Stanley M. Hordes
Published 2005, Columbia University Press, New York
In 1981, while working as New Mexico State Historian, Stanley M. Hordes began to hear stories of Hispanos who lit candles on Friday night and abstained from eating pork. Puzzling over the matter, Hordes realized that these practices might very well have been passed down through the centuries from early crypto-Jewish settlers in New Spain. After extensive research and hundreds of interviews, Hordes concluded that there was, in New Mexico and the Southwest, a Sephardic legacy derived from the converso community of Spanish Jews.
In To the End of the Earth, Hordes explores the remarkable story of crypto-Jews and the tenuous preservation of Jewish rituals and traditions in Mexico and new Mexico over the past five hundred years. He follows the crypto-Jews from their Jewish origins in medieval Spain and Portugal to their efforts to escape inquisitorial persecution by migrating to the New World and settling in the far reaches of the northern Mexican frontier.
Drawing on individual biographies (including those of colonial officials accused of secretly practicing Judaism), family histories, Inquisition records, letters, and other primary sources, Hordes provides a richly detailed account of the economic, social, and religious lives of crypto-Jews during the colonial period and after the annexation of New Mexico by the United States in 1846. While the American government offered more religious freedom than had the Spanish colonial rulers, cultural assimilation into Anglo-American society weakened many elements of the crypto-Jewish tradition.
Hordes concludes with a discussion of the re-emergence of crypto-Jewish culture and the reclamation of Jewish ancestry within the Hispano community in the late twentieth century. He examines the publicity surrounding the rediscovery of the crypto-Jewish community and explores the challenges inherent in a study that attempts to reconstruct the history of a people who tried to leave no documentary record.Stanley M. Hordes is adjunct research professor at the Latin American and Iberian Institute at the University of New Mexico. He earned his Ph.D. in Mexican history at Tulane University, where he received a Fulbright Dissertation Fellowship to conduct research in Mexico and Spain. He is the author of numerous articles on the history of crypto-Judaism in Mexico and the Southwest
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In 1492, the Spanish monarchs decreed that all of the Jews in Spain would have to convert to Catholicism or leave the country. Of the several hundred thousand Jews living in Spain, about half left into exile, where they could continue to practice their faith openly. The other half remained and converted. Five years later, the king of Portugal also issued an edict forcing the Jews in the country to convert.
Some of these conversos accepted baptism sincerely, but other converted in name only, while practicing their ancestral faith in secret. Life became very difficult for these crypto-Jews, or secret Jews, as there developed within the Spanish Catholic Church an institution known as the Holy Office of the Inquisition. The Inquisition had no jurisdiction over Jews, but as Catholics, these crypto-Jews were vulnerable to persecution.
That same year, Christopher Columbus uncovered an entire “New World” for European eyes. Among the thousands of immigrants to settle in Spain’s (and Portugal’s) American colonies were Iberian crypto-Jews. There they could remain subjects of the monarchs of Spain and Portugal, living nominally as Catholics, but able to practice Judaism secretly away from the prying eyes of the inquisitors, initially, at least. While inquisitorial persecution was a large “push” factor in emigrating from the Iberian Peninsula to the Americas, economic opportunity served as an important “pull” factor, as well.
Ultimately, the Inquisition became established in the Spanish colonies, and sporadic campaigns against Mexican crypto-Jews in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries stimulated a migration of these people to the far northern frontier of Mexico, including New Mexico. Inquisition trial records show clearly that not only could crypto-Jews be found among the New Mexico colonists in the mid-1600s, but more importantly, with few exceptions, their presence did not attract attention of the authorities.
Today in New Mexico vestiges of this crypto-Jewish heritage can still be found among the Hispano community. Some families retain only suggestive practices, disconnected from any consciousness of a Jewish past, such as the lighting of candles on Friday night, observance of the Sabbath on Saturday, refraining from eating pork products, and male infant circumcision. (The practice of male infant circumcision can be traced back to the period prior to the 1930s and 1940s when doctors were advising that this procedure be done for hygienic purposes.) In other cases, knowledge of a Jewish past has been passed down through the generations to the present time.Society for Crypto-Judaic Studies
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