Bernardini - Chapter 06
New Christian, Marrano, Jew
ADEQUATE DISCUSSION of the role played by Jews in the making of the
New World depends on prior clarification of a difficult question —
that of defining precise and unambiguous criteria for establishing
whether and in what sense a given individual is to be regarded as a Jew.
This question does not arise in relation to Jews from Central and Eastern
Europe; it can be answered in relatively straightforward terms in the case
of Jews of Iberian origin who, before leaving Europe or after arrival in
America, were members of formally recognized or tacitly tolerated Jewish
communities. But in the case of Spanish or Portuguese "New Christians,"
1 before the end of the eighteenth century, the question is a decisive
one. In Spain and Portugal, and in their respective empires, there had officially
been no Jews since the end of the fifteenth century, after which only
those Jews who had — voluntarily or otherwise — been converted to Catholicism
(and their Catholic descendants) were allowed to remain. Since
all were nominally Catholics, they were under the jurisdiction of the
Inquisition and liable to prosecution if accused of any act or utterance that
could be interpreted as evidence that their Catholicism was insincere.