Religion & Beliefs

Crypto-marrano-converso-Jews

Not too long ago I met my first converso.  This guy was not just descended from conversos on one side of his family… he had recently discovered that BOTH parents came from converso families.  How crazy is that?  What are … Read More

By / February 6, 2007

Not too long ago I met my first converso.  This guy was not just descended from conversos on one side of his family… he had recently discovered that BOTH parents came from converso families.  How crazy is that?  What are the chances?

I mean, these families had 500 years to lose all remnants of their Judaism, but didn't.  Their candlesticks and challah (or whatever) had survived FIVE centuries of assimilation, intermarriage, political pressure (which is more than a lot of us can say).  I met this gentleman at a synagogue where he was undergoing the formal conversion process, learning the background of his families.

I came home from the visit very touched by his story, but when I went online to learn more about conversos, I discovered there's very little.  But if you look up the alternate term, Marranos, you find a little more, despite the fact that it translates into "Pigs."  Which is upsetting, that word we use most often is also the most offensive.  But in case you want to know more…

The Marranos and their descendants may be divided into four categories.

The first of these were those that legitimately converted to Christianity, whether for expedience or faith, we will never know, but who since their conversion considered themselves Christian, and raised their families as such. These were called "New Christians" or "Conversos."

The second category is composed of those who, most likely devoid of any real affection for Judaism and indifferent to every form of religion, embraced the opportunity of exchanging their oppressed condition as Jews for the careers opened to them by acceptance of Christianity. They simulated the Christian faith when it was to their advantage, and often mocked Jews and Judaism.

A number of Spanish poets belong to this category, such as Pero Ferrus, Juan de Valladolid, Rodrigo Cota, and Juan de España of Toledo, called also "El Viejo" (the old one), who was considered a sound Talmudist, and who, like the monk Diego de Valencia, himself a baptized Jew, introduced in his pasquinades Hebrew and Talmudic words to mock the Jews. There were also many who, for the sake of displaying their new zeal, persecuted their former coreligionists, writing books against them, and denouncing to the authorities those who wished to return to the faith of their fathers, as happened frequently at Valencia, Barcelona, and many other cities (Isaac b. Sheshet, Responsa, No. 11).

The third category consists of those who held to the Jewish faith in which they had been reared. These were known as "Judíos Escondidos" – hidden Jews. They preserved the traditions of their fathers; and, in spite of the high positions which some held, they secretly attended synagogue, and fought and suffered for their religion. Many of the wealthiest Marranos of Aragon belonged to this category, including the Zaportas of Monzón, who were related by marriage to the royal house of Aragon; the Sanchez; the sons of Alazar Yusuf of Saragossa, who intermarried with the Cavalleria and the Santangel; the very wealthy Espes; the Paternoy, who came from the vicinity of Verdun to settle in Aragon; the Clemente; the sons of Moses Chamoro; the Villanova of Calatayud; the Coscon; and others.

Disclaimer:  the numbers here are pretty different from other numbers I found online, and Wiki is Wiki, so you might want to check other resouces if you're interested.  Maybe even hit the library. Or see this flick, about the last Marranos, which sounds fascinating!