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Travelers & Explorers

In the ninth century Jewish traders known as "*Radaniya" traded between Western Europe and China, by land and sea. They were fluent in several languages and dealt in female and boy slaves, eunuchs, brocades, furs such as beaver and marten, and swords from the West. They brought back musk, aloes, camphor, cinnamon, and other products from China and India. After the Arab conquest of North Africa in the seventh century, Jewish traders had followed the Berber and Arab armies and reached the Niger Basin. As late as the 18th and 19th centuries, Jewish caravan travelers were sending geographical information about southern Morocco and the western Sahara back to Europe.

*Isaac the Jew , who accompanied Charlemagne's embassy to Hārūn al-Rashīd as an interpreter in 797, returned four years later with an elephant, Abulaboz, which was a gift from the sultan. *Eldad ha-Dani (c. 880) claimed to have made two voyages. The range of his travels seems to have extended from Baghdad and Kairouan to Spain. Jacob ibn Ṭāriq (ninth century) is supposed to have traveled from Baghdad to Ceylon to obtain books on astronomy, while an Arabian or Turkish ruler sent a Jacob Aben Sheara to India (c. 925), for the same purpose.

According to the ʿAjaʾib al-Hind ("The Wonders of India," c. 953), by Buzurg ibn Shahriyar of Ramhurmuz, Isḥāq (Isaac) the Jew traveled from Oman (Sohar, southeastern Arabia) to India. From there, he went to China, where he lived for 30 years and amassed a fortune. He returned to Oman in 912/13. Isḥāq was subsequently killed at Serboza in Sumatra on orders of Oman's governor Ahmad ibn Hilāl. He is also supposed to have visited Lhó or Bhutan in the Himalayas. *Ibrāhīm ibn Yaʿqūb of Tortosa (tenth century) visited France (including the area around the English Channel), Mainz, Fulda, Schleswig, apparently Bohemia, and the court of the German emperor, Otto 1, in 966. According to Abraham *Ibn Ezra (12th century), a Jewish traveler brought the "Arabic" numerals from India. Ibn Ezra himself visited Rome, a number of other Italian towns, Provence, France, England, Africa, Rhodes, and perhaps Ereẓ Israel and even India. His Reshit Ḥokhmah contains important information on Egypt, Arabia, Ereẓ Israel, Persia, and India. Genizah documents attest to considerable travel by Jewish merchants from the Middle East to India and other Asian countries.

The most famous Jewish medieval traveler was *Benjamin b. Jonah of Tudela who journeyed in the second half of the 12th century. He wrote a book on his travels, which vividly depicts the many Jewish communities he visited and also gives a picture of general political and economic conditions. His contemporary, the German traveler *Pethahiah of Regensburg , journeyed throughout the Middle East and his account, although incorporating certain legendary elements, gives much valuable information on the Jewish communities he encountered. An adventurous traveler was the Hebrew poet and translator Judah *al-Ḥarizi . In his youth he traveled from his native Spain to Provence. In about 1216 he set out on his journey to the East. Some chapters of his classical work Taḥkemoni contain his observations, at times very critical, of the Jewish communities he visited between 1216 and 1230, which included those in Southern France, Egypt, Ereẓ Israel, Syria, and Mesopotamia. A document of King James IV of Majorca (1334) states that Yuceff Faquin, a Barcelona Jew, had circumnavigated the entire known world on the king's orders. Much Jewish travel concentrated on journeys to and from Ereẓ Israel, for which see *Travelers and Travel to Ereẓ Israel .

The Age of Discovery

Luis de *Torres , Columbus' interpreter, was a Jew who was baptized the day before the expedition's departure. De Torres, who reported the discovery of the phenomenon of tobacco, was the first person of Jewish origin to settle in Cuba.

The Portuguese, who attempted to find both a sea and an overland route to the Indies, sent João Perez of Covilhá and Alfonso de Paiva to search for such a route. When the pair had not been heard from for some time, *Abraham of Beja , known for his fluency in several languages, and Joseph Copateiro, an experienced eastern traveler, were sent to find them. They met Perez returning from India, in Cairo. De Paiva had died meanwhile. Abraham and Perez returned to Portugal via Ormuz, Damascus, and Aleppo, while Copateiro returned directly to Portugal with the information which indicated the existence of a sea route to the Far East; this information was then used by Vasco da Gama. One of the pilots and navigators who helped Da Gama in his later journey was a Jew, variously described as from Posen and Alexandria, whom he picked up on an island 60 miles from Goa. Da Gama had the Jew baptized as Gaspar da *Gama , and made him a pilot of the Portuguese fleet.

