Ottolangui - The search for our Roots

A review of the evidence for Portuguese Ancestry.


To my father, Jacob Joshua Langley Sulzberger,

who passed to me the story of our family’s Portuguese Ancestry.

Written by Paul Sulzberger




The Family Tradition

The Sephardim

The Jews of Italy

The Jews of Livorno

The Italian Ottolenghi's

Sephardic Double Surnames

The Ottolenghi's of Livorno

The Livornese Ottolenghi's – first names – a clue to their identity

Arrival in England and Bevis Marks

The Jews of Amsterdam and London

The Spanish and Portuguese Congregations

Ottolenghi to Ottolangui






This paper explores the story, handed down from our forefathers, that the Ottolangui family had descended from Portugal. Recent research has clearly shown that the first Ottolangui family in England emigrated from Italy, and for some, this fact has cast doubt on the authenticity of the story of our Portuguese origins. Here then is the evidence, such as it is, for the traditional view.


The evidence suggests that our ancestors left Portugal as “conversos”, or “New Christians”, and settled in the Italian city of Livorno in the 1690’s. Here, in the tight-knit community of their fellow Portuguese they re-established their Jewish faith. In somewhat less than 80 years later, members of the family left Italy for England, bringing with them the traditions of their past. Within another 80 years, the family was on the move again and the first Ottolangui's arrived in Australia.


The Family Tradition

It is very easy to discount the value and validity of stories passed down from generation to generation. Errors and misinterpretations over time can easily distort their essential truth. However, we must also remember that oral family traditions and stories account for a huge body of knowledge about ourselves. The fact that we know that the family is Jewish is a family tradition passed from generation to generation that has lasted, outside Israel, for more than 2000 years.


Thus we must not be too quick to discount such stories and beliefs, for they often contain and preserve our sense of identity. Even when the knowledge which supports such stories and beliefs has long vanished, family traditions can contain the keys to the past. Such is the case amongst many of those Jews who were forcibly converted to Christianity in the 15th Century, and remained in Portugal:


“A new and fascinating picture has emerged of descendants of those secret Jews living today as Catholics or Protestants but keeping alive family traditions which are unmistakably clear indications of Jewish origins.

Some families to this day light candles on Friday night, circumcise new-born sons, eat thin flat bread on Passover, use biblical names, and have family traditions of not eating pork. For the most part they consider such activities family traditions and did not ascribe them to Jewish identity until, in recent years, such facts have been made clear to them.”[1]

Family traditions can be tenacious, even when all evidence to support them has vanished. We should therefore carefully examine our family traditions in the light of any available evidence, with a view to establishing what we can about our ancestry. Where the same or similar traditions or stories have been handed down across multiple branches of the family for many generations, we need to make the effort to examine whether in the light of the history of the European Jews, some credence can be ascribed to them.

The most pervasive of such traditions, is that our family is Portuguese. Here are some of these stories as reported by living members of the family:


· “There is a story that he [David Ottolangui, b. 1846] originated in Portugal and that somewhere in Portugal, or in Chancery in London, there is a fortune awaiting the Langley who can put the right pieces together. Cousins David and Marcus apparently tried but got nowhere.” [2]

· “As a child I was also told that my mother's parents were Portuguese Jews.” [3]

· “I too was under the impression of the Portuguese roots, as told by my mother.” [4]

· “My father used to claim a 50% Portuguese ancestry and he knew that his father was born in London... I am now 74 and having a brown skin always thought that I was 25% Portuguese.” [5]


[1]  “Sefard5.txt”, an information document compiled by Bernard Kouchel from

[2]   “The Sulzberger Story”, Jacob Joshua Langley Sulzberger. Private document held by Paul Sulzberger.

[3]  Private e-mail from Bobbie Dunn to Paul Sulzberger, 16 March 2001

[4]  Private e-mail from Howard Hoffman to Paul Sulzberger, 14 March 2001

[5]  Private e-mail from Bob Langley to Sue Wesley, 13 March 2001


However, in 1999, the important confirmation by Bobbie Dunn [6] that the first of the English Ottolangui's, David Ottolenghi, was an Italian immigrant born in the city of Livorno on 4 October 1732, threw the cat amongst the pigeons. Perhaps the Ottolangui family was not Portuguese after all, but had descended from the illustrious Italian Jewish Ottolenghi family.


The story of the family’s ancestry handed down through some branches of the family, was not entirely lacking in the Italian angle however. In Australia Jenny Cowen’s family believed “that it was understood that the family were Portuguese, having fled to Italy at the time of the inquisition.” [7]

However, the new documentary evidence of the Italian spelling of the name and of a direct connection with Livorno in Italy justifiably required a re-evaluation of the old tradition of Portuguese ancestry. It was known that the early English Ottolangui's had been members of the Spanish and Portuguese Congregation of the Bevis Marks Synagogue in London. This fact led a number of us to a similar conclusion: the association with this congregation over several generations had given rise to the assumption that the family was Portuguese which was then handed down through subsequent generations. As Bobbie points out, “…the reasons that they attended Bevis Marks Synagogue were two-fold: 1) It was the only synagogue in London at that time, and 2) it was a Sephardic congregation which we know the Ottolenghi's were.” [8]

But the story of Portuguese descent is not the private preserve of the English Ottolangui's, the Italian Ottolenghi's also consider themselves Sephardim, and at least some of their descendants still preserve the story of Iberian descent as will be shown below.

So this is the beginning of our story. To fully understand it, we need to know the background to the origins of London’s Bevis Marks Synagogue, the situation in Livorno at the time David Ottolenghi’s arrival in England, and a general understanding of the history of the Sephardic Jews.


[6]  Bobbie Dunn (Roberta Michele Stern) (b. 1956)

[7]  Private e-mail from Sue Wesley to Paul Sulzberger, 14 March 2001.

[8]  E-mail from Bobbie Dunn to Paul Sulzberger 16 March 2001.


The Sephardim [9]

When the Roman Legions overran the Jewish nation, much of the Jewish population was sent into exile throughout the Roman Empire. The area became known by the Hebrew word “Sephard” meaning “far away”. Many were sent to the Iberian Peninsula. and thus the term “Sephard” came to refer to this area, today’s Spain and Portugal. Thus for the purposes of this paper, “‘Sephardic’ is defined as all Jewish or secret-Jewish communities who either dwelled in the Iberian peninsula (Spain and Portugal) or who self-consciously trace(d) their origins to that peninsula.” [10]

Most historians feel that the Jews came to the Iberian Peninsula with the Roman Legions, possibly as merchants and purveyors with a second wave of arrivals after the destruction of the second temple in 70 C.E. The first tangible evidence of a Jewish presence in Spain is found in the grave of a young Jewish girl named Salomonulla from the 3rd century C.E. found in Adra, Spain.

On the other hand, legends prevalent among Spanish Jews suggested that Jews first came to Iberia after the destruction of the Temple in the 6th century B.C.E. while others date their arrival with Phoenician merchants in the 10th century B.C.E., during King Solomon’s era.

