Tuesday, December 07, 2004

First Candle

Happy Chanukah to the blogosphere! Let me take the time to give wish some bloggers out there out there happy holidays: John and Tom at Perfidy, Brdgt at Female Planet, Geitner at Regions of Mind, Ralph and Jonathan and Sharon at Cliopatria (and the other virtual places they occupy), Claire at Early Modern Print Culture (and the other virtual places she will occupy), Natalie at Philobiblion, David at Barista, the anonymous administrator at The Carpetbagger Report, Bryan at Siris. And congratulations to Sharon and Claire for nominations in the Edublog Awards.

Jonathan Dresner sent me this article about Crypto-Jews in New Mexico (how did he know I am interested in this subject?).
As a boy, Father Williamm Sanchez sensed he was different. His Catholic family spun tops on Christmas, shunned pork and whispered of a past in medieval Spain. If anyone knew the secret, they weren't telling, and Sanchez stopped asking.

Then three years ago, after watching a program on genealogy, Sanchez sent for a DNA kit that could help track a person's background through genetic footprinting. He soon got a call from Bennett Greenspan, owner of the Houston-based testing company.

"He said, 'Did you know you were Jewish?' " Sanchez, 53, recalled. "He told me I was a Cohanim, a member of the priestly class descended from Aaron, the brother of Moses."

With the revelation that Sanchez was almost certainly one of New Mexico's hidden or crypto-Jews, his family traditions made sense to him.

He launched a DNA project to test his relatives, along with some of the parishioners at Albuquerque's St. Edwin's Church, where he works. As word got out, others in the community began contacting him. So Sanchez expanded the effort to include Latinos throughout the state ...
The article goes on to describe how some Latinos in New Mexico believe that they are the descendants of Spanish Jews (Sephardim) who came to the Americas to escape the Inquisition, and that DNA testing is being used to study their claims.

Within Judaism, Crypto-Jews (aka conversos, marranos (derogatory), anusim, although these words have slightly different meanings) are a controversial subject. Many families maintained the essence of Judaic practice in private in the century following the Expulsion. The lucky were able to escape to other parts of Europe (usually after a stint in Portugal) and declared their faith (Spinoza's family is one example). This phenomenon continued until about 1650. After that, there were few people who claimed to have practiced Jewish faith in secret. Scholars differ as to whether secret practice continued, perhaps becoming part of the culture without being referenced to Judaism itself, especially in the Hispanic World. B. Netanyahu (father of the Israeli PM), rejects this notion: rabbis in the 19th century had no hope of finding Crypto-Jews, and they released all descendants of conversos from the obligation to the mitzvot. David Gilitz, looking at the records of the Inquisition in the Americans, believes that Jews made efforts to hide out in the Spanish colonies.

Rabbinical authorities do not always recognize the claims of Latinos to Jewish heritage. Identity must be proved by birth (matrilineal) or conversion. It was not enough that family practices were different from the rest of the community, that they had a special diet, that they read only from the new testament, or that they spoke an unusual dialect of Spanish. If someone can prove Jewish heritage, they are required to go through a ritual process that is essentially the equivalent of conversion: as part of the process they can make a special declaration of their fathers' faithfulness.

Judaism, as a whole, can be uncomfortable with plurality. Samaritans, Karaites, Khazars, and Falashas have been treated harshly; the first two cases involve plurodoxy, the last two genetics. The Lemba of Zimbabwe have used DNA testing to show their genetic relationship to Jews throughout the world. I am interested in seeing what the results of testing Latinos in New Mexico will show (my mother suspects that there is something extra to our Hispanic roots).


At 6:11 PM, Blogger Brdgt said...

Happy Chanukah to you Nat! I still fondly remember that kick ass holiday party you threw back in the day :)


At 4:29 AM, Blogger chlgeorge said...

Happy Hanukah :)

At 9:56 AM, Blogger Nathanael said...

Thank you, both.

B: I cooked some of the same dishes recently ... In more than half the time. I guess I am becoming a better chef.

At 4:52 AM, Blogger sarah said...

Great job on your talk on dna testing. I have a dna testing secrets blog if you wanna swing by my place!

At 10:08 AM, Blogger anna said...

I really liked the information on dna testing, great job! I have my own dna testing secrets blog if you would like to come and see what I have on mine.


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