The 18th World Congress of Jewish Studies

The Surprising Uniformity of Secret Jewish Practices and Prayers among Descendants of Anusim in Nuevo León

I’ve been meeting online with anusim from the upper-class society of Monterrey, Mexico and environs. They all trace ancestry to the founders and were informed that they’re Jews. They contacted after reading my dissertation, realizing they’re Jews in heritage and practice, regardless of acceptance. Determined to rejoin mainstream Judaism, they take Hebrew and asked that I teach normative Judaism. Because I explained each rule from biblical origins, via rabbinic development, to practice in Spain and Inquisition times, memories came up that wouldn’t otherwise have. Thus I learned much about age-old traditions of their secretly-Jewish families.

Astonishingly, among these ten unrelated families, I encountered a full panoply of Jewish praxis. All men are circumcised, priest included. They don’t frequent church because they’re Jews. They marry into families like them--subject to approval of the family elder. All ate only at home or select families. All avoid dairy and meat (or fish) in the same meal. Pork, dirty and unhealthy, is only eaten at public occasions. None consume rabbit, seafood or scaleless fish. All discard eggs with bloodspots. Most knew of shechita being the humane way. The animal faces east. They porge the sciatic and suet. They clean on Fridays, sweep to the center, light candles, share a festive dinner. Most fast on Kippur and Zom Esther. They blew shofar. Like many anusim, gardens had lemon and pomegranate trees, but with ethrog behind. Some remembered cabañuelitos. For some matzah was pan ácimo. Women immersed after periods and post-childbirth. They wash corpses and dress in takhrikhim. Women prepared embroidered white linen shrouds at 50. They observe shmita, and explained why, knowing it doesn’t pertain outside Israel. They shared secret and private family prayers, absent Christian content.

Lecture accompanied by photos and recordings.