Volume #1, Issue #2, January,
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
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
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).