It is probable that more Jews lived in Spain than in all the countries of Europe combined. Some historians have estimated that in the 12th century C.E. Sephardim made up 90% of all the world's Jewry.

After approximately 1,500 years of Jewish settlement in the Iberian peninsular, the lives of tens of thousands of Jewish families were thrown into chaos with the establishment of the Inquisition. In 1492 the famous “expulsion edict” was announced and Jews living in Spain were given 2 months to leave or embrace Catholicism. No gold or jewels could be taken out of Spain and Catholics were forbidden to receive Jewish property which was therefore confiscated by the state. Thousands of Jews were hurriedly baptized. Of those Jews who chose to flee Spain in 1492, large numbers went to Northern Africa and to the Ottoman Empire. But the greatest number, perhaps half of the total went to Portugal. It has been estimated that approximately 120,000 [11] Spanish Jews settled in Portugal.

By the time Portugal acquired her independence in about 1139, sizeable Jewish communities had already been established in the country. Throughout the Middle Ages and early Renaissance, Jews who had converted to Catholicism constituted the intellectual and economic elite of the country. They were the physicians, astronomers, cartographers and royal treasurers, tax collectors and advisers.

Their lives, however, were always influenced by two contradictory factors: most of the time they enjoyed preferential royal protection and all the time they suffered a violent hostility from the Church and the common people. Although legislation regulating their lifestyle was occasionally extremely restrictive, monarchs often granted them special privileges. They were exempted from military service, and contrary to the situation in Spain, were allowed to own real estate.

At the time of the expulsion of the Jews from Spain, the pretender to the throne of Portugal, Manuel, needed a means to solidify his position. His solution was to marry Princess Isabella of Spain. A union with the widow of the late crown prince would not only give him a stronger claim to the throne, but also create a possible future union with Spain in which all of Iberia would be ruled by Manuel or one of his descendants. His offer to Isabella was accepted, but only the condition that the Jews were expelled from Portugal.

Five days after the marriage agreement was signed on November 30, 1496, the King issued a decree banishing the Jews from the country and they were ordered to leave Portugal by October 1497.

Soon Manuel began to question his decision. He knew of the value of the Jews and may genuinely have felt he could convert them. He needed to find some way to keep them in Portugal as Catholics and to prevent the sudden loss of a critical and influential section of Portuguese society.

At first the King gave the Jews three ports from which to leave. But soon he changed his mind and ordered them all to leave from Lisbon. In October 1497 some twenty thousand Jews from all parts of Portugal gathered in Lisbon where they were herded onto the courtyard of Os Estâos, a palace normally used for diplomatic receptions. Here they were harangued by priests and apostate Jews in an attempt to bring them to the baptismal font. Some succumbed. The rest were kept under guard until the time for their departure had elapsed. They were then informed that by their failure to leave they were now declared forfeit of their liberty and again were the king’s slaves. They were sprinkled with Holy water and they were declared to be Christians. King Manuel then informed the Catholic Kings of Spain. “There are no more Jews in Portugal”.

Some did make a get-away at this time – but they were few. In 1498, the first ship of Portuguese refugees arrived in Amsterdam.

The Spanish and Portuguese Jews who did manage to escape during over the next 300 turbulent years of the Inquisition, were the wealthy who paid the bribes for permission and documents needed to leave Portugal. They left as “conversos” or “new-Christians”, and once safely settled where they were free to practice their religion, did so by reverting back to Judaism.

Thus if the story that the Ottolangui family were Sephardim is correct, and had originated in Spain or Portugal, we need to consider how they might have come to arrive in Italy – when, where and under what circumstances. The key to the story is Livorno.


[9]  Most of the information in this section adapted from Jeff Malka’s “Who are the Sephardim? - A Brief History” (see, and “500th Anniversary Of The Forced Conversion Of The Jews Of Portugal”, by Arthur Benveniste, from an address at Sephardic Temple Tifereth Israel, Los Angeles, October 1997 (see

[10]  Definition from “Sephardic Culture and Literature in Translation”, Department of Classical, Middle Eastern and Ancient Languages, Queens College (see Today however the word Sephardim has taken a much wider meaning and includes Jewish Communities in North Africa, Iraq (Babylon), Syria, Greece, Turkey and most Jews who are not Ashkenazim. The word Ashkenazi has had a similar broadening of its definition. Arising from a Hebrew word meaning “German” it has taken on a broader definition that includes not only German Jews but those of Eastern Europe and Russia as well.

[11]  Various estimates are given by different commentators and range from 100,000 to 150,000.


The Jews of Italy [12]

While many Portuguese Jews sought refuge from the Inquisition in Islamic lands, Sephardic communities were also founded in Christian Europe, particularly in Venice, Livorno, Antwerp, and in Amsterdam. It is the settlement of Portuguese Jews in Livorno and Amsterdam which has particular relevance to the story of our family.
But before considering the story of the Portuguese Jews of Livorno in the 16th century, we need to understand something of the situation of the Jews generally in Italy before this time.


[12]  Much of the information in this section has been adapted from “Jews in Italy”, by Jacqueline Gomperts, Los Angeles (see


The Jews in Italy have strong bi-cultural roots which go back even before the Christian era, when the Jews already had an alliance with the Roman Empire. Under the leadership of Judah Maccabeus, many Israelites left the land of Israel to go to the “Eternal City” (Rome) in the second century BCE. It was not until the Romans destroyed the second temple in Jerusalem [70 CE] that the Jewish-Roman alliance was broken and the Jews were forced into slavery. About ten thousand Jews were transported to Rome to be used as workhands to help build the Coliseum.

Although enslaved, the Jewish population in Rome flourished. Thirteen synagogues were built as well as numerous cemeteries. However, many Romans despised the Jews and found their rituals to be barbaric. Rome is not the only Italian city where Jewish communities began to grow. Many communities began to spring up in southern Italy as well as a few north of Rome, such as Taranto, Ferrarra, and Milan.

Throughout history the situation of the Jews depended greatly on who was in control of either the Roman Empire or the Church. However, the tolerance for religious freedom started to take a turn for the worse in 380 CE when the Edict of Tessa Lonica of Teodosia came into force. The edict recognised Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire, with very little tolerance for Jews and other religious cults. As the Church gained more power, and as the Empire declined, tolerance continued to swing back and forth. For example, Charlemagne defended the civil and commercial rights of Jews, which gave them relative tranquillity for about two centuries. In the south, the Ottoman Empire also let the Jews live peacefully as well.

After 1000 CE, conditions became more uncertain for the Jews because the feudal system and artisan guilds began to be put into place. Jews were barred from the guilds and were only allowed two positions, that of money lending and the selling of used clothing. It is notable that they were allowed to be moneylenders. At the time the church had forbidden all Christians from money lending and this would not be repealed until the fifteenth century with the passing of Monte Di Pietà [a system of banks which lent money to the poor]. However, the position of money lending helped Jews to survive and eventually even to own property. Many feudal lords were kind to their moneylenders and kept them from harm’s way.

