and for a while they simply  enjoyed  an  idyllic  existence, loafing from morning ‘till night. After

a large number of loafers and drifters joined  them,  the brothers  constructed a fort and set up a protection  racket, instructing   local   herders   that  for  a certain  consideration   they  would  be their “friends” and ensure that no harm came to their livestock…

Enraged at this state of anarchy, the governor of Bavel gathered a force of soldiers and cavalry and rode out to teach them a lesson, cunningly delaying his attack until Shabbos since who ever heard of the Jews desecrating their holy day of rest! Surely even the lowest Jews would never dare!

Sitting with his friends and enjoying the Shabbos quiet, Asinai suddenly remarked,   “I   hear   the   neighing   of horses, not horses that are feeding but horses  with  men  on  their  backs,  and I  hear  the  noise  of  bridles  and  fear that enemies are surrounding us. Let someone go to look out and see what is happening!”

The messengers returned in a panic. “We are cunningly trapped like beasts,” he cried. “A large troop of cavalry  is approaching and we cannot defend ourselves  due to our halacha,   which obligates us to rest!”

The      governor    of     Bavel     was right. Even this lowly robber was automatically willing  to give   up everything without a fight. But Asinai was  of a different  stripe.  Seizing his weapons, he urged  his men  to attack and inflicted a stinging  defeat  on the governor’s forces. King Artabanus II ofParthia (Bavel was under Parthian rule) was so impressed at the extraordinary power  of the brothers  that he invited them to pay him a state visit. Not that he particularly liked them. His fear was that they might ally with rebellious satraps   and   topple   him   from   his throne.

The   lawless    kingdom    persisted for another fifteen years. After Asinai died under circumstances  recorded by Josephus (Antiquities 18:9), Anilai continued  on his own. In the end, he revealed that he too had a pintele Yid hidden  inside  when he once captured Mithridates, the king’s son-in-law, in battle.

When his comrades suggested he execute  the  prisoner,  Anilai  refused, reasoning that if they killed a member of  the  king’s  royal  family,  the  king would never rest until he made a great slaughter of the Jews of Bavel.

“We  must  have  consideration  for their safety,”  he warned  them.  “They are our relatives and also, if anything happens to us, we have no other place to escape to.”

Mithridates   utilized   his lease   of life to return with a vast army and permanently crush Anilai’s power base. To some extent, the bandit state had been good for the Jews as the Babylonians never dared to be too anti-Semitic due to fear of the brothers’ revenge.  Now that Anilai  was  gone,  however,  their hatred whipped back like an unleashed spring and attacked  the Jews, forcing many of them to flee.

One of the best known Jewish mini-states arose centuries later in the middle of the parched Arabian desert 95 miles north of the  Muslim  city  of Medina. Jews there prospered through date cultivation and trading, defending their holdings with a string of fortresses they built on the desert hills and crags. Soon after  Mohamed  captured  the place  in 4389/629, and its Jews were banished.

Muslims  have never forgotten  this early battle against the Jewish enemy. In recent times, if you listen carefully at anti-Israel  demonstrations  you may discern a popular chant, “Khaybr Khaybar ya Yahud, jaysh Muhamad saufa ya’ud,” “Jews, remember Khaybar. The army of Mohamed  will return.”


A  thousand  years  later,  the  new world  was discovered,  providing endless tracts of new land to work and exploit. A number of projects got under way to provide Jews with a new home.

The first of these was conceived by the Dutch West India Company, which had  two  promising  qualities.  First, it had a number of Jews on its board of directors, and second, its main  goal was   to  extract   every   cent   possible out of newly  discovered  lands. Thus, during 5411/1651, the anti-Semitic Governor Pieter Stuyvesant   in New York was shocked to receive a letter in connection with Curaçao, a small island on the topside ofSouth America, captured by the Dutch from Spain 17 years earlier.

Curaçao’s problem was that few people wanted to live there and it was not producing enough for the company’s endless appetite. Consequently,  it was necessary to come up with a daring plan, and this is the letter Stuyvesant held in his sweating fingers:

“Although we have once before written about the island of Curaçao, ‘that, if we should have no revenue whatever from there it might be advisable to abandon it …’ the enclosed contract made with a Jew, Jan de Illan will prove to you the contrary. He intends to bring a considerable number of people there to settle and cultivate, as he pretends, the land, but we begin to suspect that he and his associates have quite another object in view, namely to trade from there to the West Indies and the Main.

“Be that as it may, we are willing to make the experiment, and you must therefore charge Director Rodenborch to accommodate him within proper limits, and in conformity with the conditions of his contract.”

Jan de Illan had started his life in Portugalas Joao, a Portuguese Marrano and had experience trading with Brazil. Unfortunately,  few  Jews  were  willing to risk life and limb on his wildcat enterprise, and his guaranteed quota of fifty families dwindled down to twelve who, judging by their names, were all Spanish or Portuguese: De Meza, Aboab, Pereira, De Leon, La Parra, Touro, Cardoze, Jesurun, Marchena, Chaviz, Oleveira, and Henriquez Cutinho.

After settling on the “De Hoop (hope)” plantation on the island, these heroes discovered that there was more hope of success in trade than in farming and began logging the local forests. The Dutch promptly rapped them on the knuckles  and  ordered  them  to  return to the plow and spade. Perhaps this contributed to the colony’s swift demise. Nowadays, the land once assigned to these astute pioneers is still known as the “Jodenwyk” (Jewish quarter).

Many Jews came to live in Curaçao afterwards, and the Mikveh Yisroel shul built there in 5452/1692, is the oldest continuously used shul in theNew World.

Meanwhile a similar experiment was taking place nearby for very similar motives. After seizing the colony of Surinamon the northern edge of South America from France, Britain discovered that for some reason, few people were interested in going there unless a giant carrot was dangled before their noses. The   cheapest   carrot   available   was to offer Jews from the Netherlands,Portugal, and Italy an unprecedented promise: Go to Surinam and we’ll give you full-fledged British citizenship. These  Jews  were  the  first  to  receive the  full  citizenship  of any  country  in modern times.

Various  Jewish  groups  sailed  in, one  of them  settling  in 5412/1652  in an area known as Jodensavanne (Jews Savanna).   Hopes   ran   high   that   the groups would coagulate and grow into an autonomous Jewish state. This goal was never realized, although the Jews did achieve a large degree of internal autonomy.

So where did the Jews hit the jackpot in the New World?

Not far from Surinam was the island of Cayenne where the Dutch needed people to get the place onto its feet, and who better than the Jews? In 5419/1659 the first group arrived from Brazil and created a Jewish settlement at Remire in the west side of the island, and a year later,  they  were  joined  by  over  150 Italian Jews from Leghorn. For a while it seemed that the Jews had their own foothold  in the New World  when the hundreds  of  colonists  built  their  own fort and organized a community based on halacha and minhag. Things seemed too good to be true and they were. The idyllic existence was shattered by a French  invasion  in  5423/1663  when most of the Jews left for nearby Jewish Savanna. Four years later, the English attacked Cayenne, destroyed the Jewish colony of Remire, and shipped its last 50  to  60  Jews  to  British  colonies  in Surinam and Barbados.

This  was  the  end  of  the  grand South America experiment. Bigger experiments   were   yet   to   come   as Jews continued their patient wait for redemption.

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