Part II Sephardic Jews and the LDS Connection: A History of the Sephardim in Spain

On Festival days, processions were led by the clergy, who paraded into the city square. Behind the clergy marches the penitents who were dressed in Sanbenitos (yellow sacks painted with devils and flames), wearing pointed hats of shame and walking barefoot. The condemned Marranos followed. Some were carried in cages, for the injuries from the torture chambers left them deformed and immobile. Those who could walk held lit green candles. The sentences were read, and the condemned were marched out beyond the city gates to the quemadero, the place where the stakes were prepared for the auto de fe. The actual death by fire was carried out by secular law, for after the judgement was passed by the church, the condemned were turned over to the secular law enforcers. The justification of death by fire came from John 15:6. Armed with this Biblical passage, the collective population turned the act of faith into a macabre spectacle.

Hundreds of people came to watch and window seats around the square could be bought for a high price.  Hordes of people threw rotten tomatoes and eggs  at the victims, spat at them and shouted obscenities as they passed.  Priests beseeched them to recant, crying, “Receive the sign of the cross which ye have denied and lost.” If the condemned Marranos recanted and embraced Christianity, they were granted death by strangulation before being consigned to the flames. Few recanted. Most of the men, women, and children bravely walked to the stakes and were tied there. It was considered an honor for an esteemed member of the nobility to light one of the pyres. But often, as the flames roared up, the Marranos would lift their faces to the darkening sky and recite, Shema Yisrael Adonai Eloheenu, Adonai Ehad” then die as marytrs.        -Jane Francis Amler

In order to understand the Sephardic Jews and the LDS Connection you must first understand the History of the Sephardim. If you read no more of this post, please take from this one tidbit of knowledge: The Sephardic Jews are a Diaspora people who originated in the Iberia/Spain. A handsome proud people, the Sephardic Jews are often, but not always, tall in height, have piercing blue eyes, dark or light in complexion, with dark brown or dark red hair.  In a nutshell the Sephardic Jews are not your “Fiddler on the Roof” Jews.  Please see here for Part I

A large number of pioneering Jews settled Iberia during the reign of King Solomon in about 496 B.C. History is silent regarding these Jews until the first century when the first rules restricting their rights began in 486 A.D. by the Council of Toledo.  For the next three hundred years Visigoth Christians and Roman Catholics persecuted the Sephardic Jews.

The tides of fortune changed for the Sephardic Jews in 711 A.D. when Spain fell under the rule of the Muslim Moors.  The Sephardim enjoyed relative peace for the next three hundred years. Both Jews and Christians lived under protection by Muslim law.  Jews were given places of prominence in the royal courts. Intellectual and spiritual life flourished. Despite their minority status, the Jews were the wealthiest of Spanish citizens. Educated Jews excelled in languages, mathematics, philosophy, navigation, geography and exploration. Jews lived separately, but were allowed to have their own court system administered by Rabbis.

Islamic culture also influenced the Sephardic Jews. Muslim and Jewish names, customs and practices became intertwined. The Sephardic Jews adopted the practice of the Muslims by washing hands and feet before entering the Synagogue. Arab melodies became the music of the Sephardim. Jews wore the flamboyant style of the Moors, but were not allowed to wear silk, gold or furs. The women adored themselves in linen accented with silver bracelets and earrings.

Muslim Rule ended gradually as the Moors were pushed back from the 8th to the 13th Centuries. Beginning in the mid 13th century, as the Christians gained control, they began to exert pressure on the Jews to convert to Christianity. Some Jews willingly converted. Violent Anti-Jewish riots broke out in 1391 in several cities, under the threat of death, many converted to Christianity under duress. This was the beginning of the Spanish Crypto –Jewish or Converso culture. The Christianized Jews of Spain divided into two groups. True Conversos, those Jews who gave up all Judaic practices and beliefs in essence really converted to Christianity; and Crypto-Jews, who only pretended to convert. The Crypto Jews would attend mass, baptize their children, but on Jewish holidays and the Sabbath they worshipped in whispers behind heavy drawn curtains.

 In both cases they usually married other Cryptos or Conversos. These descendants were called New Christians. The Old Christians often discriminated against the New Christians.  The Old Christians, cursed the New Christians calling them Marrano (vulgar derogatory word meaning pig). This led to more problems as the Old Christians soon discovered the forced baptisms often resulted in the Christianized Jews resuming the practice of their faith. All New Christians were suspect even those who adhered faithfully to Catholicism.  Persecution mounted and hundreds were tortured and burned at the stake. Many of the Converso’s joined in persecuting their former Jewish comrades either out of desperation or sadism.

 Many of the wealthy Converso and Crypto Jews left Spain seeking business opportunities elsewhere.  The descendants of these Conversos soon lost any knowledge of their Jewishness. The Crypto Jews continued to practice their faith in secret.  Fearful that yet again,  wealth and their lives would be lost, understandably paranoia set in as Crypto Jews became reserved, secretive and clannish.  They keep their wealth and faith intact by marrying within the Crypto community, and by marrying cousins.

Soon the Catholic Church in Spain convinced Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand the Jews were expendable. In 1492 the Spanish Inquisition began and would last until 1834, Isabella and Ferdinand commanded that all Jews who refused to convert would be expelled.  The Jews had three months to leave and to abandon or sell their property at low prices. It is estimated as many as 200,000 exiles spread throughout Europe and North Africa, and throughout the Ottoman Empire. Soon the Inquisition fever spread to Portugal, Italy and France driving these exiles to yet another place. Depending on where they landed determined whether they practiced openly or began Crypto practice. In order to blend into their new communities the Sephardic Jews often changed their names to reflect their newly adopted community. For those who were able to retain their public Jewish status, proud in manner and practice, they maintained a superior air in regards to the poorer Ashkenazi Jews of Europe.

