"There are no more Jews in Portugal"
December 18, 2008 1:24 AM   Subscribe

What is a Spaniard?: Forcibly Crossing the Cross, the Crescent, and the Star
"The conversions came at the end of one of the most successful Jewish periods in human history... Their success led them to call their land Sepharad, a name from the book of Obadiah that implied that Spanish Jews were the successors to the Jews of Israel. This world ended in 1391."
"At the appointed time, those children who were not presented voluntarily were seized by the officials and forced to the font.... In many cases, parents smothered their offspring in their farewell embrace. In others, they threw them into wells in order to save them from the disgrace of apostasy, and then killed themselves. Sometimes, even old men were dragged to the churches and forcibly baptized by over-zealous fanatics,... In all other cases, the unwilling neophytes, some mere babies, were distributed throughout the country, as far as possible from home, to be brought up in Christian surroundings."

The first link, above, details a recent genetic study, the second begins in 1391 in Spain, the third jumps forward to 1407 in Portugal. The remaining links, below, attempt to provide context.

It's difficult to try to adequately cover over two centuries of the history of the forced conversions and "ethnic cleansing", in two (or more) nation states, of two different minority religions. I've omitted much: the earlier Muslim history of Iberia; motivations for the conversions and expulsions; King Ferdinand's purported Jewish ancestry; the forcible conversions of Jews and native populations in the New World; the Spanish Inquisition as a tool to enforce "sincere" conversions; the use of forced adoption to literally steal a group's future, similarly used in Argentina's Dirty War and in Franco's Spain; later Spanish relations with North African Moors; and, except in the first link, 500 years of the aftermath of the ethnic and religious cleansing in the 14th and 15th centuries. My original intent was just to link the first article, on the genetics of Spain.

In an effort to avoid editorializing, I've use block quotes to link to (long) texts giving the basic background of the forced conversions, and later, expulsions, of Jews and Muslims from Spain. The links below follow more or less chronologically, first the
forced conversions, then the expulsions, of the Jews and then then Moors.

The "New Christians":
"New Christians" is a term applied specifically to three groups of Jewish converts to Christianity and their descendants in the Iberian Peninsula. The first group converted in the wake of the massacres in Spain in 1391 and the proselytizing fervor of the subsequent decades. The second, also in Spain, were baptized following the decree of Ferdinand and Isabella in 1492 expelling all Jews who refused to accept Christianity. The third group, in Portugal, was converted by force and royal fiat in 1497. Like the word Conversos, but unlike Marranos, the term New Christian carried no intrinsic pejorative connotation, but with the increasing power of the Inquisition and the growth of the concept of "limpieza de sangre," cleansing the blood, the name signaled the disabilities inevitably heaped on those who bore it.
Vicente Ferrer:
... the Dominican friar Vicente Ferrer... traveled from one end of Castile to the other, and everywhere zealously urged the Jews to embrace Christianity, appearing with a cross in one hand and the Torah in the other. His impassioned sermons won him great influence, and he accomplished his ends in Murcia, Lorca, Ocaña, Illescas, Valladolid, Tordesillas, Salamanca, and Zamora. He spent the month of July, 1411, in Toledo; he invaded the large synagogue, which he transformed into the Church of Santa Maria la Blanca, and he is said to have baptized more than 4,000 Jews in that city....

At Ferrer's request a law consisting of twenty-four clauses, which had been drawn up by Paul de Burgos*, was issued (Jan., 1412) in the name of the child-king John II. The only object of this law was to reduce the Jews to poverty and to further humiliate them. They were ordered to live by themselves, in enclosed Juderias, and they were to repair, within eight days after the publication of the order, to the quarters assigned them under penalty of loss of property. They were prohibited from practising medicine, surgery, or chemistry, and from dealing in bread, wine, flour, meat, etc. They might not engage in handicrafts or trades of any kind, nor might they fill public offices, or act as money-brokers or agents.... These laws, which were rigidly enforced, any violation of them being punished with a fine of from 300 to 2,000 maravedis and flagellation, were calculated to compel the Jews to embrace Christianity....

...Ferrer's fanatic zeal succeeded also in Aragon in leading many Jews to pretendedconversion, especially in Saragossa, Daroco, and Calatayud. Besides the places mentioned, he made proselytes in Albacete, Astorga, Avila, Benevent, Burgos, Leon, Mayorga, Majorca, Palencia, Paredes, Toro, Segovia, etc. The total number of Jews converted by him in Spain was, according to Mariana, 35,000; according to Zacuto ("Yuḥasin," p. 225), more than 200,000....

