Four chapters in the history of crypto-Judaism in Brazil: the case of the northeastern New Christians (17th-21st centuries)
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The present work examines the history of a group of New Christians who were imprisoned by the Portuguese Inquisition between 1730 and 1740 in the northeastern Brazilian Captaincy of Paraiba. Our purpose is to assess the importance of Jewish interventions to the maintenance or resurgence of Jewish practices and Jewish identity among Portuguese conversos. Our point of departure is a discussion of three specific periods in the history of the New Christians of the Brazilian northeast: First, a period during which an openly-professing and Jewish community existed legally in Pernambuco under Dutch rule (1630-1654); second, the post-Dutch period, when a crypto-Jew who was not related to the group and harbored a stronger faith than its members, revived crypto-Jewish practices and instilled a crypto-Jewish identity among them. Third, we examine a much more recent period, beginning in the 1970s, in which historiography itself has played a central role in causing the local resurgence of crypto-Judaic practice and identity. We attempt to demonstrate that, contrary to the claims of traditional historiography on conversos, the Judaic practices and beliefs of the descendants of the Iberian Jews who converted to Christianity during the fifteenth century did not survive or reappear as a consequence of an uninterrupted cultural transmission of Jewish precepts; rather, these beliefs and practices survived because of external influences that the New Christians experienced in the course of their history.
CitationJewish History. New York: Springer, v. 25, n. 2, p. 207-227, 2011.
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