Juggling Identities

Juggling Identities: Identity and Authenticity Among the Crypto-Jews

Seth D. Kunin
Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    Juggling Identities
    Book Description:

    Juggling Identities is an extensive ethnography of the crypto-Jews who live deep within the Hispanic communities of the American Southwest. Critiquing scholars who challenge the cultural authenticity of these individuals, Seth D. Kunin builds a solid link between the crypto-Jews of New Mexico and their Spanish ancestors who secretly maintained their Jewish identity after converting to Catholicism, offering the strongest evidence yet of their ethnic and religious origins.

    Kunin adopts a unique approach to the lives of modern crypto-Jews, concentrating primarily on their understanding of Jewish tradition and the meaning they ascribe to ritual. He illuminates the complexity of this community, in which individuals and groups perform the same practice in diverse ways. Kunin supplements his ethnographic research with broader theories concerning the nature of identity and memory, which is especially applicable to crypto-Jews, whose culture resides mainly in memory.

    Kunin's work has wider implications, not only for other forms of crypto-Judaism (such as that found in the former Soviet Union) but also for the study of Judaism's fluid nature, which helps adherents adapt to new circumstances and knowledge. Kunin draws fascinating comparisons between the intricate ancestry of crypto-Jews and those of other ethnic communities living in the United States.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-51257-2
    Subjects: Religion, Sociology, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-22)

    “Crypto-Judaism” is one of many terms generally used to describe the practices of a range of communities whose members outwardly profess one cultural identity as well as having some aspect of a hidden Jewish identity—sometimes religious, cultural, or even historical. Although this word is most commonly used in relation to individuals whose roots are in the Iberian diaspora, crypto-Jews have also been identified in various parts of the Islamic world, particularly Iran, and can perhaps include people from the former Soviet Union or other modern states in which the public practice of Judaism was forbidden. This book specifically examines...

  5. ONE Diversity and Complexity
    (pp. 23-44)

    On the surface, the phenomenon of crypto-Judaism may seem simple; that is, crypto-Jews are individuals descended from families that were forcibly converted from Judaism to Catholicism between 1390 and 1492 in Spain (and 1497 in Portugal). In reality, crypto-Judaism was highly complex in the years before 1492; in those after the expulsion of the Jewish community from Spain; and in those of Spanish colonial expansion, which ultimately led to the settlement of New Mexico. This complexity is suggested by the question of the authenticity of the Jews’ conversion to Catholicism—the extent to which the conversion was sincere and the...

  6. TWO The Case Against the Authenticity of Crypto-Judaism in New Mexico
    (pp. 45-81)

    The authenticity of crypto-Judaism is not only a scholarly question for academics but also a personal matter for crypto-Jews. Although these two groups clearly have different reasons for their interest in authenticity, their approaches to the issue are closely related because they often are responses to challenges made by critics. While these critiques usually appear first in academic publications, they are communicated to the crypto-Jewish and wider communities though the popular press or other forms of mass media. In some ethnographic discussions, these kinds of arguments might be considered background, relating primarily to academic and nonacademic discussion. In this case,...

  7. THREE The Case for the Authenticity of Crypto-Judaism in New Mexico
    (pp. 82-113)

    Countering those who question the authenticity of crypto-Judaism in New Mexico are a wide range of scholars (including me) who argue for its authenticity, both as a historical phenomenon and as a contemporary ethnographic field of study. The two most substantial contributions to this side of the argument have come from Stanley Hordes and Janet Jacobs. Hordes’s work focuses primarily on the presence of crypto-Jews among the Spanish colonists who settled New Mexico and the evidence for the persistence of Jewish identity in the community. Jacobs’s work is ethnographic, examining the role of women in maintaining crypto-Jewish culture in the...

  8. FOUR Ideal Types of Crypto-Jewish Identity
    (pp. 114-145)

    Both historically and currently, crypto-Jewish identities are very complex. There is no single crypto-Jewish identity, and, as David Gitlitz’s (1996) discussion and taxonomy suggest, it is likely that there never was. In the main period of conversion, from 1391 to 1492, Jews converted to Catholicism for a wide range of reasons. Some were forced to convert at the point of a sword, while others chose to convert for social or economic reasons; these various motives potentially led to different relations with the ancestral religion. The response of the conversos to subsequent conversion was equally complex, with some moving wholeheartedly to...

  9. FIVE Crypto-Jewish Practice: MEMORY AND BRICOLAGE
    (pp. 146-191)

    Although some aspects of crypto-Jewish practice continue to be part of lived experience, many of the rituals and traditions are now part of cultural memory. Thus, unlike many ethnographies that describe practice on the basis of participant observation, this study considers many of the practices on the basis of information provided in interviews and conversations. This approach is important to emphasize from the outset, as it has implications for interpretation. While being interviewed or discussing their crypto-Jewish heritage, individuals select from their memories, both consciously and unconsciously, practices and experiences that conform to their expectations of what a crypto-Jewish practice...

  10. SIX A Postmodern Take on Crypto-Judaism
    (pp. 192-212)

    Thus far, the discussion in this book has worked largely within a modern framework of analysis, utilizing the paradigmatic theoretical approach of structuralism. It now moves in a postmodern direction, introducing concepts of fluidity and agency as well as subverting those of history and memory. The reality of crypto-Judaism is far too complex and individual to express in any static model.

    Through bricolage, cultural objects are unconsciously created and re-created. The fundamental aspect of bricolage is the underlying structure by which the different elements are organized. This structure is unconscious and relatively static, and thus not accessible or consciously transformed...

  11. Conclusion
    (pp. 213-222)

    The debate about authenticity, which has shaped much of the discussion of crypto-Judaism, has focused on the issue of historical authenticity rather than cultural authenticity. I have attempted to shift this emphasis, at least in part, from the historical to the cultural. Cultural authenticity, unlike historical authenticity, does not depend on an external observer passing judgment on whether historical or other documentation is sufficient to determine authenticity. It focuses on the internal view, asking whether a group of individuals have a shared self-definition, which becomes the basis of authenticity, and what are the parameters of that definition. On the basis...

    (pp. 223-254)
  13. Notes
    (pp. 255-262)
  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 263-268)
  15. Index
    (pp. 269-278)