Hernando Alonso (1460–1528) had a particularly adventurous career. He was born in Niebla, Spain, immigrated to Cuba where he met Hernando Cortez (1516), and became a member of Cortez' army that sailed for Mexico (1520). A blacksmith and carpenter by trade, he helped build the ships that Cortez needed for the conquest of Tenochtitlán. He led the group that subdued the Indians of Pánuco and took part in the conquest of Guanajuato. Cortez awarded him the estate of Actopan, 40 miles outside of Mexico City, and he engaged in the lucrative business of supplying the town with meat. In 1528 he was denounced as a Judaizer and burned at the stake.

One of the most interesting and enigmatic figures of Jewish history is David *Reuveni , who appeared in Italy in 1524 claiming that his brother Joseph ruled over the tribes of Gad and Reuben and half the tribe of Manasseh in the wilderness of Habor and that he was the commander of his army. He claimed to have traveled, disguised as a Muslim, through Ethiopia, Egypt, and Ereẓ Israel, and came to Europe to elicit the military assistance of the Christian powers for the liberation of the Holy Land from the Turks. His "project" failed and he is reported to have died in prison in Spain. His Hebrew diary, which reflects his claims, describes, among other things, his talks with the pope and the king of Portugal, his visits to Italian Jewish communities, and his meetings in Portugal with Marranos, who saw in him the bearer of their hope.

Joseph *Delmedigo , who was born in Crete and studied in Padua, traveled through Egypt, Turkey, Poland, Russia, and Lithuania in the course of his career. A Jewish interpreter accompanied Captain James Lancaster (1601) on the East India Company's first expedition. He helped to negotiate the treaty between the English and the sultan of Achin in Sumatra, which served as the basis for British expansion in the Far East.

The 16th-century Yemenite poet *Zechariah al-Dāḥiri traveled widely. He journeyed to Yemen, India, Persia, Babylonia, Turkey, Syria, Ereẓ Israel, Egypt, and Ethiopia. His travel impressions form the literary background of his magnum opus Sefer ha-Musar.

Pedro *Teixeira (c. 1570–1650), a Marrano from Lisbon, may have been the first Jew to go around the world, and is believed to have been the first white man to make a continuous journey up the River Amazon.

In 1644 Antonio de Montezinos, who had returned from a trip to the Americas, told the worthies of the Amsterdam community about Indians he had met near Quito, Ecuador, who knew the Shema and claimed that they were descended from the tribes of Reuben and Levi. His report encouraged *Manasseh Ben Israel to write "Hope of Israel" and later to negotiate with Oliver Cromwell to readmit the Jews to England in order to complete their dispersion to the "end of the earth," which was a prerequisite for the coming of the Messiah.

In 1687 there appeared in Amsterdam Notisias dos Judeos de Cochin, a report on the condition of the Jews of *Cochin , by Moses *Pereira de Paiva , an Amsterdam Jew of Portuguese descent, who visited India.

18th–20th Centuries

Sason Hai of the House of Castiel was a native of Istanbul, who from his youth evinced a great desire to travel. From his travel account, in Hebrew, published by Izhak Ben-Zvi (Sefunot, 1 (1956), 141–84), it is difficult to determine the route of his travels. He mentions his return to Istanbul in 1703 and that in 1709 he was in Basra. Among the countries he visited were Holland, Italy, Ethiopia, Tunisia and Morocco, Persia, and Afghanistan. Although his account abounds in legends, folk tales and hearsay, it nevertheless contains many accurate facts which he reports as an eyewitness.

The best-known Jewish travel record of the 18th century is the Ma'gal Tov of Ḥayyim Joseph David *Azulai , the famous rabbinical scholar and bibliographer. He twice toured European Jewish communities as an emissary of the Jewish community of Hebron. On his first journey (1753–58), he sailed from Alexandria to Leghorn, where he returned after traveling through Italy, Tyrol, Germany, Holland, England, and France, and sailed from there to Smyrna. He subsequently visited Istanbul, returning from there by boat to Ereẓ Israel. On his second journey (1772–78), he sailed from Alexandria to Tunis and from there to Leghorn. He traveled through Italy, France, Belgium, and Holland, finally settling in Leghorn. His diaries are replete with acute observations on life in the cities he visited.

