On August 3, 1492, Columbus’ three ships set sail from Spain. But did you know that August 2, 1492, was Tisha B’Av, the Fast of the 9th of Av, and the date by which all Jews were required to convert to Catholicism or leave Spain, as proclaimed by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella?
The strange coincidence of dates has resulted in much speculation regarding Columbus’ possible Jewish origins (of which there has been no substantial proof). Others have suggested that Columbus’ crew included Jews trying to escape the wicked decrees. This seems unlikely given that the one known Jewish member of Columbus’ crew, Luis de Torres, had undergone conversion in order to join the Spanish exploration party.
Columbus chose Luis de Torres as his interpreter because of his knowledge of Hebrew, Aramaic, Spanish, Portuguese, French, Latin and some Arabic. It seems that the great explorer expected to encounter descendants of the Ten Lost Tribes in Asia.
When they arrived at what is now Cuba, the first inhabited island they found, Columbus sent Luis de Torres and Rodrigo de Jerez to explore the island. Thus a Jewish man was one of the first to interact with the native residents of the New World.
Unfortunately, one of Columbus’ three original sailing vessels, the Santa Maria, ran aground. While most of the crew of the Santa Maria were transferred onto the Nina (the Pinta had already been lost at sea), 39 men, including de Torres, were left behind to establish La Navidad, the first European settlement.
History is unclear regarding Luis de Torres’ fate. While some historians believe they have found records of annual payment to him from the Spanish government, most believe that he was massacred along with the other settlers after being accused of accosting the native women.
This Treat was originally posted on October 12, 2009.