Crypto-Jews, The: The History of the Forcibly Converted Jews Who Secretly Practiced Judaism during the Inquisition

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By the end of the 14th century, the distrust and prejudice against Jewish communities quickly spread to Spain. In 1391, James II of Aragon boarded the bandwagon; backed into a corner by the Roman Catholic Church, he established a law that banned Jews from Spain altogether. Jews were shunned in droves, and the remaining were given an ultimatum to either convert/revert to Catholicism or face immediate death. Yet another wave of gory pogroms ensued across the country, especially in Barcelona. For nearly 400 years, the city of Barcelona had served as the central hub of the European Jewish communities, but in just 3 years, all 23 Jewish synagogues in Barcelona had been forcibly demolished. Nothing but charred remnants and ashes lay in its place. 

When the Spanish Inquisition was in full swing, the inquisitors' handbooks included tips and guidelines on how to identify a rogue Jewish converso, or as others mocked them, the “crypto-Jews.” Inquisitors were on the lookout for individuals who did their cooking and cleaning on Friday nights, which was a Jewish habit. These relapsos frequented local Jewish stores to stock up on kosher meals. The latter individuals were fairly easy to spot, as most Spaniards at the time consumed hearty amounts of pork, a staple prohibited in Jewish and Muslim law. The absence of chimney smoke on Saturday nights was another clue that those inside could be honoring the Sabbath.

Nonetheless, the “crypto-Jews” would continue to secretly practice their religion and run the risk of incurring the Inquisition’s wrath, all the way up until the notorious expulsion of the Jews in Spain at the end of the 15th century.