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The road to the modern age of cultural harmony and acceptance is one of the finest feats of human progress, but having said that, there was once a time when the mere doubt of a religious figure's existence was not only punishable by law, it could very well cost a man his life. This was the crime of heresy. This kind of religious persecution has been around for thousands of years, and Christians were often the victims, but when the Catholic Church began its rapid expansion throughout Europe during the Middle Ages, the tables were turned. In 1184, Pope Lucius III issued a papal bull that would kick off a long-standing tradition of heretic-hunting, and as a result, the Age of the Inquisitions commenced.  

By the end of the 14th century, the distrust and prejudice against Jewish communities quickly spread to Spain. In 1391, James II of Aragon boarded the bandwagon; backed into a corner by the Roman Catholic Church, he established a law that banned Jews from Spain altogether. Jews were shunned in droves, and the remaining were given an ultimatum to either convert/revert to Catholicism or face immediate death. Yet another wave of gory pogroms ensued across the country, especially in Barcelona. For nearly 400 years, the city of Barcelona had served as the central hub of the European Jewish communities, but in just 3 years, all 23 Jewish synagogues in Barcelona had been forcibly demolished. Nothing but charred remnants and ashes lay in its place. 

Converso was the term given to any individual of Jewish or Muslim faith who had been converted to Catholicism. While some conversos were coerced into the conversion, others, like ha-Levi, willingly converted. This was a label given not only to the generation of the converted, it was also inherited by their children and descendants as well. Conversos prided themselves on being a new generation of Christians. Although they were of Jewish descent, they embraced the “true” Catholic religion. There were even those who claimed that the conversos had a deeper connection with God and were simply better than the “Old Christians.” According to the conversos, as Jews, they were related by blood to Christ. 

When the Spanish Inquisition was in full swing, the inquisitors' handbooks included tips and guidelines on how to identify a rogue Jewish converso, or as others mocked them, the “crypto-Jews.” Inquisitors were on the lookout for individuals who did their cooking and cleaning on Friday nights, which was a Jewish habit. These relapsos frequented local Jewish stores to stock up on kosher meals. The latter individuals were fairly easy to spot, as most Spaniards at the time consumed hearty amounts of pork, a staple prohibited in Jewish and Muslim law. The absence of chimney smoke on Saturday nights was another clue that those inside could be honoring the Sabbath. 

Nonetheless, the “crypto-Jews” would continue to secretly practice their religion and run the risk of incurring the Inquisition’s wrath, all the way up until the notorious expulsion of the Jews in Spain at the end of the 15th century. The Crypto-Jews: The History of the Forcibly Converted Jews Who Secretly Practiced Judaism During the Inquisition examines the origins of the group, the laws that discriminated against them, and the efforts to maintain Jewish identity in Spain. You will learn about the crypto-Jews like never before.

©2020 Charles River Editors (P)2020 Charles River Editors

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