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DNA: The Epstein-Horowitz-Benveniste Projects

Benveniste is the surname of an old, noble, rich, and scholarly Jewish family of Narbonne, France and northern Spain from the 11th century. The family was present in the 11th to the 15th centuries in Provence, France, Barcelona, Aragon and Castile' Spain. Family members received honorary titles from the authorities and were members of the administration of the kingdom of Aragon and Castile. They were the Baillie ("Bayle") - the Tax Officer and Treasurer, Alfaquim - Senior Advisor to the King and Royal Physician in Barcelona and Aragon in the 12th and 13th centuries.

They held the title of "Nasi" (prince in Hebrew), a name given to members of the House of David, in the Jewish communities (mainly Barcelona) and were prominent religious and secular leaders in the 11th to the 14th centuries. In the 14th to the 15th century they held the titles of "de la Cavalleria"—"of the knights" (a name given by the Templars to their treasurers and tax collectors) and Don—a noble person in Aragon and Castile.

After the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492 they were dispersed mainly to Portugal, Greece - Salonica other parts of the Turkish Empire and North African countries. In Portugal they were forced to convert to Christianity in 1497 and became one of the rich traders and bankers (the Mendes family) of Europe.

Benveniste Family

The first appearance of the name Benveniste was in the 11th century in southern France (Septimania, Provance of our time). The region was shaped by charlemagne from the Frankish Kingdom of the Carolingian. The name appears in the travel books of Benjamin of Tudela from the 12th century.
The Babylonian names of Makhir, Hasdai, Sheshet and Shealtiel are the names of chief rabbis and leaders - Nasi (considered by the Jewish tradition as descendents of king David) of the Jewish center. The Jewish families assisted the Christian administrations of the Kingdom of Aragon and the County of Barcelona as tax collectors and advisers.
In 1150 Aragon and Barcelona were united by the marriage of their rulers. The Jewish families appear together with the name Benveniste in official and Jewish documents of Narbonne, Barcelona and Aragon from the 11th-13th century AD with the title Nasi added their names.

  • Isaac ben Josef iben Benveniste Nasi, was called Iben Barun, (c. 11th century). Hebrew grammarian, lexicographer and a poet. He lived in Saragossa (during the Islamic era) and Málaga and associated with the poets Moses ibn Ezra and Judah Halevi.
  • Isaac Benveniste Nasi the physician of the king of Aragon that came to Spain from Narbonne France in the 12th century. The father of Sheshet Benveniste Nasi.
  • Sheshet Benveniste Nasi, (c.1131-1209). He was a physician, writer, a political advisor and a diplomate to the kings of Aragon. He came to Spain from Narbonne France with his father in the 12th century. Sheshet received his education at Narbonne, his probable birthplace, afterward he lived at Barcelona, and later at Saragossa, in which city he died. He practiced medicine, and was the author of a medical work, manuscript copies of which are still extant at Oxford and Munich. Such was his reputation as a physician that patients came long distances to consult him.
  • Isaac ben Joseph Benveniste Nasi (died 1224), physician of the king of Aragon. He was the leading figure in the representative congresses of the Jewish communities convened at Montpellier and Saint-Gilles in 1214 and 1215 to consider protective measures in view of the approaching Lateran Council . Subsequently he secured for the Aragonese communities a temporary suspension of the obligation to wear the Jewish badge.
  • Vidal Benveniste de Porta (died 1268), Jewish Bailie ("bayle") - the tax officer and treasurer of Barcelona, Girona and Lerida, Spain. His brother was Bonastruc ça (de) Porta, Nahmanides, (in Hebrew Ramban), also known as Rabbi Moses ben Nahman Girondi. (1194–1270). He grew up, studied and lived in Girona. He was a leading medieval Jewish scholar, Catalonia rabbi, philosopher, physician, kabbalist, and biblical commentator. He participated in 1263 in the Disputation of Barcelona before King James I of Aragon.
  • Don Vidal Benveniste (de la Cavalleria) was a prominent Spanish Jewish scholar who lived in Saragossa (the capital of Aragon) in the beginning of the second half of the 14th century and the beginning of the 15th century. The honor 'de la Cavalleria', according to the Encyclopaedia Judaica, was given to the family by the knights Templar who protected the family and the family in turn administered the tax system of the Templars. His family was connected to the development of the town of Saragossa in the 14th century, and members of the family Benvenist de la Cavalleria were financiers of the local kings.[7] He was elected, by the notables of the Jewish communities of Aragon, as the speaker before the pope at the beginning of disputation of Tortosa (1413).
  • Don Abraham Benveniste (Bienveniste) (died in c. 1450) of Soria and Toledo, Spain. Statesman and chief rabbi (or "court rabbi") of Castile during the reign of Juan II, (1406–54). He was also entrusted with the public finances of the kingdom together with Don Yosef Nasi. Under the presidency of Benveniste a Jewish synod in Valladolid in 1432 drew up a statute called the "Takḳanoth," which was to serve as a basis for the administration of the Jewish communities in Spain. It dealt with the divine service, with the glorification of the study of the Law, with state taxation, and with the welfare and progress of the communities.
  • Don Vidal Benvenist (de la Cavalleria) Grandson of Don Abraham Benveniste was a prominent and a wealthy man in Spain in the second half of the 15th century. Together with his brother Abraham [10] they negotiated a compact with the King of Portugal to allow 120,000 of the Jewish exiles from Spain in 1492 to stay in Portugal for six months. The Jewish exiles had to pay one ducat for every soul, and the fourth part of all the merchandise they had carried with them when they entered Portugal.