In 1215, the Fourth Lateran Council decided that Jews should to live in separate quarters and wear special insignia for the first time in the Italian states. Men were forced to wear red or yellow hats and a cloth badge on their coats. Jewish women had to wear a yellow veil over their hats. These rules were not carried out for very long but they would not be forgotten and they set building blocks for the future.

By the second half of the 16th century all Jews were to be enclosed in ghettos, each community could have only one synagogue, all commercial and civil rights were taken away, and all Jews had to wear a contrassegno (identification). Although similar rules had been instituted in 1215, this was the first time that the laws were regulated. Many Jews decided to flee the Papal State and go to other states where these rules did not exist. In 1516 the first Jewish ghetto was established in Venice and in 1555 a ghetto was established in Rome. Both were overcrowded and dirty, but the study of Torah and Talmud flourished between their closed walls. Ironically, rather than destroying Jewish culture, the establishment of the ghettos actually helped it to blossom and grow. However, in 1569 the Church expelled all Jews from the Papal State with the exception of Rome and Ancona. This trend of expulsion continued throughout the Italian states - except for Livorno.


The Jews of Livorno

Forty years after the expulsion from Portugal, events in Italy were to have great significance for many Portuguese Jewish families. In 1537 Cosimo de Medici seized control of the Florentine government and reorganised it as a princely state - the Dukedom of Tuscany. This state flourished for two hundred years, under seven successive Medici rulers.

As a sovereign prince, Cosimo I was free to dictate new terms of Jewish resettlement according to his own best interests. Coming from a merchant family himself, Cosimo I recognised the vast potential of Jewish capital and Jewish entrepreneurship, dispersed by the Iberian expulsion of the 1490s. By the mid-1540s, less than ten years after he gained the throne, Cosimo I began recruiting affluent Spanish and Portuguese Jews for resettlement in his capital city of Florence and his chief port city of Pisa. In the first decades of Cosimo’s rule, Jews thrived particularly in Pisa, where there developed an influential Jewish banking elite.

However, the river linking Pisa to the sea became unnavigatable and a new port was needed. Livorno, nothing more than a small fishing village, was chosen as the new port.

However, the Jews that came were few until Cosimo I’s son Ferdinand I in 1593 issued a more attractive invitation. Addressing it to “men of the East and West, Spaniards and Portuguese, Greeks, Germans, Hebrews, Turks, Moors and others,” he especially appealed to The Portuguese “Conversos” [13] by stating: “We moreover desire that...none shall be able to make an inquisition, inquiry, examination or accusal against you or your families, although living in the past outside our Dominion in the guise of Christians.” There was to be no ghetto, no badge of separation, no economic or property-owning restraints.
Ferdinand’s invitation was well timed. In 1580 Portugal was occupied by Spain and the activity of the Inquisition was intensified. This led to an expansion of emigration of Jewish families from Portugal where, unlike Spain, the Jewish community had never ceased to exist, with many Jews living as “conversos” – Catholic in name, but secretly retaining their Jewish faith. The call to Tuscany, to the new Port of Livorno, with the promise of religious toleration, led to the development of one of the largest Jewish communities in Western Europe.

The Jews responded slowly, but respond they did — with over 700 having settled in Livorno by 1622; 1,175 by 1642; nearly 3,000 by 1689; and about 5,000 — one-eighth of the population — by the end of the next century. It must be remembered, that by the time Ferdinand’s invitation to Livorno was made, almost 100 years had passed since the expulsion of the Jews from Spain, and the forced conversion of the Jews in Portugal. Those that came were the “conversos”, who had lived for several generations, at least outwardly, as Catholics. Their arrival in Livorno provided an opportunity for a renaissance of their Jewish faith.


[13] Conversos– Portuguese Jews who had been converted forcibly to Catholicism, but who remained secretly Jewish by faith.


Despite occasional but relatively minimal restrictions, they prospered, initially exporting coral work, soap and paper. They developed an important trade network as well, utilizing connections throughout the Mediterranean, with Amsterdam and as far away as Russia and India. The Livorno synagogue, begun at the end of the sixteenth century, came to be known throughout Italy and other parts of Europe for its splendour.

The Livorno experiment was a triumph of enlightened self-interest for both the Jews and the Medici. Indeed, this thriving commercial hub became so essential to the Tuscan economy that even Cosimo III (1671-1723), the most bigoted of the Medici Grand Dukes, had little choice but to respect Jewish rights there. Vast fortunes were made by a Sephardic merchant aristocracy that gave Livorno Jewry its particular culture and character.

In addition to banking and trade, especially with the East, the Jews of Livorno developed diverse manufacturing enterprises. They established a monopoly on the Italian production of coral, and in 1632, they imported the first coffee into Italy and opened the first coffee-houses. In 1650, a Hebrew press was founded in Livorno, giving rise to a major Jewish printing industry that supplied the Sephardic communities of North Africa and the Near East.

The importance given to economic development by the Medici Dukes in the north of Italy overcame the restrictions faced by Jews elsewhere in Italy. These policies, after 1600, had such an effect that “those known as ‘Portuguese Jews’ came to dominate the trade of Venice, Pisa and Livorno…” [14]

In 1614, the Livorno community seceded from the community of Pisa, on which it had until then been dependent, and subsequently became far more important. Among the larger Italian communities, Livorno Jewry was the only one to remain without a closed ghetto. Jewish residence was limited to a single, though fairly large, open quarter, though Christians were not permitted to reside in the houses of Jews. By 1675, Livorno received the status of a free port and had become an important connecting point between the Mediterranean, North Sea ports and the Near East.

A fascinating view into the life of the Spanish and Portuguese Jews of almost 100 years after its settlement is given by Moises Orfali in his study of the struggle of the community to maintain its identity as a Sephardic entity.

[From the community’s Minutes-Book from 1693 to 1707 one can] “perceive the struggle of the original Hispano-Portuguese for survival as rulers of the entire community, despite their becoming a minority in the town that they themselves had developed. Thus, during this period they even dared to change the community’s official name from La Nazione Ebrea di Livorno to La Nazione Portughese e Spagnola di Livorno [15] , with the specific goal of ensuring that the community’s unique ethnic stamp and special Sephardi identity should not disappear.” [16]

By 1738, about 150 Jews owned houses in Livorno, and in 1765 one third of Livorno’s 150 commercial houses were Jewish-owned. Jews also owned shops of all types in the town, and were generally prosperous. By the time our David Ottolenghi was born in 1732 the Jewish population would have exceeded 4,000.


[14]  “The Jews in Christian Europe, 1400 – 1700”, John Edwards, Routledge, 1988.

[15]  Literally “The Hebrew Nation of Livorno to The Portuguese and Spanish Nation of Livorno” [Italian].

