Medieval Judaism and Jewish Diaspora: With an Emphasis on Crypto-Judaism

A special issue of Religions (ISSN 2077-1444).

Deadline for manuscript submissions: 5 June 2024 | Viewed by 236

Special Issue Editors

E-Mail Website
Guest Editor
Department of Spanish and Portuguese, The Ohio State University, Columbus, OH 43210, USA
Interests: colonial Latin America; Afro-Brazilian; religious and ethnic studies

E-Mail Website
Guest Editor
Frankel Center for Judaic Studies, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI 48104-1608, USA
Interests: judaic studies; western sephardic diaspora; marranos; inquisition

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

The aim of this Special Issue is to explore and shed light on the historical aspects of Medieval and Early Modern Judaism, and the experiences of Jewish communities in the diaspora, with a specific focus on Crypto-Judaism.

Crypto-Jews were Jewish individuals who concealed their religious identity during periods of persecution and forced conversion, often practicing their faith in secret. This Special Issue aims to bring together scholarly research that examines the multifaceted dimensions of Medieval and Early Modern Jewish life, the challenges faced by Jews in diaspora communities, and the complexities surrounding Crypto-Judaism.


The medieval and early modern period witnessed significant developments in Jewish history, culture, and religious practices. Throughout this time, Jewish communities faced both periods of prosperity and times of persecution, which led many Jews to live in diaspora, scattered across various regions. In particular, Crypto-Judaism emerged as a unique phenomenon during this era, as individuals struggled to maintain their Jewish identity under the threat of forced conversion, expulsion, and other unique circumstances.

The Special Issue on Medieval Judaism and Jewish in Diaspora: With an Emphasis on Crypto-Judaism seeks to delve into these historical contexts, bringing forth research that explores the resilience, challenges, and contributions of Jewish communities during the period that extends from 7th to approximately the first half of the 19th century when the Tribunals of the Inquisition were eliminated in the Western World.

Topics of interest for this Special Issue include but are not limited to:

  1. Historical accounts of Jewish communities in medieval and early modern times;
  2. Jewish cultural, intellectual, and artistic contributions during the Middle Ages and Early Modern period;
  3. Examinations of Crypto-Judaism and the practices of Crypto-Jews;
  4. Interactions between Jews and other religious or cultural groups in the diaspora;
  5. Impact of political and social changes on Medieval and Early Modern Jewish life;
  6. Jewish migration, trade networks, and dispersion in the diaspora;
  7. Literary and religious texts produced by Jewish authors during this period.

The Special Issue welcomes interdisciplinary approaches, including historical analysis, literary studies, art history, religious studies, and cultural perspectives, to provide a comprehensive understanding of Medieval and Early Modern Judaism and the Jewish diaspora, with a particular emphasis on the hidden world of Crypto-Judaism.

Prof. Dr. Lúcia Helena Costigan
Dr. Gabriel Mordoch
Guest Editors

Manuscript Submission Information

Manuscripts should be submitted online at by registering and logging in to this website. Once you are registered, click here to go to the submission form. Manuscripts can be submitted until the deadline. All submissions that pass pre-check are peer-reviewed. Accepted papers will be published continuously in the journal (as soon as accepted) and will be listed together on the special issue website. Research articles, review articles as well as short communications are invited. For planned papers, a title and short abstract (about 100 words) can be sent to the Editorial Office for announcement on this website.

Submitted manuscripts should not have been published previously, nor be under consideration for publication elsewhere (except conference proceedings papers). All manuscripts are thoroughly refereed through a double-blind peer-review process. A guide for authors and other relevant information for submission of manuscripts is available on the Instructions for Authors page. Religions is an international peer-reviewed open access monthly journal published by MDPI.

Please visit the Instructions for Authors page before submitting a manuscript. The Article Processing Charge (APC) for publication in this open access journal is 1800 CHF (Swiss Francs). Submitted papers should be well formatted and use good English. Authors may use MDPI's English editing service prior to publication or during author revisions.


