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.


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.

How Two Small Flames Restored One Woman’s Secret Jewish Past

shabbat cadlesShabbat, as well as many Jewish holidays, begins with the lighting of candles. The candles are traditionally lit in the home at least 18 minutes before sunset. The lighting marks the beginning of a day of rest and refreshment.

It seems clear that this custom began at a time when our homes were not illuminated by electric lights but instead by candlelight. On this day when rabbinic Jewish law forbids the lighting of flames, we were forced to light the candles before Shabbat began so as to provide some light for the Shabbat dinner. Dinners illuminated by candlelight always provide an extra measure of ambience.

The lighting of Shabbat candles has became for many the central feature of the beginning of our Shabbat. We light candles. We cover our eyes. We say the blessing. We wish each other “Shabbat Shalom,” a peaceful Sabbath. Yet for many, the Shabbat candles and their lighting remain a mystery.

Over 500 years ago, the Jews of Spain experienced a golden age of Jewish culture. This soon came to an end when the Jews were persecuted by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella during the Spanish Inquisition. The Jews were given a choice: Convert, or else. Some chose martyrdom. Finally, in 1492 (yes, the same year that Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue) they expelled the Jews.

In fact, the harbor was so crowded with ships filled with Jews fleeing Spain that Columbus’s departure was delayed by several days. It is also widely believed that Columbus’s navigator was Jewish. This exodus created the rich Sephardic diaspora in Turkey, Morocco and even Holland and then eventually New Amsterdam.

Still, some remained. They chose conversion. Outwardly, they practiced Catholicism. But secretly, in the quiet of their homes, they practiced Judaism. They were called Conversos. You may have heard them instead called Marranos, but Conversos is the more appropriate term. They often named their children after biblical heroes. In this way they preserved their ever so thin and tenuous connection to their Jewish heritage.

Years ago, I met a woman named Miriam. She did not know about her namesake’s many accomplishments. She did not know about the legends. As long as Moses’ sister Miriam journeyed with the Israelites, wells of water accompanied them. She did not know how Miriam picked up the timbrel and danced and sang when the Israelites rushed through the Sea of Reeds in that miraculous deliverance we still recall with the words of Mi Chamocha (Who is like you).

Miriam began asking questions. “Why did you choose to call me Miriam? Why is nearly every man in our family named David? How long have we lived in Spain?” She thought a lot about God and wondered about her faith. “How does one get close to God?” she would ask. Miriam traveled from her home in Spain to the greatest of all metropolises, New York City. She met an Israeli man (Of course. Where else would you meet an Israeli man?).

You might guess the rest of the story. They fell in love. They began dating. Ok, perhaps it was in the reverse order. One Friday evening Miriam invited Noam over for dinner. She cooked a beautiful meal. It was exactly as her mother had taught her and her grandmother before her had instructed. There was, of course, wine. Through the window they could see the sun setting. The windows of the adjacent buildings began to reflect the reds and oranges of sunset. Miriam jumped up from the table. She offered a hurried excuse. She ran to the back of the apartment and there she lit two candles held in old, worn candlesticks. She waved her hands in the air three times and covered her eyes. She quietly thought about all of her questions. She still sought answers.

She turned around to discover Noam standing behind her. He had tears in his eyes. “Why are you crying?” she asked. “You are Jewish.” “No, I’m not. I’m Catholic.” He stammered, “Then why are you lighting candles on Friday night?” “What in the world are you talking about? I don’t know why we light the candles. It’s what my family has always done. My mother does the same thing. My grandmother too. I was told that my great grandmother used to light the candles in a corner of her basement.”

In fact, the women of Miriam’s family have lit candles in hiding for the past 500 years. It seems clear that her family was once Conversos. Somewhere along the way they forgot the blessing. In another point in the journey of centuries they forgot why they were even lighting them. Now Miriam also knows why.

Now she also knows the blessing: “Baruch atah hashem, eloheiynu melech ha olam, asher kidshonu b’mitzvotzov vitzivanu l’hadlik ner shel Shabbat.” — Blessed are you our God, king of the universe, who has sanctified us with his commandments and instructed us to light the Shabbat candles.” It took some 500 years to recover the blessing. It took centuries to uncover the meaning.

The Shabbat candle’s flame continues to burn brightly. Whether we light on this Shabbat or the next, whether we light now, or even never, these candles’ flames can never be extinguished. The warmth and glow of Shabbat can never be diminished.

We look into the flames and say, “Shabbat Shalom.”

Rab Steven Moskowitz 


President Trump proclaims May ‘Jewish American Heritage Month’

trumpPresident Donald Trump declared May to be Jewish American Heritage Month in a press release Friday.

“During Jewish American Heritage Month, we celebrate our nation’s strong American Jewish heritage, rooted in the ancient faith and traditions of the Jewish people,” Trump said.

Trump mentioned that the Jewish people have left “an indelible mark on American culture” through an ethical code and tikkun olam, or repairing the world.

He also stated that Jews came to America to escape persecution and violence, and that American Jews have stood for “human freedom, equality and dignity.”

