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Portuguese Synagogue (Amsterdam)

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Portuguese Synagogue (Amsterdam)

Portuguese Synagogue
Exterior of the Portuguese Synagogue.
Portuguese Synagogue (Amsterdam) is located in Amsterdam
Portuguese Synagogue (Amsterdam)
Location within Amsterdam
Basic information
Location Amsterdam, Netherlands
Geographic coordinates
Affiliation Orthodox Judaism
Rite Sephardi
Status Active
Website .nlportugesegemeente
Architectural description
Architect(s) Elias Bouwman
Architectural type Synagogue
Groundbreaking April 17, 1671
Completed August 2, 1675
Painting of the interior of the Esnoga by Emanuel de Witte (c. 1680)

The Portuguese Synagogue, also known as the Esnoga (Ladino: אסנוגה), or Snoge, is a late 17th-century Sephardic synagogue in Amsterdam, completed in 1675. Esnoga is the Ladino word for synagogue. The Amsterdam Sephardic community was one of the largest and richest Jewish communities in Europe during the Dutch Golden Age, and their very large synagogue reflected this. In January 2012 Israeli Prime-Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described this as "one of the most beautiful synagogues I have ever seen." The synagogue is a popular tourist attraction.


The Jews were expelled en masse from Spain in 1492 by the Alhambra decree. Many who fled to Portugal were forced to convert to Catholicism in 1496, while Jews who did not convert were expelled from Portugal in 1497. For hundreds of years, the Inquisition continued to investigate the converts and their descendants in Spain and Portugal on suspicions that in secret they still practiced Judaism (see Crypto-Judaism, Marrano).

Some of those who wished to enjoy a freedom of religion found refuge in Amsterdam. During a substantial migration that took place in the 17th century, these Jewish refugees from the Iberian peninsula called themselves Portuguese Jews. They wanted to avoid being identified with Spain, which was at war with the Dutch Republic at the time (see Eighty Years' War).

Construction and building

On December 12, 1670, the Sephardic Jewish community of Amsterdam acquired the site to build a synagogue and construction work began on April 17, 1671, under the architect Elias Bouwman. On August 2, 1675, the Esnoga was finished.

The inscription above the entrance is from Psalm 5:8: "In the abundance of Thy lovingkindness will I come into Thy house". The sign also contains "1672", the year the building was intended to be completed, and "Aboab", the name of the chief rabbi who initiated the construction project.

The building is free-standing and rests on wooden poles; the foundation vaults can be viewed by boat from the canal water underneath the synagogue. The entrance to the main synagogue is off a small courtyard enclosed by low buildings housing the winter synagogue, offices and archives, homes of various officials, the rabbinate, a mortuary, and noted Etz Hayim library. The interior of the synagogue is a single, very high rectangular space retaining its original wooden benches. The floor is covered with fine sand, in the old Dutch tradition, to absorb dust, moisture and dirt from shoes and to muffle the noise. Only five synagogues in the world have a sand floor, and this is the only one with such a floor surviving outside the Caribbean region.

During the 1955–1959 renovation, the former Etz Hayim seminary auditorium was redesigned as a winter synagogue; central heating and electric lighting were added. The benches were taken from a synagogue originally built in 1639 and the Hechal dates from 1744.

Baruch Spinoza was expelled for his writings from this synagogue community.

Image gallery

See also

External links

  • Website of the Esnoga
  • Archive of the Portuguese-Israelite community in Amsterdam, in the Archives Database of the Amsterdam City Archives
  • Consecration of the new Portuguese synagogue August 2, 1675. Bibliotheca Rosenthaliana
  • Website of Ets Haim, Sephardi library
  • UNESCO listing in the World memory
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