Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Descendants of Marranos (Anusim) III - A personal story

Nancy's comment to "Descendants of Marranos (Anusim) II - should they ...":
My name is Nancy and I am a Marrano living in Israel. I read with interest the comments and would like to address a comment by one of the bloggers, "How on earth could there still be Marranos/Anusim/Conversos four hundred years....".

As for my own family, we migrated from Mayorca, Canary Islands and some went to Holland. One of my ancestors migrated from Holland to Curacao where the first synagogue was built in the Americas. He was a merchant surnamed Levy and he sold his wares in a port village in Puerto Rico called Cabo Rojo. He moved to Puerto Rico with his wife a Marrano surnamed Quinones de la Torre to a town in the jungle covered mountains called Lares. Lares is so remote, often it cannot even be found on the map. This little village was a refuge for Marrano families for Puerto Rico had a Office of the Inquisition up into the 1850's.

Our families only married other Marrano Jewish families. We never intermarried. Marriages were normally arranged by parents and often we married cousins. I have 8 generations of my Jewish mothers documents. All of our names are on the Inquisition List, which is really just a list of the census of the Church of Spain which names all their Jews. We have always known that we are Jews. My great and grandmothers always touched the door upon entering or leaving and said a prayer. This is not a Catholic practice. My mother escaped baptism. My grandparents never once stepped into a Catholic Church. They never had a cross or religious image in their home. My mother would not allow crosses in our home either. My mother always wore a Star of David. My mother remembers that her mother lit candles and she saw the bottle of wine on the table. My mother always took me with her and another Puerto Rican woman to immerse in the ocean. We really did not know any Halacha whatsoever. All we know is that we cannot mix our blood.

The reason we are called Marrano Jews....which means "pig" Jew, is because we would not eat pig. I carry that title with pride.

I am the one in my family who could not accept being a Jew, even though I was told when I was young, I just couldn't believe it for I knew nothing of the history of the Jews.
I thought I was a "pedigree Spaniard" for that is what my father used to tell me. I have blond hair and blue eyes so I believed him.

I was about as shocked as you are to find for certain that all this is true. As this blogger whom I quoted above showed us his prejudice towards Hispanics and Marranos....I kind of felt the same way! I was born into a prejudice because I was raised to think that I was different than the others...I just didn't know it was because we are Jews!!


  1. "Our families only married other Marrano Jewish families. We never intermarried. Marriages were normally arranged by parents and often we married cousins."

    Without affiliation to Rabbinical Judaism, I would assume that mamzerut be a concern.

    "I have 8 generations of my Jewish mothers documents."

    The Expulsion from Spain was 500 years ago, roughly 20 generations. Without an affiliation to a Rabbinical Jewish community, there is no way to ascertain Jewish status or that there is no mamzerut.

    "All of our names are on the Inquisition List, which is really just a list of the census of the Church of Spain which names all their Jews."

    Judaism is not by patrilineal descent as is other religions. It does not matter what your surnames are. There are millions of Hispanic non Jews who have "Jewish" surnames because of intermarriage between Jewish men and non Jewish women.

    "My great and grandmothers always touched the door upon entering or leaving and said a prayer."

    Catholics touch the wood of the door upon entering the house as a remembrance of the wood of the cross. This is not a Jewish practice. Jews do not pray over the mezuza when entering the home.

    The Christian custom of touching the wood door comes from a Pagan practice to ward off evil. Pagans believe that spirits (dryads) live in trees.By knocking on the door while making a prayer, one prevents the spirit from entering the home.
    This is not a Jewish practice.

    "My mother remembers that her mother lit candles"

    In Christianity candles are commonly used in worship as a symbol of the light of Christ. Many Catholics light candles every Friday as a remembrance of the crucifixion which occurred on Good Friday.

    "My mother always took me with her and another Puerto Rican woman to immerse in the ocean. "

    The word "baptism" is Greek for "immersing" and it is the act of spiritual cleansing in water.

    Immersion is practiced in the Orthodox and several of the other Eastern Churches, as well as in the Ambrosian Rite. On the basis of Romans 6:3-11 it has been generally supposed to have been the custom of the early Church as a method of cleansing from sin.

    "We really did not know any Halacha whatsoever."

    Even if your Jewish heritage could be proven scientifically, you have been completely separated from Rabbinical Judaism and are not Jewish.

    "The reason we are called Marrano Jews....which means "pig" Jew, is because we would not eat pig. I carry that title with pride."

