Archives dating to the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries mention Jews from Spain and Portugal who had converted to Christianity at Middelburg. Several Portuguese-Jewish traders and their families settled in Middelburg at the beginning of the seventeenth century, despite the opposition of local protestant clergy. The small community held religious services in a building named "St. Pieter" located in the Rouaanse Kade.
In 1654, the Jewish population of Middelburg was augmented by the arrival of a large number of Portuguese Jews from Brazil. These new arrivals did not remain in Middelburg for long; most moved eventually moved on to Amsterdam. The last few Portuguese Jews remaining in Middelburg joined the local Ashkenazi community in 1725. Ashkenazi Jews had begun to arrive in Middelburg beginning late in the seventeenth century. Like the local Portuguese Jews, the newly-arrived Ashkenazim were mostly traders.
In 1655, the Jews of Middelburg were permitted to lease a plot of land outside of the Seispoort gate (also called the Jodengang or "Jew's Corridor") for use as a cemetery. Askenazi Jews were assigned a cemetery of their own, located on the Seisbolwerk, in 1704. The Ashkenazi synagogue on the Herenstraat was consecrated one year later.
In 1700, the city fathers of Middelburg granted local Jews guarantees of freedom and safety equal to those that had been granted in a number of other cities in the Netherlands. By the middle of the eighteenth century, a rise in the number of destitute Jews and Jewish beggars in Middelburg caused leaders of the local Jewish community to press for more restrictive residence requirements. During the same period, conflicts within the community several times led to intervention by the municipal authorities.
The Jewish population of Middelburg and surroundings nearly doubled over the first half of the nineteenth century. Jews played an important role in the regional economy during the period; a cotton weaving factory owned by Jews made a large contribution to employment both in Middelburg and in the nearby village of Zierikzee.
At the close of the nineteenth century, the Middelburg community was led by a directorate and community council, the latter also serving as a council for assistance to the poor. Other community officials included a treasurer for collection and distribution of aid to the Jewish community in Palestine. Local voluntary organizations included a burial society, a society providing caring for the sick, a society for the maintenance of the interior of the synagogue, handicraft societies, and fellowships for the study of Judaism and Torah. A local branch of the Maatschappij tot Nut der Israëlieten (Society for the Welfare of the Jews in the Netherlands) was opened in Middelburg in the 1860's. A Jewish school, offering both Jewish and secular education, had been established in Middelburg at the outset of the nineteenth century; a new schoolhouse, located in the Lange Delft, was dedicated in 1906.
Membership rolls of the Jewish communities of Middelburg and surroundings declined over the first four decades of the twentieth century. At the same time, Jews remained active in local life. During the 1930's two Jews served on Middelburg's town council.
In March of 1942, under the German occupation of the Netherlands during the Second World War, almost all the Jews of the province of Zeeland, including those of Middelburg, were deported via Amsterdam to Nazi death camps. None returned alive, although a number of local Jews did manage to survive the war in hiding. In 1940, the Middelburg synagogue was plundered by local members of the Dutch collaborationist NSB party. A portion of the ceremonial objects from the synagogue were hidden in advance and after the war were donated to the Jewish community at Oss. Several of textile objects formerly belonging to the Middelburg synagogue are now in the collection of the Jewish Historical Museum Amsterdam. The synagogue building itself was severely damaged in a grenade attack during the course of the liberation of Middelburg in 1944.
Only a few Jews returned to Middelburg after the war. A monument in the Jewish cemetery near the Walensingel (the former Seisbolwerk) honors Jews from throughout the province of Zeeland murdered during the war. The Portuguese-Jewish cemetery at Middelburg has been declared a national monument and was restored during 1997-1998. Both cemeteries currently are maintained by local authorities.
The Middelburg synagogue was restored and rededicated in 1994. In 2004, the synagogue was the site of the first Jewish wedding to take place in Middelburg since the war.
Today, the Jews of Middelburg form a closely knit community of forty members. In addition to the community organization itself, the Stichting Joods Maatschappelijk Werk (Jewish Social Work Foundation) and the Federatie Joodse Bejaardenzorg (Federation for Care to the Jewish Aged) are also active in Middelburg.
On December 28, 2006 a parokhet was unveiled in the New Synagogue at Herenstraat. The parokhet was made by Jet Naftaniël-Joëls on behalf of the Stichting Synagoge Middelburg.
Jewish population of Middelburg and surroundings: