The Museum is located on Rua de Guerra Junqueiro, opposite the Kadoorie Synagogue.
The garden has a stone epigraph in memory of Chief Rabbi Isaac Aboab, the greatest religious authority of the 15th century, who when the Jews were expelled from Spain went to live in Oporto. Here he died and was interred by Abraham Zacuto, mathematician and astronomer.
Ahead, a large display case contains a prison-carriage of the Inquisition, used in the film “1618".
At the entrance to the building is a message in Hebrew, which can be translated as follows: “Around the world, where a Jew encounters a Portuguese, he must help him; and where a Portuguese encounters a Jew, he must also help him.”
The first room has many important objects for the Jewish religion – the Torah scrolls, a replica of the Temple of Jerusalem, the volumes of the Talmud, the work Mishné Torá by Moisés Maimonides, a shofar and even a gold candelabrum.
We are taken on a plurisecular voyage, which starts with Abraham, who obeyed what are known as the Seven Laws of Noah, and continues with the story of his successors, the arrival in Egypt, the saga of the Hebrews arriving on Mount Sinai and the conquest of Canaan, the kingdom of David, the ten lost tribes, the destruction of the first Temple, the destruction of the second and the Jews’ departure into exile, which included the Iberian Peninsula. Here, for centuries the Jews lived side by side with the Romans, Germans, Muslims and Catholics.
Moving on from the first room, the voyage is accompanied by film shots of all ages, showing visitors the environment of the medieval Jewish community, the surnames of Jews who then lived in what is now Portugal, the epigraph of Monchique Synagogue, the Edict of Expulsion decreed by King D. Manuel, the migration waves of the Portuguese Jews to all continents and three centuries of the Inquisition.
According to recent discoveries, the return of the Jews to this city occurred in the 19th century, a few years prior to the official abolition of the Inquisition in 1821. These were Sephardic Jews who came mostly from Morocco and Gibraltar.
By the end of the 19th century, there are few Sephardic Jews living in Oporto. The Jewish community is mainly Ashkenazi now, particularly from Germany. It grew considerably during and immediately after the First World War, with the coming of Jews from Belarus, Ukraine, Russia, Poland and Lithuania.
In 1923, the Ashkenazi families took in a Portuguese Jewish couple, both converted to Judaism, the husband a vigorous and intelligent army officer who, overcoming the introverted nature of seventeen of his brothers in faith of Central and Eastern Europe, successfully convinced them to set up an association called “Comunidade Israelita do Porto” (CIP - Jewish Community of Oporto) similar to the “Comunidade Israelita de Lisboa” (CIL - Jewish Community of Lisbon).
The Jewish Community of Oporto (CIP) was created in the shadow of the foreign community of Jews in this city and it was headed by the only person who was really fit to do so: the Portuguese army officer.
From 1926 onwards, the only Portuguese in the community headed a personal project, with the aid of the London Sephardic community, to try and convert Marranos as a whole to Judaism, for were thousands around the country at the time. This attempt resulted in the construction of the large Kadoorie Mekor Haim synagogue paid for by the Sephardic diaspora, but not a single official Jew in the light of Jewish law.
During and after its construction, the synagogue building was placed in the hands of the city’s few Ashkenazi families. In the end, it played a key role in sheltering refugees during the Second World War, which was followed by decades of depletion and desolation.
In the 21st century, largely as a result of the 2013/2015 legislation that gave Portuguese nationality to Sephardic Jews, the reality changed: the community rapidly grew to comprise hundreds of Jews from thirty countries.
That part of the museum covering the 21st century shows many religious and cultural activities, and letters received from prominent people around the world.
The Museum has a movie theater with a capacity of fifty people.
The last rooms of the Museum offer a splendid view over to the synagogue. One harbours a winery with Port wine, the mark of the city and of the Jewish community. The other displays the many awards won at film festivals for the films which the community produced in a unique project worldwide, with Oporto Diocese, which involves charity actions. In 2021, a new room is opened on Operation Entebbe.
The Jewish Museum of Oporto is included in a strategy of the local Jewish community to fight antisemitism. This strategy includes school visits to Kadoorie Mekor Haim Synagogue, films about the history of the Jews in Portugal; courses for secondary school teachers and others who are interested in themes relating to Judaism and the history of the Jews, and visits to the city’s Holocaust Museum.