After 500 Years: Kosher Portuguese Olive Oil

17 Nisan 5765

For the first time since expelling its Jews in the 15th century, Portugal has once again begun producing kosher olive oil under strict rabbinical supervision. The product, which is being marketed under the name Ribeiro Sanches Kosher, is manufactured by Penazeites, one of the country’s most important manufacturers of olive oil, in the central Portuguese town of Penamacor. The oil bears a “triangle-K” kosher symbol and is under the supervision of Rabbi Elisha Salas, an emissary of the Jerusalem-based Shavei Israel organization, who serves as rabbi of the Jewish community of Oporto, Portugal’s second-largest city. The olive oil is also certified kosher for Passover. “It was an honor for us to be able to make kosher olive oil for Jews in Portugal and abroad for the first time in 500 years,” said Joao Manuel Rodrigues, Penazeites’ commercial director. “In the past, our town was home to a large Jewish population, so we thought it only fitting that we undertake this project, which in some small way closes a historical circle.”

Most of Portugal’s Jews were either expelled or forced to convert en masse to Catholicism in 1497 after King Manuel I launched a brutal campaign to purge his realm of any Jewish presence. Nonetheless, many continued to practice Judaism covertly, while living outwardly as Catholics. At the time of the decree, Jews constituted nearly 20% of the population, such that many Portuguese today are believed to have at least some Jewish ancestry. “My name is Mendes, which traditionally was a Portuguese Jewish name- so maybe my ancestors were Jewish?” said Carlos Mendes, a communications consultant for the company. “The renewal of kosher olive oil production in Portugal is a sign that Jewish culture can once again flourish here.” As a gesture of reconciliation, the design of the olive oil’s label bears the motto, “For the return of the Jewish people”, and even includes a quote from Tractate Menachot (53b) of the Talmud: “Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi said: Why is Israel compared to an olive tree? Because just as the leaves of an olive tree do not fall off in either summer or winter, so too the Jewish people shall not be cast off.”

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