The Converso Dilemma

The Converso Dilemma

The year was 1391. Spring was about to turn into summer. The Jewish communities of Castile and Aragon had undergone difficult times for more than thirty years. A civil war fought in the middle decade of the 14th century put Jews in a no-win situation. They were loyal and supported the ruling monarch and faced the ire of the pretender. If they had defected to the pre-tender, then they would have been labeled as traitors. The consequences could have been severe in either case and indeed proved to be so. Nevertheless, they survived.

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About the book

Decades later, on June 6, 1391, the future of the Jewish communities of Castile and Aragon were changed forever. By the end of the summer, 80 Jewish communities in Castile and Aragon were torn by violence. A third of the Jewish community had been murdered. Perhaps another third of the Jewish community had converted. Only a third of the Jewish population remained intact.

What was once considered a Jewish problem to many Christians, was eventually supplanted by what some considered a much more hideous and sinister di-lemma. While their conversions had initially been met with a grand celebration by their Christian neighbors, those Jews who had yielded to baptism to rescue their lives and those of their families eventually proved a thorn in the side of the Church. Could they be trusted? Were they indeed faithful Catholics? Did they seek to undermine the boundaries which had once been so clear between Jews and Christians? Those are fascinating questions in their own right.

Our concern, however, is the status of the individuals who converted under duress. Suspected by Christians, what was their status in Jewish law? How did the Jewish community view these individuals? What are the implications of these opinions in the present day?

Many questions concerning forced converts were sent to eminent rabbinic authorities for answers. This work seeks to answer those questions at least partly by reviewing the world of rabbinic responsa. This work assumes a degree of familiarity with the history of Jews in Iberia. It is a continuation of my work titled Secret Jews: The Complex Identity of Crypto-Jews and Crypto-Judaism, and some of the material presented in brief form there is included and expanded in this volume.

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Excellent for whoever is interested in Judaism then and now about converts

Eugene Alfonso Van Delsen

The Jews of Iberia

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