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Crypto-Judaism is the secret adherence to Judaism while publicly professing to be of another faith; practitioners are referred to as "crypto-Jews" (origin from Greek kryptos - κρυπτός, 'hidden'). The term crypto-Jew is also used to describe descendants of Jews who maintain some Jewish traditions of their ancestors while publicly adhering to other faiths.
The term is especially applied historically to European Jews who—outwardly or forcedly—professed Catholicism, who were also known as Anusim or Marrano. The phenomenon is especially associated with renaissance Spain, following the June 6, 1391, Anti-Jewish pogroms and the expulsion of the Jews in 1492 unless they converted. Later under its Blood Purity Laws, Spain restricted explorers and settlers in the New World to "Old Christians" of three generations or more.
- 1 Europe
- 2 Mediterranean and Asia
- 3 North America
- 4 Central and South America, the Caribbean
- 5 Notable Crypto-Jews
- 6 See also
- 7 References
- 8 External links
Officially, Jews who converted in Spain in the 14th and 15th centuries were known as Cristianos Nuevos (New Christians), but were commonly called conversos. Spain and Portugal passed legislation restricting their rights in the mother countries and colonies; only Christians were allowed to go to the New World. Despite the dangers of the Inquisition, many conversos continued to secretly and discreetly practice Jewish rituals.
After the Alhambra decree of 1492 numerous conversos, also called Xueta (also Chueta), in the Balearic Islands ruled by Spain, publicly professed Roman Catholicism but privately adhered to Judaism, even through the Spanish Inquisition. They are among the most widely known and documented crypto-Jews.
In Greece, "Romaniote Jews" have been present for a little more than two thousand years. Greek Jews played an important role in the early development of Christianity, and became a source of education and commerce for the Byzantine Empire and throughout the period of Ottoman Greece. During World War II, their community suffered devastation in the Holocaust after Greece was conquered and occupied by the Axis powers, in spite of efforts by Greeks to protect them. In the aftermath of the war, a large percentage of the surviving community emigrated to Israel or the United States. Greek Jews today largely "live side by side in harmony" with Christian Greeks, according to Giorgo Romaio, president of the Greek Committee for the Jewish Museum of Greece. They continue to work with other Greeks, and Jews worldwide, to combat any rise of anti-Semitism in Greece.
Crypto-Judaism existed also in earlier periods, whenever Jews were forced or pressured to convert to the majority religion by the rulers of places where they resided. Some of the Jewish followers of Sabbatai Zevi (Sabbateans) formally converted to Islam. Later followers of Jacob Frank ("Frankists") formally converted to Christianity, but maintained aspects of practice of their versions of Messianic Judaism.
Crypto-Jews persisted in Russia and Eastern European countries influenced by the Soviet Union after the rise of Communism with the Russian Revolution of 1917. The government, which included secular Communist Jews, did not force Jews to convert to the Russian Orthodox Church, but regarded practice of any religion as undesirable. Some faiths were allowed to continue under strict supervision by the regime. Since the end of Communism, many people in former Soviet states, including descendants of Jews, have publicly taken up the faith of their ancestors again.
The "Belmonte Jews" of Portugal, dating from the 12th century, maintained strong secret traditions for centuries. A whole community survived in secrecy by maintaining a tradition of endogamous marriage and hiding all external signs of their faith. They and their practices were discovered only in the 20th century. Their rich Sephardic tradition of Crypto-Judaism is unique. Some now profess Orthodox Judaism, although many still retain their centuries-old traditions.
