The Perils of Living the Good and True Law: Iberian Crypto-Jews in the Shadow of the Inquisition of Colonial Hispanic America.

Author:Cook, Karoline P.
Position:Book review
 
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The Perils of Living the Good and True Law: Iberian Crypto-Jews in the Shadow of the Inquisition of Colonial Hispanic America. By Matthew D. Warshawsky. Newark: Juan de la Cuesta Hispanic Monographs, 2016. 176 pp.

The Perils of Living the Good and True Law explores the diversity of religious practices and lived experiences among crypto-Jewish families caught up in waves of inquisitorial persecution in mid-seventeenth century Spanish America. It focuses on five individuals tried before the inquisitorial tribunals of Peru and Mexico City in the 1630s and 1640s, a period of heightened suspicion toward the Portuguese merchants who had settled in Spanish territories during the union of the two crowns between 1580 and 1640. Many of these Portuguese merchants were also New Christians, and local officials became concerned about their loyalty to Spain during and after Portugal's struggles to regain independence. Known as the "Great Conspiracy," public paranoia surrounding conversos surged alongside current political and economic tensions, resulting in waves of denunciations, inquisitorial trials, autos de fe and executions.

Matthew D. Warshawsky's contribution lies in tracing the complex religious choices made by individuals who struggled to maintain their faith in an atmosphere of heightened suspicion, often without access to rabbinical guidance and the sacred texts. For some, this meant assuming a "chameleon-like identity" that allowed them to "live as Jews and Catholics at once" (16). Warshawsky analyzes crypto-Jewish practices on their own terms, by tracing both their "variance from normative Judaism" and the influences of Catholicism (16). Maintaining Judaism privately at home was often an interrupted and intermittent endeavor due to the imperative for secrecy to ensure survival. In this context, fasting emerges in a number of the trials analyzed as central to crypto-Jewish identities. Fasting provided a hidden means for observing important holidays including the "Great Day," or Yom Kippur, and the Fast of Esther that preceded Purim. Warshawsky notes the improvised nature of religious observance and obstacles such as the difficulty of dating Yom Kippur that led Tomas Trevino de Sobremonte to fast twice in one year. Jewish and Catholic rituals and the meanings ascribed to them could often blend together. Trevino described praying not only while standing but also while kneeling, a Christian practice. Other testimonies described Moses and Esther...

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