Hispanics Uncovering Roots as Inquisition's 'Hidden' Jews

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It is difficult to know precisely how many Hispanics are converting or adopting Jewish religious practices, but accounts of such embraces of Judaism are growing more common in parts of the Southwest.

These conversions are the latest chapter in the story of the crypto-Jews, or hidden Jews, of the southwestern United States and northern Mexico, who are thought to be descended from the Sephardic Jews who began fleeing Spain more than 500 years ago. The story is being bolstered by recent historical research and advances in DNA testing that are said to reveal a prominent role played by crypto-Jews and their descendants in Spain's colonization of the Southwest.

For more than two decades, anecdotal evidence collected by researchers in New Mexico, Colorado and Texas suggested that some nominally Catholic families of Iberian descent had stealthily maintained Jewish customs throughout the centuries, including lighting candles on Friday evening, avoiding pork and having the Star of David inscribed on gravestones.

The whispers of hidden rituals coming from thoroughly Catholic communities were at times met with skepticism. One explanation for these seemingly Jewish customs was that evangelical Protestant sects active in the Southwest about a century ago had used Jewish imagery and Hebrew writing in their proselytizing, and that these symbols had become ingrained in isolated Hispanic communities.

Skepticism aside, some rabbis view assistance to or conversions of crypto-Jews as a responsibility. "The American Jewish community provided support in bringing Soviet, Albanian or Syrian Jews to the United States, and helping them in their transition," said Rabbi Leon of Congregation B'nai Zion, a Conservative congregation in El Paso. "I don't see how the crypto-Jews are any different."

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Juan Antonio Hervada Gim?nez - 10/31/2005

When it comes to the Spanish crypto-Jews in the Americas, a very interesting case is that of Giménez de Quesada, conquistador of Nueva Granada (nowadays Colombia) who called his first establishment Torah...

In fact, tradition has it that many crypto-jews migrated to the Indias because the lax inquisitorial standards there. Mexico and Nueva Granada are said to be the destination of choice.

Another (apalling) case, this one in Spain itself, where the Inquisition was much more effective than in the Americas, is the Chueta community in the Spanish Mediterranean island of Majorca, who continued to practise Judaism underground from the 15th century until they came into the open in the 1920s Many taxi drivers in Majorca used to be Chuetas.

One must undestand that Spain (Sepharad in Hebrew) was about one third Jewish in the 15th century and there was a lot of influence (both ways) between Christians and Jews. Very often in old Spanish (Catholic)churches you will have the Star of David prominently displayed. To my knowledge it's the only case in Europe. Check, for instance the following link to a oicture of the marvelous Burgos cathedral in Old Castilia: