Books on Conversos

A sample of the growing number of works on Conversos/Anusim/Marranos include the following titles:

The Perils of Living the Good and True Law: Iberian Crypto-Jews in the Shadow of the Inquisition of Colonial Hispanic America by Matthew Warshawsky (2016)

Conversos, Inquisition, and the Expulsion of the Jews from Spain by Norman Roth (1995, 2002)

Conversos and Moriscos in Late Medieval Spain and Beyond by Kevin Ingram (2009)

In the Shadow of History: Jews and Conversos at the Dawn of History by Jose Faur (1997)

Hebrews of the Portuguese Nation: Conversos and Community by Miriam Bodian (1997)

The Marranos of Spain by Benzion Netanyahu (1966)

Conversos in the Responsa of Sephardic Halakhic Authorities in the 15th Century (Perspectives on Society and Culture) by Dora Zsom (2014)

All of these works place emphasis on key aspects of the Converso experience, though they reveal very different views onthe Converso experience.

The title by Matthew Warshanky was recently released and I have not had the opportunity to read this work. I have, however met Dr. Warshawsky and have no doubt his work will be a great contribution to the study of Crypto-Judaism.

The books by Norman Roth and Miriam Bodian are historically concentrated. Norman Roth focuses on the creation of the Conversos at the end of the 14th century, the rise of anti-Converso sentiment among the Christian population, the creation of the Spanish Inquisition, and finally the Expulsion decree. Norman Roth dismisses the view that Conversos remained Jewish and argues that they were sincere Christians. He dismisses the Inquisitorial records as fabrications and argues that Jews by and large were antagonistic towards Conversos. Norman Roth relies heavily on Benzion Netanyahu’s works.

Miriam Bodian’s work is focused on the creation of the Amsterdam Jewish community in the 17th century.  This community was almost entirely established by former Conversos. She highlights the political, economic, and social history of this unique community which emerged as a key center of Jewish life in the 17th century.

Kevin Ingram’s work is a collection of essays that focus on Converso themes (both Jewish and Muslim converts to Christianity) in the 15th and 16th century. Some of the specifically Jewish themes include Conversos thoughts on messianism and Converso influence and thought in Spanish literature of the 15th and 16th centuries. There are now three volumes to this excellent series. The challenge for most readers is the exhorbitant cost.

Benzion Netanyahu wrote extensively on the history of the Conversos in several volumes. His first work was based on selective halakhic sources which he argued showed that most Conversos were no longer observant of Jewish practices by the time the Spanish Inquisition was formed. His views and those of Norman Roth have been increasingly criticized as simplistic and not reflective of the entire picture of Jewish sources or social realities. Some critiques have gone as far as to label his presentation deceitful. Regardless of this, it remains a seminal work.

Jose Faur’s work deliberates on the impact of Conversos such as Uriel da Costa and Baruch Spinoza in the rise of the modern era and the weakening of religious belief and authority in the early modern period. Faur is among the first to highlight that there were various types of Conversos that existed and that they embraced or rejected Jewish belief in different ways.

Dora Zsom’s work is a significant resource for those interested in reviewing the halakhic sources discussing the status of Conversos. Until Zsom’s publication, many readers were dependent on the work of H.J. Zimmel titled Die Marranen in de Rabbinischen Literatur. The problem as the reader might surmise is that the work is in German. Zsom often keeps her commentary minimal it seems, in an attempt to allow the material to stand for itself.

In subsequent posts, I will list other books that may prove of interest.


Posted by Rabbi Juan Bejarano-Gutierrez the director of the B’nei Anusim Center for Education and the author of Secret Jews: The Complex Identity of Crypto-Jews and Crypto-Judaism.

1 Trackback / Pingback

  1. Inquisition also bad for Jews | From guestwriters

Comments are closed.