[16]  “Society and Community Among the Livorno Sephardic Jews from 1693-1707 According to their Minutes-Book”, Moises Orfali, see



Livorno thus had become a major centre of Jewish commerce, second in Europe only to Amsterdam. Sephardic Jews came to be the most important ethnic group living in the city and Portuguese became the official language [17] of the local Jewish merchants – a situation which persisted for almost 200 years until the late 18th century.

The Jewish population in Livorno had reached its height towards the end of the 18th century and then began to decline after the occupation by the French at various times after 1796 [18] - about 20 years after our David Ottolenghi had emigrated to England.


[17]  In fact a separate Jewish dialect had also developed in Livorno – “bagitto” or “bajitto”. Bagitto was the peculiar dialect of the Sephardim of Livorno, a mix of Spanish-Portuguese-Hebrew and some Italian words. The official language of the Community of Livorno was Portuguese until the end of the XVIII century when Italian finally took its place. In every-day life bagitto disappeared some 100 years ago.

[18] By 1838 the Jewish population in Livorno had dwindled to 3,500, and today (2001) stands at about 600.


The Italian Ottolenghi's

So who was this David Ottolenghi, born in a prosperous community of Portuguese Jews on the west coast of Italy? Had he descended from the Portuguese conversos who had settled and prospered in Livorno at Cosimo or Ferdinand’s invitation? Or was David from a line of Italian Jews, whose lineage predates the arrival of the Portuguese Jews in Livorno?

To explore this question, we must consider what is known in the historical record of the Ottolenghi family. The Ottolenghi's have a long and distinguished history which certainly appears at odds with any suggestion that the family (or the name) originated in Portugal.

Brian Langley [19] has written an excellent overview of the various theories on the origins of the name “Ottolenghi”, which I summarise here. In his “The History of the Jews of Italy”, Cecil Roth recounts that the original Ottolenghi's were a Jewish community living in the area now known as Provence in southern France in the 14th century. In the 1390’s the community crossed the Alps by foot and settled in northern Italy in the Piedmont region between Milan and Turin. Roth suggests that the name Ottolenghi is an “Italianisation” of the German name “Ettlingen” or possibly it comes from an Austrian town of the same name, after Rabbi Joshua ben Nathan Ottolenghi came from there to settle in Cremona in the 16th century.

Another theory, proposed by the Italian Jewish scholar, Vittore Colorni, contends that the most ancient Jewish families in Italy took their names from Roman sources and in respect of the Ottolenghis, points to an ancient Roman city in the Alessandria region, near Acqui and Asti, [20] called “Ottalengum”. On the site of this ancient city are two villages which preserve the name – Odalengo Piccolo, and Odalengo Grande.

Whether the name “Ottolenghi” derives from Roman times from “Ottalengum”, from Germany via 14th century France, or from Joseph Ben Nathan Ottolenghi of Ettlingen in the 16th century, there appears to be little doubt that there were Jewish families with the name “Ottolenghi” in Italy well before the settlement of Livorno by the Portuguese Jews in the 17th century. It may be possible that the early Ottolenghis may not have been Sephardic [21] at all, if their roots were in Germany or fall into that group of early Jews who came to Italy in Roman times.

So what shall we make of the Ottolenghi's who found their way to Livorno? Were they were in fact Italian speaking “outsiders” in the city of Livorno, distinct from the Portuguese speaking community who formed the greater part of the Jewish population of the city?

Certainly, David himself was not a new arrival to Livorno but was born in the city. His father, Menachem, was also born in the city in 1698. Naturally, there is the possibility that the Livornese Ottolenghis were indeed “outsiders” who had come to live in the city and were not part of the local “Spanish and Portuguese” community. While there was a large Italian gentile community in the town, the historical record shows that relatively few Italian Jews had come there from the Italian states [22] and the overwhelming majority of the Livornese Jews were Spanish or Portuguese conversos who retained their separate identity as such, and continued to speak Portuguese.

There is another possible explanation however.


[19]  For the complete text see Bryan Langley’s article on the history of the Ottolenghi name which can be found at the Ottolenghi Discussion Group Web page (“Name origins”) at

[20]  There is no doubt about long residence of Ottolenghis in Asti. A recent visitor to Asti remarked, “The name Ottolenghi dominated the cemetery.” See

[21]   However, the Ottolenghi Jews living in the South of France in the 14th century could well have come from the Iberian peninsular at the time of various pogroms in the early 1300’s or before. In any case, they would not have been post-Inquisition Jews.

[22]    “Encyclopaedia Judaica” 1972, Keter Publishing House Jerusalem Ltd, Jerusalem, Israel, cited by “The Simon Wiesenthal Center” (see


Sephardic Double Surnames

The existence of double surnames amongst the Sephardic Jews will come as no surprise to the Ottolangui family. The “Ottolangui-Langley” doublet survives to this very day. Throughout the 20th century, even in far away New Zealand, the Ottolangui's register the births of their children as “Ottolangui”, but for all civil purposes, registration at school and on the electoral roll, they are know as “Langley”.

After the expulsion, the use of such double names [23] amongst the Sephardic Jews was a common practice. In a discussion on the use of such double names used by Sephardic Jews in Amsterdam, the following explanation is given:

“According to the Dutch historian, A.M. Vaz Dias, many Jews used an alias in public but traditional (actual) Jewish names in the synagogue. Eventually, the practice disappeared and the alias was dropped or added to the actual name. Vaz Dias gives several examples, such as Levy Montezinos and Jessurun d’Oliviera. I suspect something similar happened in one of my families: Oeb Brandon. In the DTB records (church/public records) some family members appear with the last name Brandon, whereas in the Jewish records the same individuals appears as Oeb. Eventually, the two surnames were joined in both civil and religious records.” [24]


[23]  In this discussion, I am not making reference to the Spanish and Portuguese practice of hyphenated names where the surnames of both the father and mother are used.

[24]  Howard Hujsa, see “Section VII The Sephardic Forum” ( (, 22 March 2000.


In her article “About Our Sephardic Surnames” Rufina Bernardetti Silva Mausenbaum [25] writes about the origins of the double surname in Spain and Portugal and their subsequent use in the major Jewish communities outside Iberia, particular in Holland and Italy (comments in square bracket are mine):

“Of interest are the many double family names which essentially fall into two categories. The first type relating to the time of forced (and willing) conversions [to Christianity]. Often of the two names composing the double family name, the first dates from the pre-conversion period, and is therefore typically Jewish. This was the name which later was used within the Jewish community [outside Spain or Portugal]. The second one was of “Christian” origin and was given to the “New Christian” or Marrano [26] upon their conversion. This latter name was used officially and for and business.

Some examples are: Cohen Henriques, Levy Madeiros, Shalom Mendes, Baruch Pinto or Moises Alvares . In some places - like Curacao - the Hebrew name could be used freely and by itself and when in relations with the Spanish or Portuguese - the Christian name would be employed. For the sake of avoiding confusion, and also in order to maintain the cherished family coherence, the two names were used in conjunction. This was not possible in Iberia as it would identify the person as being Jewish or ‘New-Christian’. Both putting the person and their family in danger of the Auto da Fe. It was used in countries ruled by the Dutch like Curacao and Amsterdam...

