The Secret Jews of the Age of Exploration

April 13 2017

Based on the autobiographical writings of three Crypto-Jews who lived in Spanish and Portuguese colonies during the 16th and 17th centuries, Ronnie Perelis’s Narratives from the Sephardic Atlantic explores their experiences and their relationships with Judaism. Here he describes one of the three figures, Manuel Cardoso de Macedo, who—unlike the other two—was not a descendant of Jewish converts to Catholicism:

Cardoso . . . starts his life as the son of a businessman in the Azores. He goes to England to study because his father does business there, then starts rethinking his life and religion. He rejects the Catholicism of his parents and countrymen and decides to become a Calvinist—this is his first transformation. When that’s found out, he gets arrested by the Inquisition and sent to prison in Lisbon, where he meets other prisoners accused of practicing Judaism. In prison his eyes are open to the possibility that Judaism is the true path he’s been looking for all along. After his release he escapes to Amsterdam and becomes a Jew. . . .

[Despite his very different story, Cardoso’s memoir shares with the others] a sense of spiritual brotherhood. These were spiritual believers joined together to form a community beyond their ethnic ties. . . . [Today], we often think religion is driven by theology—what do you believe? We forget the power of tribe, of blood, and of community in the making of what it means to be a religious person. You’re not alone with God. You’re always with someone, and we’re ultimately all hungry for brothers and sisters with whom we can share our faith. . . .

The centrality and nourishment that community offers aren’t in contradiction with the individual journey. We often see them in tension, but I think they’re an inevitable dialectic, constantly informing and remaking each other.

Read more at YU News

More about: Conversion, History & Ideas, Judaism, Marranos, Sepharadim, Spanish Inquisition


When It Comes to Peace with Israel, Many Saudis Have Religious Concerns

Sept. 22 2023

While roughly a third of Saudis are willing to cooperate with the Jewish state in matters of technology and commerce, far fewer are willing to allow Israeli teams to compete within the kingdom—let alone support diplomatic normalization. These are just a few results of a recent, detailed, and professional opinion survey—a rarity in Saudi Arabia—that has much bearing on current negotiations involving Washington, Jerusalem, and Riyadh. David Pollock notes some others:

When asked about possible factors “in considering whether or not Saudi Arabia should establish official relations with Israel,” the Saudi public opts first for an Islamic—rather than a specifically Saudi—agenda: almost half (46 percent) say it would be “important” to obtain “new Israeli guarantees of Muslim rights at al-Aqsa Mosque and al-Haram al-Sharif [i.e., the Temple Mount] in Jerusalem.” Prioritizing this issue is significantly more popular than any other option offered. . . .

This popular focus on religion is in line with responses to other controversial questions in the survey. Exactly the same percentage, for example, feel “strongly” that “our country should cut off all relations with any other country where anybody hurts the Quran.”

By comparison, Palestinian aspirations come in second place in Saudi popular perceptions of a deal with Israel. Thirty-six percent of the Saudi public say it would be “important” to obtain “new steps toward political rights and better economic opportunities for the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.” Far behind these drivers in popular attitudes, surprisingly, are hypothetical American contributions to a Saudi-Israel deal—even though these have reportedly been under heavy discussion at the official level in recent months.

Therefore, based on this analysis of these new survey findings, all three governments involved in a possible trilateral U.S.-Saudi-Israel deal would be well advised to pay at least as much attention to its religious dimension as to its political, security, and economic ones.

Read more at Washington Institute for Near East Policy

More about: Islam, Israel-Arab relations, Saudi Arabia, Temple Mount