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I cannot hear your voice, but in the secret places of my heart I hear the sound of your footsteps.
Judah HaLevy


C. Castelar Copyright 1997 1998 1999

Brazilian historiography is rich in references to the allegedly unsavoury background of the first Portuguese settlers to come to northeastern Brazil in the XVI century. Alluding to these settlers, most historians have used the word degredado--one who has been banished--a term charged with negative connotations. In the Portuguese of my Cearense neighbours and contemporaries, degredado meant "a criminal sent into exile" and indeed this is a definition supported by the Novo Dicionario Aurelio. Quite frequently, the word degredado was replaced by degradado, "made vile." The unfortunate implication of either label is that not only the blood of the degredados/degradados, but that of their descendants was tainted--no small flaw in a culture that once subscribed to the Iberian myth of pureza de sangue--purity of blood.

Sadly, this fallacious contention has gained the ring of truth through sheer repetition. But in reality, most often, the the crime of which the exiles had been found guilty, was in nature ideological. In the eyes of the authorities in the Portuguese autocracy, dissent was a crime as serious as that of lese-majeste. Given their high level of literacy and its attendant hunger for open debate, the Jews of Portugal were particularly vulnerable to charges of subversion. In 1536, when the Inquisition was established in Portugal, the families of thousands of conversos--anusim--who had been forcibly baptized in 1497, had to face the equally serious charge of judaizing--practicing Judaism secretly. The penalties dealt out to judaizers were imprisonment, confiscation of their worldly goods, exile and death.

That a large number of Brazil's colonizers were judaizers is a fact Inquisition trial records make abundantly clear.One must keep in mind that the simple act of bathing on Fridays could be construed as "a lapse into Judaism", setting in motion an inquest certain to end badly for the accused. There were, then, few choices left for those who continue to follow Judaic traditions. The choice my ancestors made was to venture forth into the wilderness of the Captaincy of Pernambuco--Ceara, Maranhao and Paraiba were yet to become separate entities. There, the cattle and cotton industries had replaced sugar in Brazil's economic pattern of booms and busts, creating a better chance of material security for colonizers. But for the the anusim, the sertao offered more than material gain. It promised a modicum of safety from Inquisition.

This aspect of Brazil's history is of particular interest to me because after twenty years of research I have assembled evidence that proves without a doubt that my Portuguese ancestors were anusim. I have recorded family traditions that survived the Iberian Shoah to be handed down from generation to generation and I have traced at least one of my maternal grandmother's secret prayers to the Yom Kippur service
Gathering material on the anusim presence in my part of the world was at times an frustrating quest. Only recently scholars have focused on this aspect of Brazilian history.

This page's raison d'etre is try to help simplify the process of onformation gathering for others embarking on a similar search. Ideally, I would like to establish a data bank on crypto-Judaism in Ceara-Paraiba and to make its contents available to those who need it. In particular, I would like to reach descendants of anusim who want to know more about their ancestors' Jewish identity. I believe that then can they make an informed choice about where they belong spiritually. I happen to have chosen Judaism as a way of life for the emphasis it places on the kindness that will lead to Tikkun Olam--healing the world. This is a personal decision, this is what is best for me. I would not presume to impose my religious views on others.

But that is a moot point, since proselytism is not part of the Judaic tradition.The aim of this page is not to convert but to inform. What I hope to do is to gather data on the anusim of my native Ceara and to make it available to those who want to explore aspects of their ancestors Jewish identity.

Please feel free to make suggestions, to reccomend sources and to share your stories. You can e-mail me by clicking on the address below.

