Several years ago Professor Seth Kunin and I attended a national conference of messianic congregations where I had been invited to lecture on the history of cryptoJudaism in New Mexico As we passed by the numerous displays of talletim kippot and prayer books Seth whispered to me “As a rabbi I’m appalled but as an anthropologist I find all this absolutely fascinating!

Seth Kunin brings the training and orientation of both fields to his research into the phenomenon of cryptoJudaism in the US Southwest He is the author of several papers and articles on the topic and is currently preparing a manuscript on the ethnography of cryptoJews in New Mexico to be published by Columbia University Press

Born in New York City he was exposed early to the life of an anthropologist traveling around Mexico as a child with his mother Professor Carolyn Kunin Seth’s twin brother SCJS member David Kunin also became a rabbi and currently holds a pulpit at Congregation Beth Shalom in Edmonton British Columbia

He earned his BA at Columbia University MA at The Jewish Theological Seminary and his PhD in Social Anthropology from the University of Cambridge He was ordained as a Conservative Rabbi at Leo Baeck College in London

Seth’s initial research interests lay in structural analyses of Biblical texts with particular attention to women and the book of Genesis In the mid1990s he became aware of a growing body of literature dealing with cryptoJudaism and decided to explore the topic

“You might say that my move from Biblical analysis to cryptoJudaism started as a theoretical move” he explained “wondering how Israelite/Rabbinic cultural structures would be found in three modern communities cryptoJews Ethiopian Jews and Hasidic Jews After beginning the project I became so fascinated and intrigued by cryptoJudaism that it took over my research agenda and has been an extraordinary experience both in research and personal terms”

Receiving generous grants from the universities where he taught as well as from the British Academy the Carnegie Trust and the Estate of Eva Feld Seth has spent the past ten summers conducting anthropological field work in New Mexico He was the first anthropologist to apply a sophisticated theoretical construct to the study of cryptoJewish society in New Mexico It was not his purpose to either deny or demonstrate the historical validity of the community but rather to examine the dynamic nature of the group comprising those who assert a converso heritage at the turn of the twentyfirst century But despite this expressed intention his analysis appeared to confirm the presence of customs practices and belief structures among New Mexico Hispanos consistent with a historical evolution of these traditions from earlier generations Seth also recognized influences on cryptoJewish culture from other sources such as Protestantism Catholicism Ashkenazi Judaism and general AngloAmerican culture

Seth has been a mainstay of the Society for CryptoJudaic Studies since he presented his first paper to the organization in Albuquerque in 1995 Since then he has participated regularly in our conferences and has served on the program committee for the past nine years and as chair in 2003 Seth is a newly elected board Member at Large

He is leaving his position as Director of Research of the College of Arts and Social Sciences at the University of Aberdeen having accepted the prestigious post of Dean Arts and Humanities at the University of Durham in the UK