Many Crypto Jews and Conversos were trapped in Spain. Some could not bear to lose property and others were too poor or unfortunate to leave. The Crypto/Converso Jews in Spain, numbered about 100,000.  Those who adapted by becoming  Crypto Jewish also practiced their faith in secret. This came as a price as many were taken from their homes late at night, tortured to confess, to reveal others, and then be burned at the stake. All New Christians were under suspicion for hundreds of years.  Many New Christians escaped to the Americas. Until  75 to 100 years or so ago, Northern Mexico was home to dwindling numbers of  practicing Crypto Jews. Brazil, Colombia, and Peru, and Colonial America also had Crypto Jewish communities. Interesting to note, many believe as much as 40% of Puerto Rico is of Sephardic Jewish descent from Converso/Crypto Jews who fled the Inquisition. 

  Congratulations on completing such a long reading assignment! Give yourself a big pat on the back and an “A+” for effort!  




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About JA Benson

Joanna entered the world as a BYU baby. Continuing family tradition, she graduated BYU with a degree in Elementary Education and taught for several years. Growing up in Salt Lake County, her favorite childhood hobbies were visiting cemeteries and eavesdropping on adult conversations. Her ancestral DNA is multi-ethnic and she is Mormon pioneer stock on every familial line. Joanna resides in the Southeastern USA with her five children ranging in age from 8 to 24. Her husband passed away in 2009. She is an avid reader and a student of history. Her current intellectual obsession is Sephardic Jewish history, influence and genealogy. She served as a board member for her local chapter of Families with Children from China. She is the author of “DNA Mormons?” Summer Sunstone 2007 and “Becoming Hong Mei`s Mother” in the Winter Sunstone 2009

14 thoughts on “Part II Sephardic Jews and the LDS Connection: A History of the Sephardim in Spain

  1. Pingback: Topics about Arab » Part II Sephardic Jews and the LDS Connection: A History of the Sephardim in Spain

  2. Pingback: Topics about France » Archive » Part II Sephardic Jews and the LDS Connection: A History of the Sephardim in Spain

  3. It’s funny how most of us don’t think these are our people, and yet, I believe that many of us have Jewish ancestry and don’t know it. You’ve explained why – thank you for shedding light on the subject. The Lord spared a far distant great grandfather or grandmother so we could be here today. We all should take the time to learn if those Sephardic Jews were our people instead of the knee jerk reaction of “Oh, I’m not Jewish”.

  4. Joanna, I love the line from the Shema, “Hear O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One”

    If I am ever burned at the stake, I hope I can remember to recite these declaring words of faith as well.

  5. Thank you Geoff and cadams for stopping by and reading such a long post.
    CiCi-Thank you for stopping by too, we will continue to talk about the impact of roughly a quarter of a million-plus, educated and talented individuals, forced out of their community, can have on the world.
    Brian- I love the prayer too. I am far more worried about the club of last words, I will be in the next life, if I die suddenly in a car accident 🙂

  6. Pingback: Points of Interest v2, #8 « Mind, Soul, and Body

  7. Pingback: » Part VIII Sephardic Jews and the LDS Connection: What the Heck is a Melungeon? The Millennial Star

  8. No where in the world will you find so many males named
    Israel or Abraham like here in Puerto Rico. Its interesting
    to know that many of us puerto ricans have jewish blood. Even though its 80% catholic country, many are coverting
    to Judaism and also masionic movement.I have also felt
    great love for the state of Israel since I was a child.Shalom.

  9. Thank you Orlando Jimenez for your witness to the gathering. Surely this is a miraculous time to be alive! If you have not looked already at Harry Stein’s website, archived by Harvard University, Jimenez can be found on Harry Stein’s list see:

    Shalom to you as well.

    To read the rest of the series:

    Our pioneer names and DNA. THe rest of the posts explain how this happened
    part 1-

    What happened in Spain
    part 2-

    Some went to Turkey
    part 3-

    Some went to Western Europe
    part 4-

    Sephardic Influences
    part 5-

    England and Spain were at war. The Western Europe Converso and Crypto Jews fled even farther west in fear of Spain
    part 6-
    part 7-

    Some Sephardic Jews were part of the tri-isolate communities in America
    part 8-

    Sephardic descendants preferred to be out on the wilderness
    part 9-

    Sephardim altered or adapted their surnames, but often kept a few Sephardic given names
    part 10-

    Sephardic Jews had unique illnesses:

    Evidence of Orson Hyde’s Jewish ancestry using the Hirschman model

    We are all gathered

  10. Hello Great Job. I think you made some great points in your points and I am goign to do some follow up research topic related and learn more.

  11. These are the last days. Hashem is calling His people back. The entire world will see and know the Creator of the Universe who call upon the Jewish people to give testimony of His existence. To teach Torah which was, for a while taken from us through a big lie. May all the Sephardim pray for Hashem to bring us all back, and we will return. This time, the battle is His battle. Edom is coming to an end. Blessed be Hashem!!! Our ancestors paid a big price, it cost us our families, our possesion, what our ancestors worked for, so that they could get richer and powerful in finances. But no empire, not founded by Hashem, would last forever. Their empire is coming to an end. And the entire universe will know the truth! HalleluYah!!!!

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    Would you offer guest writers to write content in your case?
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