    Marrano comes from the word "maharam", which means forbidden in Arabic. Both Muslims and Jews eschew pork products as a matter of faith. Both Muslims and Jews in Christian Spain were called "marranos". Perhaps you family may have some Moorish heritage. The Jews and Muslims from Moorish lands who poured into Spain during the Golden Age shared many of the same surnames.

  2. Nancy your story is interesting and I appreciate that you shared it with us.

    You have left out a rather critical piece of information - what rabbi has told you that you are Jewish?
    Given the facts you have presented there are some very serious questions of Jewish law that need to be clarified. Were they in fact examined by an established authority or did you decide on your own that you are Jewish according to halacha?

    What would happen if someone in Moscow was informed by a neighbor that his parents and grandparents were American citizens. Could he simply take a plane to America and settle down as a true American? While he might be correct - there is obviously much that has to be done to verify and certify the status.

    One of the cruel problems that happen in this area is when individuals who are not fully versed in Jewish law and are not recognized by the Jewish community as authorities - make decisions in cases like your which are not accepted by the major religious authorities.

    Not every one who is a rabbi is accepted as an expert in these areas.

    So please, before you make accusations against others of bias and prejudice against Hispanics et cetra. Please become much more knowledgeable of the the issues. If you want more information you can contact me by email

  3. Wow this is a great topic!

  4. To anonymous who says: "Wow this is a great topic!" and to Nancy, if you have been following this blog or if you take a little time to review past posts, you will see that this topic has been discussed previously (after all the owner of this blog has marked this post as a part "III" of "Descendants of Marranos (Anusim)...") and here are some of the past key posts to review:

    *Descendants of Marranos (Anusim) II - should they be encouraged to convert?

    *Conversos (anusim) vs. Ethiopians - which is more Jewish?

    *Rabbi Manny Vinas objects to criticism and explains his position

    *Proselytizing the Hispanic community I - The halachic paradox of the non-Jewish descendants of anousim (marranos)

    *Rabbi Vinas - the unanswered questions???

    *Rabbi Manny Vinas - part of movement that encourages converts

    *HaRav Aaron Soloveichik zt"l - descendants of Marranos are treated as Jews

    *Descendants of Marranos (Anousim) - should they be encouraged to convert?

    *Descendants of Marranos (Anousim) - should they be encouraged to convert? II

    and a few more...

  5. Pre Expulsion Spain - Muslims

    Muslims who were forcibly converted to Christianity were most commonly known as Moriscos but also as Marranos.

    From the Middle Ages to the early 1600s Spanish Muslims were encouraged, sometimes peacefully, sometimes forcibly, to adopt Catholicism. Muslims who refused to convert faced penalties for adhering to Islam. Many Muslim conversos continued to remain crypto-Muslims. Furthermore, adherent Muslims were busily re-proselytizing among the Moriscos. This became a matter of concern to the Spanish crown, which finally expelled the remaining Muslim population in the decree of 1610; most of whom made their way to lands controlled by the Ottoman Empire, or to North Africa.

    It was this historical precedent that inspired many Muslim leaders to rescue Jews during the Holocaust. Muslim leaders said, "whenever the Christians go after the Jews, it is the Muslims who are next; and when the Christians go after Muslims, it is Jews who are next".

    As an American Jew, I am paying close attention to the Crusades in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as to the Presidential race which includes a candidate whose motto is a "Christian President for a Christian country" and whose spiritual mentor is John Hagee of "G-d sent Hitler" fame.

  6. Dear Bloggers/Daas Torah,

    I have not checked this site in a very long time and was surprised at the attention my story received and the comments left. They are interesting and thought provoking. I would like to leave a response to a couple of the comments that may clarify just a point or two for whatever it may (or may not be worth), in connection with differences in Catholic ritual and Marrano Jewish identity:

    "Marrano" is a Spanish word. (Small point.) Everyone who speaks Spanish knows it. Even in the Sephardi Heritage (Orthodox) Program in Jerusalem we are taught in the seminary that this word was given to the Jews who refused to eat pig. I assume our rabbis and our Sephardi History teachers know the subject, for this is what they teach. Older Spanish people normally know about this. It's a fascinating point made but if it's Arabic, it still wouldn't change a thing.

    And, I assume you know Spanish people have two names, father's and mother's, the mother's name is placed at the end. We DO follow the mother's line and pull the records of her mother, her mother's mother...etc. It takes a long time because the records are handwritten and mostly owned by the Church of Spain. It's a huge task and 8 generations is more than most Ashkenazim have available. People normally don't have to go back 20 generations. The Church of Spain kept their eyes on Jewish families. They recorded the names of the families. All branches of my family are recorded upon the census of the Jews from the Church of Spain. Since the list exists I was more concerned about marriage after their arrival in the Americas.