  • medieval Judaism
  • early modern Judaism
  • Jewish diaspora
  • Crypto-Judaism
  • marranos
  • anussim
  • Jewish history
  • forced conversion
  • diaspora communities
  • Jewish identity
  • middle ages
  • cultural contributions
  • persecution
  • religious practices
  • interdisciplinary studies
  • inquisition

Published Papers

This special issue is now open for submission, see below for planned papers.

Planned Papers

The below list represents only planned manuscripts. Some of these manuscripts have not been received by the Editorial Office yet. Papers submitted to MDPI journals are subject to peer-review.

Title: Maimonides Revisited: The Influence of the Guide for the Perplexed on Hispanic Humanism

Abstract: The Guide for the Perplexed was conceived by Maimonides with the intention of helping the Hebrew man troubled by the scope of his own intellectual forces. In the labyrinth into which the paths of reflection lead the medieval Jew, in the contradictions that arise in an unavoidable way in his efforts to understand the relations between man, the world and God, Maimonides presents the unquestionable illuminating force of a monumental philosophical-theological work that believes it has found an epistemological principle of non-contradiction with the Law of Moses. Very soon, thanks to early translations into Latin, transcending the limits of creeds and cultures, the formal structure, the intrinsic value of the knowledge presented in it and the height of the philosophical enterprise it embodies, will turn the Guide into an intellectual reference that will go beyond the limits of its original scope. In medieval Spain, the massive conversions at the end of the 14th century brought many of the Jews who had been disturbed by rationalism and who had been the first recipients of the work into the Christian world. When the Guide was translated into the vernacular for the first time in Castile, the Maimonidean imprint was to be felt with renewed force in the Peninsula during the first half of the 15th century. Within the framework of a humanism of cultural influences and borrow-ings, of incessant translatological work, poetry, philosophy, and the classics come to join hands in the risky enterprise of responding to human unease in the face of a world that remains theological. Our purpose in our article is to show the most important elements of this enterprise of cultural transmission. A presence that is sometimes explicit and, on many occasions, indirect, secret, or veiled.

Title: Converso Traits in the Spanish Baroque: Rereading the Everlasting Image of Santa Teresa of Ávila, a Bastion of “Hispanidad”

Abstract: Is it a coincidence that many of Spain’s greatest humanists—Juan Luis Vives, Juan de Vergara, Juan and Alfonso de Valdés, Juan de Ávila, Luis de León, and Benito Arias Montano, were from a converso back-ground? According to a more recent and extensive scholarship (e.g. Egido 1982 and 2015; Ingram 2006 and 2020) two of the three most influential religious movements in sixteenth-century Spain—Juan de Ávila’s evangelical movement and Teresa of Ávila’s Barefoot Carmelites— were founded by conversos and domi-nated by a converso membership. K. Ingram addresses what he defines as the New Christians’ winds of religious innovation as a persistent converso non-conformism across the long sixteenth century, claiming that converso reformism was an attempt to tame Counter-Reformation Spanish society through the influ-ence of Italian Humanism and reform. The argument goes that the Conversos’ attempt to combat Christian Orthodoxy emphasized the importance of spiritual practice, social toleration, and religious concord. Be that as it might, it is nonetheless quite significant that Teresa de Ávila, herself of converso origins and Jewish ancestry was not only acclaimed as the major female theologist of the Spanish Church, while transcending as an identity marker of the Spanish Baroque, conceived as quintessential of the Spanish Golden Age. She was also coopted in the third decade of the 20th century as Patron of the Sección Femenina de la Falange y de las JONS, the women's branch of the Falange political movement. Indeed, Saint Teresa de Ávila remained a role model of femininity for conservative religious women. Consecrated as “Santa de la Raza” (Di Febo 1988) she became the undisputable feminine icon of the so-called “Spanish Crusade,” the propagandistic slogan which General Francisco Franco implemented, with the complete approval of the Spanish Catholic Church, to re-cast in a pseudo-theological narrative, the rebellion initiated against the Spanish Second Republic in July 1936. The article will examine the different appropriations of the figure of Teresa of Ávila as a pillar of “Hispanidad,” then and now, in terms of the historical and sociopolitical contexts and theological debates in which this instrumentalization appeared. In so doing, it will bring anew the plasticity and malleability of converso figures in Spanish culture and discuss the new lines of research that are restating the Jewish origins of major national icons in Spain.

