“I am often asked if you can be Jewish in Spain. Of course, yes, without any difficulty.” This is expressed by Mario Javier Sabán, PhD in Philosophy and Anthropology and president of the Jewish cultural network Tarbut Sefarad, founded in Lleida, where he lives. He was born in Buenos Aires in 1966, but is nationalized Spanish. He is a Sephardic, a descendant of the Hebrews expelled in 1492. “My father was born in Smyrna, Turkey, there were 80,000 Jews and they all left.
How many Jews are there in Spain?
Today there will be about 30,000 but it is very difficult to calculate how many are descendants. There are no Spaniards without Jewish origins, almost all have some. At least about 25 percent, 10 million.
According to his calculations, how many Jews had to go in 1492?
The figures vary between 120,000 and 200,000. How many were there? Most probably became, nobody thought that the Inquisition would last 300 years, many became thinking that the policy would change. There were even Juderia where all became Christians. And it was not the first time. Those of 1492 increased the ranks of those who had already done so in 1391 and 1412. Perhaps there were 120,000 converts. In all, there would be half a million Jews, but the whole truth escapes us.
Many concealed their origins.
Yes, for fear of the Inquisition. Blood cleaning certificates were purchased. We know that in Toledo and Burgos were 40 percent of the population: the more Catholic a population, the more suspicious that there are converts because families tried to hide their origins. The parents of Teresa de Jesús or the mother of Fray Luis de León were Hebrews. In century XVI is given with the grandchildren of the conversos the last cultural element Jewish. Cervantes himself would have a Jewish imprint, but then who did not? The footprint is very large and now it is well valued.
Do you think there are still negative connotations?
No, I have never felt antisemitism in Spain, there are unintended phrases like ‘Judaized’, like ‘Sadduca trap’ or ‘You are a Pharisee’, but who says it does so without perceiving its meaning. The problem is ignorance: rather than negative predisposition, there are anti-Israel media, with negative information that affects the Jewish subject.
Is there hate and love between Spain and the Jews?
I think so. They often ask me out, people of Sephardic origin, if you can live as a Jew in Spain, and tell them of course, without problems. Because the memory they had is that they were expelled, but at the same time they kept the ladino, the old Castilian.
To what extent was expulsion a disaster?
I compared 1492 to an expulsion of Jewish Jews from the United States. This is what happened in Spain. They dominated finance, astronomy, cartography, philosophy, medicine in a very large cultural and economic development. In the United States Jews are less than 5 percent. In Spain they were more. It was a demographic and cultural catastrophe. There were cities that were left without doctors. It happened all over Europe, but not of this magnitude: there was less.
You are a cabalist. What is it?
It goes from the general understanding of the universe; On the one hand the Theosophical, which is equivalent to quantum physics, and studies the mystery of creation: why God created the universe and for what. As for the prophetic Kabbalah goes from the levels of consciousness and it would be psychology, what power of energy a person has and what he can grasp from reality. So on one side is the physical and on the other the individual.