Crypto-Jews of the Iberian Peninsula. The term, which is frequently derived from the New Testament phrase “maran atha” (“our Lord hath come”), denotes in Spanish “damned,” “accursed,” “banned”; also “hog,” and in Portuguese it is used as an opprobrious epithet of the Jews because they do not eat pork. The name was applied to the Spanish Jews who, through compulsion or for form’s sake, became converted to Christianity in consequence of the cruel persecutions of 1391 and of Vicente Ferrer’s missionary sermons. These “conversos” (converts), as they were called in Spain, or “Christãos Novos” (Neo-Christians) in Portugal, or “Chuetas” in the Balearic Isles, or “Anusim” (constrained) in Hebrew, numbered more than 100,000. With them the history of the Pyrenean Peninsula, and indirectly that of the Jews also, enters upon a new phase; for they were the immediate cause both of the introduction of the Inquisition into Spain and of the expulsion of the Jews from that country. The wealthy Maranos, who engaged extensively in commerce, industries, and agriculture, intermarried with families of the old nobility; impoverished counts and marquises unhesitatingly wedded wealthy Jewesses; and it also happened that counts or nobles of the blood royal became infatuated with handsome Jewish girls. Beginning with the second generation, the Neo-Christians usually intermarried with women of their own sect. They became very influential through their wealth and intelligence, and were called to important positions at the palace, in government circles, and in the Cortes; they practised medicine and law and taught at the universities; while their children frequently achieved high ecclesiastical honors.
The article describes the widespread dispersal of the jews expelled from Spain, mainly to Turkey (Ottoman empire) and Netherlands (Flanders).
The Xuetes (Catalan pronunciation: [ʃuˈətə]; singular Xueta, also known as Xuetons), were a social group on the island of Majorca, descendants of Majorcan Jews who either converted to Christianity or were forced to keep their religion hidden. They practiced strict endogamy.
The assault on the calls — the Majorcan Jewish ghettoes — in 1391, the preaching of Vincent Ferrer in 1413, and the conversion of the remainder of the Jewish community of Majorca, in 1435, constituted the three events that gave rise to the social phenomenon of the conversos, which, unlike the individual conversions that had preceded them, were not based on individual religious conviction but on the necessity of overcoming a collective peril.
Crypto Jews, Am I Jewish?:
One interesting example is the “Belmonte Jews” in Portugal. A whole community survived in secrecy for hundreds of years by maintaining a tradition of intermarriage and by hiding all the external signs of their faith. The Jewish community in Belmonte goes back to the 12th century and they were only discovered in the 20th century.
Many of the immigrants from Portugal were secondary immigrants from the Jewish Expulsion in Spain of 1492. However, a later similar decree was also issued in Portugal in 1497 effectively converted all Jewish children, making them wards of the state unless the parents also converted. Therefore, many of the early crypto-Jewish migrants to Mexico in the early colonial days were technically first to second generation Portuguese with Spanish roots before that. The number of such Portuguese migrants was significant enough that the label of “Portuguese” became synonymous with “Jewish” throughout the Spanish colonies.
So many perceived crypto-Jews were going to Mexico during the 1500s that officials complained in written documents to Spain that Spanish society in Mexico would become significantly Jewish. Officials found and condemned clandestine synagogues in Mexico City.
Two jews, Michael Freund and Stanley Hordes, wish to discover and reintegrate crypto-jews with the main body of jews. The main body of jews do not.
With children under chuppah, Ynetnews, 7 Aug 2013:
Ariel and Gila Arditi have been waiting for this moment for a very long time: Years of expectations to receive the special approval that they have completed their conversion process and can get married according to Jewish Law; several years of fighting for Israeli recognition as conversion seekers, while their children already live in Israel as Jews; and decades of leading a double life: Colombian Jews who know they have Jewish roots and observe various customs on different dates.
The Arditi couple knew they were the descendants of the Anousim from Spain, who were forced to convert to Catholicism in the 14th and 15th centuries by the Inquisition. Their ancestors continued to observe mitzvot secretly, despite the persecution and torture.
“She knew she wasn’t Jewish according to Jewish Law, but that her roots are Jewish. When her parents retired, they came to Israel immediately – when it was clear to them that they didn’t have any other place to live, or any other life, other than living as religious Jews.”
According to Birenbaum, the trouble began when they tried to covert. “They didn’t receive a visa, and their request to convert was denied. The State of Israel asked them to leave – and they didn’t want to.
