Page 177 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 54

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Double Quincentenary
Understandably, complex historical issues, hotly discussed at
scholarly conferences, failed to pass the perceptual threshold of the
general public. Themes such as the exclusion ofJews from the New
World, the contemporary legacy of that exclusion, and the ambi­
guity of the Judeo-converso presence there, could not reasonably
be expected to find resonance among the general public. No echo
of the problematic situation of New Christians, discussed in such
detail within academia, seems to have percolated through to the
public. Fascination with the phenomenon of twentieth-century
crypto-Judaism crowded out both an examination of the lives of
overt Jews, i.e., Sephardim who retained their Jewish identity, and
New Christians who truly accepted their new faith.
H I S T O R I A N S ’ W A R S
The new scholarship offered several provocative revisions of
Jewish history. Re-evaluation of the events of 1492 began in ear­
nest in 1965 with publication of Henry Kamen’s
Inquisition and So­
ciety in Spain in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries
.28
Kamen
issued a coherent challenge to traditional interpretations of the ex­
pulsion in a 1988 article in which he argued that the purpose of the
edict of March 31, 1492, was not expulsion but conversion; that
closer to 40,000-50,000 Jews were expelled, rather than the tradi­
tional estimate of 150,000-200,000 or more espoused by other his­
torians; and that the economic impact of the departure of the Jews
from Spain was negligible because this population had already
been despoiled: the earlier departure of the wealthier conversos
was far more damaging to Spain’s economy.29
Although the 1988 article created a stir among Jewish scholars,
it surfaced to public attention four years later, to considerable out­
rage. The traditional view is that 1492 dates the most traumatic
event in Jewish history between the destruction ofJerusalem by the
Romans in 70 C.E. and the Nazi Holocaust of 1940-45. For some,
28. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson.
29. “The Mediterranean and the Expulsion o f Spanish Jews in 1492,” in
Past and Present
119 (May 1988): 30-55.