The Prophetic Faith of Our Fathers, vol. 2


CHAPTER TEN: Climax of Jewish Interpretation in Centuries Sixteen and Seventeen

I. Marranos Infiltrate the Christian Faith

The story of the Marranos is one of the most amazing chapters in all history, perhaps unparalleled in sheer dramatic pathos and appeal. The Marrano was a Christianized Jew who professed Christianity chiefly to escape persecution. The record of these “new Christians,” or crypto-Jews, is an inseparable part of the history of Spain and Portugal, particularly—from Inquisition times onward, although it was a development that touched nearly every country of Western Europe in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. It provides the explanatory background of countless persons of highest eminence, and receives lurid illumination from the flares of the auto-da-fé. 1 PFF2 220.1

Under the “Great Expulsion” of 1290, Jews to the number of sixteen thousand had been banished from England under Edward I (1273-1307). Similar expulsions from Spain had taken place under Ferdinand and Isabella, resulting in Jewish colonies all over the Levant. Some Jews, refusing to leave Spain and Portugal, professed Christianity and developed this group, called the Marranos, “to outwit the Jesuits with their own weapons.” 2 These Marranos penetrated deeply into the ranks of the nations—particularly in Rome, Amsterdam, and London. PFF2 220.2

The roots of Marranism go back to the early centuries of the Christian Era. They are tied into the Jewish teaching that a man should save his life, if necessary, by any means except murder, incest, or idolatry. 3 Christianity became increasingly dominant in Western Europe from the fourth Century onward. And the phenomenon of crypto-Judaism was the common accompaniment of forcible conversion—their following of the practices of Judaism in secret fidelity. With the coming of the Mohammedan Arabs there was considerable toleration of Jews in Spain, but later intolerance sprang up, and most of the Jews sought refuge in Christian kingdoms. 4 A minority outwardly embraced the forms of the dominant faith—paying lip service—but in their homes they remained faithful to Judaism. PFF2 221.1

In Spain, beginning with the reconquest under Alfonso X of Castile (1065-1109), after certain preliminary difficulties, the life and culture of the Jews prospered under the Christian rule, but later their position deteriorated. The tide of hostility rose against the Jews. Mobs broke loose in 1391, and the Juderia (ghetto) was piteously sacked. Expulsion of the Jews became common throughout Europe—from England, as noted in 1290, from France in 1394, and several from Germany. So, large bodies of Jews accepted baptism en masse in order to escape death. Numbers of them, as noted, were won by Fra Vincent Ferrer’s impassioned appeals—some thirty-five thousand in Spain and Portugal in the fifteenth Century. 5 But they continued to observe the Sabbath, their special feast days, and their characteristic food regulations. Many held high positions of state 6 Some even became bishops, s Solomon Levi became Pablo de Santa Maria, bishop of Burgos. 7 PFF2 221.2

In the fifteenth Century the Inquisition was established and the autos-da-fé were continued. 8 In 1482 Thomas de Torquemada sped the burning of heretics. The general “conversion” spread into Portugal. These secret Jews retained their knowledge of the Hebrew language. They believed salvation was through the law of Moses, not through Christ. The New Testament was neglected. Circumcision was, of course, an impossibility, for it meant death if discovered. The Jewish calendar gave difficulty, with its adjustment of intercalary months. So the Day of Atonement was celebrated arbitrarily on the tenth day after the new moon of September, and the Passover was celebrated in the period of the first full moon of March. 9 PFF2 221.3

Columbus sailed on his first voyage in 1492, in the same month that the expulsion of the Jews from Spain occurred; several Marranos were, in fact, in the personnel of his expedition and were quick to realize the possibilities of the New World. 10 The Marranos spread throughout Mexico, but felt the weight of the Spanish Inquisition from 1574 onward. 11 The settlement of the Marranos in the Low Countries began in 1512; by 1537 colonies were in Antwerp, and by 1593 Amsterdam was known as the Dutch Jerusalem. 12 PFF2 222.1

Resettlement in England began later, many Marranos taking refuge in London. Their return was largely the result of the appeal of Manasseh ben Israel, in the time of the Protectorate under Oliver Cromwell. The Jews had been banished from England in 1290, and none could live there officially or lawfully. 13 Nevertheless, many re-entered after the Spanish expulsion of 1492, until under Bloody Mary they had to leave the country. Under Elizabeth a large colony returned, but from the time of the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588 the Marrano colony declined. 14 The Reformation in England had turned the eyes of many toward England, and the increased Old Testament tendencies of Puritanism, incorporated into the Commonwealth, revived the hope of a revocation of their banishment. 15 The question of readmission was brought to a climax by the famous mission of Manasseh ben Israel to Oliver Cromwell (which will be noted in section III), with its appeal based partly on Daniel 12:7 (that the final redemption would begin when the scattering of the Jews was complete). 16 In this negotiation Manuel Martinez, a Marrano, represented the Jewish case before Manasseh came to England, 17 and the indispensability to foreign trade of the Marranos in London was an important consideration in the final result-a recognition of the legality of the residence of Jews in England-which was not formal assent to resettlement of the Jews, but rather an unofficial tolerance and avoidance of the issue, which left them unmolested. 18 After the Restoration the Jews continued to win favor, and during the next hundred years there was considerable expansion. 19 It is interesting to note that the distinguished Disraeli family were Jewish refugees of this category. 20 PFF2 222.2