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Special Issue on Crypto-Judaism: Editor's Introduction Special Issue on Crypto-Judaism Schulamith C. Halevy It is impossible to comprehend the full Jewish experience in Iberia without a historical background that includes the antiquity ofthe community, the role it played throughout Spain's history, and its cultural contributions during the Golden Age. The destruction of the Sephardic community, the earlier forced conversions under the Almohads, the increasing persecutions during the Reconquista, and most important, the forced conversion in Portugal ofhalfthe exiles ofSpain alongside all ofPortugal's Jewry, are integral to an understanding ofthe survival ofIberian crypto-Judaism until the close of the millennium. Although the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492 is generally taught in Jewish schools, the context and magnitude of the catastrophe are never fully transmitted . The scene ofuntold thousands ofJews, many exiledjust a few years earlier from Spain-after having paid ransom for a promise ofreligious freedom, many having had their children kidnapped by the Church, arriving at the shores ofLisbon to leave for yet another unknown destination and finding no boat to embark-no way out of forced Christianity-is not engraved in our collective memory and its consequences are therefore hard to evaluate. The experience is taught as a single event that befell a particular, "other" diaspora, rather than as a fundamental trauma ofour people and the destruction of the pinnacle of Jewish culture. Though surviving Jewish heritage or a sense of Jewish identity is still present among countless descendants ofthe Iberian tragedy the world over, and despite the fact that there have been sporadic reports in the media since the early l800s, popular awareness of contemporary crypto-Judaism is limited primarily to Belmonte, Portugal and to New Mexico, and its significance underrated. The literature available in English remains scant and much ofit anecdotal or amateur. Were this chapter ofJewish history not absent from our memory, it might have come as less of a surprise that assimilation under the Inquisition was not total. In fact, the Jews ofthe Iberian peninsula preserved many vestiges of their identity for centuries. Many descendents of the forced converts now seek a fuller truth and wish to make a conscious choice about their future. As recently as fifty years ago, it was possible to live in relative isolation from the world, rear a family or a community sheltered from others. Many places, even in the U.S., were not accessible by paved roads; expanded families stayed together. Today, the world has been revolutionized with the advent ofmass communication and super-transportation. At this unique bridge oftime, communication within families is diminishing, sometimes 2 SHOFAR Fall 1999 Vol. 18, No. I because grandchildren no longer have a language in common with their grandparents, other times because they no longer live in the same region, nor have they the same respect for elders. On the other hand, exposure to the world at large provides a new context in which individuals must evaluate the nature of the system of beliefs and practices inculcated in them in childhood, and compare it against the norms ofothers. The resources available via the Internet make it possible to learn in private and inquire in anonymity from afar. This issue of Shofar deals with crypto-Judaism, especially its contemporary manifestations, a field still in its burgeoning stage. It was not long ago that skepticism outweighed emerging evidence as to a continued survival of a Jewish heritage among descendents of the anusim, the persons forcibly converted in the course of the Christianization of the Iberian peninsula. By now this phenomenon finds itself increasingly represented in major conferences where work in progress is shared. But the field is nascent and is unfolding with difficulty. Additional scholarly work is required to properly understand this subculture, its prevalence among New-Christians both during the Inquisition and after its abolishment in the early nineteenth century, the nature of crypto-Jewish religiosity and identity, attitudes of anusim towards the dominant religion, which Jewish customs have been preserved and why, the manner of transmission, and the art and literature of anusim. Also of interest are the reasons for remaining secretive after the granting of religious freedom, how the anusim perceive normative Judaism...


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