I do not have The Jews in the Caribbean yet in my personal connection, but Jane S. Gerber’s previous major work, The Jews of Spain, remains a primary text for those interested in the history of the Jews of Spain.
The Portuguese Jewish diaspora was born out of a double tragedy: the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492 and the forced conversion/expulsion of the Jews from Portugal in 1497. The potent combination of expulsion, Inquisition, and crypto-Judaism left people neither wholly Jewish nor wholly Christian in their identity. Subsequently many left the Iberian peninsula; some found refuge in the Caribbean, but succeeded in maintaining strong connections with Portuguese Jews in western Europe, the Ottoman empire, and the Far East, while they also forged ties with the surrounding peoples and cultures. This book looks at many different aspects of this complex past. Its interdisciplinary approach allows a wealth of new information to be brought together to create a comprehensive picture.
Part I sets the context, and also considers the relationship of Caribbean Jewry to European trading systems; its special ties to Amsterdam and Dutch-ruled Curacao; and the role of Jewish merchants in Jamaica’s commerce. Part II examines the material and visual culture of Jews in the British and Dutch Caribbean, while Part III looks at Caribbean Jewish identity and heritage and their modern manifestations.
Part IV contains archival studies that illuminate other subjects of importance – adventure and piracy, Jewish participation in a nineteenth-century revolt of black slaves and in the first Jamaican elections after Jews were granted the right to vote, and questions of concubinage and sexual relations between Jews and blacks. Part V moves from the local to the international, in particular the connection with mainland America. In their diversity, the contributions to this volume suggest the many ways in which the formation of the Caribbean Jewish diaspora can be understood today: as a Jewish diaspora dispersed under different European colonial empires; as a Jewish cultural entity created by a set of shared traditions and historical memories; and as one component in a web of relationships that characterized the Atlantic world. Defining it is no simple matter: like all diaspora identities it was constantly in flux, reinventing itself under changing historical circumstances.
Posted by Rabbi Dr. Juan Marcos Bejarano Gutierrez the director of the B’nei Anusim Center for Education. He is the author of The Converso Dilemma: Halakhic Responsa and the Status of Forced Converts and The Karaites: And the Question of Jewish Identity.