the Dönme


Most readers interested in Jewish history know something about the conversos, the Spanish and Portuguese Jews forced to convert to Christianity in the 14th and 15th centuries. In recent decades, historians have come to see their story not just as a tragic or heroic one—an affair of Jews forced to give up their faith, or contriving to remain faithful in secret—but as an important episode in the evolution of the modern world. Yirmiyahu Yovel argued last year in The Other Within: The Marranos that these “New Christians” were the first large group in European history to be effectively post-religious—free to define the world and its meaning for themselves, instead of accepting the definitions of rabbinic Judaism or medieval Catholicism. That Spinoza and Montaigne, those skeptical modern minds, were both descendants of conversos, and that New Christians played a major role in the economy of the New World, is seen as evidence that these Jewish converts helped to invent the secular world we live in. Much less is known, however, about a later, smaller, but perhaps even more intriguing group of Jewish converts, who emerged in the Ottoman Empire in the late 17th century.

more from Adam Kirsch at Tablet here.