...One of Vicente Ferrer's most zealous assistants in the work of conversion was Joshua ibn Vives Lorqui, or Geronimo de Santa Fé, who aimed at nothing less than baptisms en masse....
*Paul of Burgos, mentioned above, first from the Catholic Encyclopedia: ...He was the most wealthy and influential Jew of Burgos, a scholar of the first rank in Talmudic and rabbinical literature, and a Rabbi of the Jewish community. The irresistible logic of the Summa of St. Thomas led him to the Faith of Christ....

Then a different view, from the Jewish Encyclopedia: "...Paul, who even after he had been baptized continued to correspond with several Jews, including Joseph Orabuena, chief rabbi of Navarre, and Joshua ibn Vives, became a bitter enemy of Judaism, and tried his best, frequently with success, to convert his former coreligionists...."

The Expulsion of the Spanish Jews: "The King gave them three months' time in which to leave...."

The Jews' expulsion had been the pet project of the Spanish Inquisition, headed by Father Tomas de Torquemada. Torquemada believed that as long as the Jews remained in Spain, they would influence the tens of thousands of recent Jewish converts to Christianity to continue practicing Judaism.... With their most important project, the country's unification, accomplished, the king and queen concluded that the Jews were expendable. On March 30, they issued the expulsion decree, the order to take effect in precisely four months... Throughout those frantic months, Dominican priests actively encouraged Jews to convert to Christianity and thereby gain salvation both in this world and the next.
The conversion and expulsion of the Spanish Muslims:
...Shortly after the start of the sixteenth century, however, the fortunes of Peninsular Muslims in general began to change. Pressured by the Toledan Archbishop Francisco Jiménez de Cisneros to take measures to bring the Muslims of Granada into the Christian faith, and aware that alleged Christian abuses had provoked an uprising in the Alpujarras, King Fernando and Queen Isabel issued an order in 1502 requiring all Muslims in Castile and Leon to convert to Christianity or leave at once. The same law would reach Navarre in 1515 and Aragon in 1525. The royal order was widely enforced (executed in large part by mass baptisms and coercive tactics), and by the end of the first quarter of the sixteenth century, the official Muslim population of Spain had been reduced from nearly half a million to nearly zero....
"Yesterday they were kings in their own homes":
It is ironic that those same Old Testament passages which have been used to support the theory that Palestine is the Jewish promised land were not only cited by apologists for a policy of mass expulsion for the Moriscos but were cited by anti-Jewish theologians in advocating the need for statutes of purity of blood.
posted by orthogonality (28 comments total) 39 users marked this as a favorite
ah, a post that's longer than the thread ;p

(but fascinating for all that)
posted by infini at 1:37 AM on December 18, 2008

Excellent post. Thank you. It will take a while to digest all this; Meanwhile from a small corner of Spain may I introduce you to the Chuetas or Xuetas of Palma de Mallorca. Now that Spain is a Democracy and disestablished from the Catholic Church, people are no longer in fear of researching their family origins. The Catholic church being excellant record keepers have maybe unintentionally aided this process. Memòria del Carrer is a group studying, researching and exchanging information about the descendants of Mallorca’s Jewish converts, the ‘xuetes’ and, by extension, about everything to do with the presence of Jews in Mallorca. Genetic research is aiding this.
posted by adamvasco at 2:19 AM on December 18, 2008

It seems paradoxical that (in the first link) Y chromosome tests are used to evaluate Jewish descent. There are at least two huge problems with this:

1. This is a pure patrilineal test. As such, if you back more than a few hundred years, it only tells you about a small part of your lineage. I wouldn't be surprised if 100% of all Spaniards are of Jewish descent, if that is defined broadly as having ANY ancestor that is Jewish. But, by the same reasoning, of Arab descent, of African descent, of Middle Eastern descent, and, well, thousands of other lineages. This is acknowledged in the article too:
'But he does not regard his Y chromosome as a strong link to the Sephardic heritage. Assuming no in-breeding, he would have had more than one million living ancestors in A.D. 1500. "My full ancestry is made of many different individuals, and my Y chromosome tells me just about one of them," he said.'

