an introduction

Ponte de Lima, photo by Rafael de Gilberto

“Cruciforme” is the name given by Portuguese researchers to medieval stone engravings resembling Christian crosses usually found on doorposts in the historic centres of many cities in Portugal in or near the former sites of “Judiarias" (Jewish neighbourhoods) before the edict of expulsion of 1496.

Unlike the Spanish edict, the Portuguese expulsion was not carried out; instead Portuguese Jews were baptized en masse, perhaps only 40 were permitted to leave according to noted historian Elias Lipiner. After the forced baptism, Judiaria walls were torn down and Jews, thereafter known as New Christians moved away, but many remained as King Manuel promised not to inquire into private religious practices for 20 years, a period which was extended following the Lisbon massacre of thousands of New Christians in 1506.

The Portuguese Inquisition did not get underway until the 1540's, unlike neighbouring Spain which established the Inquisition in 1478. Accordingly, a unique culture of secret Judaism developed in Portugal with tacit royal consent, which is commonly described as Marranism by such distinguished authors as Cecil Roth (The History of the Marranos), Yosef Yerushalmi (From Spanish Court to Italian Ghetto), and Yirmiyahu Yovel (The Marrano, Split Idendity).

The foremost archeologist in Portugal studying these cruciforms is Carmen Balesteros of CIDEHUS, the Interdisciplinary Centre of History, Culture and Society, of the university of Evora. As she notes in her study of Guarda (Marcas Mágico-Religiosas no Centro Historico, Guarda, 2007, 2nd ed; p. 18-19) cruciforms are also found outside the Judiarias in Trancoso, Covilhã, Castelo de Vide, and Guarda. Many cities along the Spanish/Portuguese border where thousands of Jews settled following the 1492 Spanish expulsion, contain cruciforms. On the Spanish side, Balesteros has studied cruciforms in Valencia de Alcantara, Trujillo, and Coria. In her study of Guarda, she and her team identified and documented over 80 cruciforms.

There is no written documentary evidence to explain the form or existence of the cruciforms. Balesteros refers to the historic significance of the Christian cross and calls for the contextualization of the meaning of cruciforms; the significance of an engraving of an altered form of a Christian cross on the doorway of a home in a Judiaria should not be interpreted the same way as a normative cross on a Roman Catholic religious building or a public building.

Balesteros suggests that a concentration of cruciforms in a Judiaria, such as Guarda, may be understood in two ways, either as evidence of the necessity of Jews following their forced baptism to publicly demonstrate their allegiance to the only religion permitted by the state, Roman Catholicism, even if they continued to secretly observe Judaism, or a genuine expression of relious belief in difficult times.

Was an engraved cruciform on a doorpost a public declaration of the faith of the occupants and thus used as protection from the Inquistion? Much more study is needed in this fascinating area.

Guarda, photo by Rafael de Gilberto


Amadeo de Souza-Cardoso (Manhufe, freguesia de Mancelos, Amarante, 14 de Novembro de 1887 — Espinho, 25 de Outubro de 1918) foi um pintor português, precursor da arte moderna, prosseguindo o caminho traçado pelos artistas de vanguarda da sua época. Embora tendo tido uma vida curta, a sua obra tornou-se imortal.

‎1887-1918 A vida e a obra de Amadeo de Souza-Cardoso, o primeiro pintor modernista português. "Eu não sigo escola alguma. As escolas morreram. Nós, os novos, só procuramos agora a originalidade. Sou impressionista, cubista, futurista, abstraccionista? De tudo um pouco."


Obscure Practices among New World Anusim 

Trancoso, Portugal-Photo by Rafael de Gilberto

Schulamith C. Halevy Spertus Institute of Jewish Studies 618 South Michigan Avenue Chicago, Illinois 60605 U.S.A.

Nachum Dershowitz University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Urbana, Illinois 61801 U.S.A.

Many Jews of Spain and Portugal who were forced to convert to Christianity--called anusim in Hebrew--and their descendents settled in the Americas.1 From Inquisition dossiers we know that some maintained selected Jewish practices, such as circumcision, ritual slaughter, avoiding pork, and lighting Sabbath candles, while living outwardly as Christians in the New World.2 These secret Jews were presumed to have assimilated over time into the larger Hispanic communities. Wiznitzer writes: "By the end of the seventeenth [!] century the whole crypto-Jewish community in Mexico had been destroyed."3 Liebman considers the underground Jewish community to have disappeared in the eighteenth century.4 Indeed, no Jews came forward with the abolishment of the Inquisition in 1821. In 1925, an American Jewish newspaper wrote: "It is another inexplicable phenomenon that, soon after religious liberty and tolerance were established in Spain, Portugal and Spanish America, they disappeared as if by magic. They have become absorbed by the respective population, and only a very small number of them returned to Judaism in Brazil, Mexico and Central America, where they still practice today".5

There have been, however, sporadic reports of secret Jews in Latin America,6 including their recent "discovery" in the Southwest United States.7 Indeed, wherever there are people of Spanish or Portuguese origin, there still are families aware of their Jewish heritage and practicing Jewish customs.8 The better known practices include: avoiding pork, some form of circumcision, and fasting around the time of Yom Kippur--all of which can be perceived as literal application of biblical laws.

