History of the Jews in Jamaica

Jamaican Jews
יהודים בג'מייקה
Total population
est. 200 - 424,000 [1]
Regions with significant populations
English, Hebrew

The history of the Jews in Jamaica predominantly dates back to migrants from Portugal and Spain to the island since 1494.


The first Jews came to the island during the Spanish occupation of the Island, 1494-1655. These Jews came from Spain and Portugal. They fled because of the Spanish inquisition. To conceal their identity they referred to themselves as "Portuguese" or "Spanish" and practiced their religion secretly. At the time of the British conquest of the island in 1655, General Venables recorded the presence of many "Portuguese" in Jamaica. The Jews were allowed to remain after the conquest and began to practice their religion openly. They were granted British citizenship by Cromwell and this was confirmed in 1660 by King Charles. They attained full political rights in 1831. The status of British citizenship enabled ownership of property by the Jews. Jamaica's Jewish population was never large. However their contribution to the economic and commercial life of the nation has been very significant.

Modern times

It was formerly believed that only 200 people were religiously practising Jews in Jamaica and that most Jews had migrated out of Jamaica. A recent study has now estimated that nearly 424,000 Jamaicans are descendants of Jewish (Sephardic) immigrants to Jamaica from Portugal and Spain from 1494 to the present, either by birth or ancestry. Jewish documents, gravestones written in Hebrew and recent DNA testing have proven this. While many are non-practicing of Judaism, it is recorded that over 20,000 Jamaicans religiously identify as Jews. Common Jewish surnames in Jamaica are: Abrahams, Alexander, Isaacs, Levy, Marish, Lindo, Lyon, Sangster, Myers, Da Silva, De Souza, De Cohen, De Leon, DeMercado, Barrett, Babb, Magnus, Codner, DeCosta, Henriques and Rodriques.[2] The Chabad-Lubavitch movement opened a branch in Jamaica in 2014 servicing locals as well as a welcome centre for international visitors.[3] Books: Mordechai Arbell-The Portuguese Jews of Jamaica.


The Shaare Shalom synagogue in Kingston, first built in 1885, was the only synagogue in the country till 2014 when chabad oppend up a second synagogue in Montego Bay. The congregation has their own siddur blending together Spanish-Portuguese tradition and British Liberal and American Reform liturgy. The Hillel Academy is a private school which was founded by the Jewish community which today is non-denominational but still serves as a meeting place for the children of the Jewish community. There is also a Jamaican Jewish Heritage Center, opened in 2006 in celebration of 350 years of Jews living in Jamaica. At least 21 Jewish cemeteries also exist in the country.[4]

Notable people

See also


  1. Jew of Jamaica
  2. Rebecca Tortello, "Out Of Many Cultures: The People Who Came - The Jews In Jamaica".
  3. "Just in Time for the Holidays, Jamaica Lands Permanent Chabad Presence".
  4. "The Jews of Jamaica". The Museum of the Jewish People at Beit Hatfutsot.
  5. Melvyn Barnett (2010). "A history of Jewish first-class cricketers" – Maccabi Australia. Retrieved 11 June 2015.
  6. Ziggy Marley to adopt Judaism?, Observer Reporter, Thursday, 13 April 2006, The Jamaica Observer: "Of further interest, Ziggy's grandfather Norval, is of Syrian-Jewish extraction... This was confirmed by Heather Marley, who is the daughter of Noel Marley, Norval's brother."
  7. Bob Marley The Father Of Music (Lulu 2012), By Jean-Pierre Hombach (ISBN 9781471620454), page 52: "Marley family members, such as Norval's nephew Michael George Marley have stated that he was a descendant of Syrian Jews... Michael George Marley revealed:"... I was told by my mother, grandmother and uncle, [that] the Marleys were Syrian Jews who migrated from the Middle East to England and then to Jamaica. About ten years ago I did research on the surname which also showed that to be true."
  8. The Real Revolutionary, by Rob Kenner, Vibe Magazine, May 2006, Vol. 14, No. 5, (Vibe Media Group ISSN 1070-4701), page 118
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