Title: "Come, let us drink our fill of love": Proverbs and Hebrew Wisdom Literature in Petrus Alfonsi’s Disciplina Clericalis

Abstract: Composed in the first quarter of the twelfth century by the Aragonese scholar, Petrus Alfonsi, the Disciplina Clericalis has been placed at the beginning of a Western, Latin, storytelling tradition marked by conversion and translation. Conversion because of its Jewish author who received baptism in 1106, and translation because of the author’s claim to have composed his Latin collection of proverbs, exempla and fables from Arabic sources (ex prouerbiis et castigacionibus arabicis). This article shows that Petrus Alfonsi, as a member of an elite class of Andalusian Jews with training in Arabic, philosophy, medicine, astronomy, literary and Talmudic studies, drew his myriad sources into an innovative form that circumscribes and directs its reading by drawing on the audience’s shared experience with Biblical wisdom literature. The models that bind and orient the book are drawn primarily from the Hebrew wisdom collections found in the Ketuvim, but this essay will argue further that the most salient intertext is the wisdom literature attributed to King Solomon in the Book of Proverbs. Among many formal, tropological, and thematic resonances with Hebrew wisdom literature that echo throughout the Disciplina Clericalis —and reverberate through many later works of medieval vernacular literature— this essay will examine direct references to Biblical verses, such as Proverb 7 cited in the title above (Prov. 7:18), that will contribute to a long-standing critical conversation about the formal, rhetorical, and didactic value of the Disciplina Clericalis.

Title: The Fascination with Crypto-Judaism among Modern Judezmo Speakers

Abstract: With the promulgation of the edicts of expulsion of the Jews from Iberia in the late fifteenth century, most of the Jews left the Iberian Peninsula and resettled in the Ottoman Empire and North Africa, where they could continue practicing Judaism openly. However, some of the Iberian Jews converted to Catholicism and remained in Iberia. Some of the converts became sincere Christians, and their descendants remain in Iberia to this day. But others were crypto-Jews, remaining faithful to Judaism in their hearts and secretly observing certain Jewish rituals and practices. Writers associated with the Haskalah or Jewish Enlightenment movement which arose mostly in Central and Eastern Europe at the end of the eighteenth century became fascinated with the Iberian crypto-Jews, seeing in them heroic and highly romantic figures bridging Judaism and Hispanism, who risked their lives in order to maintain their Jewish faith in secret. Some Haskalah writers researched and compiled scholarly histories of the Iberian crypto-Jews. Others composed fictional works on the crypto-Jews, bringing their readers into the mysterious homes and dangerous lives of literary representatives of the group, both inside and outside Iberia. In the Ottoman regions the Sephardim or descendants of the Jews exiled from Iberia continued to speak highly evolved, Judaized varieties of Spanish which they called Judezmo or Ladino. From the late eighteenth century they became acquainted with the European Haskalah Movement and its literature, mostly through Judezmo translations of representative works published in the Judezmo press which arose toward the middle of the nineteenth century in Izmir, Constantinople, Salonika and other Ottoman cities. One subject which the translators of the Haskalah works and their readers found particularly fascinating was the life experiences of the Iberian crypto-Jews, as portrayed in fictional works set in places such as Spain, Portugal, and Central Europe. The proposed article will focus on fictional portrayals of Iberian crypto-Jewish life in Judezmo, from linguistic and literary perspectives.

Title: Judaizing in the Tropics: Crypto-Jewish Prayers among New Christians Living on Brazil's Sugar Plantations

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