In this paper, we identify specifically rabbinic practises among anusim. The most well-reported non-biblical crypto-Jewish practice is Friday night candle-lighting. But there are many others, including: separating meat and milk, ritual slaughter, salting meat, and burying the dead in linen shrouds. Such customs are especially significant as they could not have been derived from a reading of the Bible and were not shared by non-Jews. Consequently, they bear strong evidence of Jewish origin. We have, furthermore, found surprisingly widespread evidence of relatively obscure practices of rabbinic Judaism, practices unknown to the vast majority of Western Jews, including: fasting on Mondays and Thursdays as penance, orienting beds north-south, sweeping towards the center of the room, and burning nail clippings.

Rabbinic practices serve as compelling evidence of an unbroken Jewish tradition among New World descendents of the victims of Iberian religious persecution. The traditions we report were gleaned from conversations with about one hundred anusim of the New World. These people originated in Mexico, the American Southwest, Puerto Rico, Brazil, Colombia, Cuba, Honduras, and Guatemala. Of course, not all anusim practice all the traditions we describe. The descriptions we heard were often of practices of the previous generation, but which are no longer adhered to by their children. Most were listed as symptomatic of Jewish heresy in Inquisition edicts, such as the following from Lima:9 It beseems us to learn if you know... that any... persons have kept any Sabbaths... by wearing... clean shirts... placing clean cloths on the tables.... Or have purged or removed the fat from the meat before eating it, and kept it in water to remove the blood, and cut away the sinew from the feet.... Or have cut the throat of cattle or birds... first feeling the knife to see if it has no notches, and covering the blood with earth.... Or have fasted the great fast.... Or have fasted the fast of Esther... or other fasts... such as Mondays or Thursdays, not eating on those days till... the stars appear,... bathing one day before..., cutting their nails and hair, and keeping or burning them.... Or if any woman keeps forty days after childbirth without entering the Synagogue... or if they circumcise their children ... or give them Jewish names.... Or if they pull off a corner of the dough when kneading and throw it into the fire.... Or if... they... wash him with warm water when dead... shrouding the corpse with new linen drawers... or pour out the water from the pitchers or jars in the houses of the deceased or others of the quarter, as is the Jewish custom... not going out of the house for a year.

A minority of the people we spoke with were told explicitly by a parent or grandparent that they were Jews. In several cases, it was a grandmother who passed on the family traditions to one elect granddaughter of her choice whom she raised herself. Some knew the Jewish origin of their customs, but most transmitted them unknowingly. For many who discover their Jewish roots only as an adult, the realization can be unsettling. Candle-lighting on Fridays (generally in a non-public room) has always been widespread among crypto-Jews. The house is cleaned and clothes changed for Shabbat. Some children are not allowed by their parents to do anything Friday night. Observing the Sabbath on Saturday is, of course, biblical, but lighting candles is Mishnaic:10 "Women die during childbirth on account of three transgressions, for not being careful... with the lighting of the [Sabbath] candle." Some observe a Yom Kippur fast. Some celebrate a non-Christian spring holiday in lieu of Passover (sometimes called Transito) with special holiday foods, or build huts in the autumn around the time of Succoth.

Except for some who light eight candles for Christmas, these holidays are biblical in origin. It was common to fast three days in honor of the Fast of Esther. Anusim in the New World may also venerate non-canonical saints, with celebrations for Santa Esterika (Saint Esther), Santo Moises, etc. Many elder women and men fast on Mondays and Thursdays as penance. This custom appears in Jacob ben Asher's authoritative code, the Arba'ah Turim,11 and as penance in the responsa literature just after the Expulsion.12 It appears in the Travelogue of David haReuveni,13 as well as in Inquisitional edicts as a Jewish practice,14 and in many a confession in Inquisitorial torture chambers. These fasts continued until recently in Portugal.15 Moslems also prefer fasting on Monday and Thursday, but Catholics prefer Wednesday and Friday.