2. The paradoxical part is that Jewish law recognizes matrilineal not patrilineal descent. So it seems particularly odd to say that someone with a jewish male ancestor hundreds of years ago is Jewish when, for example, a friend of mine who has a Jewish father and non-Jewish mother is himself not accepted as Jewish.

This does make sense when talking about anything that travels with the Y chromosome but not much else.

My own maternal grandfather came from a Spanish family in Mexico that fled Europe about that same time. So, very likely they were jews. But thats neither here nor there in my (and everyones) huge mix of ancestors. And since he was my mom's dad, that family line wouldn't show up anyways, on any Y chromosome test you did on me.
posted by vacapinta at 3:47 AM on December 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

only schmucks fled [or bred] europe in the 14th century.
posted by evil_esto at 3:51 AM on December 18, 2008

Fascinating. There is a friend of my family who grew up as a Christian in S. America but whose family didn't eat pork, lit candles on Friday nights, and that sort of thing. The theory is they were pretend-converts who forgot why they were doing those things over the centuries.
posted by miss tea at 3:53 AM on December 18, 2008 [2 favorites]

vacapinta writes "1. This is a pure patrilineal test. As such, if you back more than a few hundred years, it only tells you about a small part of your lineage."

True, and true, but... the Y-chromosome is special. Mating is a competition among men for women. (Sperm are small, plentiful, and easily produced. Eggs are big, once a month, and expensive; childbirth even more so.) A Jew-y Y-chromosome means the winner in every previous generation was a (son-of-a) Jew.

In a homogeneous (or ghetto-ized) population, that's not so meaningful, as (nearly, leaving out the rapes following the pogroms) every competitor was a Jew. In a mixed population, where Jewish heritage was convert or forgotten and few consider themselves Jews (as in modern Spain), 20% is a surprisingly high number.

Now, as the article notes, after 500 years = 25 generations, so one might have a Jew-y Y and no other genes derived from Jewish ancestors. And it'll be interesting to see how many people carry Jewish mtDNA, passed only via the mother. But generally Ys travel with conquest and conquerers. Or to put it more bluntly, every Jew-y Y means a Spanish Jew getting laid and a non-Jew Spaniard losing out on getting laid. 1 in 5 (20%) for a despised, forcibly converted or expelled minority? How'd that happen?
posted by orthogonality at 4:19 AM on December 18, 2008

I found these same DNA news on the Jerusalem Post:

THE FINDING that 20% of the population of Iberia is descended from Jews will likely take Spain and Portugal by storm. The results, as The New York Times put it last Friday, "provide new and explicit evidence of the mass conversions of Sephardic Jews" which took place over 500 years ago on Spanish and Portuguese soil. It is the biological equivalent of the pintele Yid, the eternal and unbreakable Jewish spark that can never be extinguished.

Indeed, it is as if a large mirror were suddenly being held up in front of every Spanish and Portuguese person, forcing them to look at themselves and see the reality of their national, and individual, history.

But even more compelling than what it says about the past is what it might just say about the future. If Israel and the Jewish people undertake a concerted outreach effort toward our genetic brethren in Iberia, it could have a profound impact in a variety of fields, ranging from anti-Semitism in Europe to the future of Jewish demography.

Imagine if just 5% or even 10% of Spanish and Portuguese descendants of Jews were to return to Judaism. It would mean an additional 500,000 to 1 million Jews in the world.

I don't know, the thought of a jewish crusade amuses me. Also, I'm portuguese and this is old news. Well, the scientific study assigning numbers to the phenomenon (despite the limitations of these sort of DNA analysis) was entertaining and makes it more definite. Everybody loves exploring who were their ancestors and all that. But, I remember as a kid discussing with friends which of us had surnames of jewish origin or not (there's a big list of surnames adopted by jewish converts, easily identifiable). And at home we've always talked about how part of my southern portuguese family's physical features must be some sort of muslim heritage. Yawn.

I'm guessing this isn't big news in Portugal or Spain - no deep crisis emerged - because not only of what I've just mentioned but also, I think, Portugal and Spain are old countries with very clear national (or regional) identities so the Jerusalem Posts's expectations are equivalent to hoping for Vacapinta to perform a human sacrifice in Trafalgar Square just because his ancestors were Purepecha indians.

1 in 5 (20%) for a despised, forcibly converted or expelled minority? How'd that happen?

