Monday, 11 May 2009

From Jewish conversos to mixed marriages: a question of split identity?

Miriam Shaviv of Haaretz reviews a fascinating study by Yirmiyahu Yovl in her article "Jewish by candlelight - from Spanish converso to modern mixed marriage." Here are the opening paragraphs:

Diego Arias was born a Jew in 15th-century Spain, but his parents converted him to Catholicism following a wave of anti-Jewish persecution. Later in life, as royal chief financier of Castile, and one of the most powerful figures in the land, he enjoyed chanting Jewish prayers; ate hamin, a stew in the style of a traditional Sabbath cholent, on Saturdays, and was once seen treating a Christian saint's effigy with disrespect. Yet he did not consider himself the least bit Jewish, and - just to complicate matters further - occasionally expressed skepticism about all religions.

So, was Arias a Jew, a Christian or an atheist? In "The Other Within," Yirmiyahu Yovel, founder and chairman of the Jerusalem Spinoza Institute, tries to make sense of the religious identity of such Marranos ? the Jews of Spain and Portugal who were coerced into converting to Christianity in the14th and 15th centuries - and their descendants.

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