There are still said to be secret synagogues, secret prayer rooms in the homes of elder relatives, and secret prayer groups. The rare few own talit and tefillin, mezuzot, Tanakh, siddurim, or other Jewish ceremonial and decorative objects, presumably obtained from Jewish stores or merchants.16 Prayers with la Presencia (the Shekhinah) are fairly common. Some women possess kabbalistic knowledge and practices. They have a tradition of seventy-three names of God (not seventy or seventy- two, as in other traditions), as do Portuguese anusim and as is found in Midrash Konen.17 Children are enjoined to only marry "one of us", often expressed as los nuestros (or muestros), and to follow the ancient customs, costuma d'antigua, including the "special diet". Another key word is "clean": "You should only marry the clean ones". Some anusim are virtually vegetarian; many avoid red meat in general, substituting chicken; others ritually slaughter beef, mutton, goats. Pork is shunned ("pork is unclean") and typically called carne de marrano. The observance of such laws of kashrut is commonly referred to as la dieta. Rabbit and game, shellfish and shrimp are never eaten by anusim who keep to "the diet". Many children are prohibited from eating food prepared by anyone but their mother or maternal grandmother. Separating meat from milk is common: mixing meat and milk is said to cause a stomach ache. Many wait between eating meat and drinking milk; some even bleach or boil dishes between meals. Some wash hands before and after eating (occasionally using a cup). Washing hands before and after meals and separating meat and milk are rabbinic.18 A rare few drink only "clean", kosher wine (wine that has not been touched by a Gentile). Joseph Caro, a Spanish exile living in Safed, writes in his authoritative Shulhan Arukh:19 A Jew who transgressed out of fear for his life is a full-fledged Jew; his slaughtered [animals] are permissible and he does not cause wine he touches to become prohibited. An apostate who in one city [professes] belief in idolatry in front of idolaters and in another city enters the house of a Jew and says that he is a Jew does not make wine [prohibited]. One can trust the ritual slaughter of the anusim who remained in their land, if they act properly in private and have not the opportunity to escape to a place where they can worship God,. They do not cause wine to become prohibited by their touch. Some swing a fowl to daze it prior to slaughtering; some wring the necks of the chicken to decapitate them; others chop the head off. Typically a formulaic apology is made to the animal before it is killed with special knives, tested on the finger tip and nail or on a strand of hair. The fowl is hung to drain all the blood; usually the blood is covered with dirt. The meat is then soaked in hot water and salted to remove remaining blood. Red meat is inspected for imperfections, soaked, salted and then soaked again in warm water; all fat is removed and discarded. Sometimes porging the sciatic nerve is also practiced; we have also heard of people simply avoiding the hind quarters of the animal. It is very rare today for a ritual slaughterer to test the knife for nicks on the skin of the fingertip, rather than just on the fingernail, though it is specified in the Talmud and the codes:20 "Rabbi Papa ruled: [the knife] must be examined with the flesh of the finger and with the fingernail." Porging, removing the fat layers, and covering the blood are biblical; salting, soaking, and scalding meat in hot water are all rabbinic. The Babylonian Talmud states:21 "Meat cannot be rid of its blood unless it is thoroughly salted and thoroughly rinsed". Scalding is required by Maimonides:22 How should one proceed? First, he should rinse the meat, and then salt it thoroughly and leave it in the salt for the time it takes to walk a mile. He should then rinse it well again until the water is entirely clear, and immediately thereafter cast it into boiling--not tepid--water, so that it would become bleached, and no more blood would emerge. This stringency is recommended by Caro.23 Today, only some Yemenite Jews continue the ancient practice of scalding meat after salting and before cooking, yet many anusim all around the globe seem to have preserved the practice till today. Blood is carefully avoided, even to the point of throwing out eggs with blood spots. Those who make morcilla (blood sausage) and pig feet are considered repulsive. Not drinking blood is biblical, but its extension to blood spots in eggs is rabbinic:24 "The fine of spirit eat unfertilized eggs. If a drop is found on it, one discards the blood and eats the rest.... If it is found on the yolk, even the whole egg is prohibited."

Anusim bury their dead within one day and used white linen burial shrouds. The shrouds are often called just lino, or their name includes the term muerte, especially in Portuguese-speaking countries. They cover mirrors in the home of the deceased, spill out standing water in the house, and have water spigots in cemeteries. Washing and preparing the corpse was often entrusted to women. Some mourners rend their garments, sit on the floor and mourn for seven days, then abstain from festivities (including music) for one year.25 Except perhaps for immediate burial and rending of garments, which are biblical, the burial customs are of Talmudic or later origin.26 Draping mirrors is common in places like New Mexico27 and is not uniquely Jewish.28 Some regions had a travelling expert who performed circumcisions, while, in some cases, grandmothers are said to have circumcised their own grandsons.29 Others consecrated baby boys on the eighth day, avoiding circumcision because that could "bind the child to the Law of Moses", which the child would be hard-put observing fully. Interestingly, this mistaken belief (derived from the Paul's Letter to the Galicians30) is recorded in the seventeenth-century memoirs of Samuel Aboab.31

Some women abstained from conjugal relations and Church-going for forty days after parturition (as part of la dieta de cuarentra dias).32 This interpretation of Leviticus 12:4 was the subject of dispute among medieval rabbis. Maimonides writes:33 That which you may find in some places and which is mentioned in the responsa of some of the Geonim, whereby a woman who has given birth to a male child may not have intercourse until the expiration of forty [days], and in the case of a female child eighty [days]--even if she has had a flow of blood during the first seven days only--this is not a [well-founded] custom, but an error in those localities, which was derived from the Sadducees [Karaites]. Most anusim sweep floors towards the center of the room. This very matrilineal practice is described as something the Portuguese still give their lives for by Moshe Hagiz two hundred years after the Expulsion:34

