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CHAPTER 9 Jewish Women in the New World: From the First Settlement until 1900 OVERVIEW In 1492, a sailor from Genoa named Christopher Columbus set sail for "The Indies"! and discovered a new world. Shortly after, Jews began arriving . Most were Sephardim who had originated in Spain and Portugal, where they had lived as Christians but secretly practiced Judaism. Others came via Amsterdam, a city that had become a haven for Spanish-Jewish exiles in the sixteenth century. Columbus left Spain on the last day that Jews were allowed to live there. Included among his crew were many conversos / and it is probable that other participants in the Spanish and Portuguese exploration of the Americas were New Christians, probably crypto-Jews (Marranos) as well.3 Not long after Christopher Columbus's discovery of the New World, Spain claimed the lands that are now the southwestern United States, Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean Islands, and all of South America except for Brazil, an area controlled by Portugal. Because the main purpose of developing these new territories was trade and commerce, it is not surprising that the first Jews to arrive in the Western Hemisphere were merchants and traders. Records kept by the Spanish Inquisition give further evidence of early Jewish settlement in the lands of New Spain. The Jews of New Spain From 1541 Judaism was practiced openly in New Spain, although there was no official Jewish community. Then in 1571, the Church inaugurated 237 238 The JPS Guide to Jewish Women the Inquisition in the New World as well. Between 1589 and 1605, the officials of the Inquisition waged a relentless war against "judaizers," the New Christians and their descendants suspected of secretly following Jewish traditions.4 Judaizing behavior might be deduced from the most basic activities, such as wearing a clean shirt or refusing to light a fire or work on the Sabbath, abstaining from food or drink on the Day of Atonement, blessing a cup of wine before drinking, washing the hands before eating, and especially , refusing to eat pork. In a repetition of the horrors perpetrated in Europe (see chapters 4-6), those who were convicted of the crime of judaizing were burned at the stake at public events called autos-de-fe (acts of faith). One auto-da-fe occurred in 1596, and among its victims were the women from the de Carvajal family. The Inquisition remained active throughout the seventeenth century, not only in Mexico, but in parts of South America as well. Nevertheless, New Christians continued to be attracted to these territories, partly because the familiar culture and language of Spain and Portugal had preceded them. The economic and social opportunities in the new lands were also a significant inducement to emigrate. In Peru, Bolivia, and Mexico some were involved in silver mining. In Argentina and Chile individual Jews became farmers or merchants. Most of these crypto-Jews assimilated completely, but the long hand of the Church continued to search for them. When found, they were convicted and punished in a variety of ways. Records show that forty-six women were condemned to work as charwomen for five years as penance for the crime of judaizing.5 By 1700, however, there was no one in all of New Spain who was openly practicing Judaism. Some, fleeing north across the Rio Grande River to less inhabited lands far from the reach of the Church, managed to evade the Inquisition. They maintained some of their crypto-Jewish practices but, for the most part, forgot their origins. The open practice of Judaism did not appear in Mexico until the mid1800s , some twenty-five years after Mexican independence. The first organized congregations developed in 1885. The Jews of Brazil Jews initially came to Brazil from the Netherlands. They were part of a group of merchants, both Christian and Jewish, who had founded the Dutch West India Company. In 1630, when the Dutch conquered a large part of Brazil including Recife (originally a Portuguese penal colony), there was relative tolerance in that territory and Jews tentatively began to practice their religion.6 In 1637 a small group of Brazilian merchants, including nine with Jewish or Marrano names, signed a petition request- Jewish Women in the New World 239 ing freedom to trade. From that year, there is evidence that Jewish refugees began to arrive from Hungary, Poland, Turkey, and Germany, as well as Spain, Portugal, and Holland. The years from 1637 to 1654 were a period of prosperity for...


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