Jews and the Knights Templar – a complex relationship

Thousands of Jewish people around the world are taking up an invitation from the Portuguese government to return to Portugal. Their ancestors were forced out of the country by the Inquisition from the 15th century onwards. And it seems a good moment to look back at the relationship between Portuguese Jews and the Knights Templar in Portugal.

I’m half Portuguese. There’s a joke in my family: we’re either Jews or Templars. It sounds better in Portuguese. But basically, the region of Portugal where my family come from – Tras-os-Montes in the north east – was an area that historically saw both Templar activity and Jewish Sephardic families fleeing persecution.

Some of the customs and diet in that part of the world still bear the hallmark of the Jewish influence – as does one of the local dialects, which some argue has traces of Hebrew.

There’s even a story in Portugal that Jewish families in Tras-os-Montes developed a sausage called “Alheira” which they chomped on when the Inquisition rode by in the hope they’d think it was pork.

Every Christian family had pork sausages hanging up through the winter – smoked meat that kept them going through the cold months. A Jewish family would have been very conspicuous to the authorities if it was sausage-less. Hence the Alheira!

Tomar – from Templar tolerance to the Inquisition

The place in Portugal that most evokes the Knights Templar is the city of Tomar. It’s basically Templar town. Up on the hill is a 12th century Templar tower called the ‘charola’ surrounded by a later convent occupied by the Order of Christ (the successor organisation to the Templars).

Down below in the valley, near the river Nabao, is a small house you’d easily walk straight by. But pause and enter – and there is a medieval synagogue. It’s now a museum but was once a functioning place of worship.

I’ve visited several times and there’s a very nice lady who shows you round and then details the sad history of the place. For centuries, the Jewish families of Tomar worshipped there and enjoyed the protection of the local Knights Templar – who basically dominated Tomar.

But then came the Inquisition. In a horrible twist of fate, the synagogue became a prison for those Jewish families. By then, the Templars had been crushed and the last Grand Master burnt at the stake. Appallingly, the same fate now befell some of those imprisoned Jews – executed as heretics.

This was the new intolerance of the 16th and 17th centuries which saw Spain and Portugal expel their remaining Jews and Muslims. If they wanted to stay – they had to convert becoming “new Christians”. Though that was no guarantee of safety as even converts ended up falling foul of the relentless Inquisition.

Basis for Templar-Jewish good relations

There’s a lot of commentary online about the Templars being tolerant of and even protecting Jewish people. Why would this be the case? One argument is that the Knights Templar were forever in the business of raising funds for their crusades in the Holy Land. To do this they operated medieval agri-businesses all over Europe and being commercially minded meant they had no wish to antagonise Jewish people.

For their part, the Jews were subject to all manner of prohibitions and one area they took to operating in was money lending. At this time, Christians weren’t allowed to earn interest on capital – something many Muslims still object to today.

Interestingly two of the most powerful Jewish money lenders in the Middle Ages in England were women. One gave considerable financial support to the king to build Westminster Abbey. Clearly the hope of currying favour was a factor but so was just doing good business.

Aaron, a Jewish man living in the English city of Lincoln, was one of the biggest money lenders in the twelfth century.  King Henry II, father of Richard the Lionheart, is estimated to have owed him £616 12s 8d.  When he died, the monarchy seized all his assets and this came to somewhere around fifteen thousand pounds – a vast amount in the Middle Ages.

So could it be that the Knights Templar – who operated an early system of banking with cashable cheques – and the Jewish communities had a down to earth mutual appreciation of their respective commercial activities?

Something more mystical perhaps?

The idea that business united the Templars and Jewish people doesn’t wash with everybody.

Those of a more conspiracy theory frame of mind believe that the Knights Templar were descendants of Jewish Elders or Priests who fled the Holy Land after the Romans crushed the first Jewish revolt around 70CE.

One theory has them inter-marrying with European aristocrats to become a network of clandestine “Rex Deus” families – sworn to recover the hidden treasure of the Temple of Jerusalem. I’ll deal with this in other blog posts but you get the drift.

15 thoughts on “Jews and the Knights Templar – a complex relationship

  1. History is interesting in that many things we seem familiar with by certain names were called differently then, for example we are conditioned to think in terms of Egypt having a pharoah, when only the Bible uses that term, not the Egyptians themselves, the truth will be fully exposed by more ppl thinking outside these boxes made to contain our thoughts and ideas then we will be free, i mean there are so manyy examples of brainwashing our youth to keep them impressed with the Jewish God, the Bible , without explaining what Jesus actually thought about the system is just more indoctrination to their thinking. Just the fact that Jews were quite Greek should be common sense but that would be too down to earth for American pastors and not keep Jews on a pedestal as if we can’t worship God unless the Jews give him their seal of approval and not the other way around, am I right?

  2. The fact no one is willing to say its possible the blood libel was by a cult with in the jewish faith, kind of disturbs me. Like when zionists throw all this dirt on islam, but refuse to talk about the horrifying things in the talmud. I think the blood libel as a serial killer or some form of anti christian satanic group would be a good field of study. I dont want to see any one persecuted, but on the same token allowing undue influence of zionist groups is not good either. Best way to make sure every one is above board is transperancy and discussion.

  3. “If you wish to be a success in the world, promise everything, deliver nothing.”
    – Napoleon Bonaparte

    “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.”

    – Joseph Goebbels

    “If the German people lay down their weapons, the Soviets, according to the agreement between Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin, would occupy all of East and Southeast Europe along with the greater part of the Reich. An iron curtain would fall over this enormous territory controlled by the Soviet Union, behind which nations would be slaughtered.”

