Marranos: A Lost People


Some people might call them New Jews, some New Christians, and others
call them Marranos. The majority of the world population has no idea who the
Marranos are. To begin to explain these secret people, one must first receive a
lesson in World History. We will begin in the 1492.
In school, we are brainwashed to connect the year 1492 with the year
that Columbus discovered the New World. Yet, if we look at the year 1492, there
are other occurrences which are noteworthy. For instance, in the year 1492,
Spain, the country which sent Columbus to America, decided to officially expel
the Jews from Spain. The Jews were forced to either leave Spain, convert to
Catholicism, or be put to death. This was not a surprise to the Jews of Spain.
Since 1931, there had been anti-Jewish riots throughout Spain. For years, the
Jews had been converting to Christianity to escape religious persecution. These
Jews were called conversos. The twist to this tale is that these conversos
actually were only putting on a front. They still considered themselves Jews.
They practiced in secret.1 The Spanish made every attempt to search out and
punish these conversos. Some Jews chose not to convert and they moved to
Portugal. . Unfortunately, Portugal, in 1497, expelled the Jews from its borders
as well. Anti-semitism was growing in Western Europe and the Jews needed to
escape. The prime choice seemed to be so obvious. The Jews went to the New World.

The immigration of the Marranos to the new world might have begun with
none other than Christopher Columbus. This, of course, is not definite, but
there has been research which has shown that Columbus was indeed a Marrano.
Apparently his parents were Marranos.2 Even though there are some disagreements
about this fact, there is strong evidence to support the claim that Columbus was
Jewish.
As the Marranos arrived in the New World, they were not able to reveal
their secret identities and practice as Jews. This was because the Spanish
government established inquisition offices in the New World. These office\'s sole
responsibility was to hunt down Marranos and bring them to justice. The
inquisitors had to visit every town once a year and gather evidence of "non-
believers" of the church. They would reward anyone who came forth with
information. The information could be days old or forty years old, it made no
difference to the Inquisitors. The punishments for being caught were varied,
never merciful. The mildest form of punishment was Scourging. This was when the
victim was forced to strip to the waist in public and receive hundreds of lashes.
The victims could also just be sent to the galleys. Women often had to go work
in hospitals or correction facilities without pay. The worst and most common
punishment was being burned at the stake. This was the punishment which the
Crown decreed appl ied to all who swayed from the church.3 For example, in 1649,
109 Marranos were rounded up in Mexico\'s capital and killed.4 The Marranos were
forced to live in hiding and in fear. One can compare this to the Jews in hiding
during the Holocaust. They had to always be careful of what they said and what
they did.
The fact that the Marranos kept their religion hidden meant that their
entire process of religious practice had to be transformed. This encompassed
prayers, holidays, scriptures and customs. The Marranos could not keep Jewish
books or religious materials and therefore everything had to be memorized and
passed down orally. This, of course, lead to a decline in religious knowledge
through each generation. Another obstacle was that the Marranos had to profess
their loyalty to the Catholic church. They often became involved in the church,
as to help conceal their true identities. There is a story of a Rabbi who
converted to Catholicism and he eventually became a bishop in the church. This
is just an example of the extremes that the conversos would go to in order to
conceal their religion.
Holidays took new forms during the Spanish Inquisition. The holiest
holiday of the Jews is Yom Kippur. During this holiday, Jews beg G-d for
forgiveness and they fast for 24 hours. Instead of praying all day, the Marranos
would only pray for a few hours. They did fast, but if they went outside they
would place a toothpick in their mouths in order to fool the Christians. The
Jewish holiday of Passover was also observed in an abnormal way. Normally the
holiday consists of two seders (meals) during which the story of the