In many instances “aliases”, or totally new names were adopted. Thus David Israel Bernal became known as Francisco Henriques and Moses Baruh Louzada adopted the name Juan Hernandez Louzada. This was especially predominant between the sixteenth and the eighteenth centuries among Portuguese Jewish merchants who resided in Amsterdam and Italy to ensure some measure of safety for their family still living either in Iberia or in countries ruled by Spain or Portugal. Sometimes the change of names would happen a number of times including the first name. Reasons for this can be traced to the rigor of the Inquisition and the dangers involved for the relatives and friends of the Sephardic refugees.”

Sephardic Jews arriving in England also adopted the practice of using aliases. D.J. Steels writes:

“It was very usual for a Portuguese Jewish merchant living in England or Ireland to use several aliases in order to protect his relatives and correspondents still living in Spain or Portugal.” [27]


[25]  “About Our Sephardic Surnames”, Rufina Bernardetti Silva Mausenbaum, 1997. See

[26]  The Marranos were the Spanish Jews who had settled in Portugal.

[27]  Cited in the “De Castro Story”, see


It was illegal to be a Jew in Spain or Portugal, and in the 1600’s rewards were offered to help track down “conversos” who had left Portugal illegally for Amsterdam, London or Livorno in an attempt to stem the Jewish “brain drain”.

It is also clear that Sephardic Jews adopted alternative names from existing names of the country they emigrated to. Indeed, our own family, once in England, adopted the name “Langley”. If the family had indeed originated in Portugal, it is possible, if not probable, that they would have adopted an Italian alias for “local use” in Italy. The decision to borrow the name “Ottolenghi” might not have been a difficult one, especially if their original Portuguese name had been similar. A posting in Spanish on, from an Ottolenghi descendant in Ecuador, gives an intriguing clue:

“I heard an interesting history on the origin of our surname from my mother Gioietta Ottolenghi, that was told to her by her grandmother: We Ottolenghis were Sephardim... Near Toledo [in Spain] there is a small town called Otoleco (I have been there). When the Catholic Kings expelled our predecessors from Spain, they initially adopted the name of the town, that is to say Otoleco, which later became “Ottolenghi”. [28]

The compelling nature of the story forces us to at least consider what merits it might have. Rufina Bernardetti Silva Mausenbaum notes that “Many of the Sephardic surnames are directly related to geographical locations and were acquired due to the forced wanderings caused by exile, persecution and denied opportunities. Often taking the name of a community or region. The place of origin could then be traced no matter where in the world the Sephardic would find her/himself.” [29]


[28]  Ricardo Hidalgo Ottolenghi, contribution to the Discussion Group at, 1/23/01. Original in Spanish. My translation.

[29] “About Our Sephardic Surnames”, Rufina Bernardetti Silva Mausenbaum, 1997. See


The migration of Spanish Jews to Portugal has a long history. In 1391, Toledo had the highest population of Jews in Spain and had ten synagogues and five Talmudic schools. The majority were destroyed in that same year when, serious incidents between Christians and Jews in Seville and in other Spanish cities, provoked a growing wave of Jewish migration from Spain to a welcoming Portugal.

A hundred years later, a second major wave of emigration from Spain to Portugal followed the 1492 expulsion edict, and approximately 120,000 Spanish Jews crossed the border to safety in Portugal.

While many Spanish Jews converted to Christianity and returned home to Spain, many settled in Portugal, dramatically swelling Portugal’s Jewish population.

Thus there was a period spanning 100 years (from 1391 to 1492) when Spanish descendants from Toledo would have come to Portugal, and a further period of almost 200 years when this family could have lived in Portugal before emigration to Italy at some point in the 17th century. Could some Jewish families bearing the name “Otoleco” have been among them?

The idea that the family name originated in Spain from “Otoleco”, that the family fled to Portugal and assimilated there is of course highly speculative and the evidence is no more than the oral tradition of one family of Ottolenghis. However speculative it may be, we need to consider that:

1) It is conceivable that our family could have come to Livorno bearing a name similar to “Ottolenghi” and then adopted the Italian name as an “alias” as did many other Sephardic Jews;

2) The story of origin in the Iberian peninsular has survived outside the context of the English Ottolangui's in at least one branch of the Ottolenghi family, parallel with the more commonly accepted tradition of the origin of the Ottolenghis. Like the Langleys in England there may be several genetically unrelated streams in the Italian Ottolenghi family.


The Ottolenghi's of Livorno

There is little we can say about the life of the Ottolenghis in Livorno, although there are good historical records which remain unexplored [30] and which may yet yield more information about the history of the family in the town. However, the available evidence shows that the ancestors of the English Ottolangui's didn’t remain there very long.

The earliest we can establish the presence of the Ottolenghis in Livorno is 1698 (the birth date of Menachem Ottolenghi, David Ottolenghi’s father). The historical archives [31] searched in Livorno cover the period of 1668-1810, so we can make the assumption that the first Ottolenghi family to arrive in Livorno came sometime not long before the birth of Menachem in 1689. The total length of time spent in Livorno before David’s emigration to England (between 1774 and 1776) is somewhat less than 80 years. If indeed it is shown that the Livornese Ottolenghis were Iberian conversos who arrived in Livorno directly from Portugal, the entire Italian experience of those who were to found the English family was relatively short.


[30]  See the “Epilogue” at the end of this paper.

[31]  Letter from Gabriel Bedarida of the “Communità Ebraica”, Livorno to Bobbie Dunn, dated 6 December 1999.


The Livornese Ottolenghi's – first names – a clue to their identity

A very significant clue to the identity of the Livornese Ottolenghis comes from an inspection of their first names. An amateur Sephardic researcher, Marco Soria, whose ancestors were Sephardic Jews in Livorno writes:

“One interesting historical aspect of my genealogical research has been documenting the transition, at the turn of the 18th century, from the strong Sephardic traditions of the family to acquiring Italian customs and first names. All my genealogical trees kept at home were in Italian, and my 19th century ancestors all had Italian first names. Yet, Beniamino was born Biniamin Haim de Aron, and his numerous children had been recorded at the turn of the 18th century as Aron, Moise, Jacob Raphael, Joseph Haim, Ester, Rosa, Raquel, Reuben, Berahà, Mazaltob, Isaque Haim Samuel, and Raffael. However, those who survived became in everyday life Esterina, Rosina, Rachelina, Roberto, Benedetta, Fortunata, and Raffaello: this is how they were recorded in the genealogical trees of my great-grandfather. Thus, with the advent of Napoleon and emancipation the time had come for my ancestors to become linguistically as well as economically integrated in the emerging nationalistic identity as Italians of Jewish faith.” [32]