Trump said he plans to celebrate the connection between the Jewish people and the United States with his daughter, Ivanka, and his son-in law, Jared Kushner.

“Now, therefore, I, Donald J. Trump, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim May 2017 as Jewish American Heritage Month. I call upon all Americans to celebrate the heritage and contributions of American Jews and to observe this month with appropriate programs, activities and ceremonies,” Trump said in closing.

Last week, Israel observed Holocaust Remembrance Day, and Trump signed a proclamation to observe Holocaust remembrance for the week of April 23-28.

Ivanka was in Berlin at the time, as a panelist at the W20 Summit on women’s economic empowerment. She took some time to visit the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, the German capital’s Holocaust memorial. Ivanka posted about the visit on Instagram, saying, “I am deeply moved by the history of this memorial, honoring the six million European Jews whose lives were taken during the Holocaust.”

According to data released last Sunday, US campuses have seen a rise of 45% in antisemitism.

The Kantor Center for the Study of Contemporary European Jewry at Tel Aviv University, in collaboration with the European Jewish Congress, released its Annual Report on Antisemitism for 2016 during a press conference held at the university.

In the report, US campuses were reported to have become hotbeds for Jew-hatred, often under the guise of anti-Zionism and due to increased pro-Palestinian movements, such as BDS on campuses.

Anger of the Jewish Community of Barcelona against the city council

secuestro aereoThe motion approved by the Barcelona City Council condemning the Israeli occupation and colonization policies of the Palestinian territories has angered the Jewish community in the city, which it considers to be anti-Semitism. In addition, the Israeli embassy estimates that the aim is to demonize the country.

The Jewish community is considering giving a response to the municipal initiative, which occurs in a month in which two other situations have occurred that have caused a deep discomfort. The first, to know that in May will be in Barcelona Leila Khaled in Literal festival, in Fabra i Coats, one of whose main sponsors is precisely the Consistory. On August 29, 1969, she was one of two people who hijacked Flight 840 between Los Angeles and Tel Aviv, when she stopped at Rome. The aircraft was diverted to Damascus, and after lowering the 116 people aboard, the aircraft flew.

Born in 1944 and a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), on September 6, 1970, she attempted to hijack another flight between Amsterdam and Tel Aviv, but the Israeli security forces shot down her accomplice and arrested her. The apparatus was diverted to London, where it was stopped. After 28 days, she was released in an exchange of prisoners. The following year, the PFLP abandoned the tactic of the hijacking of airplanes. Khaled continues to militate in the organization.

A Palestinian activist who hijacked two planes will participate in a festival sponsored by the Consistory
In addition, the City Council has notified that it will not participate again in the Holocaust Teaching Seminar, which has been developed for five years and is intended for teachers.

The motion was approved a week ago, in the commission of Presidency, Drets of Ciutadania, Participació i Seguretat and Prevenció, and counted with the favorable votes of Barcelona in Comú, PSC, CUP and ERC. Ciutadans and Partido Popular protested against it, and the PDCat abstained, although its representative said in his turn that the resolution had an anti-Semitic bias.

A spokeswoman for the Israeli embassy deplored, in conversation with La Vanguardia, the motion, saying it had nothing to do with defending or supporting the Palestinians, or seeking a just solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but These are initiatives that pursue “the demonization of Israel”. The spokeswoman added her discomfort because “a democratic institution has been dragged by a free anti-Israeli obsession” in a city that is the third world destination for Jewish tourists.

The Jewish community is irritated because it considers that it is an act of anti-Semitism, and that there are no similar pronouncements by what happens in Turkey or by the acts of the Islamic State. In reality it is not possible to speak of one community, but of four, that have different orientations. The main one is the Israeli Community of Barcelona, ​​which is the largest and precisely in 2017 is one hundred years. Then there are ATID and Ben Shalom, more progressive, and the Center for Jewish Studies Chabad Lubavitch, Orthodox. Although they have differences between them, they agree to give a joint response to the initiatives of the City Council. Some 6,000 Jews reside in Barcelona.

Mexico: recovered manuscripts with which Jewish literature from the Discovery of America

inah-manuscritos23-230317_notimexThe Mexican government recovered three manuscripts belonging to Luis de Carvajal and de la Cueva, one of the Spanish conquerors of Mexico, founder of the New Kingdom of Leon and the city of Monterrey, in which the person of Jewish descent narrates his life and his Faith, in the context of New Spain.

Diego Prieto, director general of the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH), informed at a press conference that they are three documents with which he initiates properly Jewish literature in Spanish America during the sixteenth century, which had remained outside Mexico for More than eight decades.

He said that the documents recovered thanks to the donation of the philanthropist Leonard I Milberg, will now be under the protection of the National Library of Anthropology and History; Likewise it was announced that they will be exhibited from next April 3 in the Museum of Memory and Tolerance in this city.

These are documents of great value, in particular, “Memoirs of Luis de Carvajal”, a booklet drawn on 46-page cloth paper in which the Jewish conqueror writes his story from leaving Europe to New Spain, Life of his family in Veracruz and the moments before being imprisoned by the Inquisition and sentenced to die at the stake.