Book Reviews V1N2
Home Up


Volume #1, Issue #2, January, 1969


Editor's Note:

Had not Seymour B. Liebman dug the facts of THE ENLIGHTENED out of the archives in Mexico and from the files of the Huntington Library, the tragic story of the members of the family known as Carvajal would have received scant attention from historians despite the wealth of material it yields concerning many facets of Mexican history. And the miracle of Jewish survival in spite of those dedicated to their destruction and assimilation would have been forgotten, and we would still be among the unenlightened.

THE ENLIGHTENED —The Writings of Luis De Carvajal, El Mozo, translated, edited and with an introduction and epilogue by Seymour B. Liebman (Coral Gables, Florida : University of Miami Press : 1967). Preface, Foreword, Introduction; Illustrations; Epilogue, Selected Bibliography, Index, Pp. 158, (6" x 81/2"), cloth, $6.95.

Reviewed by Lawrence A. Block, Rabbi, D.H.L., D.D., Instructor in Philosophy, Santa Monica City College, Santa Monica, California.

Anyone who collects cameos of literature will be thrilled to discover this little gem of a book which tells how in Spain in the sixteenth century, a lad who had been reared as a Catholic was informed by his father on his thirteenth Yom Kippur that he was actually a Jew. In reality the whole family were "conversos" or crypto-Jews who outwardly practiced Catholicism but secretly kept Jewish customs.

The lad, Luis de Carvajal, El Mozo (the younger) migrated with his family at an early age to the province of Leon in New Spain, now called Mexico, where his uncle by the same name was governor.

In rabbinic literature a man requires three names during his lifetime : the first is given to him by his parents, the second is the name by which he is known among his intimates, the third is the epitaph which should be placed on his tombstone. The lad spoken of above was named Luis Rodriguez de Carvajal at birth. As a result of a vision he had when imprisoned in the Inquisition secret cells he adopted the name Joseph Lumbroso (the Enlightened). He was known in Mexico as Luis de Carvajal, El Mozo.

Jews immigrated to Mexico in the sixteenth century in spite of decrees barring them and their descendants to the fourth generation. They paid bribes, forged papers and appropriated old Catholic names from tombstones in Spain in their efforts to emigrate. Their love of Spain, Spanish customs, and the Spanish language was as strong as their devotion to their forbidden faith. Despite the dangers involved in risking exposure to the Inquisition, they sought to live in a Spanish environment.

This book consists of three parts: the memoirs, the letters, and the testament of Luis de Carvajal.

The memoirs were written about January, 1595. Like many Marrano families who gave their first son to the church, their second to the rabbinate and their third to science, Luis had one brother Baltasar, known as David Lumbroso, who left Spain and became a great surgeon in Italy. Miguel, another brother, took the name of Jacob Lumbroso and for a while served as spiritual leader in Venice and ultimately became the Chief Rabbi in Salonica, publishing at least one important book in Hebrew, "HESHEK SHLOMO.' The third brother, Fray Gaspar, was a Dominican monk.

Fascinating was the life of these Jewish Catholics in Mexico, first rediscovered by my friend Rabbi Morris Clark of blessed memory. During Passover these people ate bread without yeast, made from a special dough. It was baked in the form of round thin cakes which were called matzot. They ate only meat of fowl or animals that was first soaked in warm water the day before the meal. Unlike the Jews of Europe and America who substitute the lamb shankbone for the paschal lamb, the Mexican secret Jews actually slaughtered a lamb and smeared its blood on the doorposts prior to their retelling the story of the departure from Egypt. The men wore long white garments, their belts were pulled tightly around their waists, and each held a staff in the left hand.

The other holy days were also observed, but there were variations in the degree of piety and nearly always, efforts against detection were a part of their holy day routine.

The letters of Luis to his sister Catalina and his mother who were also in prison as conversos who had relapsed to Judaism are filled with prayers, passages of comfort from Scripture and poetry. He wrote, "It means as much to my soul to write to you as it means to you to read my letters." Often there was no paper and the letters were written on avocado and pear skins with the juice substituting for ink. On December 8, 1596. the forty-five Jews in the Mexico City Auto-da-Fa exceeded in number the twenty-three who landed at New Amsterdam in 1654. Besides Luis they included his mother, Isabel, and his sisters, Leonor and Catalina. No Jewish woman had been executed in Mexico until this time.

The last will and testament of Luis de Carvajal, reads like one of the ethical wills of the sages. There is no mention of property or worldly goods bestowed upon the heirs but rather the spiritual inheritance of the family to be handed down to future gen­erations.

"Putting in order my testament, my final and ultimate will...I write and sign the religious truths in which I believe and which I reaffirm (before I) die in Thy presence."

Included are the first and second commandments, the "Shema," the "brit" of circumcision, the belief in a future messiah, the promise of "geulah" (redemption), and the accept­ance of "t'hiyat ha-metim" (resurrection of the body after death).