Marranos: a Lost People

Topics: Judaism, Israel, Torah Pages: 7 (2508 words) Published: October 8, 1999
Marranos: A Lost People

Some people might call them New Jews, some New Christians, and others call them Marranos. The majority of the world population has no idea who the Marranos are. To begin to explain these secret people, one must first receive a lesson in World History. We will begin in the 1492.

In school, we are brainwashed to connect the year 1492 with the year that Columbus discovered the New World. Yet, if we look at the year 1492, there are other occurrences which are noteworthy. For instance, in the year 1492, Spain, the country which sent Columbus to America, decided to officially expel the Jews from Spain. The Jews were forced to either leave Spain, convert to Catholicism, or be put to death. This was not a surprise to the Jews of Spain. Since 1931, there had been anti-Jewish riots throughout Spain. For years, the Jews had been converting to Christianity to escape religious persecution. These Jews were called conversos. The twist to this tale is that these conversos actually were only putting on a front. They still considered themselves Jews. They practiced in secret.1 The Spanish made every attempt to search out and punish these conversos. Some Jews chose not to convert and they moved to Portugal. . Unfortunately, Portugal, in 1497, expelled the Jews from its borders as well. Anti-semitism was growing in Western Europe and the Jews needed to escape. The prime choice seemed to be so obvious. The Jews went to the New World.

The immigration of the Marranos to the new world might have begun with none other than Christopher Columbus. This, of course, is not definite, but there has been research which has shown that Columbus was indeed a Marrano. Apparently his parents were Marranos.2 Even though there are some disagreements about this fact, there is strong evidence to support the claim that Columbus was Jewish.

As the Marranos arrived in the New World, they were not able to reveal their secret identities and practice as Jews. This was because the Spanish government established inquisition offices in the New World. These office's sole responsibility was to hunt down Marranos and bring them to justice. The inquisitors had to visit every town once a year and gather evidence of "non- believers" of the church. They would reward anyone who came forth with information. The information could be days old or forty years old, it made no difference to the Inquisitors. The punishments for being caught were varied, never merciful. The mildest form of punishment was Scourging. This was when the victim was forced to strip to the waist in public and receive hundreds of lashes. The victims could also just be sent to the galleys. Women often had to go work in hospitals or correction facilities without pay. The worst and most common punishment was being burned at the stake. This was the punishment which the Crown decreed appl ied to all who swayed from the church.3 For example, in 1649, 109 Marranos were rounded up in Mexico's capital and killed.4 The Marranos were forced to live in hiding and in fear. One can compare this to the Jews in hiding during the Holocaust. They had to always be careful of what they said and what they did.

The fact that the Marranos kept their religion hidden meant that their entire process of religious practice had to be transformed. This encompassed prayers, holidays, scriptures and customs. The Marranos could not keep Jewish books or religious materials and therefore everything had to be memorized and passed down orally. This, of course, lead to a decline in religious knowledge through each generation. Another obstacle was that the Marranos had to profess their loyalty to the Catholic church. They often became involved in the church, as to help conceal their true identities. There is a story of a Rabbi who converted to Catholicism and he eventually became a bishop in the church. This is just an example of the extremes that the conversos would go to in order to conceal...

References: 1 Roth, Cecil. A History of the Marranos. New York: Schocken Books, 1974. pp.
3 Liebman, Seymour B. The Jews in New Spain. Miami: University of Miami Press,
4 Roth, Cecil. A History of the Marranos. New York: Schocken Books, 1974. pp.
9 Ross, Dan. Acts of Faith. New York: St. Martin 's Press, 1982. pp. 120-140
10 Tobias, Henry J
University of New Mexico Press, 1990. pp. 10
11 ibid., pp
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