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Jewish LEALs
Posted by: Oscar Leal (ID *****6623) Date: December 19, 2005 at 14:44:38
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As a result of a search on I found out last year that there are / were persons with the surname LEAL who are / were Jewish or of Jewish descend. Although I am not Jewish myself, I find this subject of interest which is why I am doing more research on this subject.

Anyone researching the subject of Jewry will always have to face the question: what constitutes a Jew? The religious definition of a Jew is a person who was born from a Jewish mother or a person who did not, but who converted to the Jewish faith with rabbinical approval. For the following, I will use this definition. In my definition, a person of Jewish descend is someone who is not Jewish him / herself, but who has ancestors who were Jewish according to the religious definition.

The website is a website dedicated to the history / genealogy of Sephardim. Sephardim are Jews who originate from the Iberian peninsula (Spain, Portugal and Gibraltar). Jews were present in Iberia for many hundreds of years before they were forced to either convert to Christianity or leave the Iberian peninsula altogether in the late 15th century (first in 1492 from the territories of current day Spain and later also from current day Portugal). The number of Jews living in Spain at the time of the expulsion can only be estimated, but there are believed to have been hundreds of thousands which represented a considerable proportion of the total population of Spain at the time. In general, historians believe that approximately 1/3 of the Jewish population fled to Portugal which was a separate kingdom at the time as well, 1/3 left the Iberian peninsula altogether fleeing to territories such as the Ottoman Empire, Northern Africa and Holland, and 1/3 stayed in Spain and converted to Christianity (known as “New Christians” or “Anusim”). Of the later group it is believed that a considerable proportion converted in name only and continued to practice the Jewish religion in secrecy. It was very dangerous to do so following the expulsion decrees as anyone who was believed to be a follower of the Jewish faith risked his / her life and the lives of family members as a result of the Inquisition (the Inquisition persecuted New Christians only because it had no jurisdiction over non-Christians). Still there were many who dared to stay loyal to their religion.

References to Jewish LEALs on
The website has a long list of surnames which are / were borne by Sephardim. One should be cautious, however, in reaching conclusions. The mere fact that a name is mentioned on the list does not mean that anyone who bears the name today is either Jewish or of Jewish descend. The way I see it is that there have been in the past and sometimes still are persons who bear a particular surname and who are indeed Jewish or of Jewish descend. I expect that the same applies to persons with the surname LEAL.

There are five references on to the surname LEAL and they are as follows:

1.       From the book, "The Inquisitors and the Jews in the New World", by Seymour B. Liebman. ISBN: 0-87024-245-8.

Comments by Oscar Leal:
This is a book which contains references to persons who appeared before the Inquisition in the former Spanish territories in the Americas. As was the case with the Spanish homeland after 1492, Jews were not allowed to live in the Spanish overseas territories. Anyone who wanted to migrate to the Spanish territories from Spain legally had to proof that he / she was pure of blood, that is that he / she was an Old Christian as opposed to a New Christian. Still many New Christians managed to get to the Americas through forged pureness of blood certificates, or by coming to the Americas as personnel of Old Christians (personnel did not need to have a pureness of blood certificate). Besides this, it is believed that 50% of all persons who migrated to the Americas from Spain did so completely illegally.

Page 179 of the book has the following reference:

“LEAL, Antonio: candy manufacturer; when others said “loado sea Jesu Cristo” – praised be Jesus Christ – he said instead “loado se Dios” – praised be God. Suspicion of judío; reconciled between 1618 and 1622, sanbenito, confiscation of property, jail for one year.” The trial was held before the Inquisition of the Vice-Royalty of Peru.

Further references on this case (the actual Inquisition reports) are available.

2.       From the book, "Secrecy and Deceit: The Religion of the Crypto-Jews", by David M. Gitlitz. ISBN: 0-8276-0562-5. The names of the Sephardim (and their residences) mentioned were, sometimes, involved with the inquisition. There were other names which are not listed here because the author did not identify those names as Sephardic.

Comments by Oscar Leal:
The reference in this book refers to the book of Seymour Liebman and thus refers to one and the same person. Page 464 of the book:

“…The candy maker Antonio LEAL [Lima 1618] finished his prayers with “Praised be God” instead of “Praised be Jesus Christ”….”

