A Hidden Mikveh in Brazil

Nov. 17 2020

In 2016, the Brazilian-American children’s writer Daniela Weil spent six months in the city of Salvador, in Brazil’s Bahia state. Unlike her native São Paulo, which has a thriving Jewish community, Salvador has only some 200 Jews. But Weil soon learned that the city—once the center of the Portuguese Inquisition in the New World—had a mikveh (ritual bath). She eventually met Bruno Guinard, the transplanted Frenchman who discovered the mikveh on the grounds of the hotel he owns, and told her its story:

“A few years ago,” he began, ​“a Jew­ish guest from Europe noticed the odd-look­ing foun­tain near the court­yard. She told me she thought it might be a mikveh.”

What was a mik­veh? he won­dered. He shrugged it away, until a sec­ond Jewish vis­i­tor asked the same question.

He decid­ed to go to the office of his­tor­i­cal her­itage to inquire about the guests’ asser­tion. They sent a team to inspect the hotel, and gave him a ver­dict: the foun­tain was noth­ing more than a Por­tuguese bath. Now, Bruno knew lit­tle if noth­ing of Jew­ish his­to­ry. He had heard of Turk­ish Baths, and Japan­ese baths, but he knew he had nev­er heard of a Portuguese bath before. And he knew baths only began being built in the homes in Sal­vador in the 19th cen­tu­ry. That made him think something was indeed fishy. His curios­i­ty led him to jump down the research rab­bit hole himself.

Bruno began to research Cryp­to-Jews dur­ing the Inqui­si­tion. He learned of all the dif­fer­ent ways that they laid low: Torah scrolls hid­den behind false walls, secret com­part­ments in homes, subtle mark­ings on stone. Despite lit­tle aca­d­e­m­ic research about the Jews in Bahia, many his­to­ri­ans believe that up to three-fifths of the pop­u­la­tion may have been “New Chris­tians,” Jews who con­vert­ed dur­ing the Inqui­si­tion, [or their immediate descendants]. Bruno found out that about 80 per­cent of the Inquisi­to­r­i­al cas­es in Bahia were for secret Jew­ish practices.

Subsequently, several scholars have confirmed Guinard’s suspicion.

Read more at Jewish Book Council

More about: Brazil, Inquisition, Latin America, Marranos, Mikveh

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