Women and the Persistence of Culture: Ritual, Custom, and the Recovery of Sephardic Ancestry

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:
Women and the Persistence of Culture: Ritual, Custom, and the Recovery of Sephardic Ancestry

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This chapter examines the role that crypto-Jewish women played in the maintenance of Jewish-origin beliefs and customs over time, beginning with a review of historical data on role of medieval women in the secretive cultural persistence of Jewish customs in households during the period of forced conversions. Crypto-Judaism gave new meaning to the Jewish laws of matrilineal descent that historically traced Jewish lineage through the bloodline of the mother. Women maintained primary control over the preservation of knowledge and the practice of Jewish rituals, and an informal system of matrilineal descent emerged in which both ancestry and faith were carried and transmitted through women in the family. Through the preservation of both oral history and ritual performance, women have been at the center of the recovery process for modern descendants of crypto-Jews. The chapter discusses narratives of several crypto-Jewish descendents on how women of their family practiced the Jewish customs through the observance of the Sabbath, dietary laws, food customs, holy days, fasts, and cleansing rituals.

Keywords: crypto-Judaism; crypto-Jewish women; Sabbath; food customs; Jewish rituals; matrilineality; forced religious conversion

Chapter.  10491 words. 

Subjects: Judaism and Jewish Studies

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