Shabbat and Secret Jews

April 26, 2013

Every week, Jody Hirsh, the JCC's Judaic Education Director, provides a Shabbat message that is featured at the top of the JCC's weekly email newsletter.  Below is the Shabbat message for Friday, April 26, 2013. 

Shabbat and Secret Jews

For the secret Jews of Spain, the Sabbath provided a particularly sticky problem. Called Maranos (“pigs”) they were reviled by the Inquisition and sought out by their neighbors. They, on the surface, seemed as though they were church-going Christians, but in secret they practiced Judaism - the religion of their ancestors. However, every moment their lives were in danger. They were scrutinized lest they betray their true faith. The Sabbath, with its many restrictions, posed a particular problem. How do they observe the Sabbath without arousing suspicion?

A tale is told by Roy Archuleta in family history, Where We Came From:

In the city of Seville, an inquisitor said to the regent: ‘My Lord, if you wish to know how the Maranos keep the Sabbath, let us ascend the tower.” When they had reached the top, the former said to the latter; “Lift up your eyes and look. That house is the home of a Marano; there is one which belongs to another; and there are many more. You will not see smoke rising from any of them, in spite of the severe cold; for they have no fire because it is the Sabbath.”

To this day, there are families, descended from these brave secret Jews, who have forgotten that they are Jews, but hold on to their age old family traditions: lighting Friday night candles in a cabinet or in a pitcher knowing that it is family tradition without knowing the true origin of the custom; having special greetings on Friday night or Saturday without knowing why; having a special family meal on Friday night. Others who are no longer Jewish acknowledge their family roots in the Marano experience.  Architect Santiago Calatrava who designed the new wing of the Milwaukee Art Museum traces his roots to the secret Jews of Spain as does director KJ Sanchez who directed “The Diary of Anne Frank” at the Rep last year.

Shabbat Shalom