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Cecil Roth (1899-1970) is the author of numerous Jewish historical studies, among them, History of the Jews of Veniece, History of the Marranos, A Life of Menasseh ben Israel, A History of the Jews in England, The History of the Jews in Italy, A Bird’s-Eye View of Jewish History, and The Jewish Contribution to Civilization. He also served as editor in chief of the Encyclopedia Judaica.
Described by the New York Times as "a seemingly tireless scholar, linguist, historian, and writer," Cecil Roth was a renowned authority on Jewish history. After writing his first book on Italian history, Roth brought "together his historical research and his Jewish interests and knowledge to produce a series of works which [gave] him a unique place in Jewish historiography," wrote David Daiches in Commentary. Daiches went on to offer the historian this tribute: "[Roth had] always been a practicing Orthodox Jew, and he… had the advantages of Jewish and Hebrew learning that a living Orthodox tradition on good terms with a healthy secular culture can provide. Indeed, I am tempted to believe that Cecil Roth [was] a product of a phase of Anglo-Jewish history now fast declining, a phase in which it was possible to combine Orthodoxy, secular scholarship, and Jewish learning known from within and regarded as a natural part of one`s personal heritage.
"It [was] this inwardness with, for example, the history of Jewish liturgy or the structure of Jewish community life in different ages that enable[d] him to read a medieval or Renaissance Hebrew manuscript with an easiness about its terms of reference, an almost effortless familiarity with the hinterland of language and custom and cultural behavior that lies behind the words of a given document. That he [had] the languages--Hebrew, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, German--goes without saying. More significant is the fact that he [had] a kind of commitment to the material with which he [was] dealing that [gave] a certain tone, a certain authority, an air of what might be called domestication in the material, which exists side-by-side with the historian`s objectivity in the establishment of facts and even a dryness in the handling of subjects calculated to make Jewish blood pressure rise… [Roth knew] what the true Jewish tradition is, [was] confident of its survival, and himself adhere[d] to it."
Introductory: The Antecedents of Crypto-Judaism
Chapter I. The Beginnings of Marranism
Chapter II. The Establishment of the Inquisition
Chapter III. The General Conversion in Portugal
Chapter IV. The Heyday of the Inquisition
Chapter V. The Inquisitional Procedure and the Autoda-Fè
Chapter VI. Saints, Heroes, and Martyrs
Chapter VII. The Religion of the Marranos
Chapter VIII. The Marrano Diaspora
Chapter IX. The Dutch Jerusalem
Chapter X. Resettlement in England
Chapter XI. The Marranos in the New World
Chapter XII. Some Marrano Worthies
Chapter XIII. The Literature of the Marranos
Chapter XIV. The Decline of the Inquisition
Epilogue: The Marranos of Today
IN no branch of history, perhaps, does the record of individuals possess quite such fascination or importance as is the case in connection with the Marranos. No degree of rationalization of their romantic record can diminish this. The underlying phenomenon is not by any means difficult to understand. The forced assimilation to the general population of a large body of Jews at the close of the middle ages allowed the natural talents of the latter to assert themselves and afforded opportunities for instantaneous advancement perhaps unexampled in any other period of history. Freed from the dead weight of the disabilities from which they had previously suffered, the neophytes rose irresistibly to the top, like a cork suddenly released below the surface of the water. The process was discernible from the very beginning.
Already in the fifteenth century, the Marranos had begun to push their way forward, whether as poets, statesmen, Churchmen, explorers, or pioneers in any other branch of human endeavor. At a later period, in Portugal, the Jewish leaven was even more universal. Trade and commerce lay very largely in Marrano hands. Their blood permeated a large part even of the nobility. Natural aptitude was responsible for the fact that the most eminent physicians were of Jewish descent. The Marranos were important in literature, in science, in the universities, in the army, even in the Church. A list of those who may be identified, whether by reason of their ultimate flight or of their persecution, is nothing less than dazzling. Yet a majority indubitably escaped discovery, and, if they resisted the temptations to emigrate, maintained a crypto-Jewish existence to the end. What eminent figures are comprised in this category must remain a matter of conjecture.
The exiles continued this magnificent tradition in their new homes throughout Europe. In consequence, there grew up in Amsterdam, Hamburg, London, and elsewhere an intellectual life as brilliant as any city in the Peninsula could boast, and no less distinctively Iberian in character. Coupled with their personal distinction there was the romance inherent in the career of almost every one of the refugees, enhanced in many cases by the amazing contrast between their former and their present circumstances. There was no branch of human activity which they did not touch and adorn. In the few following pages account will be taken only of a small selection of the eminent figures who actively proved their Jewish sympathies.
Of many, there has been occasion already to speak in detail. A mere recapitulation of their names is eloquent. In medicine, there was Juan Rodrigo, alias Amatus Lusitanus, of the old family of Habib, one of the greatest practitioners and theorists of his age, who escaped from Ancona in 1556, and subsequently practiced his art in Salonica; Felipe Rodrigues, alias Elijah Montalto, physician to Marie de Médicis who received special dispensation to make use of his services; and Rodrigo de Castro, creator of gynaecology. To these we may add Manoel Alvares, alias Abraham Zacuto (Zacutus Lusitanus), a friend of Menasseh ben Israel, whose reputation was second to none in his day; Joseph Bueno, who attended the Prince of Orange in his last illness; his son, Ephraim, the friend of Rembrandt; Ezekiel (Pedro) de Castro, who settled at Verona as a professing Jew, and published there some important scientific works; and many more, the enumeration of whom would fill pages.
In politics, there were João Miguez, Duke of Naxos, and Alvaro Mendes, Duke of Mitylene, both of whom exercised enormous power at the Turkish court; and Daniel Rodriguez, creator of the Free Port of Spalato. In literature, there were characters like Didaco Pyrrho, of Evora (Flavius Eborensis), who lived successively in Flanders, Switzerland, Ancona, and Ragusa, and was one of the outstanding Latin poets of the sixteenth century; Antonio Enriquez Gomez, the famous playwright; and several more. Philosophy was represented by Uriel Acosta; theology by Thomas de Pinedo; science by the Count Palatine, Immanuel Bocarro Frances, the friend of Galileo. Many were those who had attained distinction even in Holy Orders, like Vicente de Rocamora or Eleazar de Solis. A surprisingly large number studied on their return to Judaism with such a will that they became renowned rabbinic scholars: witness Jacob Zemah, apparently a lecturer in law in the Peninsula, who escaped to Palestine, embraced the medical profession, and became known as one of the most abstruse mystics of his day. Such lists of names could be continued almost indefinitely. It is a better plan to take in greater detail a few concrete instances. The plain, unadorned fact will outdo fiction in interest, though not in credibility.
The history of the Marranos – their origins and their fate – is subject of Cecil Roth's brilliant narrative. Written with subtlety and a sense for the illuminating detail, A History of Marranos is a fascinating chapter in the history of Spain, the history of Christianity, and the history of Jewish survival.
- Jewish Publication Society
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