A contemporary of Azulai was Simon von *Geldern . A native of Vienna, he grew up in Germany and studied at yeshivot there. He led an adventurous life, traveling through Europe and the Near East, visiting Ereẓ Israel several times. He was equally at home in the Jewish community and in high society and gentile scholarly circles in various European countries. Von Geldern, who was a great-uncle of Heine, kept a diary. His life was described by Fritz Heymann (Der Chevalier von Geldern, 1937). Earlier David Kaufmann had published extracts from his diary in his Aus Heinrich Heines Ahnensaal (1896).

A Jewish traveler whose travel record was very popular was Israel Joseph Benjamin ( *Benjamin II ). From his early youth he formed the desire to make a pilgrimage to Ereẓ Israel and to travel in search of traces of the lost ten tribes. After he failed in business in his home town Fălticeni, in the then Turkish province of Moldavia, he set out to realize his dream. He traveled through Turkey, Egypt, Ereẓ Israel, Syria, Kurdistan, Mesopotamia, India, Afghanistan, and Persia, and also visited Singapore and Canton. Shortly after his return to Europe, he set out on another voyage, traveling through North Africa. He published Cinque années de voyage en Orient 18461851 (Paris, 1856) about his travels in Asia. The book appeared later in German with additional chapters on his travels in Africa (Acht Jahre in Asien und Afrika, 1858) and was translated into English, Hebrew, and Ladino. From 1859 to 1862, Benjamin was in America, and he recorded his experiences there in Drei Jahre in Amerika (1862; Eng. edition: Three Years in America, 1956).

Jacob *Saphir was the first Jewish traveler to report on the life of the Jews of Yemen. Born in Lithuania in 1812, he settled with his parents in Ereẓ Israel when he was ten years old. In 1858–63 he visited Egypt, Aden, Yemen, Bombay, Cochin, Colombo in Ceylon, Calcutta, Rangoon, Singapore, Batavia, Australia, and New Zealand, as an emissary of the Jerusalem community. He spent longer periods in Yemen and India and in his travel book Even Sappir (2 vols., 1866–74) gives detailed descriptions of the life and customs of the Jews of Yemen, the Bene Israel of India, and the black and white Jews of Cochin.

Jehiel Fishl Kestelmann visited the Jewish communities of Syria, Kurdistan, Mesopotamia, and Persia as an emissary of the Jewish community of Safed in 1859–61. His description of his travels was published by A. Yaari under the title Massa'ot Shali'aḥ Ẓefat be-Arẓot ha-Mizraḥ (1942).

Asher ha-Levi was born in Galicia. After an unhappy childhood, in 1866, at the age of 17, he left Jassy, where he had lived for several years, and traveled through the Balkans, Asia Minor, Mesopotamia, and India. Eventually he settled in a city in the Himalayan Mountains. He wrote several books in Hebrew, including an autobiography. His account of his travels in the Balkans in 1866–68 was published in 1938 by A. Yaari under the title Harpatka'otav shel Asher ha-Levi.

Salomon Rinman was born in Galicia. After spending many years in Cochin he returned to Europe and at the urging of the Hebrew writer Wolf Schur he wrote a description of his travels in India, Burma, and China, Massa'ot Shelomo be-Ereẓ Hodu, Birman ve-Sinim (1884).

In 1883–86, Ephraim *Neumark visited the Jewish communities in Syria, Kurdistan, Mesopotamia, Persia, Afghanistan, and Central Persia. His travel impressions Massa be-Ereẓ ha-Kedem were first printed in Ha-Asif (5, 1887). He was the first to report on the crypto-Jews of *Meshed in Persia.

In 1868, the Orientalist Joseph *Halévy was sent by the Alliance Israélite Universelle to study the conditions of the Falashas, describing his journey there in "Travels in Abyssinia" (Miscellany of Hebrew Literature, 2 (1877), 177–256). Not long after his return he went to Yemen to inquire into the state of the Jews there and to examine the Sabean inscriptions. Halévy did not write a book about his travels to Yemen, but years after the expedition Ḥayyim *Ḥabshush , a Yemenite Jew who had served as Halévy's guide, wrote an account of their travels there. Written partly in Hebrew and partly in Arabic, it was published in Hebrew in 1939 by S.D. Goitein under the title Massa'ot Ḥabshush.