This provides us with an important historical clue. The ancestors of the English Ottolangui's had left Livorno some twenty years before the arrival of Napoleon and the beginnings of a unified Italian consciousness at the turn of the 18th century. If the Livornese Ottolenghis were of Italian descent, we would expect them to have Hebrew or Italian names. If they were Portuguese conversos however, we would expect them to have Portuguese names. An inspection of all the Ottolenghi births in Livorno from 1698 reveals a major clue. They are all in Portuguese [33] – Ottolenghi Elisão de Menahem, Ottolenghi Judica de Moise, Ottolenghi Jomah Haim de Menahem, Ottolenghi Israel de David, and Ottolenghi Abram de Jomah! No Guiseppe, Adolfo, Lazzaro, Emilio or Donato here! [34]

In an earlier section, I suggested that, like the Langleys, there may be two genetically unrelated streams of Ottolenghis - one dating back to 14th century France or Germany or even to Roman times, and a second newer stream from the Portuguese conversos of Livorno who adopted their name. If this hypothesis has any truth, we should be able to find some evidence which would distinguish one group from the other. I’ve already mentioned the Ecuadorian Ottolenghis who believe they have an Iberian origin, perhaps this family came from Livorno. Amongst the prominent Ottolenghis of the 19th century, there was a Moses Jacob Ottolenghi who was born in Livorno (1840) and died in Greece in 1901. What is notable about this Ottolenghi is that he published plays and poetry in Hebrew and Ladino [35] . Ladino is a form of 15th century Spanish, the dialect of Columbus, Ferdinand, Isabella and Cervantes, but originally written in Hebrew script. The language was taken by the Iberian Jews and survived in areas as diverse as Turkey, Italy and Morocco. Knowledge of this language by the mainstream Italian families would have been highly unlikely, as it was transmitted from father to son and only spoken by the descendants of Portugal and Spain. A Ladino-speaking Ottolenghi would surely mark him as a Livornese [36] – as indeed Moses Jacob was.


[32]  “A Livornese family of Spanish origins: (De) Soria”, Marco R. Soria, Milan, Italy, November, 1994, see

[33]  Note that all the names are given in the format, “Ottolenghi Israel of David” – the Portuguese for “of” is “de” – the Italian is “di”.

[34]  These are first names of some famous Ottolenghis - a rather unfair comparison since these people lived a century later, but added here only for dramatic effect!

[35]  There are several interesting internet sites devoted to the Ladino language, for example see “The Ladino Language”, Arthur Benveniste (

[36]  It should be noted that the Ladino of Livorno would not have come with the 17th century converso immigrants, but probably via immigrants from North Africa and elsewhere who were the descendants of the 1492 exodus.


Arrival in England and Bevis Marks

The picture we have of David Ottolenghi is made up only of the few records which have been found at the Bevis Marks Synagogue in London. According to these records he arrived in England at the age of about 42, “accompanying a young gentleman” [37] . He wasn’t the first Ottolenghi from Italy recorded to have come to England however. A certain Joseph Ottolenghi had arrived in England some 42 years earlier in 1732, who had previously been a member of the Jewish congregation in Livorno [38] , and may well have been a relation of a previous generation.

David, being a Jew, joined the Bevis Marks congregation. Bevis Marks was not the only synagogue in England at the time - the Exeter Synagogue [39] had been operational for some 10 years – but it was the only Synagogue in London, and the Exeter synagogue was predominantly Ashkenazi. But there was something more, something special about Bevis Marks which linked David back to his home town. It shared a special connection in cultural and religious ideas in common with two other major Jewish communities – those of Amsterdam and Livorno. These were the “Spanish and Portuguese” congregations.

The idea that the English Ottolangui's came to believe that they had descended from Portugal simply because they had associated with the “Spanish and Portuguese” community at Bevis Marks and had somehow had lost sight of the fact that their origin was Italian might not seem quite so axiomatic when we look at the nature of the Jewish communities in Livorno, Amsterdam and London at that time. Again, we need to ask the question, did David arrive in England as an “outsider”, an Italian Jew who for lack of other options, joined a new and different congregation? Or was he perhaps already part of that cultural and religious community?

We need to consider briefly the history of English Jewry with a view to discovering the nature of the Jewish congregation in London at the time of David’s arrival.


[37]  Letter from the archivist at Bevis Marks to Bobbie Dunn, dated 14 June 1993.

[38]  See “The Ottolenghi Affair”, Exeter Synagogue Home Page,

[39]  Built in 1763, the Exeter Synagogue was officially opened in 1764


The Jews of Amsterdam [40] and London [41]

In the 1600’s, the Jewish community of Amsterdam became one of the most important and powerful Jewish communities in the world. In many ways, its development mirrored that of Livorno. While a shipload of Portuguese refugees arrived in Amsterdam in 1498, directly after the Portuguese “expulsion edict”, it is unlikely that there were many Jews living in Amsterdam before the 1590’s. The Jews who first arrived in any numbers were the Spanish and Portuguese “conversos” of a hundred years later who still lived outwardly as Christians. By 1600, there were probably about 200-300 Portuguese “New Christians” in the city. [42] But as word soon spread among the Spanish and Portuguese Jews that Amsterdam was a haven of tolerance and even opportunity, the community, like Livorno, grew rapidly.

Economically, the Portuguese Jewish merchants were to play a major role in the trade with the New World, and came to dominate the diamond, sugar, chocolate and tobacco trades. By the end of the 1600’s, the majority of day-to-day stock traders were Sephardic Jews and Sephardic Jews owned a quarter of the shares of the Dutch East and West India Companies.


[40]  Most of the information of the Jews of Amsterdam freely adapted from “"Encyclopaedia Judaica", 1972, Keter Publishing House Jerusalem Ltd, Jerusalem, Israel and “Political, Economic, And Jewish Life In Amsterdam”, see

[41]  Information of the English Jews freely adapted from “A Short History of the Jewish People : From Legendary Times to Modern Statehood” by Raymond P. Scheindlin, and “Some Sephardic Jews in Freemasonry” by Leon Zeldis (

[42]  “The Jews in Christian Europe, 1400 – 1700”, John Edwards, Routledge, 1988.


There were two prominent features of the Amsterdam Sephardic community by some commentators. The first was “its remarkable retention of its Iberian identity” [43] . The language of the Amsterdam Jews and their descendants in the 17th century “according to their extensive archives, was Iberian, partly Spanish, but mainly Portuguese” [44] . The second was the high level of the community’s educational and cultural activities. Both of these features were mirrored in the Livorno community.

