Wednesday, April 2, 2014


A secret seder [source]
Yesterday I alluded to a third option available to persecuted Jews in the Middle Ages who were forced into the choice between conversion to Christianity and expulsion from there home country. The un-offered third choice was to publicly choose conversion but privately maintain the practices of Judaism. One modern term for those who chose this way is "Crypto-Jews."

There were a few terms for Jews who remained in Spain after the Alhambra Decree or in Portugal after its decree of expulsion.
  • Christianos Nuevos ["New Christians"]
  • conversos ["Converted"]
  • ...and the derogatory Marranos
Marranos is a racist term: it means "pig" and was used to describe both Jews and Muslims whose dietary practices forbade eating pork. Conversion to Christianity did not remove the social stigma of being an "outsider" or "inferior," and Jewish converts who stayed in their home countries on the Iberian Peninsula were still treated poorly.

This explains why the Lisbon Massacre could happen in 1506: even years after Jews should have been gone from Portugal, evidence could be found of Jewish religious practices—or simple suspicion that conversos were not sincere—that stirred a mob to violence.

Marranos could have a difficult time even if they finally left Portugal and joined Jewish communities:
Even though the rabbis of [those] times had decreed that Marranos be accepted and taken back into the community, Jews outside of Spain had very little sympathy for the Marranos. For many generations, people would not even marry into their families or treat them as Jewish — mostly out of resentment that when the moment of truth came they opted to convert rather than take upon themselves the privation of exile. [source]
In Belmonte, Portugal, a community of Jews survived for centuries, intermarrying to keep families Jewish and hiding every outward sign of their faith. The "Belmonte Jews" returned openly to Judaism in 1970 and opened a synagogue in 1996.

1 comment:

  1. Some Jews who remained in England after the 1290 expusion masqueraded as Lombards, who were Christians allowed to lend money at high rates (usury). It seems some Christians, including Grey Friars, were tacitly sympathetic to the Jews and detested sadistic zealots who used Christianity as a means to power, wealth and control.