Sunday, July 26, 2009

Secret Customs: How the Jewish People Prevailed during the Spanish Inquisition.

The Jewish population of Spain during the period of Muslim rule was quite large. The Jews became prominent and successful citizens. Many even atained high positions in the spanish government. Real persecution began with the “Reconquista”, the armed “reconquering” of Spain by the Iberian Christians. The pogroms in Cordoba (1011) and Granada (1066) put in motion the foundation of what became the Spanish Inquisition. Persecution took full force in the 14th century when the Iberian Christians retook all of Spain forcing the Muslims out.

Many of the Jews, not wanting to loose their high social status began to openly convert to Catholicism. These Jews were called “Conversos”. Many were publicly Catholic but pivately maintained their Jewish identity and religious practices. Inevitably, this success resulted in jealousy among the Catholic Spaniards who reported many of the Conversos to the authorities. The practice of any Jewish customs by the Conversos were signs to the Catholic Spaniards that they were still tied spititually to Judism. They began to call the Conversos “Marranos”, which means pig! By the 14th and 15th Century, they were then the main focus of the Inquisition.

Many of the customs practiced by the Conversos were food related. Various dishes made from eggplant and a desert called marzipan. Just keeping Kosher could land them before the Inqusition. Inquisition documents (which are still available today) contain testimony from maids and other house servants about the typs of food they were asked to prepare for their employers.

Many of these secret Jewish families had hidden rooms in their homes, where the servants could not go or didn’t even know about, where the “Jewish” items were kept. These rooms were used to celebrate the Jewish holidays and festivals, to study the Torah and to conduct weddings and Bar Mitzvah’s all in secret. All the while keeping a public Catholic apperance. The celebration of Purim became especially important for the Conversos of Spain because Queen Ester was perhaps the quintessential hidden Jew.

These secret customs became the main focus for the Spanish Inquisition, which began in 1480 to spy on these “hidden Jews”. In the course of 12 years, thousands were tortured and burned at the stake. In the year 1492, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, decided that as long as there were Jews remaining in Spain, there would be “Conversos” trying to keep Judaism in secret. The Alhambra Decree (also known as the Edict of Expulsion) was issued on March 31, 1492 ordering the expulsion of Jews from the Kingdom of Spain and its territories by July 31, 1492. The punishment for any Jew who did not leave or completely convert to catholicism by the deadline was death.

One prominate Jew, Don Isaac Abarbanel, a leading Torah sage and the Finance Minister of Spain was deemed too valuable to the kingdom to expell. Abarbanel used his position and clout to try to convince the monarchs to revoke the edict. Torquemada the Inquisitor general of Spain convinced the monarchs otherwise. Abarbanel only managed to get the deadline extended for two more days. Hence, the date of expulsion fell on August 2, 1492, the ninth of Av, 1492, the most horrific date in the history of the Jewish people.

Figures vary between 130,000 to 800,000 Jews left spain in one day! A primary source for this information is the Me'am Lo'ez (written in Ladino, the language of the Jews of Spain) in the section on Tisha B'av it mentions that a third of the Spanish Jewish population died for their faith, a third converted and a third went into exile. Those exiled were allowed to take their belongings except gold, silver and money. The Spanish crown and the inquisitors confiscated all their properties.

Historians estimate that between 100,000 to 200,000 Jews converted during the course of the Inquisition. But conversion was not guaranteed protection. Many families tried very hard to keep living as Catholics while keeping many Jewish customs in the privacy of their homes living as Conversos, but the percecution continued. Over the next 400 years many Secret Jews left Spain for the New World, but the Inquisition followed them to the Americas. It was not until the year 1834 that the Spanish Inquisition was finally abolished. By this time many of the customs practiced in secret were lost to obscurity and the Secret Jews of Spain ultimately embraced the religion which oppressed them.

Today many of the decendants of the Conversos and other exiled Jews are rediscovering their Jewish heritage, converting to Judaism and coming to faith in the Jewish Messiah Yeshua. The spirit of the LORD is moving in Latin America where many of the Spanish Jews fled. The LORD is calling his people home. For it says in Revelation:

Rev 18:1 And after these things I saw another angel come down from Heaven, having great authority. And the earth was lighted up from his glory. 2 And he cried mightily with a strong voice, saying, Babylon the great has fallen, has fallen! And it has become the dwelling-place of demons, and a prison of every unclean spirit, and a cage of every unclean bird which has been hated, 3 because of the wine of the anger of her fornication which all the nations have drunk. And the kings of the earth have committed fornication with her. And the merchants of the earth became rich from the power of her luxury. 4 And I heard another voice from Heaven, saying, Come out of her, My people, that you may not be partakers of her sins, and that you may not receive of her plagues. (MKJV)

Shalom and Be Blessed

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