Before the Spanish Inquisition
According to the Jewish Virtual Library, several incidents of forced conversions happened prior to 1492 and outside of Iberia. One of the earliest conversions happened a century after the Fall of Rome and was in Clermont-Ferrand. After a member of the Jewish community in Clermont-Ferrand became a Jewish Christian and was persecuted by other members of the community for doing so, the cavalcade in which he was marching persecuted his persecutors in turn:
The participants in the procession then made an attack "which destroyed [the synagogue] completely, razing it to the grounds." Subsequently, Bishop *Avitus directed a letter to the Jews in which he disclaimed the use of compulsion to make them adopt Christianity, but announced at the end of the missive: "Therefore if ye be ready to believe as I do, be one flock with us, and I shall be your pastor; but if ye be not ready, depart from this place." The community hesitated for three days before making a decision. Finally the majority, some 500, accepted Christianity. The Christians in Clermont greeted the event with rejoicing: "Candles were lit, the lamps shone, the whole city radiated with the light of the snow-white flock" (i.e., the forced converts). The Jews who preferred exile left for *Marseilles (Gregory of Tours, Histories, 5:11). The poet Venantius Fortunatus composed a poem to commemorate the occasion. In 582 the Frankish king Chilperic compelled numerous Jews to adopt Christianity. Again the anusim were not wholehearted in their conversion, for "some of them, cleansed in body but not in heart, denied God, and returned to their ancient perfidy, so that they were seen keeping the Sabbath, as well as Sunday" (ibid., 6:17).
Persistent attempts to enforce conversion were made in the seventh century by the Visigoths in Spain after they had adopted the Roman Catholic faith. Comparatively mild legal measures were followed by the harsh edict issued by King Sisibut in 616, ordering the compulsory baptism of all Jews. After conversion, however, the anusim evidently maintained their Jewish cohesion and religious life. It was undoubtedly this problem that continued to occupy Spanish sovereigns at the successive Councils of Toledo representing both the ecclesiastical and secular authorities...Thus, steps were taken to secure that the children of converts had a Christian religious education as well as to prevent the older generation from continuing to observe the Jewish rites or from failing to observe the Catholic ones. A system of strict supervision by the clergy over the way of life and movements of the anusim was imposed...
In the 12th century, Muslims in Al-Andalus) forced conversions of Jews to Islam. In the 13th century forced conversions took place in Italy, spreading as far as Apulia, where the Anusim Italqim assimilated to the point of not being recognized as Jewish. A later observer wrote: "[T]heir forefathers were Jews who adopted Christianity 150 years ago, rather from compulsion than of their own free will."
The Xueta (also known as Chueta) are a minority on the Balearic island of Majorca (Mallorca). They are descended almost entirely from crypto-Jews forced to convert in 1391. The term "xueta" literally translates to "pig" in Catalan, similar to the old Spanish (Castilian) term and marrano, both of the same meaning.
Today, they comprise a population of 20,000–25,000 on an island of 750,000. They have adhered to Roman Catholicism for centuries but have only recently seen a lessening in tensions with ethnic Majorcans. According to some Orthodox rabbis, the majority of Xuetes are probably Jewish under Jewish law (by descent from Jewish mothers) due to the low rate of intermarriage by these people with outside groups. Only recently have intermarriages between the two groups been more prevalent or noticeable.
Since the late 20th century, several Xuetes are reported to have "reconverted" to Judaism. Some have become rabbis.
Mediterranean and Asia
There have been several communities of Crypto-Jews in Muslim lands. The ancestors of the Daggatuns in Morocco are thought to have kept up their Jewish practices a long time after their nominal adoption of Islam. In Iran, a large community of Crypto-Jews lived in Mashhad, near Khorassan, where they were known as "Jedid al-Islam"; they were mass-converted to Islam around 1839 after the Allahdad events. Most of this community left for Israel in 1946. Some converted to Islam and live in Iran. In the central Iranian village of Sebe, local Muslims practice many Jewish customs, such as women lighting a candle on Friday night (the eve of the Jewish Sabbath). Before sundown on Friday, they prepare a small fire which they leave on throughout Saturday, so as not to ignite the fire on Sabbath.
Crypto-Judaism was documented chiefly in Spanish-held colonial territories in northern Mexico. Numerous conversos joined Spanish and Portuguese expeditions, believing there was economic opportunity in the new lands, and that they would have more freedom at a distance far from Iberia. Different situations developed in the early colonial period of Mexico, the frontier province of Nuevo León, and the later northern frontier provinces. The crypto-Jewish traditions have complex histories and are typically embedded in an amalgam of syncretic Roman Catholic and Judaic traditions. In many ways resurgent Judaic practices mirrored indigenous peoples' maintaining their traditions practiced loosely under Roman Catholic veil. In addition, Catholicism was syncretic, absorbing other traditions and creating a new creole religion.
