< Back

Book Notes: The Conquistadores and Crypto-Jews of Monterey, David T. Raphael

Michael Alpert

<plain_text><page sequence="1">Book Notes The Conquistadores and Crypto-Jews of Monterey, David T. Raphael (Carmi House, 2001) isbn 0-9620772-6-7, 295 pp. inc. appendices, references and bibliography. This book deals with Portuguese New Christians, some of whom continued to practise Judaism after the baptism in 1497 and for several generations afterwards. Despite the nominal prohibition, some New Christians sailed to New Spain (Mexico) in the sixteenth century and founded the city of Monterrey. The author is informative about the exploration and conquest of Mexico and what is now New Mexico, and gives useful lists of names and primary source documents. He provides genealogical information, but the book sadly lacks an index of names. His references are detailed and valuable. The linking of crypto-Judaism with the exploration and conquest of Mexico is not argued very cogently, however, save for the well-known sto? ries of Governor Luis de Carvajal the Elder and, in particular, of his nephew Luis Carvajal the Younger. The latter's moving, statement of his Jewish faith is usefully provided. Raphael suggests that the expedition of settlers into the as yet unexplored New Mexico may have been prompted by the Inquisition's closer investiga? tion of suspected Judaizing activity after the Carvajal case, which ended with an auto de fe in 1590. Gaspar Castano de Sosa, leader of the expedition, may have practised Judaism secretly ('may', 'possibly', 'probably', 'might have' and 'must have', occur very frequently, which to some extent makes one question the insistence in the preface that what is said is based on hard evi? dence), but except for the Carvajal case, the author provides no evidence of the crypto-Judaism which he claims, perhaps rightly, was practised by Portuguese New Christians and their descendants in New Spain. It is true that the interesting account of an auto de fe celebrated in the Canary Islands in 1526 demonstrates that the Garza family, still known in Monterrey, had crypto-Jewish origins, but the very fact that there were no Inquisition arrests in Monterrey for Judaizing may indicate that no such Judaizing took place rather than, as the book claims, that the Inquisition was inefficient. There continues to be much interest in people's possible Jewish ancestry, extraordinary statements having been made about the Jewish sympathies of the Spanish military dictator, General Franco, on the basis of his surname and the suggestion that he 'looked Jewish'. The only hard evidence is some comments in the 1940s which revealed his typical right-wing Catholic hos? tility. But to be descended from baptized Spanish or Portuguese Jews is without significance unless the descendants continued to practise Judaism, and this can be proved only by their migration to a community such as Venice or Amsterdam, or if the Inquisition brought a case against them. If the latter, one can assume that Judaism had been preserved in the family 207</page><page sequence="2">Book Notes since the first baptism in Spain or Portugal. But one cannot know for how long Judaism continued to be practised after the Inquisition prosecution. Monterrey may well have been 'teeming with Crypto-Jews' (page 251), but none were arrested. Not surprisingly, Jewish observance declined, it is claimed (but how can this be known?), and New Christians soon married Old Christians. This in itself was a sure sign that the New Christians did not want to preserve Judaism, since endogamy was the greatest concern among those who did continue to live as Jewishly as they could. This is a well-written and entertaining book, but one which is thin on its stated subject, even though it reproduces some interesting primary source material and has excellent references. Michael Alpert</page></plain_text>