Ephraim *Deinard wrote several travel books. His Massa Krim (1878) includes chapters on the life of the Karaites and the Krimchaks (original Jews of the Crimea). Sefer ha-Massa'ot be-Ereẓ Kavkaz u-vi-Medinot asher me-Ever le-Kavkaz (1884) by Joseph Judah *Chorny , printed after the death of the author, gives an account of his travels among the Jewish communities in the Caucasus and in Transcaucasia.

Arctic explorers and travelers of the 18th and 19th centuries include Israel Lyons (1739–1775) who served as chief astronomer with Captain Phipps' expedition to the Polar regions in 1773; Isaac Israel *Hayes (1832–1881), surgeon to the "Advance" expedition searching for Sir John Franklin, discoverer and explorer of Grinnel Land, and leader of an 1860 expedition to Greenland which encountered another expedition led by August Sonntag; Emil *Bessels (1847–1888), surgeon and naturalist of the ill-fated "Polaris" expedition to the North Pole; Edward *Israel (1859–1884), astronomer with the Greely expedition to Greenland, where he died of malnutrition; Aldo Pontremoli (1896–1928), physics professor at the University of Milan and an aviation pioneer during the interwar period, who died on Nobile's 1928 Arctic dirigible expedition; Rudolph *Samoilovich (1881–1939), who led the Russian relief expedition to the Nobile party's aid (1928), discovered the Spitzbergen coal deposit, and explored the Franz Josef Archipelago; and Angelo Heilperin (1853–1907), who made geological expeditions to Florida (1886), Bermuda (1888), and Mexico (1890), led a relief expedition to Peary's aid in Greenland (1892), took part in expeditions to North Africa (1896) and to the Klondike (1898–99), and scaled and explored Mt. Pelee (1902–03).

Explorers of Africa in the 19th century include Nathaniel *Isaacs , a member of the King expedition sent to search for Farwell, wrecked off Natal in 1825, who explored Natal for seven years; *Emin Pasha (Eduard Schnitzer), General Gordon's aide, then his successor as governor of the Equatorial Province, who made important explorations and investigations in Central Africa; Edouard *Foa , who traveled through Morocco, southern and central Africa, French Congo and Dahomey; and Louis Arthur Lucas, who traveled through the U.S. (1872), Egypt (1873), and navigated the northern part of Lake Albert Nyanza in 1876.

Other travelers, adventurers, or explorers of the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries who were Jewish or of Jewish origin include Mantua-born Samuel *Romanelli , whose Massa ba-Arav (Berlin, 1792) is a vivid account of his four-year journey from Gibraltar to Algiers and Morocco; Captain Moses Ximenes (c. 1762–c. 1830), who led an expedition from England to the island of Bulama, West Africa, and made an unsuccessful attempt to establish a colony there; a U.S. Army colonel from Boston named Cohen, who traveled from Adana via Smyrna to Constantinople with a group of Egyptian soldiers; *David D'Beth Hillel , author of The Travels From Jerusalem through Arabia, Koordistan, Part of Persia, and India, to Madras (1832), who searched for the remnants of the Ten Tribes, and described in detail the holy places and historical sites of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam from India to Ereẓ Israel, the Yazidis in Sinjār, the Sabeans, Wahhabis, Druze, the Dāwūdiyya sect in western Persia, and the differences between the Sunnite and Shi'ite Muslims; Alexander *Salmon , an English sailor who married a Tahitian clan chieftainess and served as adviser to the rulers of Tahiti; Heinrich Bernstein (1828–1865), who explored the Moluccas, the Malay Peninsula, and New Guinea for Holland; William Gifford Palgrave (1826–1888), who worked as a Catholic missionary in India, Syria, and Arabia and wrote Narrative of a Year's Journey Through Central and Eastern Arabia (2 vols., 1865); Arminius *Vambery who, disguised as a Muslim dervish, was the first European to travel from Trebizond to Teheran, Persia, and Samarkand in Central Asia (1861–63); Gottfried *Merzbacher , who climbed mountains in the Caucasus and the Tien Shan range and studied the ecology of the latter for more than five years; Ney *Elias , who traveled across the Gobi Desert, through the Pamir Mountains, and Chinese and Afghan Turkestan, and traced the Oxus River's upper course; Elio Modigliani, who explored the Malay Peninsula; Samuel *Fenichel , who explored New Guinea for bird and butterfly specimens; Nathaniel Wallich, who explored Assam, Hindustan, and Burma; Lamberto Loria, who traveled in Australia and New Guinea; Eduard *Glaser , the Austrian explorer who made four expeditions to the Yemen, located San'a, and discovered numerous old manuscripts and inscriptions; Hermann *Burchardt , German explorer and ethnographer, who traveled in the Near East, North Africa, Australia, America, India, and Iceland, and was murdered in Yemen; Julius Popper, who explored and reigned briefly over Tierra del Fuego; Sir Mark Aurel *Stein , who headed expeditions in India, Chinese Turkestan, China, Persia, and the Middle East; Raimondo *Franchetti , the "Italian Lawrence," who traveled in Indochina, Malaya, the Sudan, East Africa, and Ethiopia; the ethnologist Vladmir *Jochelson , who, in the course of a ten-year exile in Siberia (1884–94), studied the nomad Yokaghir tribe and latter accompanied expeditions to Kamchatka, Eastern Asia, and Alaska; Lev Yakovlevich Sternberg, who was also exiled to Siberia (1910–20) and studied the nomad Giyake tribe in northeastern Siberia; and Charles *Bernheimer , who explored the northern Arizona and Utah badlands for the American Museum of Natural History and undertook expeditions to Guatemala and Yucatan.