    Much information is known from the region the family comes from. For instance, Majorca and the Canary Islands were typically where the Marranos fled while awaiting passage to the New World. It was often a long wait and generations were born there until money was raised for the passage. Ships usually stopped at the Canary Islands on their way out to the Caribbean. It is very, very probable that anyone coming from these particular islands are escaping Catholic persecution. This is historical.

    The custom of touching the door is completely different than that of touching wood to symbolize the "cross"....especially since this family did not allow crosses in their homes! A blessing spoken while touching the door post is quite different than simply touching wood. A cross in a Spanish country is readily excepted everywhere ....except in a Jewish home! Had the idea been to "touch the wood of the cross"....why not just have a cross???

    Our women wore The Star of David under their garments. (They could have worn a cross.) Our family was very proud of being Jewish even though it was not public.

    Spanish countries do not immerse. Spanish countries fall under "The Pope of Rome", not Orthodox, as the blogger mentioned could be a reason for immersion. Protestants immerse. Roman Catholics (for centuries) have used the "insertion method"...they pour the water upon the forehead for baptism. This baptism is done ONCE IN YOUR LIFE, whether Catholic OR Protestant OR Orthodox...any Christian, ONLY ONCE...not monthly! Puerto Rico is strictly Roman Catholic...they do not immerse. Only Jews immerse regularly. Christians do not. Originally baptism for the "forgiveness of sin", as they say, was performed late in life, (after they had all their fun), because it could only be given once in your lifetime.

    I neglected to mention that my family spoke a "different type of Spanish" referred to as Ladino. We called it "the old Spanish". It comes from not being exposed to mainstream Spanish. It died out in our village 2 generations back. My father and mother remember it. I think it is fair to say that anyone who speaks Ladino is Jewish.

    Also, many rabbis have reviewed the documents and are convinced. I agree with the bloggers and Daas Torah that not everyone is an expert and there are many considerations in Jewish Law. It's a complicated situation. Some of these details don't really matter so much and not all Marrano families have as strong ties with their Jewish identities. We just happen to be ones that do and we were separated from the rest of the population. It is a little rare.

    In the end, we all have to go to the mikveh anyways! The Marranos, the Ethiopians...the difference is whether your natural father's name is on the certificate or "Abraham's". There is a difference in the wording of the immersion ritual. (This small difference means a lot to a Jew.
    A Jew is really not supposed to be "converted".) My family went to exile...we are not gentiles.

    I often wonder if this influx of Marranos from all over the world since the birth of Israel is what the prophets spoke about in many books and in the morning when we recite..."we will be gathered from all the nations where we were dispersed, even if at the end of the heavens, from there He will gather us and bring us....etc". If this is from G-d what are we doing trying to stop them? Will we have to answer for that? If we are mistaken and are actually hindering Jews from coming home, isn't that ... "bad"? I don't think it's all an accident this is happening at this time in history! Perhaps the events the prophets spoke of are rushing in on us?

    Thank you printing my story and all the meaningful feedback.

    1. Nancy,

      My grandfather's surnames are Quinones and Levy. He was born in Lares (1869). I am researching the family history and can't find his information anywhere. I would appreciate learning from you how you completed your search.

      Edmundo Quinones Colon

    2. Nancy,

      My surnames are Levy and Quinones. My grandfather was born in Lares (1869). I am researching my family history and would like to learn from your experience. I would welcome hearing from you.
      Edmundo Quinones Colon

    3. Thank you, Nancy. It is so painful to know what our ancestors suffered and now to suffer emotionally at the hands of our own people who will not receive us. Very painful

    4. Thank you, Nancy. It is so painful to know what our ancestors suffered and now to suffer emotionally at the hands of our own people who will not receive us. Very painful

  7. Nancy, the fact that there are families (hundreds? thousands?) who continue to - not only practice some aspects of Judaism - but identify themselves as Jews is enough for me. IF - though - you have to go through something symbolic (like immersion in a mikveh), do so. Nobody has the right to tell you you aren't a Jew!

  8. Chaya said...

    Nobody has the right to tell you you aren't a Jew!
    Interesting fantasy - it is obviously not true. Of course the Jewish community has the right to decide who is Jewish.

