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Seventeenth-century writers on heraldry claimed that the origins of coats of arms could be found in Numbers 2:2: "The Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron saying 'The Israelites shall camp each with his standard under the banners of their ancestral house.'" Although this theory has been abandoned, it would seem that the standards borne by the 12 tribes served the same purpose as heraldic devices. The colors (Num. R. 2:7; Ex. 36:17–21) and emblems were as follows: Reuben – red; emblem: mandrakes (Gen. 30:14). Simeon – green; emblem: the town of Shechem (Gen. 34:25f.). Levi – white, black, and red; emblem: the Urim and Thummim (Deut. 33:9). Judah – azure; emblem: a lion (Gen. 49:9). Issachar – black; emblem: a strong-boned ass (Gen. 49:14) or sun and moon (I Chron. 12:33). Zebulun – white; emblem: a ship (Gen. 49:13). Dan – sapphire; emblem: a serpent (Gen. 49:17) or a lion's whelp (Deut. 33:22). Gad – grey; emblem: a tent (Gen. 49:19) or a lion (Deut. 33:20). Naphtali – rose; emblem: a hind (Gen. 49:21). Asher – aquamarine; emblem: an olive tree (Gen. 49:20; Deut. 33:24). Ephraim and Manasseh – black, embroidered with a picture of Egypt; emblem: Ephraim, a bullock (Deut. 33:17) and Manasseh, a wild ox. Benjamin – 12 colors; emblem: a wolf (Gen. 49:27).

Modern heraldry is founded on a system of heraldry which developed in feudal Western Europe at the time of the Crusades and was based on the principle that only the landowning class, which formed the nobility, was entitled to bear arms. The extensive use of emblems by Jews for seals sometimes led to a design similar to a coat of arms, such as the 14th-century seal used by Kalonymus b. Todros of Narbonne which consisted of a shield charged with a lion rampant; and the king of Portugal, Alfonso Henriques (1094–1185), was said to have granted a coat of arms to a Jew. Nevertheless, the system which prevented Jews from bearing arms was not relaxed until the 16th century. By then, in most countries of Western Europe grants of arms had become the prerogative of the sovereign, who could confer them as a reward for services rendered; they did not necessarily carry with them the status of nobility. The first Jew to receive a grant of arms, Jacob Batsheba Schmieles, was ennobled at the same time, having in 1622 been made a knight of the Holy Roman Empire with the title of *Bassevi of Treuenberg.

The largest group claiming armorial bearings were those Jews of *Marrano descent whose ancestors had adopted the name of the persons sponsoring them for baptism. This would not have given them the right to bear the same arms, although Isaac da Costa argues that the Christian and Jewish branches of these families were indistinguishable. Others inherited arms which had actually been granted to their Marrano ancestors. Among these were Isaac Lousada (d. 1857), who was confirmed by the Spanish government in 1848 in the title of duke and grandee of Spain of the first class; Isaac da Silva *Solis, whose father was made marquis of Montfort in 1673; Antonio Lopez *Suasso (Isaac Israel Suasso), made baron of Avernas de Gras in 1676; and the de *Pinto family descended from Manuel Alvarez Pinto, who was made a knight of St. Jago in 1640. Manuel (Isaac Henriques) Pimentel obtained a declaration in 1674 signed on behalf of the Spanish king that he was entitled to use the ancient arms of Pimentel. The original arms of Pereira and Teixeira contained crosses and were accordingly modified by Jewish families of that name.

The English College of Arms raised no difficulty about granting or registering arms for Jews who had been born in England or had been naturalized or endenizened. The earliest record in this connection, that of 1568 concerning the New Christian family of Anes (JHSET 11, 18), is of only slight Jewish significance, and the first patents of arms for Jews relate to the ancient canting arms of Da *Costa: "gules six broken bones, two two and two barwise and the joynts almost meeting each other in pale argent." These were registered in 1723 and 1725 with variations for Leonor da Costa, her cousin Catharine da Costa Villareal, and her nephew Anthony *Mendes; the first two declared that the arms had been borne by their late husbands before they settled in England, while Anthony Mendes claimed them through his father Dr. Fernando Mendes. The arms registered for de *Aguilar, *Castello, and *Salvador were also of Spanish or Portuguese origin. The grant of arms to Sir Morris *Ximenes, dated May 5, 1807, recites that the arms which his family had always used were similar to those borne by Cardinal Ximenes from a branch of whose family he was traditionally descended, a claim which today would be received with considerable doubt.