I have heard that it was an ancient custom in Spain to take care not to sweep a room from inside out. Rather, they began from the door and swept the dirt inwards out of respect for the mezuza. For this reason, one of the accusations hurled at anusim by the inquisitorial priests in Portugal today, so as to incriminate them, is that there is testimony that they sweep the house from the entrance inwards. May God avenge the blood of his servants who sanctify his name at all times and in all places. This custom--which appears not to be mentioned elsewhere in Jewish literature--is confirmed by Spanish and Portuguese Inquisition records.35 In an eighteenth century literary work, we are told that "the Jews sweep toward the inside of the house so that they shall not, as they say, throw out their possessions...".36 The Talmud states that "one who buries his nail trimmings is righteous; one who burns them is saintly; while one who throws them out is wicked- - since a pregnant woman may miscarry as a result".37 This, too, appears in the edicts. Many anusim today do in fact burn their nails and hair trimmings; others wrap them carefully before discarding. Anusim often orient all beds in the house between north and south. This practice is of Talmudic origin:38 "Abba Benjamin says: All my life I exerted myself over two things... that my bed should be placed between north and south. Rabbi Isaac said, whoever places his bed between north and south has male offspring.... Rabbi Nahman ben Yosef said, nor does his wife miscarry." While Ashkenazic sources restricted its applicability and some kabbalists interpreted the Zohar as mandating an east-west orientation, Sephardim have taken care to have the headboard facing north or south.39 We have not found any reference to the arrangement of beds in Inquisition records, though it appears to be fairly common until today among anusim who usually have no awareness of its religious significance, yet continue to follow the ancient custom.

As mentioned above, most members of crypto-Judaic families are unaware of their connection to Judaism. Hence, their discovery of a secret Jewish tradition within the family can be unsettling and sometimes traumatic. Christian schooling, wherein Jews are still portrayed as villains and deicides, can make the discovery of even partial Jewish heritage seem like a shameful stain. For those who wish to publicly acknowledge the Jewish elements in their background, family ties, jobs and friends are often jeopardized, while for those seeking to rejoin normative Judaism, finding an accepting and understanding Jewish community, let alone competent guidance in sorting out the Jewish aspects from the Christian in one's upbringing, may prove impossible.

By way of example, let us relate the story of one woman of the anusim-- the late artist and genealogist--Berta Covos.40 Berta was born and raised as a Roman Catholic in a small farming town, San Elizario, Texas.41 Her family seldom went to Church. She began to investigate her connection to Judaism as a result of having been accused of being Jewish by her Gentile husband when she called pork unclean and refused to let it into her house. An investigation into her genealogy confirmed family ties to Jewish names and Inquisition records, and led her to attempt to make new sense out of old customs she was raised on. As a child, the standard explanation had been that their ways were the ways of the nobility. Eventually Berta confronted her mother, who first responded with: "Why do you ask?", but later admitted that she had been told at the age of five of her Jewish identity by her aunts who were raising her.42 Berta's grandfather, a wealthy and powerful man who was considered "untouchable" (and whose grave had the biggest stone in the cemetery), had a prayer room in his house, wherein he regularly isolated himself.

Four people told Berta that he used to carry a big black book that looked like his Bible into there. Her grandmother had been a travelling salmista (psalm reader). Berta said that, in general, men and women prayed thrice daily (as ordained by the Rabbis43). Only after the quest and discovery could Berta place various biographical facts into their proper context. Now she understood what her great-aunt Augustine had meant when she said that she had "her own" religion. It now made sense that one aunt married an Israeli Jew, that a cousin married a Jewish woman, that another cousin adopted a Jewish child and is raising her as a Jew, taking her to Temple and wearing a "Jewish star". Indeed, her uncle eventually told her he considered himself a Jew, an aunt came to say "shalom" at her mother's funeral, and yet another cousin acknowledged being a Jew and is married to another of the anusim.

What Berta eventually came to identify as the Ten Commandments had often been repeated to her by her mother: as she left for school in the morning, when she went to sleep, and on countless other occasions. Most of all, the tenth commandment was emphasized. It would be terribly low class to ask a friend for some candy, for example. During World War II, her mother was constantly agitated and felt terribly helpless over what was happening to the Jews. She said all Germans were unclean. When Berta repeated this to her Polish-American husband who was then stationed in Germany, a huge domestic fight ensued. Berta sterilized her kitchen all the time: she had two sinks, one for clean things and one for unclean things that others brought into the house. If clean was touched by unclean, it became contaminated. She boiled dishes between meals and washed her hands before and after meals. The dining table was considered an "altar";44 not even a newspaper could be placed on it. Berta spoke of her origins at a meeting of the Society for Crypto- Judaic Studies:45

My husband...the things that I had to put him through: wash his hand for this, he had to wash his hand for that... Here he was, a member of an upper middle class family, and I thought they were very unclean, that they were uncultured compared to us. How can they call themselves Anglos, when they have put us down because we are Mexicans, and here I find them to be culturally inferior people? They were very well to do, but they were culturally inferior to us. Because how could his mother go and put her purse where she was going to later put the food. She would take the food- -she had just touched money!--and she would go and put it in her mouth.... Every time I kosher her kitchen... I would take the Lysol and I would clean the bathroom. I think that [anusim] can identify with what I am saying, that this has been preserved; that this is not a Catholic custom. Yes, there is this "mental illness" in my family, that we tend to overdo it, and I am like that too. If I feel that a place is unclean I won't eat there; I'll get up and walk out. If there is a restaurant where the people who serve the food handle the money, that's not a place to eat. We go to extremes.... It is hard to get away from how you were brought up; you just carry it though subconsciously. My daughter drives me crazy: "Wash your hands! You're going to eat without thanking the Lord for your food?! Without saying a blessing? That's like the heathen." Things like this ... are ingrained in you; ... you can't get away from.

