Converso Dualities in the First Generation

By Rabbi Juan Bejarano-Gutierrez

Many of the he popular Spanish poems of the 15th century known as Cancioneros were written by the first generation of Spanish Jews who converted to Christianity following the riots of 1391. The Cancioneros often allude to the challenges faced by Conversos in dealing with their Jewish past as well as some of the practices and accusations that were levied against them. Jewish ideas and Hebrew idioms in Spanish form also appear.

One poem written by the count of Paredes is direct in pointing to the background and as far as the count is concerned, the ongoing identity of an aspiring Converso poet, Juan Poeta of Valladolid. In doing so, he reveals the perception of Conversos by the Old Christian populace.

“Each one of the following is his name- Juan, Simuel (Shemuel] and Reduan [Arabic name]. A moor, so he won’t be dead, A Christian, so he will have more worth, But a Jew he is for certain, As far as I can know.”

Yovel argues that the pictured painted by the count of Paredes is notso fanciful as might appear. Yovel argues that for the count of Paredes, each identity is part of Juan complex character, instead of mere façades wherein the Jewish core remains the true identity. For his part, Juan Poeta appears to have rejected accusations against these multiple personalities born by him.

Center of the Town of Belmonte -- A Center for...
Center of the Town of Belmonte — A Center for Crypto-Judiasm – Apr 2011 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

His goal, to be at court, as author required, what Yovel refers to as the status of a full-fledged Christian. Whatever his true views on Jewish identity, he was even attacked by a fellow Converso poet named Anton Montoro. Montoro would say of Juan:

“Juan, senor and great friend: with my very whole heart I wish to chastise you; take it as I say, as coming from a father or a brother because we of a common tribe, being both Jews, you and I and my pains are also yours.” (Montoro, 139a).

To read the excellent article by Yirmiyahu Yovel, visit the link below.

Converso Dualities in the First Generation


By  Rabbi Juan Bejarano-Gutierrez, the director of the B’nei Anusim Center for Education, and author of What is Kosher?

About rambam442013 108 Articles
Rabbi Juan Bejarano-Gutierrez is a graduate of the University of Texas at Dallas where he earned a bachelor of science in electrical engineering. He studied at the Siegal College of Judaic Studies in Cleveland and received a Master of Arts Degree with Distinction in Judaic Studies. He completed his doctoral studies at the Spertus Institute of Jewish Learning and Leadership in Chicago in 2015. His doctoral dissertation is titled “Complex Identities: Christian and Jewish Attitudes Towards Conversos” and was accepted in September 2015. He also studied at the American Seminary for Contemporary Judaism and received rabbinic ordination in 2011 from Yeshiva Mesilat Yesharim.

1 Trackback / Pingback

  1. It is Not Possible to be Both a Jew and a Christian: Converso Religious Identity | B'nei Anusim Center for Education

Comments are closed.