Abq & Crypto-Jewry
History, Terminology, Today, Responses, Resources
Rosa de Castilla, Diana Bryer
Inquisition was established in Spain in 1481. In March 1492, King
Ferdinand and Queen Isabella issued the Edict of Expulsion, expelling
all Jews from Spain. By July 31, 1492, Jews (who wished to remain Jews)
were forced to flee.
Columbus had, by then, voyaged to the New World. The fourth corner of the earth began to open up.
Spanish colonization of Mexico began about 1520
- and Mexico appeared a logical place to flee. But in 1571, when the
Inquisition set itself up in Mexico City, the Sephardim fled as far as
they could go and still speak Spanish - to New Mexico, the final
frontier, the last outpost of Iberian civilization in the New World.
Crypto-Judaism is the secret adherence to Judaism while publicly professing to be of another faith; practitioners are referred to as "Crypto-Jews." The term Crypto-Jew is also used to describe descendents who maintain some Jewish traditions of their ancestors, often secretly, while publicly adhering to other faiths, most commonly, Catholicism.
A Spanish (or Portuguese) Jew who converted outwardly to Christianity under the pressure of the Inquisition in order to avoid persecution or expulsion, though often continuing to practice Judaism in secret.
A term of disparagement and abuse applied to Conversos and their descendants. The origin of the word marrano is uncertain, although it appears to come from the Spanish word for pig.
A term used to refer to Iberian Jews (and Muslims) who converted to Roman Catholicism, and their known baptized descendants. The term was introduced by the Old Christians of Iberia who wanted to distinguish themselves from the Conversos (Converts).
A term describing persons forced to convert from Judaism to another religion. When such events occurred, the Jewish converts tried retaining their heritage by attempting in secret to teach the children their ancestral beliefs and practices.
Anecdotal / Family Evidence
In the beginning, there were only stories. Someone whose grandmother lit candles every Friday night. Someone whose family never ate pork. Someone whose mother cleaned the house on Friday afternoons. Or someone whose mother had whispered: "We are Jews. Don't tell your brothers I told you."
Then, in the 1980s, Dr Stanley M Hordes started to investigate some of these stories - and found many of them believable. He did more research, and slowly came to believe that descendants of Conversos and Anusim were indeed part of the mix of peoples and cultures that make up New Mexico.
When Dr Hordes began to publish the results of his research, he found support and trust among those he had interviewed - which enabled him to continue his research. He also found criticism and alternative theories to explain the sociological phenomena he had uncovered. The science of sociology showed Dr Hordes to be right - but the surprise of finding descendants of Conversos and Anusim 500 years after the Expulsion left some with lingering doubt.
That doubt began to dissipate in the 1990s, when records of the Spanish Inquisition became open to the public. Now, in addition to the stories - we had the names, the lineages, the family trees. For the first time, it became possible to find out if the stories one had been told had documentation to support them. And very often they did.
To take but one example: the University of Notre Dame's Harley L. McDevitt Inquisition Collection.
The Collection consists of several hundred items, from printed volumes to unique manuscripts and images ... [which] may be divided into seven major categories: Inquisitorial manuals (32 items); Trials and sentencing documents (22 items); Autos de fe (50 items); Censorship documents (145 items); Familiars and officials documents (57 items); Policies and proceedings documents (73 items); Polemics and histories (71 items).The Collection and its website - whose goal is "to stimulate and facilitate further exploration of inquisition history by familiarizing new generations with its extremely rich yet challenging documentary legacy" - are an invaluable, but not unique - resource for students and researchers.
Because of these newly public records, the stories that Dr Hordes heard in the 1980s became more than stories in the 1990s. They became evidence.
Any remaining doubts about Conversos and Anusim in New Mexico and the American Southwest were even further diminished in the 2000s, when DNA research and DNA testing became available.
First, specifically Jewish genetic markers ( such as the marker for kohanim, members of the Jewish priestly clan) began turning up among the Hispanic community. More ominously, disease-associated genetic mutations thought to only occur among Jews were also discovered among Hispanics.
Again, to take but one example: the 185delAG mutation of the BRCA gene in Jewish women, the mutation implicated in breast cancer. Until recently this mutation was thought to be associated with Ashkenazi women only, but now it has been identified in women of Sephardic heritage, "los judios" of San Luis Valley in Southern Colorado.
Abq Jew reported a similar story in his blog post A Hidden Heritage: A Mixed Blessing.
Responses of the Crypto-Jewish Community
The responses of the Crypto-Jewish community to these discoveries range over a wide spectrum and depend upon two significant variables.
The first variable is awareness.
- On one end of the spectrum are those Crypto-Jews who were told about their heritage and were aware of Jewish practices within their own household - although, in many cases, these were viewed as simply "the way our family does things."
- On the other end of the spectrum are those Crypto-Jews who were not told and did not know of their Jewish background, who may or may not have participated in or observed Jewish practices, even within their own household.
- In the middle are those Crypto-Jews who knew they were different - but couldn't put the pieces of the puzzle together until they were told about their Jewish background or discovered it for themselves.
The second variable is acceptance.
- On one end of the spectrum are those Crypto-Jews who embrace their Jewish roots and attempt to incorporate some aspect of Jewish religious belief and practice into their own lives.
- On the other end of the spectrum are those Crypto-Jews who reject their Jewish roots or are troubled by them, and are unable to incorporate any aspect of Jewish religious belief or practice into their own lives.
- In the middle are those Crypto-Jews who view their Jewish background as an interesting but largely inconsequential relic of their past.
There is no typical scenario - but between the two ends of each spectrum, there are a lot of Crypto-Jews in New Mexico.