Of the many travel books which appeared in the 20th century only a few can be mentioned: E.N. *Adler 's Jews in Many Lands (1905). Jacques *Faitlovitch , who devoted his life to the Falashas, wrote Quer durch Abessinien (1910; Hebrew: Massa el ha-Falashim, 1959). Zvi Kasdoi described his journeys in Caucasus, Central Asia, Siberia, and the Far East in Mamlekhet Ararat (1912) and Mi-Yarketei Tevel (2 vols., 1914). Among Nahum *Slouschz 's many studies on North African Jewry was Travels in North Africa (1927). Ezriel *Carlebach 's Exotische Juden (1932) included, among other travel reports, chapters on the descendants of the Marranos of Portugal, the Chuetas of Majorca, the Doenmeh of Turkey, and the Karaites of Lithuania. A World Passed By (1933) by Marvin *Lowenthal does not describe existing communities but landmarks and memories of the Jewish past in Europe and North Africa. Abraham Jacob *Brawer gave an account of his travels in the Middle East in Avak Derakhim (2 vols., 1944–46). Shmuel *Yavne'eli's Massa le-Teiman ("Journey to Yemen," 1952), Israel *Cohen's Travels in Jewry (1953), David S. *Sassoon's Massa Bavel ("Voyage to Babylonia," 1955), L. *Rabinowitz's Far East Mission (1952), and Joseph Carmel's Massa el Aḥim Nidaḥim (1957) are about the Far East. H.Z. Hirschberg's Me-Ereẓ Mevo ha-Shemesh (1957) is on travels in North Africa. Jacob Beller's travel books on South America included Jews in Latin America (1969). Henry Shoshkes circled the globe many times. His travel accounts were published in the Yiddish press, and he was the author of several books, among them Your World and Mine (1952). In 1972 Jews in Remote Corners of the World by Ida Cowen appeared. It described visits to Jewish communities in the Pacific and in the Far and Near East.


M. Kayserling, Christopher Columbus and the Participation of the Jews in the Spanish and Portuguese Discoveries (1907); E.N. Adler (ed.), Jewish Travellers (1930); L. Zunz, in: A. Asher (ed.), Itinerary of Rabbi Benjamin of Tudela, 2 (1927?), 230–317, includes bibliography; C. Roth, Jewish Contribution to Civilisation (1938), 63–86, incl. bibl.; J.D. Eisenstein, Oẓar Massa'ot (1926); S.D. Goitein, A Mediterranean Society (1967), 42–70, 209–15, 273–352; L.I. Rabinowitz, Jewish Merchant Adventurers (1948); J.D. Eisenstein, Oẓar Massa'ot (1926); E.N. Adler, Jewish Travellers (1930); Yaari, Sheluḥei; A. Epstein, Eldad ha-Dani (1950); A.Z. Aescoly, Sippur David ha-Reuveni (1940); Zechariah al-Dahiri', Sefer ha-Musar, ed. by Y. Ratzaby (1965).

[Tovia Preschel]

Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.