What’s in a name—Marino?” by Paula Rose Michelson

In Genesis 17:5, we read, “…your name will be Abraham, for I have made you a father of many nations,” and realize that God valued Abraham and gave him a unique name. When we read Isaiah 9:6, “For to us a child is born…And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace,” we discover the uniqueness of Messiah long before he was born.

Plays and movies have been named Hamlet or Macbeth. Wars have been fought because of ones desire to obtain the unobtainable like Helen of Troy. For centuries, battles were waged to restore a good name, or advance a country whose name mattered to its inhabitants. So asking, “What’s in a name?” is nothing new. Yet it might be one of the most important question that, you or I will ever grapple with because our name defines us as surely as the name of the people group we come from.

For centuries, the name ‘Jew’ seemed to mean ‘money lender.’ This derogatory term occurred in most cultures where the Catholic Church forbad their followers to deal with money. Long before nasty comments were made as a form of separating groups within what was once a homogeneous population, the hidden Spanish Jews, were being called conversos, a title the church gave them, meaning convert. Once these Spanish Jews were baptized into the faith of the state, the church labeled them New Christians, thus making these peoples every action suspect. Most Jews eventually succumbed to the pressure to practice Catholicism. Some pretended to believe but secretly called themselves Anusim—the forced-ones and continued to ‘Judaize’ those who had become Catholic, calling them back to the faith of their forefathers.

Today these Jews call themselves Sephardic, Ladino, or Crypto-Jews to name just a few of the ways they have tried to voice what happened to their ancestors. As with any population that has struggled to survive, an outsider would rarely question why a group would chose one name above the others. Yet I am doing that in this article for living in California and having spoken to many Spanish Jews or the progeny of the Spanish Jews who fled Spain, I found it painful to hear them refer to themselves most often as ‘Marino’ meaning ‘Pig,’ because God told the Jews they were to have nothing to do with pigs. To understand what I mean read Leviticus 11:7, where is says, “And the pig, though it has a divided hoof, does not chew the cud; it is unclean for you.” So to be called ‘pig,’ to be called unclean.”

Researching the history of Spain and Portugal during the Spanish Inquisition I found the answer. Today I am sharing that answer with you.

Simply put, when the Spanish crown decided to eradicate their country of the Jewish population, those Jews who could not flee and would not become Catholic paid a tax and left the country. Many Jews fled to Portugal hoping to find that monarchy favorably disposed to their presence. When the King of Spain discovered that his cousin the King of Portugal had not upheld his edict, he sent his cousin a message warning of dire consequences. Whether any of those threats the king made against his cousin would have taken place, we will never know because the king saw the error of his ways and enacted a law by which all people on Portuguese soil were declared Catholic. Free from the stigma of their Jewish blood, Jews returned to Spain. However, as they crossed the boarded the Spanish labeled them ‘Marano’ as a means of identifying them as part of the population targeted by the Inquisition. It was at this point that these Portuguese Jews mingled with other expelled Sephardim, and influenced the Judaeo-Spanish language called Ladino. Although Portuguese Jewry was not expelled, these Jews were forced to convert to Christianity, through a mass baptism decreed by King Manuel I in 1497. However, many Jews in Portugal, like their kinsmen in Spain, continued to observe Judaism in secret. Hard times followed for the Portuguese Jews, with the massacre of 5000 individuals in Lisbon (1506), the forced deportation to São Tomé and Príncipe where there is still a Jewish presence, and the later and even more relevant establishment of the Portuguese Inquisition in 1536.

As was true of the Jews in Spain, some Jews in Portugal had occupied prominent places of political and economical life. For example, Isaac Abrabanel was the treasurer of King Afonso V of Portugal. Many also had an active role in the Portuguese culture, and they kept their reputation of diplomats and merchants. By this time, Lisbon and Évora were home to important Jewish communities. The Inquisition held its first Auto da fé in Portugal in 1540 concentrating its efforts on rooting out converts from faiths that did not adhere to the strictures of Catholic orthodoxy; like in Spain, the Portuguese inquisitors mostly targeted the Jewish New Christians, conversos, or maranos. The Portuguese Inquisition eventually included the entire Portuguese Empire, including Brazil, Cape Verde, and Goa. According to Henry Charles Lea between 1540 and 1794 tribunals in Lisbon, Porto, Coimbra and Évora burned 1,175 persons, another 633 were burned in effigy and 29,590 were penanced, but documentation of at least fifteen Autos-da-fé between 1580–1640 – the period of the Iberian Union – disappeared, so the real numbers must be higher. The Portuguese inquisition was extinguished in 1821 by the, “General Extraordinary and Constituent Courts of the Portuguese Nation.”

Thousands of Portuguese Jews eventually moved to Amsterdam, Thessaloniki, Constantinople, France, Morocco, Brazil, Curaçao, and the Antilles. In some of these places their presence can still be witnessed, like the use of the Ladino language by some Jewish communities in Turkey, the Portuguese based dialects of the Antilles, or the multiple Synagogues built by what was to be known as the Spanish and Portuguese Jews.

Every country that ousted its Jewish population seems to have experienced a decline in the scope of its reach and the greatness of its monarchy thus causing this writer to ask, “Why would any country or ruler come against the people God calls ‘the apple of his eye?’”
Category: 1 comments


Carolyn Howard-Johnson said...

Paula, thank you for letting me know about your blog. It will be lovely getting to know you better.

Carolyn Howard-Johnson
Blogging writers' resources at Writer's Digest 101 Best Websites pick www.sharingwithwriters.blogspot.com

Post a Comment