Poems and Prayers Reveal the Inner Lives of the Hidden Jews of Mexico

After the Spanish monarchy outlawed Judaism in 1492, many Jewish converts to Catholicism and their descendants who sought to practice their religion in secret fled to the New World, hoping to be far from the watchful eyes of neighbors and ecclesiastical authorities. But the inquisition soon followed them, and was established in Mexico in 1521—where it was not abolished until 1820. Mark Schneegurt discusses what the poems and prayers of Mexican crypto-Jews reveal about their inner lives:

The sacred writings of crypto-Jews in Mexico 400 years ago ring with a desperation tempered by deep faith in the God of their ancestors. It was, [in their eyes] their own sin—turning their backs on the Law [and outwardly embracing Christianity]—that led to their suffering. Despite it all, they called out in repentance, hoping, knowing that God would in some way hear their cry—if sincere—and then generously shine His favor upon them once again.

The Carvajal family in Mexico was led by Luis de Carvajal, the younger, an alumbrado, or mystic. His family and friends became embroiled in the inquisition. Many of them, including Luis, were finally martyred at the auto-da-fé of 1596 in Mexico City.

Luis wrote a number of religious poems in Spanish; Schneegurt presents one in English translation:

As for myself, I have a heart enameled
with the name of the Lord, holy and blessed,
and as much as I feel faint,
in just thinking of Him my spirit rejoices. . . .
Remind me of the time that teaches me,
it was to deliver me from Egypt,
and to see that He that was then is now.
I hope for better times, I pray.

Read more at Librarians

More about: Inquisition, Judaism, Marranos, Mexico, Poetry


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