The first link probably explains it and so does the NYT quotation above:
"One wing grossly underestimates the number of conversions," said Jane Gerber, an expert on Sephardic history at the City University of New York.

Also: Stephen Oppenheimer, of Oxford University and author of Origins of the British, calls the paper's data "a tremendous addition". However, he says much earlier migrations, 5000 to 10,000 years ago, from the Eastern Mediterranean might confound Sephardic estimates.

"They are really assuming that they are looking at his migration of Jewish immigrants, but the same lineages could have been introduced in the Neolithic," he says.

posted by lucia__is__dada at 5:00 AM on December 18, 2008

As neither a Christian nor a Jew, I've never quite understood how a conversion can be "forced." I do understand that you can force certain behaviors, and you can make me go through any ceremony you want through threats. But I don't understand the resistance to the lip service-- hey, you wanna dip me in water? Go crazy. It's not going to change how I think.
posted by nax at 5:31 AM on December 18, 2008

(by the way, fantastic post.)
posted by nax at 5:31 AM on December 18, 2008

Applying the same test, I wonder how many Europeans, North Africans, Middle Easterners, and Asians are actually just Italians and Greeks.
posted by Pastabagel at 5:41 AM on December 18, 2008

Seems like a lotta fuss over something that doesn't exist in the 1st place.
posted by rough ashlar at 5:44 AM on December 18, 2008

Portuguese Jews also settled in Southwestern India, when they colonized in the 1500s; I met one of the six who remain just last week.
posted by jdfalk at 5:53 AM on December 18, 2008 [3 favorites]

nax But I don't understand the resistance to the lip service-- hey, you wanna dip me in water? Go crazy. It's not going to change how I think.

Well, it was just this kind of "convert" which the Inquisition went against. In fact, crypto-Judaism was a lot worse in the Inquisition's eyes than the overt sort. Those who refused to convert were "just" expelled by the secular authorities, whereas those who were convicted of having "converted" only outwardly were sacrilegeous heretics and, having been baptised, fell under the Inquisition's tender care.

In the eyes of the Church, a Jew was merely misguided, but a fake Christian was evil. In fact, the only religious-legal argument used to justify the expulsion of the unconverted Jews (and XV century Spain was pretty big on law) was that they were "pulling" the converts back into their old ways.

Also, both faiths were subject to strict sets of rules, and it wasn't so easy jumping from one set of rules to the other. For instance, the converts were called "Marranos" (pigs) and "Chuetas" (porkchops) because of their ostentatious consumption of pork. I've even heard of a village in Central Spain which inhabitants have the strange tradition of stuffing themselves with pork during Good Friday. Now, eating meat on that day of the year is definitely a no-no in Catholicism. However, in XIV and XV century Spain it was also the most dangerous day of the year to be thought a "God-killing" Jew, and which better way of demonstrating your non-Jewishness than a big blood sausage?
posted by Skeptic at 6:37 AM on December 18, 2008 [2 favorites]

Actually, there are several suriving "crypto-Jewish" communities in the north of Portugal, such as the one on Belmonte. There are other smaller enclaves in Traqs-os-Montes and Braga, but Belmonte is the most significant.

If ever there was a topic crying out for the imput of the legendary Miguel Cardoso, this is it.
posted by zaelic at 7:05 AM on December 18, 2008

If ever there was a topic crying out for the imput of the legendary Miguel Cardoso, this is it.

True. He's also jewish. And apparently his conversion has nothing to do with ancestry.
posted by lucia__is__dada at 7:13 AM on December 18, 2008

But I don't understand the resistance to the lip service-- hey, you wanna dip me in water? Go crazy. It's not going to change how I think.

In my Hebrew School, we learned lots of stories about Jewish martyrs of the past who went to their deaths rather than bend the knee to an idol. Then the teachers would mumble something about well, that was then, this is now, human life is the highest Jewish value, and if somebody said they'd shoot you if you didn't pray to an idol you should just go ahead and idolate -- but the stories carried quite a bit more force.
posted by escabeche at 7:56 AM on December 18, 2008

But I don't understand the resistance to the lip service-- hey, you wanna dip me in water? Go crazy. It's not going to change how I think.

You have to think like someone in the middle ages, for one thing. They weren't meaningless actions. They would have believed they were consuming the body and blood of Christ in the mass, for example. Kneeling before the cross would have been breaking one of the ten commandments.

