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Book Notes: Crypto-Judaism and the Spanish Inquisition, Michael Alpert

Edgar Samuel

<plain_text><page sequence="1">Crypto-Judaism and the Spanish Inquisition, Michael Alpert (Palgrave, 2001) pp. 240. ISBN 0-333-91791 This is a succinct and well-written survey of the whole period of the Spanish Inquisition's persecution of the New Christians in the context of Spanish history. The most interesting section is that part based on the author's own original research in the records of individual Inquisition trials. Professor Alpert gets away from the lachrymose tradition of Jewish history and tries to make his study a detached and objective one, seeing the Inquisi? tion's activities from the Inquisitor's point of view. At times this goes too far. For example, nothing at all is said about the cult of the Holy Child of Guarda (now canonized as St Christopher of Guarda), where Torquemada deliber? ately concocted a bogus ritual-murder case in order to procure the 1492 226</page><page sequence="2">Book Notes expulsion. He makes it clear that in Spain, as distinct from Portugal, the Inquisitors were largely successful in eliminating secret Judaism. I find it surprising that in discussing the size of the Spanish Jewish community at the time of the expulsion he dismisses the demographic studies based on the poll taxes paid by the Jews and prefers the very much higher figures suggested by the medieval chroniclers. This means that the careful studies of Luis Suarez Fernandez, who put the number of Jews in Spain in 1492 at around 70,000/ and of Maria Jose Pimenta Tavares,2 who calculated the numbers of Jews in Portugal in 1496 at 35,000, do not figure in his wide-ranging and scholarly bibliography. In discussing Crypto-Judaism he suggests several times that Menasseh ben Israel's Tesoro de Dinim was likely to have circulated in Spain, a proposition for which there is no evidence at all. While Passover was reli? giously observed by Portuguese crypto-Jews until our own times, the evidence Professor Alpert produces for the preservation of Tabernacles is unconvin? cing. I felt also that more could have been said about the Inquisition's activit? ies in Spain's conquests in Mexico and Peru. Despite these criticisms, how? ever, it must be stressed that this is an important book covering many topics, rooted in wide-ranging study and direct archival research in the Inquisition archives, and is interesting to read. Edgar Samuel</page></plain_text>