Amsterdam Esnoga

The Portuguese Synagogue also known as the Esnoga (Ladino: אסנוגה), or Snoge, is a 17th-century Sephardic synagogue in Amsterdam. Esnoga is the Ladino word for synagogue.

Background

The Jews were expelled en masse from Spain in 1492 by the Alhambra decree. Many who fled to Portugal were forced to convert to Catholicism in 1496, while the other Jews were expelled from Portugal in 1497. For hundreds of years, the Inquisition continued to investigate the converts and their descendants on suspicions that in secret they still practiced Judaism (see Crypto-Judaism, Marrano).

Some of those who wished to enjoy a freedom of religion found refuge in Amsterdam. During a substantial migration that took place in the 17th century, these Jewish refugees from the Iberian peninsula called themselves Portuguese Jews to avoid being identified with Spain, which was at war with the Dutch Republic at the time (see Eighty Years' War).

Construction and building

On December 12, 1670, the Sephardic Jewish community of Amsterdam acquired the site to build a synagogue and construction work began on April 17, 1671, under architect Elias Bouwman. On August 2, 1675, the Esnoga was finished.

The inscription above the entrance is from Psalm 5:8: "In the abundance of Thy lovingkindness will I come into Thy house". The sign also contains "1672", the year the building was supposed to have been ready, and "Aboab", the name of the chief rabbi whose initiative it was to build the synagogue.

The building rests on wooden poles and the foundation vaults can be viewed by boat from the water underneath the synagogue. Around the main edifice a row of low buildings house the winter synagogue, offices and archives, homes of various officials, the rabbinate, a mortuary and famous Etz Hayim library.

During the 1955-1959 renovation, the former Etz Hayim seminary auditorium was redesigned as a winter synagogue with central heating and electric lighting. The benches were taken from a synagogue originally built in 1639 and the Hechal dates from 1744.

The floor is covered with fine sand, in the old Dutch tradition, to absorb dust, moisture and dirt from shoes and to muffle the noise.

Image gallery
  • Interior view from tebáh (bima) towards hekhál (ark)

  • The exterior of the Esnoga

  • Exterior, side view

  • Exterior

  • Interior, lit up with candles