By Rabbi Juan Bejarano-Gutierrez
Many of the he popular Spanish poems of the 15th century known as Cancioneros were written by the first generation of Spanish Jews who converted to Christianity following the riots of 1391. The Cancioneros often allude to the challenges faced by Conversos in dealing with their Jewish past as well as some of the practices and accusations that were levied against them. Jewish ideas and Hebrew idioms in Spanish form also appear.
One poem written by the count of Paredes is direct in pointing to the background and as far as the count is concerned, the ongoing identity of an aspiring Converso poet, Juan Poeta of Valladolid. In doing so, he reveals the perception of Conversos by the Old Christian populace.
“Each one of the following is his name- Juan, Simuel (Shemuel] and Reduan [Arabic name]. A moor, so he won’t be dead, A Christian, so he will have more worth, But a Jew he is for certain, As far as I can know.”
Yovel argues that the pictured painted by the count of Paredes is notso fanciful as might appear. Yovel argues that for the count of Paredes, each identity is part of Juan complex character, instead of mere façades wherein the Jewish core remains the true identity. For his part, Juan Poeta appears to have rejected accusations against these multiple personalities born by him.
His goal, to be at court, as author required, what Yovel refers to as the status of a full-fledged Christian. Whatever his true views on Jewish identity, he was even attacked by a fellow Converso poet named Anton Montoro. Montoro would say of Juan:
“Juan, senor and great friend: with my very whole heart I wish to chastise you; take it as I say, as coming from a father or a brother because we of a common tribe, being both Jews, you and I and my pains are also yours.” (Montoro, 139a).
To read the excellent article by Yirmiyahu Yovel, visit the link below.
By Rabbi Juan Bejarano-Gutierrez, the director of the B’nei Anusim Center for Education, and author of What is Kosher?