Early colonial period—16th century
Some of the Sephardic Jews expelled from Spain went to Portugal, but in 1497 that country effectively converted all remaining 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 Spanish colonists began to use "Portuguese" as a synonym for "Jewish" for their settlers. Immigration to Mexico offered lucrative trade possibilities in a well-populated colony with nascent Spanish culture. Some migrants believed that this region would be more tolerant since the lands were overwhelmingly populated by non-Christian indigenous peoples and it was far removed from the metropole.
Colonial officials believed that many crypto-Jews were going to Mexico during the 16th century and complained in written documents to Spain that Spanish society in Mexico would become significantly Jewish. Officials found and condemned clandestine synagogues in Mexico City. At this point, colonial administrators instituted the Law of the Pure Blood, which prohibited migration to Mexico for New Christians (Cristiano Nuevo), i.e. anyone who could not prove to be Old Christians for at least the last three generations. In addition, the administration initiated the Mexican Inquisition to ensure the Catholic orthodoxy of all migrants to Mexico. The Mexico Inquisition was also deployed in the traditional manner to ensure orthodoxy of converted indigenous peoples. The first victims of burnings (or autos de fé) of the Mexican Inquisition were indigenous converts convicted of heresy or crypto-Jews convicted of relapsing into their ancestral faith.
Except for those allowed to settle the province of Nuevo Leon under an exemption from the Blood Purity Laws, the number of conversos migrating to the New World was reduced.
Nuevo León (1590s to early 17th century)
The colonization of New Spain took place as a northward expansion over increasingly harsh geography, in regions that were occupied by tribes angered at the encroachment; they formed loose confederations of indigenous peoples to resist the settlers. Spain financed the expansion by exploiting mineral wealth, enslaving or forcing indigenous peoples to labor in mines. It established encomiendas for raising livestock, thereby displacing the local people. The indigenous peoples of the North-Eastern quadrant of New Spain (Nueva España) proved particularly resistant to colonial pressures. The Chichimec, Apache, and other tribes resisted conversion to Christianity, and avoided being impressed as laborers or slaves on Spanish ranches and in mines. The Spanish believed such peoples made the frontier (frontera) a lawless region.
Luis Carvajal y de la Cueva, a royal accountant, was a Portuguese New Christian. He received a royal charter from the Spanish Crown to settle Nuevo León, a large expanse of land in the hostile frontier. Because of the dangers and difficulties of this region, Carvajal y de la Cueva received an exemption in his charter from the usual requirement that he prove that all new settlers were "Old Christians" ( of at least three generations) rather than recently converted Jews or Muslims. This exemption allowed people to go to Nuevo León who were legally barred from entering New Spain elsewhere. Carabajal was authorized to bring 100 soldiers and 60 laborers to New Spain; many have been documented as Crypto-Jews.
With Carabajal as governor, Monterrey was established as the center (now in the state of Nuevo León). Within a few years, some people reported to authorities in Mexico City that Jewish rites were being performed in the Northern Province and efforts to convert heathen indigenous peoples were lax. The principal economic activity of Carvajal and his associates seems to have been capturing Indians and selling them into slavery. Carvajal's Lieutenant Governor, Gaspar Castaño de Sosa, led a large expedition to New Mexico in 1591 in an effort to establish a colony. Castaño was arrested for this unauthorized expedition and sentenced to exile in the Philippines. The sentence was later reversed, but he had already been killed in the Molucca Islands when the Chinese slaves on his ship mutinied.
The governor, his immediate family members, and others of his entourage were called to appear before the Inquisition in Mexico City. They were arrested and jailed. The governor subsequently died in jail, prior to a sentence of exile. His niece Anna Carvajal had been tortured and implicated all the family in so-called charges. They were all executed by burning at the stake for relapsing into Judaism, except for one nephew who escaped arrest.
