Tales from the Crypt

It’s been long thought that some Latinos in New Mexico with unusual family traditions–like eating dinner by candlelight on Friday or using a special knife to kill animals a particular way–were descendents of Crypto-Jews, Jews who pretended to convert to Christianity during the 15th and 16th c. Spanish Inquisition but who continued practicing Judaism in secret. Now, DNA testing is finding that this is quite likely the case.

The L.A. Times reports,

As a boy, Father William Sanchez sensed he was different. His Catholic family spun tops on Christmas, shunned pork and whispered of a past in medieval Spain. If anyone knew the secret, they weren’t telling, and Sanchez stopped asking. Then three years ago, after watching a program on genealogy, Sanchez sent for a DNA kit that could help track a person’s background through genetic footprinting. He soon got a call from Bennett Greenspan, owner of the Houston-based testing company.

“He said, ‘Did you know you were Jewish?’ ” Sanchez, 53, recalled. “He told me I was a Cohanim, a member of the priestly class descended from Aaron, the brother of Moses.”… Of the 78 people tested, 30 are positive for the marker of the Cohanim, whose genetic line remains strong because they rarely married non-Jews throughout a history spanning up to 4,000 years.

Someone should tell Sanchez (and possibly the writer of the story) that “Cohanim” is plural and “Cohen” is singular, but nonetheless it’s still pretty darn cool. Full story here.

7 thoughts on “Tales from the Crypt

  1. The article says that the Cohen marker is passed in the Y-chromosome. Doesn’t that mean that it’s passed through the male line? (The marker, I mean – I know that the status descends that way.) That could mean that many of these crypto-Jews are not halachically Jewish; their Cohan-marker-carrying forefathers could have married nonJewish women at some point without interrupting the transmission of the marker.

  2. It is a good point. Though it doesn’t negate the import and/or interestingness (depending on your POV) of the fact that these folks have this lineage. Whatever that “means” is up for grabs, but certainly doesn’t necessarily mean that they have Jewish halakhic status.

  3. Resolving this man’s halakhic status is not the big poit here. What is interesting is adding this chapter to the book of Jewish history. DNA evidience that supports claims of hidden Jews should spark more scholarly research in this area. This in turn will bring forth knowledge about the lives we have led and continue to lead as Jews.

  4. The article says–
    “I found out when I was 13,” said Keith Chaves, 47, an engineer in Albuquerque. “My great-grandmother told me that we were Sepharditos.”
    HAHA tortilla + dorrito with a little spanish jewery = sephardito?!?!?

  5. actually, the story is quite sad: jews forced to hide their jewishness under fear of death, descending over the years to joining and then becoming functionaries of foreign religions; jewish children hidden during the holocaust who grew up not knowing theyre jewish; grandkids of intermarried jews who consider themselves “universalists” with no attachment to judaism at all; jews waiting till their late 30’s and 40’s and finding out its too late to have children. i wonder if 100 years from now the jews of america will have the same numbers and status of the amish?

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