The division between clean and unclean stretched to people as well: I remember in my family we had a great deal of compassion, but even that compassion did not extend to mixing with other people. We divided the people from under-classes into the clean and unclean. I always used to ask my mother: "Well, who are the clean people, who are the unclean?", and she would say: "Those that have our ways are the clean people". We shared customs.... The borders now are totally different than what it used to be. I see more of a mixing of the bloods than when I was growing up. We were much more careful to preserve the bloodline and the culture. Berta's mother, when placed in a nursing home, refused to eat virtually anything, but offered the staff no explanation. It was only after Berta outlined the rules and the staff decided to serve her kosher food, that she began to take her meals. Berta chose to make her mother's funeral (some three years ago) as simple as possible, without Jewish symbols on the headstone. She found that several relatives were disappointed at the cremation and absence of Jewish grave markings. In the old family cemetery, there are five and six-pointed stars adjacent to the crosses, which they found significant. In general, her family avoided entering cemeteries, if at all possible. When they had to, they removed all their clothing upon returning home and bathed fully. They also avoided visiting hospitals. When they did, they were instructed to walk with their hands behind their backs, not touching anything. If they touched, they had to cleanse themselves. Berta, a vivacious positive and forthright person, eventually felt depressed and frustrated. She described her growing isolation as "going with scissors through [her] heart". Her husband constantly complained over the pork issue. He kept bringing recipes that included pork, and continually pressured her into accepting it. Her daughter began suffering discrimination on the part of friends and teachers, and she herself lost her position in the genealogical society in which she was active, and was rejected by many of her former friends. At the same time, she remained marginalized in a Jewish community that barely accepted her, having already been dismissed out of hand by another rabbi some years earlier. She carried the guilt of her forebears whom she perceived to have "taken the easy way out" when given the choice between conversion and expulsion.

Berta expressed her feelings in these words: I think that I need to say that you have the right to hate us. You have the right to feel an anger towards us, because we chose the easy way out. I'm not going to stand here and tell you that my family were crypto-Jews. I think that our keeping a lot of the Levitical law echoes a Judaic past--and in my family the observance of Levitical law seems to stand out--but you have to be logical, and in the Southwest the only religious institution that existed was the Catholic church, and for me it was very difficult to distinguish between Jewish customs and Catholic customs when I began to study them. Many of the priests were of Jewish decent. We did things unconsciously, without knowing why we did them. In studying the hidalgo class I would have to say that in this class I bet there were very few crypto-Jews. They were probably conversos. I say that from my heart; I believe that they were hypocrites.... I hesitate to openly say that I am a Jew; I have no right to claim to be a Jew. On occasion, when the isolation became especially hard to bear, she expressed a desire to forget her new-found connection to Judaism, and she did cancel an appointment for an interview following the bombing in Buenos Aires and--in her words--"go into hiding". But, on the other hand, she knew she could not stand by while Jews were still being persecuted, and felt that every time she tried to suppress her Jewish spirituality, God just thrust her back to Him. Berta yearned to go to Israel, and was broken-hearted when an opportunity arose, but her husband insisted that she go only if and when he would be ready to go along. Berta was isolated spiritually; in one of our last conversations she said she felt she was "dying inside". Because anusim are unfamiliar with much of Judaism, because they have been raised with these practices from early childhood and find them completely natural, it usually takes them, like Berta, a very long time to sort out and separate the Christian from the Jewish, to get past the various explanations they heard as children--for actions done under the guise of the ancient custom or of superstition--and identify the true source. Transmission is often so subliminal that some anusim are completely unaware of their Jewish ancestry, yet convert to Judaism for intangible reasons. Even after keeping kosher for years, they may fail to connect kashrut with such facts as their own family never having entered a neighborhood butcher shop, never having been served shellfish, never eating pork or game, avoiding blood and blood products that many others around them enjoyed. Berta concluded her public talk with the following words: I believe that our Jewish consciousness is in these things that we cannot forget; they will never come out of us. But like I said it isn't these things that may give me the right to claim that I am a Jew. It is a process and I know that if it is God's timing, and he wants to bring me back, He will bring me back. But I can say I love you; even though I can see in your faces the same pride, the same arrogance as in my family, I love you all.

