April 23, 2010

Inquistion edicts shaped Crypto-Judaism, Gitlitz says

Jews in 15th century Spain turned to edicts from the Inquisition to learn about their faith, Professor David Gitlitz at the University of Rhode Island said at a lecture on Monday. Gitlitz’s book, Secrecy and Deceit: The Religion of the Crypto-Jews, explores the identity of Jews in Spain during the Inquisition.

Spanish Crypto-Jews, or converts to Christianity who continued practicing Judaism in secret, lost their models of faith after the expulsion of the Jews during the Spanish Inquisition. “Until 1492, Crypto-Judaism was very close to normative Judaism, both in practice and in belief,” Gitlitz said.

Over time, the Judaism of the Crypto-Jews began to morph. “The edicts became a Judaism for Dummies published by the Inquisition. Instead of suppressing Jewish practice, it was a sort of textbook for them,” said Gitlitz, who also said oral tradition and the Old Testament were sources of knowledge for Jews in Spain.

The changes were a result of exposure to Christianity, the fear of detection, and the problem of transmitting that culture to the next generation, he said. “They were legally Christian in an overwhelmingly Christian environment,” he said. “Whether or not they believed it, they all memorized Christian doctrine.”

Eventually, the hidden Jewish identity of the Crypto-Jews began to fade. “By the 1700s, the discovery of Crypto-Jews in Spain and Portugal was increasingly rare,” Gitlitz said.