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16th-century Judaizer, Isabel de la Vega

In 1590, a conversa named Isabel de la Vega, discussed her Jewish observances in Toledo.

Shabbat table
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In 1590, a conversa named Isabel de la Vega, the wife of Lope de Mora of Alcázar (Castile) discussed her Jewish observances before the Inquisitorial court of Toledo.

She first related that her cousin Mari Lopes had told her to abandon the teachings of Jesus Christ and observe the Law of Moses, contending that this was beneficial for the salvation of the soul.

Therefore, she should observe Shabbat as a holy day, beginning on Friday afternoons. De la Vega followed these instructions by preparing meals before sundown and avoiding work on this day of rest.

One notes that at first she attributed the source of her Judaizing to this cousin, but she later requested a second audience with the inquisitor in order to clarify her position. Now she emphasized her mother’s role and added a number of other observances to the list.

The following was recorded in Legajo (File) 138, No. 8 (1590-94) in Inquisition papers of Toledo at Madrid’s Archivo Histórico Nacional: “She said that it is true that she had requested an audience and she wanted it in order to tell and confess the whole truth that indeed she had not been upset... the situation is that she was of tender age, more than forty-five or forty-six years [ago], and that she did not understand that she had a mother who was as evil as was hers who had taught her children things that were so offensive to Our Lord.

“And that her aforesaid mother and Luiza de Mora [probably an aunt] knew all of the Law of Moses and she [the mother] taught it to her and she had done so and observed until thirteen or fourteen [years ago], following the law. But she did not discontinue [her observance] then, she did not come to this Holy Office to seek a remedy and she did not come to declare this; not out of evil intentions concerning these holy and honored men to whom with all her heart she declares and cries out... living in fear these past twelve or thirteen years.

“Her mother told her to observe the Sabbath, dressing up on Friday evenings and preparing food on those same Fridays for the entire Sabbath. And in this way observing the Sabbath, preparing meals for Friday for the Sabbath and changing the sheets on the beds [to clean ones], and wearing clean blouses on the said Sabbath, and celebrating it as a holiday, and cleaning the oil-lamps on Friday afternoons and placing clean wicks into them and throwing out the oil, and lighting them until they died out by themselves. And her aforesaid mother said that one must observe the festivals of the Jews, and this [confessant] only remembers one festival that falls on the Holy Week, that lasts seven or eight days, and in this festival one eats unleavened bread and washes one’s body after one has undressed, and her said mother did likewise.

“And the confessant and her mother used to cut their nails and when they grew, they threw them into the fire. They did the same for their hair that fell out while being combed, and she does not recall when the other festivals fell except that they were observed and celebrated and her said mother told her when they fell and that she also recalls observing the first day of the month as a holiday, and she does not remember anything else that was done, that only too well had [she] wanted to remember in order to tell him that she wants the salvation of her soul more than anything in this world, for one has but one soul which one does not want to lose.”

One cannot overlook the fact that this detailed description of Judaizing occurred an entire century after the Expulsion of the Jews from Spain.

The author is a professor of Jewish history at the Schechter Institute, the academic editor of the journal Nashim and the author of
Heretics or Daughters of Israel?: The Crypto-Judaism Women of Castile (Oxford).


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