Rabbinic observances among anusim today are a compelling testament to a surviving Jewish heritage. They could not have been derived from a reading of the Torah and are not shared by non-Jews. The more obscure practices could not even have been learned from other Jews. Those distinctly Jewish practices that were not proscribed in edicts (sweeping and orientation of beds) evidence direct cultural and religious inheritance. Furthermore, it would have been foolhardy for an "old" Christian or sincere convert to maintain any practice, however trivial, mentioned in an Edict of Faith. Only anusim with heroic interest in preserving their heritage would risk their well-being and that of their families for the sake of a forbidden tradition. All the obscure practices mentioned here were known in Berta's family, but she and her mother are no longer with us to shed more light on the customs they preserved. Information is becoming very scarce as the older generation is passing on, while at the same time more descendents of anusim are asking urgent questions. Much research remains to be done if we are to understand the whole picture of this unsung chapter of Jewish valor. Berta's journey ended with her untimely passing. Even in her death she opened a door through which others continue to pass. We hope this paper will serve as a tribute to this noble and courageous woman.


1 H. C. Lea, The Inquisition in the Spanish Dependencies, Macmillan: New York, 1908; C. Roth, History of the Marranos, 2nd ed., Jewish Publication Society: Philadelphia, 1941; A. Wiznitzer, Jews in Colonial Brazil, Columbia University Press: Morningside Heights, NY, 1960; Wiznitzer, "Crypto-Jews in Mexico during the Sixteenth Century", American Jewish Historical Quarterly 51(3), 1961, pp. 168-214; Wiznitzer, "Crypto-Jews in Mexico during the Seventeenth Century", American Jewish Historical Quarterly 51(4), 1961, p. 268; R. E. Greenleaf, The Mexican Inquisition of the Sixteenth Century, University of New Mexico Press: Albuquerque, 1969; S. B. Liebman, The Jews in New Spain: Faith, Flame and the Inquisition, University of Miami Press: Coral Gables, FL, 1970; A. Novinsky, Cristaos novos no Baha, San Pablo, 1972; Liebman, The Inquisition and the Jews in the New World, University of Miami Press: Coral Gables, FL, 1975; Liebman, New World Jewry, 1493-1825: Requiem for the Forgotten, Ktav Publishing House: New York, 1982; B. Lewin, Los Criptojudios: Un Fenomeno Religioso y Social, Editorial Mil: Buenos Aires, 1987; A. G. de Backal, Conversos en la Nueva Espaa, si idealismo y perseverancia, Thesis, Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico: Mexico City, 1976. 2 See, for example, Liebman, New World Jewry, pp. 100-130. 3 "Crypto-Jews in Mexico during the Seventeenth Century", p. 268. 4 New Spain, p. 303. 5 The Sentinel, July 31, 1925. 6 See, for example, the Proceedings of Thirty-Fourth Annual Convention of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, vol. 33, June 1923, pp. 431- 432, and J. Beller, Jews in Latin America, Jonathan David: New York, 1969. Regarding Mexican-Indian Jews, see "The 'Red Jews' of Mexico", Idisher Kurir, Jan. 18, 1939; Indian Jews in Mexico: A Brief Sketch of the History and Survival of the Mexican Marranos, American Friends of the Mexican Indian Jews, Jan. 1944. For a thorough discussion of this community, see R. Patai, "The Jewish Indians of Mexico", Menorah Journal 38, 1950, pp. 54-67 and "Venta Prieta Revisited", Midstream, 1965, pp. 79-92, reprinted in Patai, On Jewish Folklore, Wayne State University Press, Detroit, 1983, pp. 447-492. 7 R. G. Santos, "Chicanos of Jewish descent in Texas", Western States Jewish Historical Quarterly 15(4), July 1983, pp. 327ff.; see also D. S. Nidel, "Modern descendents of conversos in New Mexico", Western States Jewish Historical Quarterly 16(3), Apr. 1984, pp. 249ff. For a partial listing of media reports, see S. C. Halevy, "Anusim in North America: The Ingathering", Tradition 30(1), 1995, p. 99. 8 For a list of some customs, see F. Hernndez, "The Secret Jews of the Southwest", in: M. A. Cohen and A. J. Peck, Sephardim in the Americas, American Jewish Archives: Tuscaloosa, AL, 1993. 9 E. N. Adler, "The Inquisition in Peru", Publications of the American Jewish Historical Society 12, 1904, pp. 22-23. See also Liebman, New Spain, p. 97. 10 Shabbat 2:6. 11 Orah Hayim 134. 12 Responsa Levi ibn Haviv 79. 13 Ed. Kahane, pp. 72-74; see Asaf, pp. 154-155. 14 Liebman, New Spain, p. 96. 15 N. Slouschz, Ha-Anusim be-Portugal, Dvir: Tel-Aviv, 1932, pp. 71-73 (in Hebrew). 16 For one instance of talit, see H. D. Halevy, "Tzeetzaei Haanusim Vaatidam Hayehudi", Hatzofe, Apr. 1, 1991, p. 4. 17 For Portugal, see Slouschz, p. 167. Slouschz was unaware of the midrashic source for the number 73, which appears in J. D. Eisenstein, Ozar Midrashim, New York, 1915, p. 253. We are grateful to Moshe Idel for his help in identifying this source. 18 Washing hands appears in Sifra to Lev. 15:11 and the use of a utensil in Mishna Yadaim 1:2. Separating meat and milk is in Hullin 8:12. 