A Hidden Mikveh in Brazil

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

Iran’s Options for Revenge on Israel

On April 1, an Israeli airstrike on Damascus killed three Iranian generals, one of whom was the seniormost Iranian commander in the region. The IDF has been targeting Iranian personnel and weaponry in Syria for over a decade, but the killing of such a high-ranking figure raises the stakes significantly. In the past several days, Israelis have received a number of warnings both from the press and from the home-front command to ready themselves for retaliatory attacks. Jonathan Spyer considers what shape that attack might take:

Tehran has essentially four broad options. It could hit an Israeli or Jewish facility overseas using either Iranian state forces (option one), or proxies (option two). . . . Then there’s the third option: Tehran could also direct its proxies to strike Israel directly. . . . Finally, Iran could strike Israeli soil directly (option four). It is the riskiest option for Tehran, and would be likely to precipitate open war between the regime and Israel.

Tehran will consider all four options carefully. It has failed to retaliate in kind for a number of high-profile assassinations of its operatives in recent years. . . . A failure to respond, or staging too small a response, risks conveying a message of weakness. Iran usually favors using proxies over staging direct attacks. In an unkind formulation common in Israel, Tehran is prepared to “fight to the last Arab.”

Read more at Spectator

More about: Iran, Israeli Security, Syria