Mistaken Identity?: The Case of New Mexico’s

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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