The last name Colón or Columbus was a typically Jewish last name, which comes from the Hebrew name Yona (“colomba”, is the Italian for “dove”). We have a famous Spanish Rabbi named “rabbenu Yona” (d. 1264 ). Also, one of the most celebrated rabbis of that time, and the most important Italian jurist Rabbi (poseq) of all times, was called Rabbi Yosef Colón (mahariq, 1420-1480). In Spain, in one of the earliest “autos de fe”(1461), Thomas Colón, along with his wife and his son, were burned alive for committing the crime of “Judaizing” (performing some Jewish practices, such as lighting candles or changing clothes on Friday afternoon, or for standing silently while facing a wall [reciting the ‘Amida], etc).
Of course, if Columbus was Jewish, he was expected to hide his identity, especially if his intention was to obtain the political support of the crown of Spain or Portugal for his expedition. At the time of the Catholic monarchs Ferdinand and Isabel (י”ש) being Jewish was not a title that granted many privileges in the Spanish court .. … Many Jews, probably more than 200,000, lived a double life. They, or their parents, were forcibly converted since the start of the “pogroms” and riots in 1391. They lived outwardly as Catholics, but at home, among relatives and family, (many times risking their lives,) they tried to live as Jews. These secret Jews were called in many different ways: “marranos”, in the vernacular, converts, new Christians, or “chuetas” in southern Spain.
There is much evidence indicating the Jewishness of Columbus, as his signature, etc.
Less known facts are:
1. In his will, Colón left 10% of his profits to the poor and the maidens who needed to be married. These gestures are two important precepts in Judaism, ma’aser kesafim, donating 10% of your income to charity. And within the Mitsva of Tsedaqa, as the Shulchan Aruch says, the most meritorious act and the noblest charity is to support young girls who need to get married and do not have sufficient means to do so (hakhnasat kala, Yore De’a 249: 15).
2. Columbus had to leave the Port of Palos on August 2nd, 1492. That year, August 2nd, was the day of Tisha BeAb, the day of national mourning of the Jewish people. Columbus, for reasons that could not be explained otherwise (in climatic terms, etc) had his 90 men embarked on August 2nd, but he left the port the next day, Friday, August 3rd, half an hour before the start of Shabbat . “Coincidentally” August 3rd was also the last day that the infamous Edict of Expulsion established for Jews to choose between converting or leaving Spain
3. All supporters of Columbus were Jewish or Jewish converts. Funding for the expedition of Columbus did not come, as the legend says, from the “money obtained by the Queen Isabel ” when she sold her personal jewelry. Columbus needed the political and the legal support of the Queen to legally conquer new lands, and for this, he convinced the Queen that in the new lands (presumably, India) Spain could further spread Christianity. Among the Jews who supported Columbus were for example, the famous Rabbi Don Isaac Abarbanel, one of the wealthiest men in Spain, Rabbi Abraham Zacuto, Spain’s most famous astronomer at the time, who gave Columbus his astrolabe and its Perpetual Calendar, both new and essential tools for navigation. Columbus’s major donors were Jewish converts. Among others, Luis de Santangel and Gabriel Sanchez. When Columbus arrived from his first expedition, he wrote two letter thanking for the support he received: one letter to Sanchez and the other one to Santangel. He did not write to the Kings.
But, why would Spanish Jews and converts support enthusiastically Columbus enterprise? If Columbus’ intention was to promote the Christian faith, why would these persecuted Jews, who were forcibly converted to Christianity, and their relatives and friends were tortured and murdered in “autos de fe” for “resisting” practicing the Christian faith, support Columbus project?
4. In his “Diary of the first trip” of 1492, Columbus revealed his incredible master plan. There, Columbus writes that with the profits from the conquest of new lands he wants to “free Hierusalem and build la casa sancta (the “holy house”)”. Columbus says this repeatedly in his diaries. What moved Columbus to get gold and riches, in his own words, was his desire to finance a large army of over 100,000 soldiers, to liberate Jerusalem from the hands of the Moors and “build the holy house there.” For Christians, the conquest of Jerusalem was justified in order to liberate the “holy sepulchre”, the most sacred place in the wold for Christians. In Christian terms, the expression “building a holy house in Jerusalem” has no sense… Obviously, as we Jews know, the building of the “Holy House in Hierusalem” can not be anything else but the Bet haMiqdash. The intention of Columbus, and the Jews who so enthusiastically supported him, was that with the proceeds from a new world, Jerusalem could be conquered and the Jews, including the 500,000-800,000 Jews who left Spain on the same day Columbus sailed from Palos, could finally return to their home, Israel, and see there their “Casa Sancta” rebuilt (בבי”א), which it was and still is, the highest aspiration of the Jewish people.
All this information, as far as I know, is not very well known, and, I believe, is not usually taught even at Jewish schools.
For what is probably the best article on this matter, where you can find all the information you need to prove the Jewish identity of Columbus, see here , Rabbi Yosef Faur: “Columbus and the discovery of America, a Jewish Perspective” .
In recent years (2013) a non-Jewish Hispanic businessman from Miami, Charles Patrick Garcia, speaking to CNN, made Columbus Jewish identity better known. Read this. For those who want to practice their Spanish , there is also an interview to Garcia on this subject by “CNN en Español”.