19 Yoreh Deah 119:9-12. 20 Babylonian Talmud (B.T.) Hullin 17b, See also Arba'ah Turim and Shulhan Arukh, Yoreh Deah 18:19. Hayyim b. Moses ibn Attar is one of the earliest rabbis to discuss the prevailing laxity in his Pri Toar (Amsterdam, 1742) on Yoreh Deah, ad loc. The Edict of Faith of 1639 (Liebman, New Spain, p. 96) mentions the use of the nail only. 21 B.T. Hullin 103a. 22 Mishneh Torah, The Book of Holiness, "Forbidden Foods" 6:10 (trans. by L. I. Rabinowitz and P. Grossman, Yale Judaica Press: New Haven, 1965). 23 Bet Yosef on Arba'ah Turim, Yoreh Deah 69. 24 B.T. Hulin 64b. 25 Quick burial and one year of mourning were common practice in rural New Mexico; see A. Lucero-White, Los Hispanos, Sage Books: Denver, 1947 (reprinted in Hispano Culture of New Mexico, Arno Press: New York, 1976, p. 16) and M. S. Edmonson, Los Manitos: A Study of Institutional Values, 1957 (self-published), p. 35. 26 For plain linen shrouds, see B. T. Moed Katan 27b ("Previously, funerals were more costly to the relatives that the death, so much so that the relatives would leave the corpse and run, until Rabbi Gamliel came and humbled himself and was buried in linen garments, and the populace became accustomed to do likewise"), and Yoreh Deah 352:1-2; for spilling water, see Kol Bo (an anonymous early fourteenth century compendium), fol. 86 (to call attention to the death or, as "some say, the reason is because the Angel of Death throws a drop of the blood of death into the water"), and Yoreh Deah 339:5 ("It is customary to pour out all drawn water from the vicinity of the corpse"); for washing hands upon leaving the cemetery, see Kol-Bo, loc. cit., and Responsa Isaac Aboab 7. Halakha demands burial on the actual day of death barring extenuating circumstances; anusim usually bury the next morning. 27 Lucero-White, p. 18. 28 J. T. Frazer, The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion, part II, vol. 3, pp. 94-5, Macmillan, 1935. 29 S. Hordes tells us that midwives often performed the cermony. 30 2:3-9. 31 Sefer ha-Zikhronot, Prague, circa 1640, fol. 75b, cited in S. Asaf, Beaholei Yaakov, Mossad Harav Kook: Jerusalem, 1943, p. 152. 32 This was widespread in New Mexico (Edmonson, p. 24). T. Atencio speaks of other aspects of the same "diet" in "Resolana: A Chicano Pathway to Knowledge", Third Annual Ernesto Galarza Commemorative Lecture, Stanford Center for Chicano Research, Stanford University, Stanford, CA, 1988. 33 Mishneh Torah, The Book of Holiness, "Forbidden Intercourse", 11:15 [our translation follows the text in the Kafih edition]. 34 Mishnat Hakhamim, 1732/3 (pp. 32b-33a, Chernovitz edition, 1863/4) [our translation]. 35 In Spain a woman was reported to have swept her house on Fridays in this manner (F. Sierro Malmierca, Judios, Moriscos e Inquisicion en Ciudad Rodrigo, Diputacion de Salamanca: Salamanca, 1990, p. 177; we are grateful to D. Gitlitz for this reference). For Portugal, see E. Glazer, "Invitation to Intolerance", Hebrew Union College Annual, 1956, pp. 353- 354 and Y. H. Yerushalmi, From Spanish Court to Italian Ghetto: Isaac Cardoso: A Study in Seventeenth-Century Marranism and Jewish Apologetics, Columbia University Press: New York, 1971, p. 37. 36 Dom Francisco Manoel de Melo, Apologos Dialogaes (Lisbon, 1721), p. 273, cited in Glazer, op. cit., p. 354. 37 B. T. Moed Katan 18a and parallels. This superstition is not recorded in any of the major codes. 38 B. T. Berakhot 5b. 39 This orientation of beds is required by the Sephardic codes: Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, The Book of Temple Service, "The Temple", 7:9 (Yale University Press: New Haven, 1957); Shulhan Arukh, Orah Hayyim 3:6. It is explained by Maimonides as stemming from respect for the Temple site in Jerusalem. 40 Conversations with S. C. Halevy between November 1993 and August 1994. 41 Life in the town is described by relatives: A. M. Skaggs and S. R. Skaggs, The Bells of San Eli, Las Cruces, 1990 (self-published). 42 Berta's cousin who was raised in the same house confirms that she was constantly reminded (in Spanish and in English) by her grandmother--that is, by the same great aunt of Berta, who was the source of the family customs--that they were Jews. 43 B.T. Berakhot 26b. 44 Cf. B.T. Hagigah 27a: "When the Temple stood, the altar atoned for man; nowadays a person's table atones." 45 The meeting was held in San Antonio, TX, in November 1993.



Musical SNBA.jpg

Convite SNBA.jpg




Chega-nos a noticia via amigos na IAF (Israel Air Force) que o nosso tema "The Airport Song" do meu grupo, The Melancholic Youth Of Jesus, encontra-se na lista de temas favoritos entre pilotos dessa mesma ilustre e destacada força. Note-se que inclui-mos um discurso onde se fala dos esforços da IDF (Israel Defense Force) em salvaguardar vidas de civis. Mero acaso, pois o tema fala de uma despedida de alguem querido, porem, quem dedica a sua vida a defender gentes que são queridas, recebo com imensa comoção esta noticia, pois, não imagino o diferente entre até breve, e, até sempre.

