New Mexicos Crypto-Jews: Image and Memory

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NM In Focus - Story of the Jews

Return to Book Page. Ori Z. Soltes Foreword.

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Cary Herz Photographer. Many openly professed Catholicism, but continued to practice the Jewish faith privately.

Herz's photographs and the accompanying essays honor the people whose ancestors, through families' oral histories and genealogical records, knew about their heritage. Other New Mexican Hispanics have recently begun to explore their families' customs and are only beginning to examine their possible blended lineage. To help complete her exploration, Herz sought out symbols--gravesites, artifacts, and icons--that might point toward the presence of the descendants of crypto-Jews who came to the New World.

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Crypto-Jews in New Mexico

More Details Friend Reviews. To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up. To ask other readers questions about New Mexico's Crypto-Jews , please sign up. There were those Jews who took upon themselves the Roman Catholic faith. Some, conversos, were serious and accepted their imposed conversion. Others accepted Catholicism, only to become disillusioned with their new religion. Then there were the "Jews in secret," crypto-Jews, who outwardly behaved according to Christian norms but privately adhered to Jewish traditions.

As new territories opened up, many Jews felt they could flee government dictates by immigrating to the New World. They were wrong!

The hard hand of compliance dictated religious policy in the Spanish colonies, in most cases well into the 19 th century. Colonial Mexico is an example of religious intolerance. Historical lore relates that several conversos accompanied Hernan Cortes in There is insufficient documentation to reach a definitive conclusion about the veracity of these claims, but what is provable is that by there were enough conversos and crypto-Jews in Mexico to justify the establishment of a local Tribunal of the Inquisition to seek out those practicing Judaism in secret. The Tribunal pursed its mandate with zeal.

By the mid th century some residents of Mexico were tried for observing Jewish rites in private.


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Punishment ranged from prison sentences to death tied to a burning stake. Some conversos and crypto-Jews sought safety in the relative anonymity of rural Mexico. Luis de Carvajal, the grandson of a converso , fled northward to today's province of Nuevo Leon, and in he became governor.

Distance and government position guaranteed no protection. In he was sentenced for crypto-Jewish practice, and even though he repented his sin of deviance from the Catholic faith, he was sentenced to prison, where he died during the following year. How many conversos and crypto-Jews fled northward to escape the Inquisition?

Crypto Jews

Why certain Hebraic first names, which are so prevalent in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries not only in the American Southwest but also in Latin America and for that matter in New England , indicate Jewish roots? Why is the four-sided top, similar to the central-European Ashkenazi dreidel, considered Jewish when, as Judith Neulander persuasively argues, 4 it appears in so many other cultures around the world but is not documented in colonial America? There are credible alternative explanations for each of these phenomena, but this book does not allude to them.

Beyond this, the book is marred by several imprecisions and assumptions of questionable credibility.

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Two examples: Herz defines conversos as "those forced to convert to the Catholic faith during the Spanish and Portuguese [End Page ] Inquisitions" p. In fact, most conversions occurred between and the summer of , after which no unconverted Jews legally remained in Spain and the Inquisition in Spain lasted from to The book also asserts that the hidden Jews "came to the New World looking for freedom and survival" Herz, p. Yet perhaps these quibbles do not matter very much in the face of depth of commitment of New Mexico's self-identified crypto-Jews.

As Herz writes, these people are serious about their Jewish identity, and "their commitment to their hidden roots should not be taken lightly" p. More interesting than the question of the historical validity of those claims are questions like these: How does this mantle of Jewish identity function for these individuals, and how does it relate to the Hispanic Catholic culture from which they emerge? Why has much of the American Jewish community Project MUSE promotes the creation and dissemination of essential humanities and social science resources through collaboration with libraries, publishers, and scholars worldwide.

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