The innocent converso: identity and rhetoric in the Igeret Orhit genre following the persecution of 1391

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The main focus of this article is the analysis of an igeret orhit (letter of recommendation carried by itinerant Jews) written, in Hebrew, by Yom Tov ben Hanah, scribe to the Jewish community of Montalban, in Aragon, on behalf of a teacher by the name of Hayim Caro who, immediately after the riots of 1391, sought to return to his home and family in another community. The article introduces the mediaeval literary genre of the igeret orhit, developed among the communal scribes in Spain, in light of the need of itinerant Jews to prove their identity in an era in which imposture was common. Such letters of recommendation written after the riots of 1391 and the formation of converso society in Spain clearly reflect the need for credentials, attesting to the fact that the bearers were Jews rather than converts. I will also show that the scribes and communal leaders were compelled to distinguish between different kinds of conversos, providing letters of recommendation to those they deemed "innocent", i.e. those who had remained faithful to their Jewish identity despite their forced conversion. To this end, the authors developed a new rhetorical style, which demands cautious critical analysis on the part of modern scholars. Letters on behalf of “innocent” conversos were not an entirely new phenomenon, however. Their roots can be traced to letters written in the early fourteenth-century on behalf of Jewish converts to Christianity who had returned to their original faith.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)55-74
Number of pages20
Journalהיספניה יודאיקה
StatePublished - 2014

Bibliographical note


IHP publications

  • IHP publications
  • Jews -- Spain
  • Letters


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