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Earliest known Jewish text in New World

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This tiny book is on display for the first time at a fascinating new exhibition on the Jews who fled Europe after the Inquisition. It was penned by Spanish-born Jew, Luis de Carvajal the Younger. He fled Spain in the 1500s but the Inquisition followed him to the colonies. It was this memoir that led to his conviction - and that of another 120 Jews he was pressured to denounce - that led to their all being burned at the stake.
by ANT KATZ | Nov 20, 2016

This brief autobiographical account by 16th-century Spanish-born Luis de Carvajal the Younger, bound together with other documents written in his hand, is the earliest known Jewish text in the New World. And for the first time — as part of a fascinating new exhibition on the Jews who fled Europe after the Inquisition, it is on display.

Carvajal (ca. 1567-1596) was a crypto-Jewish ‘converso’ (Jews, Muslims modern Christians and heathens who claimed to accept Catholicism to avoid being killed by their inquisitors), apparently continued to practice Judaism in secret after leaving Europe for colonial Mexico.

CarvajalThere, he felt safe as his uncle was a local governor.


This little book, all 10cm by 7.5cm of it, bound with other documents written by de Carvajal, is claimed as “the earliest known Jewish text in the New World” by the curators of an exhibition



But then the Inquisition reached across the ocean to Spain’s colonies, and it was this small book of Carvajal’s—combining pages memoiristic (“Saved from terrible dangers by the lord, I, of the Hebrew nation/ and of the pilgrims to the West Indies,/ present this brief history”) and devotional — that contributed to his conviction and death sentence.

Similarly dismal fates befell 120 other Jews, including a number of relatives, whom Luis de Carvajal the Younger was pressured to denounce under torture.

He, and they, were burned at the stake in 1596.

Carvajal’s remarkable book was recently recovered after going missing from the National Archives of Mexico for over 75 years. The lettering — in Spanish — is minuscule, and a glass case shields the delicate pages.

But it is, and will always be, a key piece of American Jewish literary history.

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