Who are Crypto Jews and What is Their Origin?

By Arthur Benveniste

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In 1391 massive anti-Jewish pogroms spread across Spain. Thousands of Jews were forced to convert to Catholicism. Over the next century there were many more forced conversions until, in March of 1492, the Catholic Kings, Ferdinand and Isabella, issued the infamous Alhambra Decree, ordering all Jews in Spain to convert or leave the country by August.

Many converted and stayed in Spain, but uncounted numbers of Jews gave up their possessions and fled the country. Many to Morocco and other parts of North Africa, some to Italy or France, others to the Ottoman Empire and still others to Eastern Europe. But the largest number went to Portugal.

At first they seemed to be safe in the Portugal of King Manoel, but in 1497 the king, ordered all Jews to Lisbon where they were forcibly converted. Most continued to observe Jewish rites in the privacy of their homes, but in 1506 some were discovered having a Passover service. This led to violent anti-Jewish rioting in which many thousands were dragged to the baptismal font. MORE ON THE FORCED CONVERSION OF THE JEWS OF PORTUGAL

The persecution of the Iberian Jews in the late XV and early XVI centuries coincided with the Spanish and Portuguese colonization of the New World. Hundreds of thousands of Jews immigrated to these colonies in order to escape. Recent research has shown that crypto Jews were prominent in the colonization of Mexico, including the founding of Monterrey and Nuevo Leon. Stanley Hordes, one of the founders of the SCJS, has shown that descendants of crypto-Jews could be found among the first settlers in New Mexico.

In the near future this site will add more articles about the crypto Jews of Iberia, Mexico, New Mexico and the American Southwest, Brazil and other parts of Latin America.