Sukkot 5778: A Sukkah in the Prison of the Mexican Inquisition

Throughout our history, the Yehudim have overcome all obstacles to observe the Mitzvah of the Sukkah. But perhaps one of the most inquisicionstriking examples of the Jewish people’s love and determination for this precept is the Sukkah that was built in the prisons of the Inquisition of Mexico City in 1603 by a crypto-Jewish man named Sebastian Rodriguez.

MR. ELI SULI

Sebastián was born in Portugal in 1573, in a town called San Vicente Davera, but left his house at the age of seven, to move to Seville (Spain), where he worked in the shop of his uncle Antonio Rodríguez, who had taught him to read and write.

At the age of fourteen, in 1587, he embarked for New Spain (former name of Mexico) and settled in the city of Puebla, in the house of a distant relative, also Portuguese, named Guillermo Rodríguez, the which sent him to nearby villages to sell clothes. At sixteen he became independent and began to work on his own.

At the age of eighteen, he married his cousin Constanza Rodriguez, who was seven years his senior. Prior to the wedding, his brother-in-law Domingo Rodríguez and Manuel de Lucena took Sebastián to the countryside and taught him many of the Torah’s Halajot (laws and traditions) regarding marriage and Jewish life, although he already had some notions of these.

But his principal teachers, from whom he learned the laws of the Torah, were Luis de Carvajal (El Mozo) and Sebastián de la Peña. During long walks in company of their teachers, they analyzed the different passages of the Torah together. Luis de Carvajal, always had hidden between the lining and the felt of his hat, several writings with passages and laws of the Torah, and in that way he could teach them to his students.

In 1596, when he had barely turned twenty-three, and for the accusation of a “Pedro de Reparo” against him, Sebastián Rodríguez was arrested in Mexico City along with his wife Constanza. He was taken to the prisons of the Inquisition in the Plaza Santo Domingo, which today is Donceles and Brazil Street, very close to the current Zócalo. His punishment was life imprisonment, and the confiscation of all his property.

During the first three months of his interrogations, Sebastian kept absolute silence, so they kept him chained to shackles of hands and feet. After those three months of torture, Sebastian confessed that he professed the Law of Moses. It was then that the crickets were removed, and placed in a cell next to Luis Diaz, who operated as a spy for the Inquisition. Luis Diaz, later nicknamed “El Malshín” (informant), informed the inquisitors that his cellmate, Sebastian “judaizaba”, that is: that he did not consume the meat they served him, nor swept the floor of his cell on Saturdays , … who washed his hands before consuming the bread, and who prayed every day eastward toward Jerusalem with his head covered.

As a result of this report, Sebastián was taken to the Inquisitors to declare the truth, but as he denied the accusations that had been imputed to him, he proceeded to torture again. This time with the instrument of torture called “the foal”. After the fifth round of the line, Sebastian declared that he judaizaba (= behaved like Jewish), but that “he repented of having done it”

The party of Sucot (cabins) of 1603 was approaching, and Sebastián Rodríguez, his wife Constanza Rodríguez and his little son Domingo, had been locked up for seven years in the jails of the inquisition known as La Casa Chata.

Sebastian did not want to fail to comply with the biblical precept of celebrating the festival of Sukkot, and therefore, looks for a way to build a Sukkah (hut), in the very courtyard of the jail, in front of the noses of the inquisitors Alonso of Peralta and Gutiérrez Bernardo de Quirós.

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