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Hidden Heritage

Hidden Heritage: The Legacy of the Crypto-Jews

Janet Liebman Jacobs
Copyright Date: 2002
Edition: 1
Pages: 207
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  • Book Info
    Hidden Heritage
    Book Description:

    This study of contemporary crypto-Jews—descendants of European Jews forced to convert to Christianity during the Spanish Inquisition—traces the group's history of clandestinely conducting their faith and their present-day efforts to reclaim their past. Janet Liebman Jacobs masterfully combines historical and social scientific theory to fashion a brilliant analysis of hidden ancestry and the transformation of religious and ethnic identity.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-93661-4
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. INTRODUCTION. Crypto-Jewish Descent: An Ethnographic Study in Historical Perspective
    (pp. 1-20)

    The year 1992 marked the five-hundred-year anniversary of the expulsion of the Jews from Spain. With the commemoration of this critical juncture in European Jewish life, the memory of the Inquisition and its abuses became the subject of scholarly publications, conferences, symposia, and reports in the popular press.¹ Through the acknowledgment of this painful period in the history of Spanish Jewry, the significance of the Sephardic (Spanish Jewish)² diaspora was brought to public consciousness in the United States, providing a historical lens through which to consider the origins of antisemitism in medieval Europe. Central to the 1992 commemoration discourse was...

  5. CHAPTER 1 Secrecy, Antisemitism, and the Dangers of Jewishness
    (pp. 21-41)

    One of the most intriguing aspects of modern crypto-Judaism is the survival of a culture of secrecy that is evident in the patterns of silence and disclosure that characterize twentieth-century families with crypto-Jewish ancestors. The social and political value of secrecy as a response to danger was first studied by the nineteenth-century German social theorist Georg Simmel. In his work on the role that secrets play in social life, Simmel praised the secret as one of humankind’s “greatest achievements”:

    The secret in this sense, the hiding of realities by negative or positive means, is one of man’s greatest achievements. In...

  6. CHAPTER 2 Women and the Persistence of Culture: Ritual, Custom, and the Recovery of Sephardic Ancestry
    (pp. 42-66)

    The persistence of a culture of secrecy poses certain dilemmas for descendants whose religious upbringing bears little resemblance to a Jewish past and whose traces of a Jewish heritage have all but disappeared. In the absence of a surviving cultural community and/or substantial evidence of Jewish religious practice, descendants are faced with the challenge of constructing Jewish origins out of collective memory and remnant ritual behavior. Since memory provides the foundation on which a tie to crypto-Judaism is established, the ritual life of contemporary women offers clues to Jewish ancestry that remain hidden among idiosyncratic beliefs and customs. Through the...

  7. CHAPTER 3 The Self-in-Relation and the Transformation of Religious Consciousness
    (pp. 67-82)

    As evidenced by the narratives of the descendants, reclaiming Jewish ancestry involves the disclosure of family secrets and the remembrance of family custom and ritualized behaviors. Together these experiences contribute to the transformation of both the spiritual and ethnic self as each of these aspects of identity are reconstructed through the lens of Sephardic heritage. While the act of ritual remembrance affirms the presence of a Jewish past, the recovery of Sephardic roots opens up the possibility of change for the future. The study of crypto-Jewish descent thus lends itself to an examination of spiritual transformation and the reconstruction of...

  8. CHAPTER 4 Syncretism and Faith Blending in Modern Crypto-Judaism
    (pp. 83-99)

    The previous chapter established a theoretical model for understanding how religious belief systems are constructed in a culture where multiple ethnic identities inform the development and adoption of a spiritual worldview. As described in the self-in-relation analysis, one response to the discovery of crypto-Jewish heritage is the formation of a syncretic religiosity that integrates the diverse belief systems to which the descendant feels connected as a result of childhood attachments and religious acculturation. In a further exploration into the construction of spirituality, this chapter will explore the syncretic response to crypto-Judaism in greater depth, since the experience of the descendants...

  9. CHAPTER 5 Conversion and the Rekindling of the Jewish Soul
    (pp. 100-124)

    For a little more than half the descendants who participated in this study, the discovery and exploration of their Jewish ancestry resulted in conversion and the adoption of a Jewish religious worldview. These descendants identify both spiritually and culturally with modern Judaism and with the religious heritage of their Sephardic ancestors. While attachment to crypto-Jewish family members is an important part of nurturing an emotional connection to Judaism (see chapter 4), the decision to convert is informed by a diverse set of circumstances that the descendant brings to the conversion experience. For some descendants, converting to Judaism marks the end...

  10. CHAPTER 6 Jewish Ancestry and the Social Construction of Ethnic Identity
    (pp. 125-148)

    Through the recovery of Sephardic ancestry, crypto-Jewish descendants embrace not only an ancestral spiritual tradition but also a cultural past steeped in the unique and complex history of the Jewish people. The integration of Jewish ethnicity thus involves an identification with shared history, values, and spirituality that together form the emerging Jewish self. Among the descendants, the adoption of a Jewish ethnic identity is tied to a longing for community that has developed in response to social alienation and the growing importance of ethnic identity in the contemporary culture of the United States. Beginning with a discussion of ethnic revivalism,...

  11. CONCLUSION. Ethnic Loss and the Future of Crypto-Jewish Culture
    (pp. 149-154)

    Throughout this study of hidden ancestry and the recovery of Sephardic roots, accounts of loss and deprivation characterize descendant narratives as the respondents speak with regret of an unknown family history, a forgotten cultural past, or the absence of an ancestral religious tradition. Their expressions of loss highlight the effects of cultural destruction and forced assimilation on ethnic and racial communities that, although learning to adapt, nonetheless bear the consequences of a cultural genocide that leaves its own deep and lasting impression on the collective psyche of the once-colonized group.

    In a self-conscious effort to reverse the effects of generations...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 155-176)
  13. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 177-186)
  14. Index
    (pp. 187-197)