The Jewish Columbus


Christopher Columbus leaving Spain

A couple months back, CNN published an article covering a hot topic in the history of the famed traveler Christopher Columbus entitled Was Columbus Secretly a Jew?” The writer, Charles Garcia, cites several Spanish historians who all conclude that the man we suspected of being a great Christian explorer was in fact Jewish. Garcia even mentions the possibility that Columbus viewed his entire expedition to the New World as a plan to find a safe haven for Jews expelled from Spain.

When I initially read this piece, I immediately became skeptical. Here was another flimsy attempt at attaching Jewish heritage to a great historical figure, I thought. But the fact that the claim was entertained by a reputable news-source reassured me.
So if Columbus was Jewish, what does that mean?
By examining the last thousand years of history, we see that the Jewish people were targeted by myriad false accusations aimed at damaging our reputation for one political reason or another. The blood libels of ancient Europe and the anti-Semitic propaganda emanating from across the Middle East illustrate the breadth of the hateful speech. Therefore, I believe, when today’s media reports stories that depict Jews positively, we should welcome them warmly and verify the facts later. By claiming that the discoverer of America was Jewish, the media has become part of a positive shift in Jewish history.
Right before the highly anticipated televised wedding of Kate Middleton to Prince William, a relative of mine claimed that the soon to be Duchess of Cambridge was Jewish. That meant – for those of you unfamiliar with the traditions of the British monarchy – that there was a theoretical possibility that the future King or Queen of England, her child, would be Jewish. I was in shock to say the least.
Shortly after hearing the news, I eagerly began researching Middleton’s biography but unfortunately didn’t find what I wanted. The information on the web said that she was raised Christian and practiced Anglicanism. That was a disappointment. What seemed to make this discovery even more disappointing at the time, though, was the realization that I have heard similar misinformation before.
While we should never tolerate falsehood in any capacity, we can safely contrast my relative’s claim to the harmful anti-Semitic rhetoric of the past. Never before has culture so wishfully attached Jewish identity to venerable celebrities, so we should embrace this trend warmly. By forgiving the unwanted misinformation about Lady Middleton, my community can appreciate this innocuous misnomer in light of history.
We may never know with absolute certainty if Columbus was Jewish or not. But when arguments that tie great heroes to Judaism have replaced blood libels, we can all acknowledge that our world has changed for the better.