  9. There is no concern of mamzeruth in these cases because if there were no qiddushin (according to halakha), there is NO possibility of mamzeruth. In fact, those that married through the church could not divorce, and remarry, thereby invalidating the possibility of mamzeruth.

    Moreover, Haham Ben-Sion Uzziel, the 1st Chief Sephardic Haham of Israel said that the anusim must be treated as Jews and that their unions were done leshem shamayim.

    Also, all of the Sephardic Hahamim, including Shelomo Duran, Yosef Caro, Yaaqob Adendana, considered these people Jews.

    The Talmud Babli in tractate Sanhedrin establishes that an Israelite is still Israel until 1000 generations even though he sinneth. This means that if one descends from a Jewish mother, even though she left the Israelite community, all of her daughters carry Judaism to the following generations.

    People forget that the Inquistion was officially over in 1862, not 500 years ago. Many people in Latin America still have traumatic behaviors due to the inquisitors' scrunity.

    Anthropological/Socioplogical studies of specific anusim communities in Latin America show that despite practicing catholicism outwarding, Jewish customs and traditions were transmitted by the mothers to their children. If you don't believe, go see for yourself.

    There is a concept in the Torah and Jewish Law called Hazaqah, strength of Law, which is applied to many different cases, including kashruth, identity of a Kohen, milah, and is also applied to establishing Jewish identity when a person was coerced to flee his/her community.

    Hazaqah was used to determine the identity of many Jews of the former Soviet Union, Shoah survivors, and many cases in the U.S. where a Jew wanted to become a ba'al teshubah.

    The term "anus" ONLY applies to an Israelite, not a goy. Therefore, by defalt, he/she is a Jew, very much like a meshumad, min, or apikorus. The latter do NOT stop being Israelites because of their status, very much like the anus.

    In fact, the Talmud states an "anus/a" are not held liable for any of the miswoth that they invalidate because of their condition.

    If the Rabbis of the Sanhendrin did not condemn them, who are you to rule contrary to their judgement? Is your wisdom greater than theirs or of the many Sephardic Sages that returned them? (From Duran to Uzziel)

    Consider that Moshe Rabbenu and Queen Ester were anusim.

  10. Didn't suffer half enough.

  11. No estás sola. Mi familia vino de Utuado. El pueblo inmediatamente al este de Lares. Apellidos Miranda, Medina, Isaac. Mis abuelos eran primos. Cuando yo cumplí 13 años mi madre me llevó a casa de mi abuelo y él cerró las ventanas y me dijo q somos judíos, que venimos originalmente de Jerusalén y que tengo q pasar esto a mis hijos y nietos a los 13 años o so no se me quedará la lengua pegada al paladar. Luego me mudé a Estados Unidos y comprendí q ESO fue un vestigio de Bar Mitzvah y q el nombre de mi mamá Esther estaba relacionado con la historia de Purim y regresé al judaismo. Mi madre y mi hermana escribieron también cartas q se encuentran hoy en unos archives en LA ciudad de Haifa. Yo ahora puedo hablar hebreo. En Puerto Rico hay muchísimos cripto-judíos en las montañas de Utuado, Lares, Adjuntas y Moca (y también aunque en menor proporción en Jayuya, Moca y San Sebastián). Aunque parezca raro el mundo judio ya sabe de nosotros, está listo para ayudarnos y para recibirnos de regreso. Solo falta q salgamos todos de nuestros escondites y busquemos ayuda con organizaciones judias como Shavei Israel, Kulanu o Chabad (Jabad) Chabad de Puerto Rico se puede conseguir facilmente pot internet. Yo hice mi regreso no por Chabad sino por acercarme a yeshivot Sefarditas en Israel. Pero cualquier acercamiento cuenta. Ya no hay Inquisición q temer. Y aunque ahora son los terroristas islamicos q estan contra nosotros ellos también desaparecerán porque nuestros perseguidores siempre desaparecen y nosotros siempre nos volvemos cada vez mejores como comunidad.

  12. You don't know enough about how Anusim and bnei Anusim incorporate practices from surrounding cultures, do you?

  13. Just FYI (although to be fair, I found this site eight years later), you're ironically getting the same kind of backlash from many Ashkenazim on this blog about which Ashkenazi bnei Anusim like myself complain when we get it from Sephardi Anusim and/or are not counted as bnei Anusim because we are Ashkenazim.

    BTW, your case illustrates why many Jews (Anusim and Non Anusim alike) remain separate from Rabbinical Judaism: as succinctly as a father who was discounted in his daughter's conception observed, you don't have to convert to what you already are.


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