The governor's nephews changed their surname to Lumbroso. One of these was Joseph Lumbroso, also known as Luis de Carvajal el Mozo, who is said to have circumcised himself in the desert to conform to Jewish law. He committed suicide to avoid being burned at the stake. His memoirs, letters and inquisition record were preserved and are held in the archive. Two other nephews also changed their names to Lumbroso and migrated to Italy, where they became noted rabbis.
When Governor Carvajal was in office, the city of Monterrey became a destination for other crypto-Jews who wanted to escape the Mexican Inquisition in the south of the territory. Thus, Nuevo León and the founding of Monterrey are significant as they attracted crypto-Jewish migrants from all parts of New Spain. They created one of the earliest Jewish-related communities in Mexico. (The Jewish communities in modern Mexico, which practice their Judaism openly, were not established until the late 19th and early 20th centuries, after considerable immigration of Ashkenazy Jews from eastern Europe, and Mizrahi Jews from Turkey and Syria.)
Former New Spain territories in United States, 17th–18th centuries
Due to the Inquisition activities in Nuevo León, many crypto-Jewish descendants migrated to frontier colonies further west, using the trade routes passing through the towns of Sierra Madres Occidental and Chihuahua, Hermosillo and Cananea (Canaan), and to the north on the trade route to Paso del Norte (Juarez/El Paso) and Santa Fe (both cities in the colonial Province of New Mexico). Some even traveled to Alta California on the Pacific Coast.
In the late 20th century, in the modern-day Southwestern United States, which was former territory of New Spain, some Hispanic Roman Catholics have stated a belief, not supported by documentation, that they are descended from crypto-Jews of the colonial period. They often cite as evidence memories of older relatives practicing Jewish traditions. Most maintain their Christian faith.
Since the 1990s, the so-called crypto-Jews of New Mexico have been extensively studied and documented by several research scholars, including Stanley M. Hordes, Janet Liebman Jacobs, Schulamith Halevy, and Seth D. Kunin, who calls them Hispanos. Kunin noted that most of this group in New Mexico has not formally embraced Judaism nor joined the organized Jewish community.
There is little evidence for claims that Jewish traditions date from the historic colonial period. Folklorist Judith Neulander has expressed skepticism about the authenticity of these accounts, and other scholars have also questioned these claims, while acknowledging that for some people, identifying as partly Jewish may be part of their current perception of themselves. She argues that people could be referring to traditions of Ashkenazi Jews who immigrated to the Southwest, not to colonial Sephardim. She has suggested some such memories may be constructed, given attention to this history. She also argues that some Jewish traditions practiced by older relatives were introduced by groups of Evangelical Protestant Christians who purposely acquired and employed Jewish traditions as part of their religious practices to connect to the original church. Kunin responded to some of this criticism in his book Juggling Identities: Identity and Authenticity Among the Crypto-Jews. More recently, Evangelical Protestant Christians have opened missionary groups aimed at cultivating evangelical doctrine in Southwestern American communities where crypto-Judaism had survived. The highly influential Hordes has been charged with "single-minded speculation based on largely ephemeral or highly ambiguous evidence" for his conclusion that modern-day Hispanos who claim crypto-Jewish roots are heirs to an unbroken chain of transmission.
Genetic studies have been conducted on some Latinos in New Mexico. Michael Hammer, a research professor at the University of Arizona and an expert on Jewish genetics, said that fewer than 1% of non-Semites, but more than four times the entire Jewish population of the world, possessed the male-specific "Cohanim marker" (this is not carried by all Jews, but is prevalent among Jews claiming descent from hereditary priests). Some 30 of 78 Latinos tested in New Mexico (38.5%) were found to carry the Cohanim marker.
