Rediscovered after a Mysterious Theft: the Oldest Document of Jewish Life in the New World

Currently on display at the New-York Historical Society is a tiny diary composed by Luis de Carvajal the Younger, a Spanish-born crypto-Jew who settled in Mexico as a teenager. The diary was stolen from the Mexican National Archives in 1932, resurfaced in late 2015, and was purchased by an American Jewish philanthropist who has restored it to the Mexican government following an agreement first to allow it to be exhibited in New York. Joseph Berger writes:

De Carvajal, a trader, was arrested [by the Mexican Inquisition] around 1590 as a proselytizing Jew and, while in prison, began writing a sometimes messianic memoir . . . on pages roughly four inches by three inches. In it, he called himself Joseph Lumbroso—Joseph the Enlightened. [The surname Lumbroso was used by his relatives in Salonika, who practiced Judaism openly.] It begins, “Saved from terrible dangers by the Lord, I, Joseph Lumbroso of the Hebrew nation and of the pilgrims to the West Indies, in appreciation of the mercies received from the hands of the Highest, address myself to all who believe in the Holy of Holies and who hope for great mercies.”

The memoir tells how he learned from his father that he was Jewish, circumcised himself with an old pair of scissors, secretly embraced the faith, and persuaded siblings to embrace it.

He was freed for a time—possibly so that the authorities could track his contacts with other secret Jews—and finished his autobiography, stitching it together with a set of prayers, the Ten Commandments, and the thirteen principles of the Jewish philosopher Maimonides. Scholars believe he made it miniature so he could conceal it inside a coat or pocket. In 1596, after having been found guilty again of observing Jewish practices, he was burned at the stake. He was thirty years old.

Read more at New York Times

More about: History & Ideas, Inquisition, Marranos, Mexico, Sephardim

Syria’s Druze Uprising, and What It Means for the Region

When the Arab Spring came to Syria in 2011, the Druze for the most part remained loyal to the regime—which has generally depended on the support of religious minorities such as the Druze and thus afforded them a modicum of protection. But in the past several weeks that has changed, with sustained anti-government protests in the Druze-dominated southwestern province of Suwayda. Ehud Yaari evaluates the implications of this shift:

The disillusionment of the Druze with Bashar al-Assad, their suspicion of militias backed by Iran and Hizballah on the outskirts of their region, and growing economic hardships are fanning the flames of revolt. In Syrian Druze circles, there is now open discussion of “self-rule,” for example replacing government offices and services with local Druze alternative bodies.

Is there a politically acceptable way to assist the Druze and prevent the regime from the violent reoccupation of Jebel al-Druze, [as they call the area in which they live]? The answer is yes. It would require Jordan to open a short humanitarian corridor through the village of al-Anat, the southernmost point of the Druze community, less than three kilometers from the Syrian-Jordanian border.

Setting up a corridor to the Druze would require a broad consensus among Western and Gulf Arab states, which have currently suspended the process of normalization with Assad. . . . The cost of such an operation would not be high compared to the humanitarian corridors currently operating in northern Syria. It could be developed in stages, and perhaps ultimately include, if necessary, providing the Druze with weapons to defend their territory. A quick reminder: during the Islamic State attack on Suwayda province in 2018, the Druze demonstrated an ability to assemble close to 50,000 militia men almost overnight.

Read more at Jerusalem Strategic Tribune

More about: Druze, Iran, Israeli Security, Syrian civil war, U.S. Foreign policy