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Crypto Jews in Puerto Rico Welcomed by Reform Community [View All]

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Ian David Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Feb-04-07 07:53 PM
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Crypto Jews in Puerto Rico Welcomed by Reform Community
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by Harry Ezratty
From HaLapid, Fall 2006

Secret Jews came to the Caribbean island of Puerto Rico, which was discovered by Columbus on his second voyage to the New World in 1493. They were hoping to avoid religious scrutiny. But the Inquisition followed the colonists, so many secret Jews settled in the islands remote mountainous interior as did the early Jews in all Spanish and Portuguese colonies. Puerto Rico was colonized after the larger islands of Hispaniola (Haiti and the Dominican Republic), Cuba and Jamaica.

Many early settlers in Puerto Rico were younger members of families who could not arrange positions elsewhere. They engaged in sugar farming, which at the time was an important world wide commodity, much as oil is today. In time, a walled medieval city with imposing castle-forts surrounded the city of San Juan. They protected the island from invaders seeking to plunder treasure gathered in Puerto Rico from all over the Caribbean and Central and South America to be convoyed to Spain. So some of the early crypto- Jews were also soldiers.

The Inquisition maintained no rota or religious court in Puerto Rico. Heretics were written up and if necessary were remanded to regional Inquisitional tribunals in the western hemisphere or to Spain.

But on the island, far from the concentrated centers of power in San Juan and a difficult long sea voyage to Spain, many crypto-Jews lived quiet lives and tended to marry among families with similar histories. Today, in the western and less populated portion of the island (Puerto Rico is 110 miles long by 65 miles wide), there are groups of families who still retain a Jewish consciousness. Some are led by a man called el rabino de Mayaguez, Mayaguez being the westernmost major population center of Puerto Rico.

Over the last thirty years, major efforts on behalf of evangelizing Protestants and messianic Jews have eroded what was for over four centuries an exclusively native Catholic population. Within the last twenty-five years, the islands Reform congregation began noticing Puerto Ricans attending Friday night services. Many stayed for the oneg shabat which followed. As the congregations president, perennial director and later head of the ritual committee I met all of them. At the time I was one of the few members who was both fluent in Spanish and could also answer some of their questions about Judaism, as we had no rabbi. Often their questions centered on Jesus Christ and the Jewish attitude toward him. Most were just curious about Jews.


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