As for England, there had been Jews living there (although not continuously) since the time of William the Conqueror (1066-1089). Although King Edward I expelled all Jews from England in 1290, Oliver Cromwell approved their return to England in 1656. A few Jewish exiles from Spain had lived in England throughout the 1500’s, however, they were officially Christians. To some extent, it would appear that the flow of Spanish and Portuguese to England had been reduced as a result of the growing attractions of Amsterdam. [45]

England began to readmit Jews in the second half of the seventeenth century. Conversos increased in numbers and economic power during the reign of Charles I (1625-49). The Puritan revolution of 1649 paved the way for toleration, not only because of the Puritans’ admiration of the Old Testament but because Oliver Cromwell thought that Jewish commerce would be to the country's benefit. In 1650, Rabbi Menasseh Ben Israel (also known as Manuel Días Soeiro, 1604-1657) of Amsterdam petitioned the English parliament to allow the Jews to enter England and to practice their religion openly, and in 1655, he came in person to England to present his petition to the government. Cromwell gave the informal guarantees that permitted the formation of a small Sephardic community in London. After the restoration of the monarchy, Charles II also confirmed the authorisation of a Jewish presence in England, convinced, like Cromwell, that their economic benefit to the country as a whole was more important than other considerations. By the end of the seventeenth century, it was possible to be openly Jewish in England.

Sephardim from Amsterdam were the first to come, and in 1657 they organised a Sephardi community in the east of London. In 1701, they built the Bevis Marks Synagogue, which, to this day follows the Spanish and Portuguese tradition.

As for the Ashkenazi Jews, a number had made their way down from London and settled in Cornwall in the early 1700’s. By the 1750's there were some twenty or thirty Ashkenazi families in Exeter [46],and a Synagogue was built there in 1763. The congregation however, has always remained relatively small.
Thus, the new Jewish congregation in England, like Livorno and Amsterdam, was composed almost exclusively of Spanish and Portuguese Jews.

[43]  ibid.

[44]  ibid.

[45]  ibid.

[46]  “Immigration and Emigration - The Jewish communities of Devon and Cornwall after 1656”, a thesis submitted in June 1977 to the University of Exeter, England, for the degree of PhD in the faculty of Social Studies by Rabbi Susser (see


The Spanish and Portuguese Congregations

So what was it that linked Livorno, Amsterdam and later, London? The Sephardic communities of Amsterdam and Livorno, developed and grew during approximately the same period of time, from the early 1600’s to the early 1700’s from the same Spanish and Portuguese stock. However, Dr Yosef Kaplan, a lecturer in the department of Jewish History at the Hebrew University and an authority on Iberian Jewry points out that the “Spanish and Portuguese” congregations were not just “Sephardic”, but had a special characteristic that distinguished them from other Sephardic Jews. He points out that “There are after all distinguished families in Jerusalem, like the Eliachars, which trace their ancestry back to the expulsion from Spain in 1492 and yet are not considered Spanish and Portuguese but Sephardi.” [47]

Kaplan makes this distinction:

“The ‘Spanish and Portuguese’ are not the descendants of the 1492 expellees. They are the descendants of those who stayed behind and became ‘New Christians’. Some of these ancestors may have been Marranos who secretly practised Judaism. Others may not have been.

In any case, some four or five generations passed before these families left Portugal and Spain, mostly for Amsterdam, where they returned once again to Judaism. Many of these families had been among the 100,000 Jews who fled to Portugal from Spain in 1492 and had been forced to convert five years later.

[They]… carried with them into exile [into Portugal] a 15th century Judeo-Spanish which would remain part of their culture to this day as Ladino. They also brought with them a vibrant Jewish culture. They had not concentrated on Talmud as had the Ashkenazim elsewhere in Europe, but they taught Hebrew to their children and were the first to develop Jewish philosophy and kabbalah in the Middle Ages. They were also open to influences from the rich Moslem and Christian worlds around them. The expellees spread around the rim of the Mediterranean and the Balkans.

[In contrast to the early exiles] the New Christians who reached Amsterdam [and Livorno] two centuries later spoke 17th century Spanish or Portuguese and knew little about Judaism. They brought with them a cultural heritage from Catholic Europe which they now tried to replace with Jewish content.

Many of those who had converted to Christianity in 15th century Spain and Portugal had been prosperous merchants who had clear economic reasons for not wanting to leave. Many of their descendants who left for Amsterdam two centuries later were, likewise, well-to-do merchants who already had trade links with Amsterdam.”

So these are “Spanish and Portuguese” communities of Livorno and Amsterdam. By 1600, when emigration from Portugal began in earnest, there had officially been no Jews in Spain or Portugal for more than 100 years. To survive the inquisition and to carry on a normal social and economic life, several generations of “conversos” had to at least adopt the mores and customs of their Catholic neighbours, even if some had secretly maintained their Jewish faith. Most of these new immigrants had either lived outwardly as Christians earlier or their parents had. Living under the Inquisition, they had enormous difficulties learning about and practising Judaism. Now in freedom, many found it difficult to live according to rabbinical Judaism. In addition, many still had relatives who still lived in Spain or Portugal as Christians, and felt caught between two worlds. In order to bring these Jews back to Judaism and keep them from backsliding, the Jewish community, of Amsterdam in particular, vigorously guarded the border between Judaism and heresy. Any deviation from approved doctrine or practice brought swift punishment, ranging from a fine to public lashes to expulsion from the community.

Thus the communities of Livorno and Amsterdam, and the Dutch Jews who later settled in England, had a common cultural, religious and linguistic heritage which they had preserved for several hundred years in separate foreign lands. A distinguishing feature of both the Livornese and Amsterdam Jews was their well defined sense of their own cultural and ethnic identity. In Livorno, they were different from the Jewish Italian moneylenders, rather “they were merchants and entrepreneurs with established business relations, usually reinforced by family connections, with the principal non-Italian cities such as Amsterdam, Solonica Constantinople, and Bursa.” [48]

Not only were there important business connections between the communities of Livorno, Amsterdam, and London, there was an important level of social and cultural interchange as well. In the mid 17th century rabbi Sasportas [49] held positions at various times in each of the Amsterdam, London and Livorno communities, and Livorno had its own English colony. The famous British philanthropist, Sir Moses Montefiore (1784-1885), a Sephardic Jew, was born in Livorno.


[47]  “Roots For ‘High Church’ Iberians”, Abraham Rabinovich, The Jerusalem Post, 4 December 1981.

[48]  “Jewish life in Renaissance Italy”, Robert Bonfil, University of California Press, 1994.

[49]  Haham Yangakob Sasportas, Haham of the Spanish and Portuguese Jews' Congregation, 1665 (see


Ottolenghi to Ottolangui

We know little of David Ottolenghi’s life or the reason for his arrival in England. However, we do know that on arrival in 1774, at the age of 42, he would certainly have found a Jewish community with strong connections to his home town, a community with similar values and with the same strong sense of ethnic and religious identity. He made his home in London and by 1803 David was living in the east end of London in Petticoat lane, having formerly lived in Woolpack Alley. [50]

Over time, the spelling of the Ottolenghi name in the records at Bevis Marks changed. “All the early Ketubot [51] records of the ‘O’ family were spelled with an ‘e’ (Ottolenghi) and not an ‘a’ until 1857 at which time Jacob Ottolangui married Fanny Simmons. That is the first time I have seen the current spelling used.” [52]

There have been several theories made for the spelling change. The most prominent perhaps is the one is that perhaps members of the family were illiterate, and “Ottolangui” (and its other variations) is a simple corruption of the original Italian spelling. This may indeed be the case, however, this seems to me to be too simple an explanation. Firstly, it is highly unlikely that David himself was illiterate, as one of the most conspicuous characteristics of the Livorno Jews was their literacy. “Because of the existence of the Talmud Torah school in Livorno, illiteracy among Jewish males was unknown from the 17th century on.” [53] David’s son Israel, while only 11 when he arrived in England in 1784, was also born in Livorno, and it is somewhat unlikely that he would have been illiterate. Whether the family had become illiterate by the time Israel’s grandson, the Jacob referred to above was married, can only be conjecture without some further research. In case I think it is unlikely, as Jacob’s younger brother David, who emigrated to New Zealand, was certainly not illiterate.

