A Crypto-Jew’s Guide to Surviving the Spanish Inquisition

Hello! Gosh I had this ambitious plan for writing something for every day in October, though you can see how well that’s gone. So many things happened this summer that I’ve been keeping it all on the shelf instead of telling about it.

I did another History Showoff talk last week, this one titled ‘How to Survive the Spanish Inquisition: Practical Tips for Crypto-Jews’. I got the timing a bit better than the Fascist Romeo & Juliet one, when I had to cut about a third of it, and the venue (in a great scuzzy pub basement) was much more fun. However, the Photoshop work is much worse, as I did it myself, including this slide about New Christians (converted Jews) having to go to church even when they’re menstruating:

Sevilla Cathedral - bloody text

Although my favourite bit was the punch line of roving Jewish pirates, which is honestly one of my top historical things I’ve learned this year. There’s this stereotype of European Jews in history just kind of shuffling sadly around the shtetls and ghettos and hiding in the basements of nice charitable Christians while various groups of people try to kill them. But you don’t hear very much about the organised Jewish militias who fought the Nazis, or the Spanish Jews who, after the Expulsion in 1492, said “Fine, fuck you then” and went off to become pirates specifically targeting Spanish ships, because fuck 1490s Spain. There is Inglourious Basterds, but the fantastic fictionality of blowing up Hitler in a Paris movie theatre in 1944 almost undercuts the real history of armed Jewish resistance it’s loosely based on.

I think this might be because a lot of people have an interest in keeping going the myth of sad helpless big-eyed European Jews: nice non-Jews who want to imagine themselves like Miep Gies or Oskar Schindler, helping the helpless – but they don’t get to be the hero if European Jews are aggressively helping themselves – and some Jews who want to argue that Europe will always be unsafe for us, so we should all move to Israel. And I guess the image of oppressed groups fighting back will always make oppressors uncomfortable.

Anyway I didn’t really get into that in the gig, it was mostly me going ‘ooh look, bacon made out of goose, so clever, fooled you!’ and pointing out that ‘Moses Cohen Henriques’ is the best name for a pirate ever and I didn’t even make him up. And it’s always nice to do stuff with Steve Cross, the guy who organises and MCs the Showoffs, who is very funny and one of the most secretly generous people I’ve worked with, and I’m not only saying that because he said some very nice things about my R&J talk in front of a microphone when other people could hear.

Also, I want to direct traffic to Prof. Ana Gómez-Bravo’s Converso Cookbook, which has great photos of the aforementioned goose bacon, and I’m really looking forward to the full-length book she’s working on. (A Drizzle of Honey is also quite good, although I haven’t tried any of the recipes yet.)

And finally Twitter has just reminded me that it’s Columbus Day in the US, that weird holiday for a guy that most people now agree was pretty awful but they haven’t got around to not having a holiday for him any more. 1490s SPAIN YOU WERE THE WORST.



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