How Spain’s Assault on Its Jews Made Them Rethink the Relationship between Religion and Peoplehood

In 1391, the escalating persecution suffered by Iberian Jewry led to mass conversions, which continued as the Jews’ situation worsened. The presence of large populations of former Jews, and the return of some of their descendants to Judaism in subsequent generations, challenged the way both Jews and Gentiles understood Jewish identity. David Graizbord explains how:

By . . . 1415, some half to two-thirds of Castilian and Aragonese Jews had become titular Christians. Irrespective of the sincerity [of their conversions], or lack thereof, in many if not most cases the converts and their immediate, baptized descendants still lived among, or relatively close to, Jews and had extensive social, economic, and familial relations with them. This meant that for the first time, the religion and the ethnicity of tens of thousands of people once known and still widely regarded as “Jews” were at odds: these “New Christians” were “Jewish” as concerned their social and economic relations, their ethnic culture, and their social reputation, yet their religious identity was at least theoretically identical to that of the majority population.

Of particular interest in this connection is the promulgation as early as 1436 of private and municipal statutes of “Purity of Blood.” This concept formally recast and stigmatized Jewishness as a matter of descent rather than of official religious status, much less of demonstrable belief and behavior. Equipped with this new notion of purity, “Old Christians” began to treat questions of morality and religious fealty as matters of familial heredity.

For their part, Jews acquired a correspondingly acute consciousness of their genealogy. . . . Jewish letters of introduction from the late 1300s and early 1400s, [i.e. from when mass conversion began], differ from older ones in explicitly distinguishing between “good” Jewish families—that is to say, families whose members had not converted—and families sullied by Christianization. A fateful message of the letters was that while Iberian Jews may share ethnicity, their differing fealty to God rendered them essentially separate. What now mattered for purposes of determining a Jew’s character as a Jew, was not only the quality of his or her behavior as an observer of mitzvot, but the caliber of his or her yiḥus [lineage].

Read more at Tablet

More about: Conversos, Sephardim, Spanish Inquisition


What Is the Biden Administration Thinking?

In the aftermath of the rescue of four Israeli hostages on Friday, John Podhoretz observes some “clarifying moments.” The third strikes me as the most important:

Clarifying Moment #3 came with the news that the Biden administration is still calling for negotiations leading to a ceasefire after, by my count, the seventh rejection of the same by Hamas since Bibi Netanyahu’s secret offer a couple of weeks ago. Secretary of State Blinken, a man who cannot say no, including when someone suggests it would be smart for him to play high-school guitar while Ukraine burns, will be back in the region for the eighth time to urge Hamas to accept the deal. Why is this clarifying? Because it now suggests, here and for all time, that the Biden team is stupid.

Supposedly the carrot the [White House] is dangling in the region is a tripartite security deal with Saudi Arabia and Israel. Which would, of course, be a good thing. But like the stupid people they are now proving to be, they seem not to understand the very thing that led the Saudis to view Israel as a potential ally more than a decade ago: the idea that Israel means business and does what it must to survive and built itself a tech sector the Saudis want to learn from. Allowing Hamas to survive, which is implicitly part of the big American deal, will not lead to normalization. The Saudis do not want an Iranian vassal state in Palestine. Their entire foreign-policy purpose is to counter Iran. I know that. You know that. Everybody in the world knows that. Even Tony Blinken’s guitar is gently weeping at his dangling a carrot to Israel and Saudi Arabia that neither wants, needs, nor will accept.

Read more at Commentary

More about: Antony Blinken, Gaza War 2023, Joseph Biden, Saudi Arabia, U.S.-Israel relationship