Responses of the Mainstream Jewish Community
responses of the mainstream Jewish community to these discoveries range
over a wide spectrum and depend upon one significant variable: adherence to normative Jewish practice.
one end of the spectrum are those mainstream Jews who adhere strictly to normative Jewish practice and law (halacha) - for whom Crypto-Jews must prove their Jewish matrilineal descent (or formally convert to Judaism) before being accepted into the Jewish world.
the other end of the spectrum are those mainstream Jews who
do not adhere to normative Jewish practice and law (halacha) - for
whom Crypto-Jews have no need to prove their Jewish matrilineal descent (or convert) before
being accepted into the Jewish world.
the middle are those mainstream Jews who
adhere to liberal Jewish practice and law (halacha) - for
whom Crypto-Jews may have no need to prove their Jewish matrilineal descent (or convert), but must, in some way, demonstrate their commitment and return to Judaism before
being accepted into the Jewish world.
Society for Crypto Judaic Studies
333 Washington Blvd #336 Marina Del Rey, CA 90292 http://cryptojews.com
The Society for Crypto Judaic Studies was founded August 1990 by Rabbi Joshua Stampfer, Rabbi Emeritus of Congregation Neve Shalom of Portland Oregon; and Dr Stanley Hordes of the University of New Mexico.
The Society fosters research and networking of information and ideas. It meets formally once a year to discuss the history, culture, and research of the Crypto-Jews.
Dr Stanley M Hordes: To the End of the Earth
In 1981, while working as New Mexico State Historian, Stanley M. Hordes began to hear stories of Hispanos who lit candles on Friday night and abstained from eating pork. Puzzling over the matter, Hordes realized that these practices might very well have been passed down through the centuries from early crypto-Jewish settlers in New Spain. After extensive research and hundreds of interviews, Hordes concluded that there was, in New Mexico and the Southwest, a Sephardic legacy derived from the converso community of Spanish Jews.
In To the End of the Earth, Hordes explores the remarkable story of crypto-Jews and the tenuous preservation of Jewish rituals and traditions in Mexico and New Mexico over the past five hundred years. He follows the crypto-Jews from their Jewish origins in medieval Spain and Portugal to their efforts to escape persecution by migrating to the New World and settling in the far reaches of the northern Mexican frontier.
Seth D Kunin: Juggling Identities
Juggling Identities is an extensive ethnography of the crypto-Jews who live deep within the Hispanic communities of the American Southwest.
Critiquing scholars who challenge the cultural authenticity of these individuals, Seth D Kunin builds a solid link between the crypto-Jews of New Mexico and their Spanish ancestors who secretly maintained their Jewish identity after converting to Catholicism, offering the strongest evidence yet of their ethnic and religious origins.
Abq Jew Warning: This is a scholarly work, compelling and comprehensive, yet not an easy read.
Cary Herz: New Mexico's Crypto-Jews
While photographing the Congregation Montefiore Cemetery in Las Vegas, New Mexico, in 1985, Cary Herz first heard whispers about "the other people."
Thus began a twenty-year search for descendants of crypto-Jews, the Sephardic Jews who were forced to convert to Catholicism during the Spanish and Portuguese Inquisitions centuries ago. Many openly professed Catholicism, but continued to practice the Jewish faith privately.
Jeff Wheelwright: The Wandering Gene and the Indian Princess
The Wandering Gene is a " brilliant and emotionally resonant exploration of science and family history." A vibrant young Hispano woman, Shonnie Medina, inherits a breast-cancer mutation known as BRCA1.185delAG. It is a genetic variant characteristic of Jews. The Medinas knew they were descended from Native Americans and Spanish Catholics, but they did not know that they had Jewish ancestry as well.
Robert Lewis Presents Dr Stanley M Hordes @ KUNM 89.9 FM @ 26 June 2011
Lewis hosted a radio program on Crypto Judaism, featuring Dr Stanley M
Hordes, Adjunct Professor at the University of New Mexico and author of To the End of the Earth. The
program also featured Rudy Rodriguez, whose later-in life-discovery
that he had Jewish roots put him on a life-altering path. You can listen to the podcast here.
New Mexico’s Conversos and Crypto-Jews @ Road Scholar
Road Scholar (formerly Elderhostel) regularly offers New Mexico’s Conversos and Crypto-Jews,
a travel (or commuter) program about the many Jews who fled to New
Spain in the New World and secretly practiced their religion after being
driven out of Spain in 1492. The tour visits Old Town Albuquerque,
Acoma Pueblo, Santa Fe, Chimayo, and other sites that have a connection
to the Converso and Crypto Jewish culture in New Mexico. Independent journalist and lecturer Norma Libman, Instructor.
The Dona Gracia Project
The Dona Gracia Project was created in the spring of 2010 to commemorate the 500th anniversary year of the birth of Dona Gracia.
Who was Dona Gracia? She was a 16th century Jewish woman, born a conversa (belonging to a group otherwise known as anousim or Crypto-Jews) who fought to save thousands of Jewish lives during the time of the Inquisition - and also made a significant attempt to start a modern state of Israel.
It is the mission of the Dona Gracia Project to bring global recognition and honor to the memory of this relatively unknown woman, who is among the greatest women leaders of the Jewish world. Through multi-disciplinary activities, the Dona Gracia Project promotes the legacy of her leadership and business acumen, her commitment to her faith, and her sense of responsibility to those in need.
(505) 792-4322 Jewish Albuquerque Your guide to Jewish life in Albuquerque and beyond Jewish New Mexico info at abqjew.com