Other Y-DNA testing of Hispanic populations revealed between 10% and 15% of men living in New Mexico, south Texas and northern Mexico have a Y chromosome that can be traced to the Middle East. As noted above, these lineages are not limited to the Middle East; researchers say the data may also indicate that these men had ancient Phoenician or later North African ancestry (the latter influenced by Muslim migration from the Middle East and their descendants.) For instance, Muslim Tunisians also rank very high in terms of frequency of the Y- chromosome marker that is related to Cohanim. There could be a North African connection for this as well. Researchers note that there is no specific Jewish DNA marker. Given the extensive Moorish and Phoenician settlement in Spain, the Y-DNA of the Middle East does not indicate only Jewish ancestors.
In northern Mexico, Monterrey, the capital city of the state of Nuevo León, which shares a border with Texas, is said to contain descendants of Crypto-Jews. The church in Agualeguas, Nuevo León, Mexico has Star of David windows beneath the Christian cross atop the domed roof. The state of Jalisco has several cities with descendants of Anusim, mainly Guadalajara, Ciudad Guzmán, and Puerto Vallarta. These cities received numerous Ashkenazi Jews from Eastern Europe during the late 19th century and early to mid-20th century, as did Mexico City and Veracruz, who could account for some evidence of historical Jewish traditions.
In the Old Town area of Albuquerque, New Mexico, the San Felipe de Neri Catholic Church, built in 1793 to replace the original 1706 mission church, contains a Star of David on the left and right sides of the altar. Some observers believe that this is evidence of the influence of Crypto-Jews in New Mexico, but others think there is not enough to support that interpretation. Some people interpret certain symbols on cemetery headstones in Northern New Mexico as Jewish, alongside Catholic crosses, but scholars argue there is not enough evidence for this.
According to the Jewish Year Book, in 2007 there were about 40,000 Jews in Mexico, of Ashkenazi and Sephardi ancestry. Some researchers and historians believe that number would rise considerably if Anusim (or Crypto-Jews) were included in those estimates. But, since their maternal lines were not Jewish and they have not maintained Jewish practices, they do not meet requirements of Orthodox halakha as Jews.
Central and South America, the Caribbean
In the department of Antioquia, Colombia, as well as in the greater Paisa region, some families also hold traditions and oral accounts of Jewish descent. In this population, Y-DNA genetic analysis has shown an origin of male founders predominantly from "southern Spain but also suggest that a fraction came from northern Iberia and that some possibly had a Sephardic origin". Medellín has a tradition of the marranada, where a pig is slaughtered, butchered and consumed on the streets of every neighborhood each Christmas. This custom has been interpreted as an annual affirmation of the rejection of Jewish law.
A safe haven destination for Sephardic Conversos during the Spanish Colony was Santa Cruz de la Sierra. In 1557 many Crypto-Jews joined Ñuflo de Chávez and were among the pioneers who founded the city. During the 16th century several Crypto-Jews that faced persecution from the Inquisition and local authorities in nearby Potosí, La Paz and La Plata moved to Santa Cruz, as it was the most isolated urban settlement and because the Inquisition did not bother the Conversos there for this frontier town was meant to be a buffer to the Portuguese and Guaraní raids that threatened the mines of Peru. Several of them settled in the city of Santa Cruz and its adjacent towns of Vallegrande, Postrervalle, Portachuelo, Terevinto, Pucarà, Bolivia, Cotoca and others.
Several of the oldest Catholic families in Santa Cruz are of Jewish ancestry on the paternal side; some practice certain traditions of Judaism. As recent as the 1920s, several families preserved seven-branched candle sticks and served dishes cooked with reminiscing kosher practices. It is still customary among certain old families to light candles on Friday at sunset and to mourn the deaths of close relatives by sitting on the floor. After almost five centuries, some of the descendants of these families acknowledge Jewish ancestry, but practice Catholicism.
Some Crypto-Jews established in the outskirts of San José, Costa Rica since the 16th century. They passed as Catholics in public and practiced their Jewish rituals in privacy. In the town of Itzkazú (modern day Escazú), some Crypto-Jewish families did not maintain secrecy. Locals started to associate their rituals and unintelligible prayers in Hebrew as witchcraft. Since then, Escazú has been known in Costa Rican folklore as the ¨city of the witches¨.