Now if you're a true believer and understand that the creator of the entire universe says "do x" and some guy with a sword says "do y", a true believer is going to go with x.

c.f. suicide bombers, on the other side of the same equation
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 8:23 AM on December 18, 2008

Also by my understanding conversion was much more than a dip and a prayer back then. During the inquisition, people felt the need to constantly and publicly assert their lack of Jewishness in order to be above suspicion. Because even being suspected of secretly being Jewish came with enough troubles, whether it could be proven or not.

I've heard a theory that this is why pork is such an important part of Spanish cuisine. People wanted to be seen eating pork in public because Jews and Muslims normally would not.
posted by lampoil at 9:02 AM on December 18, 2008

I was admiring the interior of the old portuguese synagogue in Amsterdam. It looks so very much like a Dutch seventeenth century protestant church. In the the 17th century they seem to have let dogs in. (Though I can't tell whether that scene depicts a service).
Sefardic surnames like Teixeira de Mattos or Jessurun d'Oliveira are well known old Amsterdams names known for bankers, professors and men of letters.
posted by jouke at 9:56 AM on December 18, 2008

jouke, not to mention Spinoza. BTW, the Spinozas, like many other "Portuguese Jews" who fled to Holland, had first fled to Portugal from Spain, and namely from the town of Espinosa de los Monteros. A converted branch of the family must have staid in Spain, because "Espinosa de los Monteros" is also a family name, and a pretty posh one with that. The Spanish family seem to have done quite well despite the purity of blood statutes.

Also, some of those Dutch Portuguese Jews further emigrated to New Amsterdam, bringing Judaism to Manhattan.
posted by Skeptic at 10:32 AM on December 18, 2008

Skeptic, I know about Spinoza; the house were he died is in The Hague were I live.
I didn't know about American-Dutch-Portuguese jews though.
posted by jouke at 10:42 AM on December 18, 2008

There you are.
posted by Skeptic at 10:57 AM on December 18, 2008

Possibly the most notable American Portuguese Jew being Benjamin Cardozo.
posted by plep at 1:03 PM on December 18, 2008

In my Hebrew School, we learned lots of stories about Jewish martyrs of the past who went to their deaths rather than bend the knee to an idol. Then the teachers would mumble something about well, that was then, this is now, human life is the highest Jewish value, and if somebody said they'd shoot you if you didn't pray to an idol you should just go ahead and idolate -- but the stories carried quite a bit more force.

I find that interesting, since when I went to Hebrew school some 20 years ago, we were regaled with many of the same passionately told stories, but the implicit message was that death was and always will be the better, more heroic option, and that the converted - even the fake converts who still practiced Judiasm on the sly - were not considered real Jews by God. I remember feeling pretty torn at the time about what I would do in such a situation - on the one hand, the honourable thing to do seemed clear, but one the other death and torture kind of suck, and I was already a kid questioning my feelings towards my religion.
posted by thelaze at 1:13 PM on December 18, 2008

Bring back the big Mig!
posted by zpousman at 8:59 PM on December 18, 2008

A fascinating post, especially to me as I'm half Spanish. I found this interesting:

The issue is one that has confronted Calafell, an author of the study. His own Y chromosome may be of Sephardic ancestry and his surname is from a town in Catalonia; Jews undergoing conversion often took surnames from place names.

Ooh, me too (well on my mother's side...)
posted by ob at 1:58 PM on December 19, 2008

Also, and here's the thing about Spain. These studies may shake things up a bit not really with the younger generation so much, but with the older generation this is really akin to shitting on the Pope. I remember trying to have a conversation with my Aunt about the ethnic and cultural heritage of Spaniards only a few years ago, and it didn't go well. At all.
posted by ob at 2:02 PM on December 19, 2008

I just came over from the askmefi thread to read more here because I found the excerpt you posted over there from the American Muslim article moving, especially the last part.
In response to a plea from the Spanish Moriscos, the Grand Mufti of Oran, Ahmad ibn Abû Juma‘a, issued a decree in 1504, in which he stated that Muslims may drink wine, eat pork or do any other forbidden thing if they are compelled to do so and if they do not have the intention to sin. They may even, he said, deny the Prophet Muhammad with their tongues provided, at the same time, they love him in their hearts.
posted by PY at 2:35 PM on December 19, 2008

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