A Question of Identity

A Question of Identity : Iberian Conversos in Historical Perspective

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In 1391 many of the Jews of Spain were forced to convert to Christianity, creating a new group whose members would be continually seeking a niche for themselves in society. The question of identity was to play a central role in the lives of these and later converts whether of Spanish or Portuguese heritage, for they could not return to Judaism as long as they remained on the Peninsula, and their place in the Christian world would never be secure. This book considers the history of the Iberian conversos-both those who remained in Spain and Portugal and those who emigrated. Wherever they resided the question of identity was inescapable. The exile who chose France or England, where Jews could not legally reside, was faced with different considerations and options than the converso who chose Holland, a newly formed Protestant country where Jews had not previously resided. Choosing Italy entailed a completely different set of options and dilemmas. Renee Levine Melammed compares and contrasts the lives of the New Christians of the Iberian Peninsula with those of these countries and the development of their identity and sense of ethnic solidarity with "those of the Nation." Exploring the knotty problem of identity she examines a great variety of individual choices and behaviors. Some conversos tried to be sincere Catholics and were not allowed to do so. Others tried but failed either theologically or culturally. While many eventually opted to form Jewish communities outside the Peninsula, others were unable to make a total commitment to Judaism and became "cultural commuters" who could and did move back and forth between two worlds whereas others had "fuzzy" or attenuated Jewish identities. In addition, the encounter with modernity by the descendants of conversos is examined in three communities, Majorca, Belmonte (Portugal) and the Southwestern United States, revealing that even today the question of identity is still a pressing issue. Offering the only broad historical survey of this fascinating and complex group of migrants, this book will appeal to a wide range of academic and general readers.
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Product details

  • Oxford, United Kingdom
  • New ed.
  • 1423756673
  • 9781423756675

Review quote

"This is a well-written and documented work that even beginners in Iberian history will find easily understandable and interesting. Highly Recommended."--Choice"This is a very well-written and documented work that even beginners in Iberian history will find easily understandable and interesting."--CHOICE"Renee Levine Melammed has written a marvelous book of unrivaled scope that is as informative as it is a pleasure to read. Melammed offers a rich, sweeping, and beautifully detailed survey of the converso experience in its many differing manifestations across half a millennium and several continents. A Question of Identity will, I believe, take its place as the standard historical synthesis on the marrano phenomenon."--Norman A. Stillman, Schusterman/Josey Professor of Judaic History & Director of Judaic Studies, The University of Oklahoma"We understand better after reading this book why Marrano identity continues to fascinate us to this day. Melammed analyzes this identity with great subtlety through this remarkable synthesis--covering many centuries and countries--which also enlightens our own preoccupations in a modernity inherited from the Marranos."--Esther Benbassa, Professor of Modern Jewish History, Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes, Sorbonne, Paris
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About Renaee Levine Melammed

Renee Levine Melammed is Associate Professor of Jewish History at the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem, where she also serves as Associate Dean and head of the Women's Studies M.A. program. Her first book, Heretics or Daughters of Israel: The Crypto-Jewish Women of Castile (OUP, 1999) won two National Jewish Book Awards.
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