    – Joseph Goebbels

    “Napoleon’s uncle, Cardinal Fesh, also got involved. He told Napoleon, “Sire, so you wish the end of the world to come with your Laws to give the Jews equality like the Catholics. Do you not know that the Holy Scriptures predict that the end of the world will happen when the Jews will be recognized as a corporate nation.”

    After Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo, the Holy Alliance was convened at the Congress of Vienna. At that time the laws permitting equality, liberty and fraternity were retracted and were not applied again until 1830, when the principles fixed by the French Revolution and the First Empire, were re-instated.
    Prussia retracted the liberal laws in 1815 after the Battle of Waterloo. The worst setback was inflicted upon the Jews of the Papal states. It would almost seem as if Pius VII had taken revenge on the Jewish population of his territory for the humiliation he had suffered at the hand of Napoleon. He was not content with their confinement behind the walls of the re-erected ghetto but he obliged the Jews to wear the “Yellow badge” again. In Sardinia, the Jews were thrown back into ghettos and not allowed to build synagogues.

  4. The Templars beliefs were similar to those of the Cathars and the Merovingian Franks, also of King Arthur. They in turn stemmed from the Gnostics, Christ and John the Baptist, and the Hermetic Egyptian tenets which originated the Jewish Kaballah.
    The all seeing EYE of Isis and Horus runs through all these groups including the Freemasons and Rosicrucians who followed the Templars. Now the EYE symbol and sign is seen in use by celebrities such as Beyonce and Madonna but they use it at their peril since it has great power which can be used for good or bad.
    The new novel -The Royal Secret – traces the history of the Templars way before the crusades and up to the present day as they are still in our midst.

  5. ok, the world hates jews and whether we can trust the jews aline with their gid ir ourselves to mock, that he do not talk to us non-jews like he does jews, we do not trust anyone to obey all he JHVH has for us to do. This is why we trust as a show in gods power, overrall, police, lawyers, judges,and imprisinment, fines, and wars as countries instead of single, domestic abuse.These organized parties are what give value ti iyr dusobeduence and lack if faith in and ti gid. . . If we give jews back all their privacy rights to practice their religion and keep them out as a support to their religious obligation to JHVH regardless of modern,foreighn cultures. We should not be a temptation to jews ir seek their corruption or works
    against their god as a commercial
    consumer products. . . that is agreeing
    to as we have subliminally, to penalize ourselves as if we are the jews god. itself
    Jewss can not be trusted with their
    religion because somewhere in our
    collective concious that they killed us;and demons, and Angels, and the
    truth, and children and maybe even the
    world . .Then why torment ourselves with comedy of,similitude, that only
    seduces them to more insular occultic
    mysticism. . . No one really wants to see the power that jews believe, exemplify itself as recordeded. . .So in modern siciety for Americans, Europeans, and blacks there is a liberty we can assert by not applying judausm as the standard. If i am fat i can not eat everything, so why would i use those foods to make system that torments me and those it was originally given to or who created it.JHVH says toych not my prophets do my annointed no harm That is where their god is angry with us. We took what is theirs. If there god kills us then at least let it be that example of his power not disputable as foreighn and superior and absolute. Ask god to punish or create poverty that is his and no one elses. Even if its not his judgement. Jews are
    not suppose to be settled no more than
    naked tribes known throughout Africa or
    the desert and tropics. .They are meant
    to live in tents,who are we to say that it
    is poverty, or corruption,or curse, or a
    mental illness. . .whose to say that if we
    need systaining and perpetual miracles
    or presence of god its because they will
    not go back to that work god called them
    to. . .God do not want to be in a house
    made with hands . . besides if JHVH called rocks with or without a christ conviction for submission then why are we so sick and poor and criminals and adulterated not to move out into their original houses, The Jews, houses. . . otherwise the world has no problems nowhere we know all we need to know and there is no poverty,or crime or pain, it is your choice not be chosen. . .

    1. The Templars based themselves in what is now the Al Aqsa mosque on the Temple mount – and believed the mosque to be Solomon’s Temple. Templar is a short abbreviation for ‘Poor Knights of Christ and the Temple of Solomon’. They transformed the building into a Christian and Templar church – but it was converted back to a mosque when the crusaders lost Jerusalem to Saladin. One of the Templar buildings on the Temple Mount is now the women’s mosque!

    1. It’s true that Christians forbade usery though that didn’t prevent a banking system developing in the Italian city states in the Middle Ages leading to notorious banking dynasties like the Medicis. I’ve never found any evidence to suggest the Templars were Jewish but if you have any…

  6. According to your article, both groups imposed an equal financial burden upon the kings/monarchies of the time. The fundamental question is: WHY the Templars were forgotten until the eighteenth century or so but the Jews became dominant almost in all spheres of society until today?

    1. If you look at the king who suppressed the Templars – Philip IV of France – he attacked both the Templars and the Jewish community…as well as Lombard merchants and even the Catholic church. Why? Well, he was short of money and always in debt. With the Templars though, he could go all the way and close down the Order. He couldn’t ‘close down’ the Jewish community.

      With the stroke of a pen, it was possible for the king and pope to end the Templars’ existence and seize all their assets – many of which were redistributed to the Knights Hospitaller. But the Jewish religion could not be abolished by the stroke of a pen – or any religion. Instead, medieval Jews just faced a whole load of persecution and in the case of England – they were expelled completely by king Edward I. From the 1290s to the 1640s, there was no Jewish community in England.

      I’m doing a lot of research on the role of Jewish moneylenders in England during the Middle Ages and I’m happpy to share on this blog if you want. Many thanks for your interest!

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