  • A History of the Jews, by Abraham Leon Sachar
  • Jews God and History, by Max Dimont
  • Jews in Colonial Brazil, by Cecil Roth
  • Cristaos Novos na Bahia, by Anita Novinsky--Brazil's foremost authority on crypto-Judaism sheds light on the Inquisition's role in XVII century Bahia.
  • Farewell Espana, by Howard M. Sachar--perhaps the best and most informative book I have read on the subject. don't miss it.
  • Secrecy and Deceit, by David Gitlitz--a well-researched compilation of crypto-Jewish traditions. An important book in spite of the author's faintly patronising attitude towards descendants of anusim.
  • The Jews of Spain, by Jane Gerber--This reads like a simplified digest of a well-document subject. Ideal for those who who have little time to do in-depth research.
  • To Be a Jew, by Rabbi Chaim HaLevy Donin--a great manual for beginners.
  • The Complete Book of Jewish Observance, Leon Trepp--tradition, tradition.
  • Les Noms Juifs du Maroc, by Abraham Laredo
  • O Nome e o Sangue: Uma Fraude Genealogica no Pernambuco Colonial,by Evaldo Cabral de Mello--de Mello tacles the tangled genealogy of a distinguished New Christian family in Pernambuco.Very important example of how some northeastern anusim tried to obscure their Sephardic roots in order to escape the Inquisition. Of particular interest to students of crypto-Judaism in northeast Brazil.
  • The Cross and the Pear Tree, by Victor Perera--this well-crafted account of a New Yorker writer's search for his Iberian roots takes us from Spain and Portugal to Holland, France, Turkey, Uzbekistan, Guatemala and Israel. A terrifically entertaining read. Descendants of Pereira and Nunes families will find it very helpful.


The theme of the Jack Rosen Scholar Weekend, which takes place on March-6, 1999, at Tikvat Israel, 2200, Baltimore Road, Rockville, Maryland, is "The Converso experience in Judaism." On Friday evening, March 5th, 7:15 P.M., following Kabbalat Shabbat services, there will be a dinner at which Dr. Stanley Hordes, Sephardic History scholar and Adjunct Research Professor at the University of New Mexico will speak about converso history in 14th-15h.centuries in Iberia and the 16th. and 17th. centuries converso migrations to the New World. On shabbat service, Saturday, March 6th, Dr. Hordes will talk about the crypto-Jews of New Mexico and the Southwest. following luncheon, he will lead a discussion on this topic at the sanctuary. On Saturday, March 6th, at 7:15ish, after Mincha services, I will be given the opportunity to talk briefly about my own experience in Judaism. Please come and join us. You will need to buy tickets for the Friday dinner but the Saturday events are open to the public. Some of my Kulanu friends will be there and take my word for it, they are great people. Absolutely.

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Graphics courtesy of Jewish Heritage on Line Magazine

Gostaria de agradecer todos que me teem escrito por suas gentilezas. Concordo com o que dizem. Traduzir esta pagina para portugues e espanhol de certo aumentaria a sua acessibilidade. O problema e achar tempo para editar e adicionar informacoes. Estou batalhando com WorldPerfect8 e assim que decifrar sua linguagem tentarei renovar e melhorar o conteudo e layout desta pagina, acrescentando acentos e coisa e tal. Creio que a sugestao do Sr Pimentel e valida (v. o livro de ouro) ja que uma boa percentagen de judeus da Iberia veio ao Novo Mundo via Acores. Ha muito o que escrever neste campo. Minha area de estudo e o nordeste do Brasil, de modo que preciso fazer uma pesquisa a fundo e organisar os dados que tenho sobre os Acores. O que quero dizer, e que uma audiencia ibero-brasileira tem muito o que contribuir para esta pagina e solicito um pouco mais de paciencia ate que possa me dedicar a seus interesses. Mais uma vez, aceitem minha gratidao pelo encorajamento que teem me dado. Bom Purim e l'chaim.

Gostaria de convidar a todos a uma palestra que tera lugar sabado, 6 de marco de 1999, as dezenove e quinze, durante um jantar de Shabbat na Sinagoga Tikvat Israel, 2200, Baltimore Road, Rockville, Maryland. Dr. Stanley Hordes, perito na historia sefardita vai falar sobre os conversos ibericos do XV ao XVI e a subsequente relocalisacao dos mesmos no Novo Mundo entre os seculos XVI e XVII. Sabado de manha, Dr. Hordes vai falar sobre os cripto-judeus do Novo Mexico e Sudoeste americano. Naquela ocasiao havera um almoco informal apos do qual Dr. Hordes liderara uma troca de ideias. Sabado, as dezenove e quinze, terei a oportunidade de falar sobre as minhas proprias raizes que se estendem de Toledo, Espanha ao Brazil. Embora seja necessario adquirir ingressos para o jantar da sexta, entrada aos eventos do dia seguinte e franca.

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