Music among the Crypto-Jews of Portugal: An almost vanished world

By Judith Cohen

Sunday, September 19

USA (10:30 am Pacific Time Zone / 1:30 pm Eastern Time Zone)

UK 6:30 pm / France 7:30 pm / Israel 8:30 pm

The talk will last approximately 90 minutes

About this talk

In 1497, only 5 years after the expulsion of Jews from Spain, King Manuel I of Portugal decreed that all Jews had to convert to Christianity or leave the country. Thousands left, others converted and stayed, some kept practicing their Jewish faith as Crypto-Jews. The early 20th century saw the "discovery" of the Jews of Belmonte and the northeast region of Tras-os-Montes, who had lived in isolation with few cultural contacts with the outside world. The dictatorship of Salazar sent them back underground until their re-emerging after the 1975 "Carnation Revolution".

This is where my own on-site fieldwork research comes in, starting in the late 20th century, the 1990s, and up to the pandemic. I will introduce the people I interviewed, and explain how songs and recited prayers work in both the religious and secular contexts. Then we will move to the internet and social media age and their folklorization, always, with an emphasis on people and where and how they live. Most of the time, I was staying with one or another of the families, often with my daughter, then a child.

This is pretty much a vanished world. All the old prayer-women have now passed away and many of the oldest village houses no longer exist. None of the photos or videos I took then could be taken now. Many young people in Belmonte have moved away; some, born already formally Jewish to parents who had formally (re)converted, have made Aliyah to Israel.

About Judith

Judith Cohen is a Canadian ethnomusicologist and singer known for her work in Sephardic music, and related traditions. Village songs of Spain and Portugal, narrative ballads and stories in English and pan-European traditions, Balkan singing, songs of French Canada, Yiddish - and music of Medieval Europe are among her performance and workshop repertoires. Besides, she has spent many years of fieldwork and research on music in the lives of Portuguese Crypto-Jews, who maintained their identity throughout the centuries of the Inquisition.

This event is live and interactive and spots are limited

The event won't be recorded

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