  • Francisco Mendes (Tzemah Benveniste in Hebrew) one of the wealthiest traders and bankers in Europe in the first half of the 16th century. He was the great grandson of Don Abraham Benveniste. His family was forcibly converted Jews known as Conversos (also called Crypto-Jews, Marranos and Secret Jews).

While still Jewish, they had fled to Portugal when the Catholic Monarchs, Queen Isabella I of Castile and King Ferdinand II of Aragon, expelled the Jews in 1492. Five years later, in 1497, they were forcibly converted to Catholicism along with all the other Jews in Portugal at that time.
Francisco Mendes|Benveniste directed, along with his brothers Diogo Mendes (Meir Benveniste) and Goncalo Mendes, from Lisbon and later from Antwerpen, a powerful trading company and a bank of world repute with agents across Europe and around the Mediterranean.
The House of Mendes|Benveniste probably began as a company trading precious objects. Following the beginning of the Age of Discovery and the finding, by the Portuguese, of a sea route to India, Goncalo Mendes financed ships (and possibly participated) in the Vasco di Gama missions.
They became particularly important as one of the six families that controlled the spice trade in the Portuguese India Armadas (the kings of black pepper). They established with the other families a trading post in Antwerpen from where they controlled the distribution of black pepper in Europe. They also traded in silver - the silver was needed to pay the Asians for those spices. They financed the kings and queens of Portugal, Spain, England, the Flanders and the popes in Rome.

Greece, Italy and Turkey

  • Don Judah Benveniste and Don Samuel Benveniste Sons of Don Meir Benveniste of Toledo. Grandsons of Don Abraham Benveniste the court rabbi of Castile. They immigrated to Salonica in 1492 with other Jewish Spanish exiles, and with them they founded the Sephardic community in that city. They succeeded in preserving a share of their great patrimony sufficient for the purchase of a large collection of books. Several experienced scribes were always employed in copying the Mishnah, the Talmud, and other works at their homes, which was the center of the scholarly Spanish exiles.
  • Dona Gracia Mendes Nasi (1510–1569) a Marrano-Jewish-Portuguese businesswoman (Micas|Nasi). Was married to Francisco Mendes (Tzemah Benvenisti), inherited the Mendes|Benvenisti fortune and became one of the wealthiest women in Europe of the middle 16th century. She returned to Judaism in Ferrara in the 1550s together with members of the Henriques|Nunio|Benveniste family (Meir, Abraham and Reina Benveniste).
  • Don Vidal Benveniste From Aragon settled in Constantinople after the expulsion from Spain in 1492. A writer of a book published in 1512.
  • Moses Benveniste (second half of the 16th century). The physician of the Grand Vasir Siavouch Pasha in Constantinople. Political advisor and diplomate. Negotiated peace with Spain. Died in exile in Rodes.
  • Joshua ben Israel Benveniste (c. 1590 – c. 1668), Physician and rabbi in Constantinople
  • Chaim Benveniste (1603–1673), Brother of Joshua, rabbinical authority at Constantinople and later at Smyrna.



Other Countries

  • Immanuel Benveniste (1608–1664) a notable printer from Amsterdam that printed many books in Hebrew among them the Bible and the Talmud. He was from Venice. Indirect information point to his origin as a marano that converted back to Judaism and possibly as a member of the Mendes|Benveniste family from Venice (see Dona Gracia Mendes Nasi).
  • Émile Benveniste (1902–1976), French structural linguist
  • Jacques Benveniste (1935–2004), French immunologist
  • Asa Benveniste (1925–1990), American poet
  • Richard Ben-Veniste (born 1943), American lawyer
  • Guy Benveniste (born 1927), French and American educator and planner
  • David Benvenisti (1897-1993), from Salonica and Jerusalem, Israeli educator and geographer, Israel Prize recipient. The father of Meron Benvenisti and Refael (Rafi) Benvenisti and grandfather of Eyal Benvenisti.
  • Meron Benvenisti (born 1934), Israeli historian and journalist.
  • Refael (Rafi) Benvenisti (born 1937), Israeli economist, brother of Meron.
  • Eyal Benvenisti (born 1959), Israeli and Int'l law professor, son of Meron.

  • 1. Heller Marvin J. The Printer's Mark of Immanuel Benveniste and Its Later Influence, Studies in Bibliography and Booklore, Vol. 19, (1994)
  • 2. "The Origin of the name Benveniste".. Benvenisti D. 'From Saloniki to Jerusalem - Chapters in Life', 1984. Testimony of Meron, Refael and Eyal Benvenisti.