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Frequently Asked Questions and Answers

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Question 13.13:
Who was Donna Gracia?


Donna Gracia Mendes Nassi (1510-1569) was a Portuguese aristocrat of the 15th century, who lost nearly all her relatives to the Spanish Inquisition. They were burned at the stake simply for being Jews. As a result, Gracia left Portugul and wandered through Europe with her daughter and nephew. While seeking a refuge where they could freely be Jews, Gracia managed her family's banking interest and became adept at navigating the twin worlds of finance and politics. Eventually Gracia's family landed in Constantinople, the capital of the Turkish Empire. There they were embraced by the Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent, who allowed them to maintain their Jewish traditions. As their position at court became known, Jews throughout the land flocked to the family in times of need. One of the people she supported was Samuel Medina (The Maharashdam) and his yeshiva in Greece.

Gracia was born a converso but at home continued to adhere to her Jewish heritage. After leaving Portugal with her entire entourage, she went to London and later moved to Antverp where she continued to live as a Catholic but kept a Jewish home. As the Kings needed her for their financial interests she was left alone, but eventually she also had to leave after quite a number of years and travelled via Italy to Istanbul. During this trip, she decided to return openly to Judaism. She began to study the Torah and the Talmud with a Rabbi. When she eventually arrived in Istanbul after travelling throught the Balkans she was not accepted by the Jewish community there as she was considered still a converso. At a later stage she travelled to Palestine studying in Safed and Tiberias where she had also synagogues built which still exist in her name. She spent some time studying Talmud in Safed. She valued Jewish education, financed it, and saved many Jewish refugees from persecution in Portugal and Spain.

The FAQ is a collection of documents that is an attempt to answer questions that are continually asked on the soc.culture.jewish family of newsgroups. It was written by cooperating laypeople from the various Judaic movements. You should not make any assumption as to accuracy and/or authoritativeness of the answers provided herein. In all cases, it is always best to consult a competent authority--your local rabbi is a good place to start.

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