Mistaken Identity?: The Case of New Mexico's


| December 21, 2000

Mistaken Identity?: The Case of New Mexico's 'Hidden Jews,' Barbara Ferry and Debbie Nathan, Atlantic Monthly
In 1987, National Public Radio aired a documentary on New Mexico's crypto-Jews, descendants of Jews pursued by the Spanish Inquisition who secretly practice Judaism under the cover of Catholicism. Today, the man who unearthed the story, historian Stanley Hordes, enjoys a lucrative career based on documenting crypto-Jewish groups and rituals in the American Southwest. However, he may have been mistaken, write Barbara Ferry and Debbie Nathan in the Atlantic Monthly. According to Judith Neulander, a professional folklorist, many of the rituals that Hordes based his analysis on are not specific only to Judaism. She also claims that Hordes elicited the answers he wanted to hear by asking largely leading questions. Some may see Neulander was performing a service, but many of the people who Hordes identified as crypto-Jews are angry with her. They are shocked that 'the ethnographer who had approached them so enthusiastically a few years earlier [is] now attacking the very basis of their identity.' And, even though several of the people who originally came forward with childhood memories of dreidels, bloodless meat and kosher wine have been exposed as charlatans, many of the purported crypto-Jews are holding on tightly to their newfound identity. 'Faith,' write Ferry and Nathan, ' is always about more than history. Religions are built on collective wishes and hopes. And with southwestern crypto-Judaism the wishes and hopes may, in the end, prevail.'
--Anjula Razdan
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