In Peru, conversos arrived at the time of the Spanish Conquest. At first, they had lived without restrictions because the Inquisition was not active there at the beginning of the Viceroyalty. Then, with the advent of the Inquisition, New Christians began to be persecuted, and, in some cases, executed. In this period, these people were sometimes called "marranos", converts ("conversos"), and "cristianos nuevos" (New Christians), even if they had been reared as Catholics. The descendants of these Colonial Sephardic Jewish descent converts to Christianity settled mainly in the north of the Andes and of the high jungle of Peru, where they married local women and became assimilated.
In addition to these communities, Roman Catholic-professing communities descended from male Crypto-Jews are said to exist in the Dominican Republic, Cuba, Jamaica, Puerto Rico and in various other Spanish-speaking countries of South America, such as Argentina, Venezuela, Chile and Ecuador. From these communities comes the proverb, "Catholic by faith, Jewish by blood".
All the above localities were former territories of either the Spanish or Portuguese Empires, where the Inquisition eventually followed and continued investigating Crypto-Jews who had settled there. The Inquisition endured longer in the colonies than it had in Spain.
- Dona Gracia Mendes Nasi was a 16th-century international banker who created an escape network that saved thousands of Crypto-Jews from the Inquisition. She was also a patron of (Jewish) writers, and a diplomat on behalf of her people. She attempted to start a modern state of Israel.
- Luis de Carvajal was the governor of the state of Nuevo León, a northern Mexico province in which the restriction against immigration from conversos was relaxed in order to encourage settlement of this unstable frontier area. He accepted numerous crypto-Jewish conversos who had been living in Portugal since the Expulsion of 1492.
- Luis de Carvajal el Mozo, a nephew of Jose Luis Carvajal y de la Cueva, is the only known crypto-Jew of the Spanish colonial era whose memoirs have been preserved.
- Antonio Fernandez Carvajal was a Portuguese merchant in London; "like other Marranos in London, Carvajal prayed at the Catholic chapel of the Spanish ambassador, while simultaneously playing a leading role in the secret Jewish community, which met at the clandestine synagogue at Creechurch Lane."
- Author Miguel de Cervantes may have been a crypto-Jew or of crypto-Jewish descent.
- Roderigo Lopez, a converso who fled from Portugal to England and became physician to Queen Elizabeth I, may have been a Crypto-Jew.
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- Levine Melammed, Renee. "Women in Medieval Jewish Societies," in Women and Judaism: New Insights and Scholarship. Ed. Frederick E. Greenspahn. New York: New York University Press, 2009. 105-106.
- See David M. Gitlitz, Secrecy and Deceit: The Religion of the Crypto-Jews (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2002).
- For the Portuguese conversos in Rome see James Novoa, Being the Nação in the Eternal City: New Christian Lives in Sixteenth-Century Rome (Peterborough: Baywolf Press, 2014): http://books.google.ca/books?id=KcFMBAAAQBAJ
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Not all of those who left Iberia were 'unconverted', which is to say that not all of the ethnic Jews who chose exile over commitment to their homeland led secret lives in the faith of their forebears. ... Some recovered their Judaism in exile; some continued to live in their Christian faith. It is not absolutely clear among which of the aforementioned groups we should place Dr Roderigo Lopez.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
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- Gitlitz, David. Secrecy and Deceit: The Religion of the Crypto-Jews, Albuquerque, NM: University of New Mexico Press, 2002
The Forgotten Diaspora
- Resources > Medieval Jewish History > Expulsion from Spain and The Anusim The Jewish History Resource Center, Project of the Dinur Center for Research in Jewish History, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
- The Story of Secret and Forcibly Converted Jews
- Luis Carvajal's 400th Yartzheit
- Society for Crypto Judaic Studies
- History of the Jews in Greece
- Crypto Jews/Anusim Resources
- Shavei Israel - a group that helps our lost brethren return
- Beth HaDerech - Returning to Judaism
- Chavura Zohar Yisrael-Crypto Jewish Outreach