Introduction: Crypto-Jewish Descent: An Ethnographic Study in Historical Perspective

Janet Liebman Jacobs

in Hidden Heritage

Published by University of California Press

Published in print September 2002 | ISBN: 9780520233461
Published online May 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780520936614 | DOI:
Introduction: Crypto-Jewish Descent: An Ethnographic Study in Historical Perspective

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This chapter introduces an ethnographic study on contemporary crypto-Jewish descendants and the effects of hidden ancestry on the construction of religious and ethnic identity among them. It begins by presenting a brief historical overview of the crypto-Judaism (the secret practice of the Jewish religion) among the Sephardic (Spanish-Jewish) diaspora after the expulsion of Jews in 1492 from Spain. The study investigates modern descendants of the Spanish and Portuguese crypto-Jews whose Christian families had maintained some semblance of Jewish rituals since the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The practice of crypto-Judaism, adopted by a portion of the Jewish converts, involved the clandestine observance of Judaism among individuals and families who had undergone conversion to other religions, but who secretly remained faithful to Jewish beliefs and traditions. The study also explores how the modern descendants of medieval crypto-Jews respond to the discovery of their Jewish heritage and to the secrecy that surrounds this ancestral history.

Keywords: crypto-Judaism; ethnography; Sephardim; ethnic identity; religious identity; Jewish rituals

Chapter.  7496 words. 

Subjects: Judaism and Jewish Studies

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