The second reason for regarding the “illiteracy” theory with some suspicion, is that linguistically, the transition from “Ottolenghi” to “Ottolangui” is too clever to be explained by ignorance. The ending “-gui” is the exact Portuguese equivalent of the Italian “-ghi” - the “g” is hard in both cases. It certainly doesn’t look like an attempt to “anglicise” the name, rather the name appears now more Portuguese.

It would suit my contention that the Ottolangui family did have Portuguese origins if it could be demonstrated that the change from “Ottolenghi” to “Ottolangui” was a reversion to an earlier Portuguese or Spanish name which pre-dates the family’s years in Italy. However, there is no evidence at all yet to support this idea and so for the time being the appearance of the Portuguese influence, so obvious in the English version of the name, remains a mystery.

However, the old system of double surnames did make its appearance, and the “Ottolangui-Langley” doublet remains active to this day. By the mid to late 18th century when David Ottolenghi made his appearance in England, the old motivation for using an “English” alias would have well expired, and its use would no doubt have been one of social convenience, reflecting a desire to integrate into local English society yet not entirely lose their original identity. The earliest record of its use in New Zealand is in 1875, immediately after the arrival of David Ottolangui in Dunedin. One must presume therefore that its use in England pre-dated this by a considerable period, very probably soon after arrival if we take into account that the motivation to use an English name would have been strongest at the time when the family was trying to integrate into the local London social environment.


[50]  Letter from the archivist at Bevis Marks to Bobbie Dunn, dated 14 June 1993.

[51]  Marriage records.

[52]  Private e-mail from Bobbie Dunn to Paul Sulzberger, 28 March 2001.

[53]  Livorno (Leghorn), By Rebecca Weiner (see



So how do we come to a conclusion? Were the Ottolenghis who arrived in England the descendants of the old Italian Jewish family, who had made their way to Livorno and settled amongst the newcomers from Portugal? Or were our ancestors in fact Portuguese “conversos” themselves who had come to Livorno seeking new opportunities in a freer and more tolerant land? Their names suggest that they were Portuguese and were distinct from the old Ottolenghi family.

The questions remain. Why has the story of Portuguese descent been so tenacious over so many generations? Why is there no family story which says “We are Italians”?

When we consider the possibility that the idea of Portuguese ancestry was picked up from the Bevis Marks congregation, it’s easy to think that this could have happened over a period of several generations, time enough for the family’s collective memory of life in Italy to have been forgotten, and new beliefs to be absorbed. However, it was a mere 80 years after arrival in England from Italy, when that the family established new roots in the New World, bringing the Portuguese story with them.

Time is perhaps more condensed that we’d like to believe, and the story of origin in Portugal is perhaps not as old as we thought. Italy was not so long ago. While Moses Ottolangui, who emigrated to Australia in 1866, was born in England, his father Israel had been born in Italy. It’s hard to imagine that Moses didn’t know about his father’s place of birth, but it was perhaps, not the Italian story that defined the family’s identity.

Perhaps a more powerful story, a story of the family’s true ancestry, the story of the terrors of the Inquisition which were the defining moments in the family’s history. Was it the painful loss of identity in 1497, and the final restoration almost 200 years later in Livorno of their essential “Portuguese Jewishness” that was stamped on the family consciousness that has made this story last so long? Was it the “remarkable retention of its Iberian identity” which the Jewish community of Livorno struggled to preserve in a foreign land which has survived? Perhaps it is understandable that was not the “Italian story” that was remembered and handed down, but “La Nazione Portughese e Spagnola” – “The Portuguese and Spanish Nation”.



The story doesn’t finish here. The conclusions may not be correct, or some of the assumptions made here may in time prove to be wrong or only partially right.

There is still much work to be done, and there are many resources still unexplored. Amongst the many I have come across, the following promise to be particularly valuable (some of which were gleaned from an article by Marco Soria [54] whose quest was similar to ours):

“The Hebrew Nation in Livorno and Pisa 1591-1700”, [book, in Italian] by Renzo Toaff a Livornese doctor who, after a distinguished medical career, retired to devote his entire time to his lifelong passion - the history of the Jewish Communities in Tuscany, especially Livorno and Pisa. Contains mention of many of the prominent Livornese Sephardim of the time when our ancestors lived in Livorno.

Many archives of the Jewish communities in Italy were destroyed during the war, and those of Livorno were no exception. Luckily however, many items from these archives have been preserved and some have even been restored recently. Amongst them are the Registri delle Nascite (Records of Births) of the Hebrew Nation from 1668 to 1740, and other records of birth names and dates up to 1860. The secretary of the Jewish Community in Livorno and their archivist, is Gabriele Bedarida, with whom Bobbie Dunn has already had correspondence.

The Central Archives for the History of the Jewish Communities, is in the basement of the Sprinzak Building at the Givat Ram Campus of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. They hold indexes of microfilmed documents from the archives of many Jewish communities world-wide including 17th-century documents microfilmed in Livorno. These documents also include family and personal documents such as wills from this period.

Marco Soria points out the great value of these indexes to genealogists interested in Livorno: “…in the Livorno archives I would have never been able to find my ancestor’s will, because the microfilmed copies of this and all other documents from that city have been catalogued [indexed] only in Jerusalem.”

Some important research work is being undertaken by Moises Orfali, Bar-Ilan professor working on the Sephardic community in early modern Trieste. A current project, assisted by a grant from the Maurice Amado Foundation entitled “Society and Community Among the Livorno Sephardic Jews from 1693-1707 According to their Minutes-Book”. The aim of this research project is to study and prepare a scientific edition of the Minutes-Book Deliberaçoims do Governo, the decisions of the community committees made from September 20, 1693 to May 22, 1707. This covers the narrow window of time when our ancestors were known to be living in Livorno. The original manuscript covers several hundred pages on issues pertaining to the entire lives of the individuals and community, how the community coped with problems such as the ransoming of hostages, leaders and leadership, emigration and absorption, the imposition of regulations, avoidance of paying taxes, civil law versus the law of the Torah, the system of appointments to senior posts, collection of alms for both the community and the Diaspora, including Eretz Yisrael, etc.


[54]  “A Livornese family of Spanish origins: (De) Soria”, Marco R. Soria,