“The Secret Jews of Spain, Portugal, and Italy and Their Descendants Today: Major Issues in a Growing Field of Academic Research” by Dr. Abraham D. Lavender
The Journal of Spanish, Portuguese, and Italian Crypto Jews (JOSPIC-J)brings together in one place, for the first time in a refereed academic journal, research on the three countries whose historic Jewish communities, each predating the Inquisition for centuries, suffered directly and greatly from Inquisitions. There is no consensus on whether to use the term marranos, conversos, crypto Jews, secret Jews, hidden Jews, lost Jews, New Christians, or anusim. But, whatever the term, significant research continues in international, sociological, cultural, religious, political, historical, and other areas, and the number of books and articles is increasing. Research on crypto Jews and their descendants should be integrated more with other interdisciplinary research, a major goal of this journal.
“The Crypto Jews of Spain and Portugal” by Dr. David M. Gitlitz
Prior to the riots of 1391, Spain's Jewish community was the largest in Europe. By 1491, following expulsions and conversions, Spain had the largest single community of former Jews in the post-biblical history of Judaism. Depending on the definition of Jewishness applied, these conversos were arrayed along a continuous spectrum ranging from fully Jewish to fully Christian. This article analyzes four groups on this spectrum—Christians, Jews, seekers of truth, and skeptical dropouts. Brief attention is also given to Portugal which originally had less violence and less forced conversions than Spain, but which also developed a more tenacious crypto-Judaism which led to the establishment of an Inquisition in 1539.
“The Barajas Women, Madrid 1634" by Dr. David M. Gitlitz
For the past quarter century, the author has immersed himself in Inquisition trial testimony in the archives of Spain and Mexico. The historical documents are difficult to read, but are worth extensive research, revealing fascinating and inspiring lives of unfortunate conversos. The following, based on these historical documents but with the addition of fictional narration, describes the lives of one representative family, Beatriz Álvarez and her daughter of the same name, known in 1630s Madrid as Las Barajas. It is an excerpt from a forthcoming book with the working title The Lost Minyan.
“The Jews of Sicily and Calabria: The Italian Anusim that Nobody Knows” by Rabbi Barbara Aiello
Rabbi Barbara Aiello is the first woman rabbi and first non-orthodox rabbi in Italy, where she has served a progressive synagogue in Milan. She is currently rabbi of Ner Tamid del Sud, the first active synagogue in Calabria in 500 years. Rabbi Aiello has written extensively about her crypto-Jewish background and her efforts to uncover the hidden Jewish traditions of Calabrian Jews that date back to Inquisition times. Her work in the deep south of Italy and Sicily includes directing the Italian Jewish Cultural Center of Calabria (IjCCC), an organization dedicated to the anusim of southern Italy to help them discover and embrace their Jewish roots.
“Crypto Judaism in New Mexico and the American Southwest” by Dr. Seth D. Kunin
Crypto Judaism in New Mexico is a highly complex phenomenon, both respecting history and modern ethnography. This paper outlines many of the significant aspects of both of these areas. It presents the historical arguments relating to the movement of conversos and descendents of conversos into New Mexico, and the aspects of the settlement of the colony that may have shaped aspects of crypto-Jewish culture as manifested in New Mexico today. The paper also touches on some of the ethnographic research relating to modern crypto Judaism, examining the forms of identity and the cultural elements out of which those fluid identities are formed. Given the significance of arguments about authenticity in relation to this community, the paper examines Neulander’s arguments in light of both empirical and ethnographic data. It suggests that when tested on that basis Neulander’s work cannot be seen as academically credible. The uniting theme of the paper is the need to eschew simple explanation in the light of a historically and ethnographically complex community.
“The Sephardic Legacy in the Spanish Caribbean: Crypto-Jewish Settlement in Cuba, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, and Jamaica” by Dr. Stanley M. Hordes
The Latin American and Iberian Institute of the University of New Mexico has initiated a research project to document the history of crypto-Jewish settlement on the Spanish Caribbean islands of the Greater Antilles, comprising Cuba, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, and pre-British Jamaica. Based on archival research in Europe and the Americas, as well as ethnographic analysis, this study will examine the role played by the descendants of Iberian conversos in the economic, religious and cultural life of an area of Spanish America that was situated on the major trans-Atlantic shipping lanes, yet administratively remote from centers of Inquisitorial persecution. The data derived from these investigations will be of great value not only in helping to understand the socio-cultural fabric of a vital part of the Caribbean, but also in bringing to light the activities of the earliest Jewish communities in the Americas.