Some of these coats of arms contain Jewish features. Both the Belilios and the *Mocatta arms include a seven-branch candlestick. The Franco (*Lopes) arms were confirmed in 1760 by the College of Arms to Jacob Franco, "his ancestors having used for their armorial ensigns on a field a fountain proper thereout issuant a palm tree vert… represented on a marble monument in the synagogue of the Jewish nation in the City of Leghorn." The arms granted in 1819 to Moses *Montefiore were based on the family badge embroidered on an Ark curtain presented to the Levantine synagogue at Ancona in 1635 by Judah Leone Montefiore. In 1831 Moses Montefiore obtained as an augmentation to the banner on his crest the word Jerusalem in Hebrew characters of gold to commemorate his visit to the Holy Land in 1827. In 1841 after his intervention with the sultan at Constantinople about the *Damascus Affair, he recorded details of the affair as well as a copy of the sultan's firman at the College of Arms. At the same time he received an additional crest, and Queen Victoria granted him the right to bear supporters, "being desirous of giving an especial mark of our royal favor… in commemoration of these his unceasing exertions on behalf of his injured and persecuted brethren although the privilege of bearing supporters be limited to the peers of our realm, the knights of our orders and the proxies of princes of our blood" (Sir Moses was then only a knight bachelor). Each of the supporters carried a flagstaff with the word Jerusalem in Hebrew characters of gold. The *Sassoon arms were usually emblazoned with the motto in Latin and Hebrew, but the Hebrew motto is not mentioned in the grant of arms made in 1862 to David Sassoon. The priestly blessing is referred to in the motto, "the Lord bless them," adopted by Sir Samuel Sydney Cohen of Sydney, Australia, in 1947. The emblem of the tribe of Benjamin forms the basis of the coat of arms granted, also in 1947, to the descendants of Sir Benjamin Benjamin of Melbourne, Australia: "Azure, a wolf passant between three stars of six points argent."

Naphtali Basevi, maternal grandfather of Benjamin *Disraeli, earl of Beaconsfield, used an unregistered coat of arms, the charges on which were a lion, supposed to be for St. Mark of Venice, an eagle for Austria, and a crescent for Turkey; according to family tradition, they were the arms granted to an ancestor, Solomon ben Nathan *Ashkenazi (1520?–1602), in reward for his services in negotiating a peace treaty when serving as Turkish ambassador to Venice. A similar device is used as a printer's mark in the Midrash Tanhuma printed by Abraham Basevi at Verona in 1595 and on Basevi tombstones in that city. Disraeli himself adopted the lion and the eagle and added a castle for Castille. According to him the lion represented Leon and was the device of his Lara ancestors, but in fact his Spanish lineage was fanciful.

In contrast with conditions in England, there were few instances of Jews receiving grants of arms on the Continent prior to the 19th century. When the four *Rothschild brothers, Amschel, Solomon, Carl, and James, were ennobled by the emperor Francis II of Austria in 1816, the first somewhat ambitious design for their coat of arms was rejected by the Austrian Heralds' College with the comment that it was "necessary to proceed with the greatest caution particularly in the case of members of the Jewish nation for various reasons and more especially because they are not familiar with the prerogatives of nobility." The coat of arms granted in 1817 had as charges: a half eagle and an arm bearing four arrows, not five, because Nathan, the English brother, was not included (E.C. Corti, The Rise of the House of Rothschild, 1 (1928), 193). He himself was granted a different coat of arms by the English College of Arms in February 1818, consisting of a "lion passant guardant grasping with the dexter forepaw five arrows." The de *Worms family, who were kinsmen of the Rothschilds, had a hand grasping three arrows in their coat of arms to represent the three de Worms brothers. In Italy the Jews followed the practice common among families of all classes of adopting family badges. Some of these, as in the cases of Franco and Montefiore, were later incorporated in coats of arms, but in their original form they were extensively used on seals, marriage contracts, tombstones, and personal effects.


L. Wolf, in: JHSET, 2 (1894/95), 153–69; I. da Costa, Noble Families among the Sephardic Jews… (1936); A. Rubens, in: Anglo-Jewish Notabilities (1949), 75–128; C. Roth, Stemmi di Famiglie Ebraiche Italiane (1967).

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.