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The crypto Jews we are hearing about today are descendants of those Sephardic Jews of Spain and Portugal who continued to observe customs and rituals of Judaism in secret although having converted to Catholicism in the 15th century because of persecution and violence. Many also converted to avoid the exile decreed by the Spanish and Portuguese kings, which would have forced them, as practicing Jews, to leave their countries and settle elsewhere. Although practicing Catholics, however, these New Christians, remaining in Spain, were subject to persecution by the Inquisition and the local population. Many left for parts of Western Europe, like the Netherlands or Great Britain or to the Ottoman Empire where they could return to Judaism. Others found their way to Spain’s and Portugal’s colonies in the New World, where, with the Inquisition establishing itself, they needed to continue hiding Jewish practice.
Today, many of their descendants, in the U.S. and and Latin American countries are realizing that some customs still practiced by their families, most of whom are Christian, indicates that their ancestors could have been Sephardic Jews. In some cases, there are families that continue observing Jewish rituals in secret, through five centuries to the present.
Our panelists today have a lively interest in this, as people with this very same heritage or as scholars studying the subject. Today, they’ll be sharing what they know with us.
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