[Shavei Israel Chairman Michael Freund adds,] “Their ancestors were taken from us, they were kidnapped from us, against their will. And nonetheless, despite all the persecution – they continued to preserve their Jewish identity and pass it down from one generation to the next. Now, when they wake up 500 years later and known on our national door, how can we possibly slam it in their faces?”
More about Michael Freund, AKA Columbus of hidden Jews, Ynetnews, 25 Jan 2011:
He wanders Amazon jungles, travels to Chinese villages, searches Spain for Marranos, and sees India’s Bnei Menashe as his life’s mission. Michael Freund has an obsession: Discovering remote Jews
In a remote village in the Amazon, you find Jews.
Freund, an American immigrant, has a mission: Locating remote and hidden Jews and descendants of the Jewish people.
He devotes all his efforts and resources to this project as founder and director of the Shavei Israel organization, which works to strengthen the connection between descendants of Jews and Israel and the Jewish people.
According to assessments, he has put his own money into the project while raising large sums in donations from others. His organization is active in many countries throughout the world and helps different communities: From the descendants of Bnei Anousim (whom historians refer to as Marranos) in Spain, Portugal and South America, to remote communities in places such as China.
“It’s a type of fixation that doesn’t let me rest,” said Freund. “I feel obligated to these communities forgotten by history, but they haven’t forgotten us.
By all accounts, there are millions of Marranos throughout the world. “They are descendants of the Spanish and Portuguese Jews who converted under duress, many of whom continued to practice Jewish customs in secret despite the persecution they faced at the hands of the Spanish Inquisition,” he said and added, “The Marranos are a living and breathing phenomenon, but the Jewish world largely ignores them.”
The last time Freund succeeded in obtaining permission to bring a group to Israel was in 2007, when 230 Bnei Menashe from the Indian state of Manipur made aliyah. Since then, the aliyah has stopped.
Freund is a gentle person. He doesn’t get angry. He doesn’t raise his voice. But he is frustrated. “I simply do not understand why these wonderful people are stuck and forced to wait years before being allowed to fulfill their dreams. This is a big mistake. The Bnei Menashe want to be here and deserve to be here,” he says.
Some claim that they want to come to Israel to improve their financial situation.
“If this was the case, then one would expect a certain percentage of them to leave Israel and move to the West, but they’ve all remained here. After they get here hardly any of them remove their kippah. They are very religious and committed Zionists. We’ve conducted a comprehensive study of the Bnei Menashe immigrants and found that only 5% of the community is supported by welfare. The rest of them work for a living.”
Are you sure that all these groups you deal with are really of Jewish descent?
“We have to be careful because it’s easy to get carried away and to start seeing Jews everywhere. So I’m always skeptic as first. Two years ago I received a letter from a group of Native Americans in the United States, who claimed that they were of Jewish descent. They sent me various materials, and I understood fairly quickly that their claim was without any basis.
What motivates you?
“I see it as my mission in life. There are people who travel great distances to look for spectacular views. I go to look for Jews. We are a small nation and we don’t have all that many friends out there. So we should be reaching out to descendants of the Jewish people to cultivate a stronger connection with them. Two years ago a genetic study was carried out in Spain and Portugal which found that 20% of the male population of Iberia has Jewish genetic material. Because of all the persecution we have endured throughout the centuries, the Jewish nation was scattered to the four corners of the earth. So it isn’t surprising that there are traces and remnants of Jews in all sorts of remote places.
A Jewish Telegraphic Agency interview with Stanley Hordes, So you think you’re a Crypto-Jew?, Amy Klein, 18 May 2009:
JTA: Can a last name help someone tell if they have Jewish blood?
HORDES: There’s quite a bit of confusion over this question — some people think that names ending in “es” or “ez” are uniquely Jewish. The “es” suffix simply means “son of.” But put yourself in the position of someone in 1492 who has made the gut-wrenching decision to stay in Spain and convert to Catholicism. Now if your name was Avraham Ben Moshe, and you’re trying to quickly assimilate into Old Christian society, the first thing you’d do is get rid of that name. You’d likely take a name like the Old Christians have, such as Gonzalez or García — or de la Cruz, de Jesus or Santa Maria. There’s only a very small number of cases where a name is uniquely Jewish. I’ve heard so many stories about the name Rael coming from “Israel.” Every Rael I’ve ever found in New Mexico goes back to one Jewish family in southeastern Spain that had converted to Judaism in the 1480s. But you have to be careful about names. There’s no other way of ascertaining proof of ancestry except by playing the “who begat whom” game, or conducting extensive archival research through the genealogical records.
JTA: What about DNA?