Nesta nota, queria manifestar o meu interesse em editar este tema, em formato single, salvaguardando que os lucros sejam entregues a Fundação Aristides de Sousa Mendes e Museu Judaico do Carção, entidades que, no meu entender, honram os que de facto tem estado do lado do povo de Israel, e assim merecem o meu apoio incondicional.

Tenho recebido mensagens desde Jerusalem a Telaviv, passando por Londres, Nova Iorque... Gostaria de ouvir de Portugal.

Um Sentido Abraço A Todos

Jewish Heritage Trip to Portugal,
May 24 - June 1 2011

TAMU Hillel is organizing a Jewish Heritage Tour to Portugal in May of 2011. To learn about this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity please go to our
TAMU Hillel Website at

Please have all checks into the Hillel office by Dec. 17
No reservations accepted after January 10, 2011
Please send your $1,000 deposit to

TAMU Hillel
P.O. Box 10210
College Station, Texas, 77842

Click on the Portuguese flag to see updated photos and schedule.

Questions about Travel: Please contact our travel agent
Barbara Panzer

Or call her Austin number at (512) 795-5177

Additional questions: please contact us at

B'shalom u-vrachah,
In peace and blessings,

Rabbi Peter Tarlow
TAMU Hillel Foundation
800 George Bush Dr.
College Station, Texas, 77840
(979) 764-8402 (home)
(979) 696-7313 (office)



APRESENTAÇÃO DO LIVRO "GRACIA NASI" de Ester Mucznik pelo Presidente da Comunidade Israelita do Porto, Ferrão Filipe, na SINAGOGA MEKOR HAIM, 10 de Novembro pelas 18h30
A história judaica tem mulheres extraordinárias. Da matriarca Sara à sionista Golda Meir, muitas mulheres judias fizeram história. Grácia Nasi foi uma delas. Com um carácter intocável e uma personalidade de ferro moldada pelas agruras da vida, esta mulher não teve medo de desafiar homens, papas, reis e o seu próprio destino. Nasceu em 1510 em Portugal depois de a sua família ter sido perseguida e expulsa de Espanha. Contudo não seria em Lisboa que encontraria a tranquilidade desejada. Viúva aos 25 anos, herdeira de um império comercial e de uma incalculável riqueza cobiçada por todos, Grácia Nasi torna-se numa verdadeira mulher de negócios, assumindo o seu espírito pioneiro e empreendedor, traço marcante dos sefarditas judeus/cristãos novos. Grácia Nasi percorre o mapa da Europa, passando por cidades como Antuérpia e Veneza, até chegar ao Império Otomano, onde finalmente pode praticar a sua fé às claras, sem recear qualquer perseguição. É aí que se dedica a ajudar os seus correligionários a escapar à Inquisição, apoia o estudo e o ensino religiosos, bem como a edição de Bíblias e estende a mão aos mais necessitados.

From: José Ferrão Filipe
To: "José Ferrão Filipe"
Date: Friday, November 5, 2010, 4:53 AM



The Dona Gracia Festival for the Culture and Folklore of the Spanish Jewish Diaspora


Tiberias, Israel
15-18th of November, 2010

The Dona Gracia Festival invites you to a moving 3 night and 4 day experience, where you will be swept away by the culture of the countries touched by Dona Gracia's thread of life: Portugal, Spain, Belgium, Italy, Greece, Turkey – and Tiberias, as well.

Festival Highlights:

Two great original productions in the new "Berku" Amphitheater, with esteemed artists and performers in a unique setting
A joyous festivity in the promenade
A sampling of activities - Fascinating meetings with Creators and Artists
Special lectures
Stories and narratives from Father's house
Dishes from Mom's kitchen
Secrets and mysteries of Tiberias - guided walking tour
Bus tours of the area
Tour of "The Dona Gracia Museum"
Sail on Sea of Galilee
And much more to come .....

Who was Dona Gracia?

Dona Gracia (nee Beatrice De Luna, or Hana Nasi in Hebrew) was the daughter of a Jewish family of "Conversos". By her thirties she grew to be a significant merchant, in fact, the richest woman in the 16th century world. As wealthy as she was, so were her deeds filled with generosity, as she dedicated herself to saving her expelled and persecuted brethren. With the blessing of the Turkish Sultan, Dona Gracia promoted and worked for the establishment of a Jewish state in Tiberias and environs. She built the walls of Tiberias, but her sudden death at the age of 59 brought an end to her remarkable Zionist initiative. For the occasion of her 500 anniversary, we are creating a new tradition: An Annual festival in her memory .


The Dona Gracia Festival in Tiberias
Tel: 972-4-6728912, 1-800-88-88-58 , Fax: 972-4-6717059
"The Dona Gracia House" Museum, 3 Flowers Street, Tiberias Israel 14100