A yet-unnamed book by Ed Kritzler, who has researched pirates for more than four decades, tells of Jewish pirates in the Caribbean. The book, to be published in 2007, contains juicy facts of Jews more reminiscent of Treasure Island's Long John Silver than the Bible's Abraham.
"The Jewish pirates were Sephardic. Once they were kicked out of Spain (in 1492), the more adventurous Jews went to the New World," said Kritzler.
The phenomenon of Jewish piracy begins quite a bit earlier. In the time of the Second Temple (63 BCE), Jewish historian Flavius Josephus records that Hyrcanus accused Aristobulus, his brother and leader of the Hashmonaim, of "acts of piracy at sea."
Buccaneers and rabbis
A more famous Jewish pirate – and one researched by Kritzler - was Jean Lafitte, aka, the Corsair or the Buccaneer. His family fled from Spain for France in 1765 after his maternal grandfather was put to death for Judaism.
Along with his 'crew of a thousand men', Lafitte sometimes receives credit for helping free Louisiana from the British in the war of 1812, with his nautical raids along the Gulf of Mexico.
In his journals, Lafitte describes childhood in the home of his Jewish grandmother, who was full of stories about the family's escape from the Inquisition. Raised in a kosher Jewish house, Lafitte later married Christiana Levine, from a Jewish family in Denmark.
These facts were forgotten in Hollywood's 1958 film "The Buccaneer," starring Yul Brynner as Lafitte. All mention of the pirate's Jewish heritage was stripped away.
A pirate who maintained his Jewish heritage, even when transferred to print, was Rabbi Samuel Pallache, a leader of the Moroccan Jewish community and a personal friend of the Dutch crown prince. In Holland's name, Pallache raided Spanish cargoes and was rewarded with a court funeral upon his death.
In his book 'Parhia among pirates', author Dan Zalaka enumerates the stories of Pallache, who, in his life, combined his exotic childhood in Morocco, the atmosphere of the Dutch court, and daring feats of piracy.
A skull on the grave
Kritzler also unravels tales of Moses Cohen Henriques, who helped plan one of history's largest heists against Spain. In 1628, Henriques set sail with Admiral Piet Hein of the Dutch West India Co.
Together, the two boarded Spanish ships off Cuba and seized staggering amounts of gold and silver from shipments bound for the New World. Henriques later set up 'trade' on his own, off the coast of Brazil.
Kritzler's research proves that there were many more Jewish pirates than was previously believed. However, he told the Los Angeles-based 'Jewish Journal', determining the exact number of Jewish pirates is difficult because many of them traveled as Conversos (converts to Christianity) and practiced their Judaism in secret.
Although many pirates disguised their Judaism, many Jews did not disguise their piracy. In many Jewish graveyards in the Caribbean, graves are decorated with skull-and-crossbones engravings. Yaakov Mashiach, for example, buried in Barbados, left no mention of his history other than a testament to his audacious marine activities. His grave, as well as his wife's, bears a skull, crossbones, and an hourglass.
Still around, still appealing
Even in the 21st century, pirates have not disappeared, merely changed costumes. Instead of a black cloak and eye patch, they wear camouflage; instead of heavy cannons and swords, they're armed with machine guns and RPGs.
Last November, it was reported that a number of pirate ships were sailing along the African coast, laying in wait for rich cruise ships, merchant vessels, and UN supply ships.
If the success of Disney's recent blockbuster 'Pirates of the Caribbean' - which raked in over USD 1 billion – is any indication, it seems that these daring and violent men have not lost their charm. Jews and non-Jews alike.