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On Sabbath, October 27, when a gunman murdered 11 Jews in a Pittsburgh synagogue, he screamed, “All Jews must die.” The location of this anti-Semitic attack may be new, but the call is as old as the existence of Jews.

In every generation, an enemy has risen against the Jewish people or Jewish individuals. fact, this week, November 1 is the 540th anniversary of a decree that institutionalized the Iberian “All Jews must die” cry in the form of the Spanish Inquisition.

They didn’t call it anti-Semitism then. They called it a problem with heresy. Medieval Spain, like the rest of the ancient world, had a dilemma called “The Jews”. The country needed their industrious nature, their mercantile prowess, plainly-put, their money, but Spain wanted nothing of their religion. When Ferdinand and Isabella’s armies entered and took control of Spain, region by region, their top priority was uniting a disjointed people under the Catholic banner.

Hundreds of years earlier, from the start of Catholic Spain’s reconquest (La Reconquista) of the country from the Moors in the 700s, the position of Jews in the Iberian Peninsula was precarious – dotted throughout the centuries with vilification, forced conversions and pogroms. In 1391 alone, the Jewish communities of Seville, Cordoba, Toledo, Valencia, Barcelona, Paloma and more, were wiped out. More than 50,000 Jews were massacred.

Of the country’s terrified survivors, reportedly more than 200,000 converted to Christianity to escape death. Many remained Jewish in their hearts – attending mass yet frequenting synagogues, baptizing their children and then washing off the water, marrying in church followed by a Jewish wedding.

The Christian threat “convert or die” had created “anusim” (forced ones), conversos, crypto-Jews, who were weak or only outwardly Christians. These “New Christians” were now able to enter government or other professions without religious disabilities. Their meteoric rise and dazzling success economically and socially only spotlighted their dubious earnestness. Old Christians looked at them with jealousy and suspicion.

Money and Religion

After Ferdinand and Isabella succeeded in uniting Aragon and Castile, and continued conquering other provinces in Spain, they reconsidered their greatest problems – money and religion. They planned to solve both by ridding the country of backsliding Christians/insincere conversos, and confiscating their wealth.

They appealed to Pope Sixtus IV to give them the power to eliminate two-faced “New” Christians. On November 1, 1478, the pope issued a papal bull, “Exigit Sinceras Devotionis Affectives”, condemning those who “secretly adopted or returned to the religious observances and customs of the Jews”. He wrote, “…so pernicious a sect [should] be totally uprooted in the said kingdoms…”

Permission was now officially granted to the Spanish monarchs to search out and punish converts from Judaism who secretly performed Jewish Ritual.

The fate of the Jewish people who had settled in Spain since the first century was now in jeopardy. The violence and scattered riots that had destroyed so many Jewish communities were now organized under an even more dangerous establishment – The Inquisition. First began separation of Jews from conversos, imprisonment of suspected crypto-Jews, then torture, punishment and often execution.

Yet despite the dangers of holding on to the Law of Moses, throughout the centuries of the Inquisition, there were still secret Jews who struggled to keep whatever traditions and Jewish commandments that they could. Some observed Sabbath, Yom Kippur, Passover, Purim, even a degree of kashruth and others only held their Jewish identity in their hearts. And through these terrible times, they heard the echoes of the eternal cry, “All Jews must die”.

The struggles of these courageous conversos inspired the upcoming original musical, “HIDDEN – The Secret Jews of Spain”. A co-production of OU Israel and the Women’s Performance Community of Jerusalem, “HIDDEN” takes the stage in Jerusalem’s IASA Theater on November 11 in an epic production based on the classic novel, The Family Aguilar by Rabbi Marcus Lehmann (with permission by Feldheim Publishers).

“HIDDEN” is the OU Israel and WPC Jerusalem’s second collaboration, following its hit musical “Count the Stars” in 2016. Both musicals were written and composed by Sharon Katz and Avital Macales.


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