3.       From the book, "Raizes Judaicas No Brasil" by Flavio Mendes Carvalho. This book contains names of Sephardim involved in the inquisition in Brazil. Many times date of birth, occupation, name of parents, age, and location of domicile are also included. Included in this list are the names of the relatives of the victims. Many of the victims were tortured to death or exiled so their lines might end here.

Comments by Oscar Leal:
I have not been able to find a copy of this book, but Benjamin Nahman who researches the history of the Sephardim was kind enough to send me the following references from the book:

“LEAL, Manoel Mendes, 26 years old, merchant, condemned in 09 September 1703, and as a relapsed Jew in 30 October 1717.

LEAL, Antonio Rodriguez, 51 years old, merchant, condemned to prison and to wear the 'habito' in perpetuity on 06 November 1707. His wife, Domingas Rodrigues, 52 years old, received the same sentence on 30 June 1709”.

4.       Sephardic names from the magazine "ETSI", in this case volume number 2, issue number 5, an article called “Le Pourim Sarahoussa: Pourim de Saragosse ou Pourim de Syracuse? La révélation d’une origine possible à partir des traditions familiales” by Laurence Abensur-Hazan. Most of the names are from (but not limited to) France and North Africa. Published by Laurence Abensur-Hazan and Philip Abensur. Subscriptions are available. If your family comes from the area served by ETSI, this magazine is worth while.

Comments by Oscar Leal:
This is an article which deals with the Purim of Sarahussa. It’s English summary title is: “Is the Purim Sarahussa from Saragrossa or Syracuse? Or how to find a possible origin with the help of a family tradition.”

I quote from the English summary: “Family legends might be a genealogical source. Several families from the Ottoman Empire used to celebrate a feast called “Purim Sarahussa” or “Purim of Syracuse”, for having escaped from great danger. In the year 1390 or 1420, in a town called Saragossa or Syracusa, there was a Jewish community of 5,000 men. Each of the twelve Synagogue leaders had to present, each year, the Torah scrolls in their boxes to the King. Considering it was forbidden, they presented empty boxes to the King during some years. A converted Jew, Haim Chami, told this to the King who decided to have the boxes opened. The day before the King’s visit, every Synagogue leader had a dream where they were told to put the Torah scrolls in their boxes. Thus the Jews were saved and Chami was put to Death. …..” The article deals with the question whether this legend is based on a historic occasion, and if so where it took place,in Saragossa in Spain or in Syracusa in Sicily. The name LEAL is mentioned in the article as one of the families who used to celebrate this legend. The author of the article refers to two other researchers for this:

Abraham Danon, “Quelques Pourim locaux” in Revue des Etudes juives, Tome LIV, 1907, page 113-137; and
Michaël Molho, “Les Juifs de Salonique à la fin due XVIe siècle”, réédité par Elie Carasso, 1991, pag. 36 and 41.

I have not been able to find copies of these two articles. The second article to which the author refers seems to suggest that the LEALs who used to celebrate this legend lived in Salonique (or Thessaloniki) in Greece. Thessaloniki is a well-known refugee place for Sephardim with a large Jewish population. The city and its Jewish population suffered very severely during the occupation by Nazi Germany. I am in the process of finding out whether there are / were indeed Sephardic LEALs in Thessaloniki.

5.       From the book, "A Origem Judaica dos Brasileiros", by Jose Geraldo Rodrigues de Alckmin Filho. This publication contains a list of 517 Sephardic families punished by the inquisition in Portugal and Brazil. As “familias punidas pela Inquidicao em Portugal e no Brasil.”

Comments by Oscar Leal:
I have not been able to find a copy of this book.

The Istanbul Jewish Genealogy Project
Many Sephardim fled to the Ottoman Empire which consisted of among others current day Turkey. The Istanbul Jewish Genealogy Project ( is a project which aims to make available genealogical information about the Jews of Turkey for genealogical research. The website has a database which can be searched. My search of the name LEAL revealed 28 entries (27 for marriages and 1 death). In my view this is one of the clearest indications that there are / were Jewish LEALs and that they are / were probably Sephardim as a very large majority (96%) of the Turkish Jews are Sephardim and I expect that this is also the case for the Turkish LEALs.

I am trying to get in contact with descendants of these Turkish LEALs.

Are you a Sephardic LEAL or a LEAL of know Sephardic descend?
If you are a Sephardic LEAL or a LEAL of known Sephardic descend, I would very much appreciate it if you could contact me.

Oscar Leal
the Netherlands

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