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Spanish and Portugese Jews and their descendants who were forced to accept Christianity, but continued to practice Judaism secretly. In a number of cases, they passed their secret beliefs from generation to generation. In its relentless investigations to root out blasphemers, the Inquisition tortured many Marranos until they admitted their heresy, and then burned them at the stake. Those Christians, as they were called, who were not exposed as secret Jews were nevertheless despised and remained under constant suspicion. When Jews were expelled from Spain in 1492, many escaped to Portugal and South America; there, too, many Marranos met martyrdom at the hand of the Inquisition. Other Marranos found refuge in Holland, France, Italy, and North Africa. There they either reverted to Judaism openly or remained secret Jews, sometimes for several hundred years, until they felt it was no longer dangerous to reveal their faith. Over the centuries, Portuguese descendants of the early Marranos lost or forgot their connections with Judaism, yet still retained a number of Jewish customs. These they practiced in secret, often believing the secrecy itself to be part of the custom. During the 19th century, considerable numbers of such secret Jews were found in northern Portugal and the Balearic Isles. Although they assimilated into the Christian communities, they observed various Jewish customs and holidays. The Marranos of Belmonte, for example, lit Sabbath candles, fasted on Yom Kippur, and refrained from eating pork (only on the Sabbath and holidays). An international committee for Portuguese Marranos, formed during the 1920’s, helped some Marranos to return openly to Judaism.

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