“The Jewish and Crypto-Jewish Participation in the Age of Discovery” by Dr. Barry L. Stiefel
The following article is on the Jewish and crypto-Jewish participation in the age of discovery, from the fifteenth through seventeenth centuries. Though relatively small in number compared to their Catholic and Protestant counterparts, the Jews and Crypto Jews played a pivotal role in Europe, Africa, Asia, and the Americas as financiers, scientists, and explorers. Not only did they contribute to the prosperity of the empires that they lived under (even when the respective monarch did not show the same kindness to those of Jewish extraction), but also to the perpetuation of crypto-Jewish and Sephardic Jewish life and culture wherever they ventured.
“Jews, Catholics, and Converts: Reassessing the Resilience of Convivencia in Fifteenth Century Plasencia, Spain” by Dr. Robert L. Martinez
A systematic reappraisal of fifteenth century Jewish and Christian convivencia, or coexistence, is long overdue because within it resides a hidden history of cooperation among Old Christians, conversos, and Jews. Utilizing a historiographical lens to evaluate interfaith relations in several Castilian and Aragonese communities, one finds a broader range of communal outcomes than is traditionally acknowledged. New findings pertaining to the cohesive collaboration and intertwined relations of Jews, conversos, and Old Christians in the Extremaduran city of Plasencia refute the long-held assumption that Jews and Christians were routinely segregated from one another and corrects the misguided belief that the converso Santa María family persecuted former co-religionists. This study reveals the previously unknown strategic partnership of the converso Santa María and Old Christian Carvajal family in Plasencia and it’s role in maintaining medieval norms of interreligious cooperation.
“Catholic, Jewish, and Crypto Jewish in the 1600s: The Geographic and Spiritual Peregrinations of Pacheco de Leon in Spain, Italy, and Mexico” by Dr. Matthew Warshawsky
Due to his knowledge of Judaism and his influence among Judaizers in Mexico City, Juan Pacheco de León (Salomón Machorro) was a prize catch among conversos arrested in 1642 for crypto-Jewish heresy. Yet his name is less well known than those of more famous crypto Jews in Latin America, including Luis de Carvajal the Younger, Tomás Treviño de Sobremonte, and Francisco Maldonado de Silva. This essay rescues Juan de León from such relative anonymity by exploring the interrelated questions of why the Inquisition prosecuted him so painstakingly, what his case teaches us about crypto Judaism in colonial Mexico and the ordeal its practitioners suffered at the hands of the Inquisition, and why he did not achieve fame more proportional to the gravity of his trial. In order to answer these questions, it examines how León differed from other Inquisitorial victims due to his biography, knowledge of Judaism, and personality.
“Cecil Roth’s Disrupted Love Affair With the Secret Jews of Italy: Standing on the Shoulders of Giants” by Dr. Abraham D. Lavender
Cecil Roth’s 1932 book A History of the Marranos popularized the term “marrano,” and increased knowledge about the secret Jews of Portugal and Spain, and also discussed secret Jews in Europe and the Americas. But, the secret Jews of southern Italy were mostly neglected. Roth corrected this omission in 1946 in The History of the Jews of Italy, discussing the secret Jews in Sicily, the Kingdom of Naples, and Sardinia. Cecil Roth and his wife, Irene, who was also his constant research companion for forty-two years, expressed strong emotional attractions for Italy and had planned to retire there before their plans were disrupted by World War II and the Holocaust.
“Recent Research Articles: From Roth to DNA”
Many historical research resources have been used to study crypto Jews. But, especially since the 1990s, DNA research also has been able to add more information to crypto-Judaic studies. DNA research frequently cannot provide definitive answers about a specific individual’s possible secret Jewish ancestry, but it can provide insightful information about history. There are many articles on Sephardic DNA, but this brief report describes three recent reach projects about crypto-Jewish DNA, including the research project from Iberia which documents that about 20% of all Hispanic males (mostly Christian today) whose ancestors came from Spain or Portugal have a Jewish genetic ancestry.