Secrets of the Inquisition. The Life & Times of Luis de Carvajal the Younger
About this event
In the aftermath of the anti-Jewish riots of 1391, tens of thousands of Jews throughout Spain were either slain or forcibly converted to Catholicism (New Christians or Conversos). Some of those who converted maintained a deep attachment to their ancestral faith, keeping Jewish rituals and traditions in secret (Crypto-Jews). Over the centuries, Spanish and Portuguese conversos, along with their descendants, became the target of intense societal suspicion and prejudice. This mistrust eventually led to the establishment of the Inquisition in Spain and Portugal in the late 15th and early 16th centuries, along with discriminatory laws of racial purity (limpieza de sangre), which aimed to limit converso socio-economic integration.
From the earliest days of Iberian conquest and colonization, when Spanish and Portuguese explorers traversed oceans and continents, claiming new territories for the Iberian Kingdoms, many conversos migrated from Europe to the Americas. The Inquisition followed and established offices in México, Colombia, Perú, and Brazil. Although several generations removed from normative Judaism, many conversos were tortured and even killed for transmitting ancestral rituals, traditions, and memories to their posterity.
The drama truly captures the tragedy and courage of secret Jews vividly unfolded in late 16th century Colonial Mexico. Luis de Carvajal the Elder, a Spanish conquistador, a descendant of Hispano-Portuguese conversos, was appointed Governor of the Province of Nuevo Leon. He invited his sister’s family, including his nephew Luis de Carvajal the Younger (“El Mozo”), to join him in this new world. Many crypto-Jewish members of the family were eventually denounced and severely tortured by the Inquisition. Despite previous punishment and ongoing surveillance, they continued to secretly maintain Jewish traditions and customs, as passionately detailed in El Mozo’s secret memoir. In December 1596, Luis Carvajal the Younger, and his mother and sisters, were publicly burnt at an auto da fé, a public ceremony in which the Inquisition formally passed judgement upon the accused heretic. The extraordinary life of Luis Carvajal the Younger provides priceless insight into his beliefs and the broader 16th century life of Crypto-Jews. His writings were preserved and today are located in the Archivo General de la Nación in Mexico City.
Opening Remarks: Mr. Michael Steinberger CEO & Founder of Jewish Heritage Alliance.
Welcome Remarks: Rabbi Daniel Hadar is the Head Rabbi of the National Sephardic Synagogue - Temple Moses. He is a leading figure in the Ladino-Sephardic community and a practicing Intellectual Property Attorney.
Program Introduction: Dr. Isaac Amon a descendant of Sefarad, is an attorney and counselor at law and JHA Director, Academic & Program Development. Isaac graduated summa cum laude with “Highest Honors” in History for his thesis on the Spanish Inquisition and worked at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia in The Hague. He has visited execution sites and torture chambers of the Inquisition as well as Nazi death camps. At the onset of the global pandemic, he was in the Iberian Peninsula researching the Iberian Inquisition.
Key Speaker: Prof. Ronnie Perelis is the Chief Rabbi Dr. Isaac Abraham and Jelena (Rachel) Alcalay Associate Professor of Sephardic Studies at the Bernard Revel Graduate School of Jewish Studies and the Director of the Rabbi Arthur Schneier Program for International Affairs at Yeshiva University. He enjoys exploring the complexity and dynamism of Sephardic history with his graduate and undergraduate students at Yeshiva University. His research investigates connections between Iberian and Jewish culture during the medieval and early modern periods. His essays on Sephardic history analyze the dynamics of religious transformation within the context of the crypto-Jewish experience. His book, Narratives from the Sephardic Atlantic: Blood and Faith (Indiana University Press) explore family and identity in the Sephardic Atlantic world.
Currently he is working on a critical edition, English translation, and historical study of the rediscovered manuscripts of Luis de Carvajal, a Sixteenth century Mexican Crypto-Jewish thinker. Carvajal’s manuscripts were stolen from the Mexican National Archives in 1932 and only resurfaced in 2016. This project, undertaken in collaboration with Jesús de Prado Plumed, will offer readers the first opportunity to delve deeply into the spiritual world of a remarkable early modern religious thinker and it will provide a window into the inner dynamics of crypto-Jewish life in the Americas.
Guest Speaker: Mr. Isaac Artenstein A graduate of the University of California at Los Angeles, he has taught courses on film production and the history of Mexican cinema at UC San Diego and the University of San Diego. All his movies have been released through Cinewest, the company he co-founded in 1979 with his wife, Jude, a fellow filmmaker. He directed Ballad of an Unsung Hero which aired nationally on PBS and served as the basis for his feature film Break of Dawn. He also directed Tijuana Jews, Border Brujo and Growing Up Weston. He produced the comedies A Day Without a Mexican and Love Always. He also directed Challah Rising in the Desert: The Jews of New Mexico, and To the Ends of the Earth: A Portrait of Jewish San Diego, as part of the Frontier Jews series focusing on communities along the Southwest border region. He’s currently working on The Journeys of Harry Crosby about the pioneering photographer and historian of the Baja California peninsula.
Program Co-Hosting Partners:
Helping to promote this program are ANU Museum of the Jewish People, Weitzman National Museum American Jewish History, the Society for Crypto-Judaic Studies, the American Sephardi Federation’s Institute of Jewish Experience, Fundación HispanoJudía, EJCC European Jewish Community Center, the Jewish Learning Channel, Hadassah-Brandeis Institute, University of Miami (Leonard Miller Center for Contemporary Judaic Studies and the George Feldenkreis Program in Judaic Studies),Kulanu , Reconectar and The Temple Emanu-el Streicker Center.
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