HORDES: DNA testing potentially can tell us an awful lot. But we’re at only an early stage of this kind of research, and at this point the commercial testing companies can only tell who your mothers’ mother’s mother’s mother is or your father’s father’s father’s father — all the way back. They can’t tell you anything about your mother’s father’s family or any of the other thousands of ancestors. But culture is not passed down through genes — it’s interesting, but it does not define who you are. A lot of us are more interested in cultural traits and Jewish consciousness, including the extent to which descendants of Crypto-Jews tended to marry within the group. The genetic and genealogical research supplies us with a historical plausibility of suggestive Crypto-Jewish practices that may have been passed down. All of these avenues of research complement each other.
JTA: Some think this whole issue is untrue, like folklorist Judith Neulander, who thinks Hispanos might be inventing an “imaginary Crypto-Jewish identity,” according to the December 2000 Atlantic Monthly article “Mistaken Identity: The Case of New Mexico’s Hidden Jews.”
HORDES: Anthropologist Seth D. Kunin addresses these issues in his recently released “Juggling Identities: Identity and Authenticity Among the Crypto-Jews,” (Columbia University Press). We know that thousands of Crypto-Jews on the Iberian Penisula converted to Catholicism,but secretly held to their ancestral Jewish faith and customs. Some believe that people are inventing a past that they never had in order to deny their black or Indian family background — to climb the social ladder by showing how “white” they are. But there are so many more conventional ways to assert whiteness, why would you want to be Jewish when being different is not valued in that community?
Mistaken Identity? The Case of New Mexico’s “Hidden Jews”, by Barbara Ferry and Debbie Nathan, The Atlantic, Dec 2000:
THE telling has become almost stylized through repetition. In the mid-1980s a number of people with Spanish surnames began stealing into an office in Santa Fe, peering over their shoulders, shutting the door behind them, and whispering that their neighbors were engaging in strange customs that were decidedly out of place in the region’s overwhelmingly Catholic culture. Soon those reports would lead to proud testimonials from southwesterners of Iberian descent claiming kinship with Jewish victims of the Inquisition in Spain and Portugal. And not just genetic descent: some of these people would say that though outwardly they were raised as Christians, their parents, grandparents, or great-grandparents were secretly observant Jews. Such stories are now so common in the Southwest that almost everyone takes them at face value.
The phenomenon’s first elaborations can be traced to Stanley Hordes, who in the early 1980s was New Mexico’s state historian.
Twenty years ago he was thirty-one and had just defended his doctoral dissertation, which was written at Tulane University, in New Orleans, and dealt with the Jews of colonial Mexico. More specifically, it dealt with what are known as the crypto-Jews — a people whose ranks swelled in 1492, when King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain ordered all Jews to convert to Christianity or be banished from the kingdom. Up to 50,000 of Spain’s 125,000 to 200,000 Jews were baptized, joining 225,000 descendants of the converts of previous generations. The others would not give up their religion. Some fled to North Africa, Italy, and Navarre (then a kingdom on the border between Spain and France). Many more went to Portugal, though Portugal itself would soon demand conversion, and thousands of Jews there also underwent baptism. In both Spain and Portugal many conversos sincerely embraced the Church and intermarried with so-called Old Christians. A smaller number, however, continued secretly in their old beliefs, under cover of Catholicism. These were the crypto-Jews.
To make a distinction that will later prove germane, he is an Ashkenazi. Ashkenazic Jews trace their ancestry to Northern and Eastern Europe, whereas Sephardic Jews trace theirs to Iberia. Almost all Jews in North America today are Ashkenazim. Before the late nineteenth century the Jews in Latin America were overwhelmingly Sephardim. Throughout the Diaspora, Sephardic Jews have eaten food made with olive oil, chickpeas, and other Mediterranean ingredients; Ashkenazic foods such as bagels, lox, kugel, and borscht are not traditionally part of their diet. Yiddish, with its German and Slavic components, has nothing to do with Sephardic Ladino, which mixes Hebrew with medieval Spanish, Turkish, and Moroccan. Today Sephardic Jews make up only 10 percent of the Jewish population worldwide.
BY the early 1990s Latinos by the dozens from New Mexico, Texas, Colorado, and Arizona were coming forward with tales of a Jewish past. At conferences and in Internet forums they recalled playing with toys resembling dreidels (the four-sided tops associated with Hanukkah) as children. They reported that their parents had baked a flat, unleavened bread in the spring. They remembered mothers and grandmothers calling out on their deathbeds, “Children, we are really Israelites.”
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