MADRID (EJP)---Historian Abraham Haim believes that Miguel de Cervantes’ classic "Don Quixote de la Mancha" is the product of "the silence experienced by a Jewish soul."
A specialist in Sephardic history and culture, Haim made the comment during a lecture "Traces of Judaism in Don Quixote" organized by Casa Sefarad-Israel in Madrid at the Cervantes Institute.
This institute is a worldwide cultural organization created by the Spanish government in 1991 to promote the study and the teaching of Spanish language and culture.
Citing several examples, Haim stated that "Don Quixote" contains numerous references to the Kabbalah and Jewish traditions, and that the only possible explanation for this would be that the author belonged to a family of "Conversos", the Jews who were forced to convert to Christianity or face expulsion from Spain in 1492.
Many of these families continued observing some Jewish practices secretly, which might explain Cervantes’ knowledge of them a century later, when Don Quixote was written.
Haim’s claim that Cervantes’ birth records were probably forged adds credence to this theory.
According to Haim, although Cervantes was familiar with Catholic texts, he also included certain aspects of Jewish tradition "in code" written in such a way as to avoid persecution by the Inquisition, but easy for Jews to understand.
At the beginning of the book, for example, when describing Don Quixote’s diet, reference is made to "duelos y quebrantos"–literally "suffering and brokenness"– on Saturdays.
This has a double meaning: on the one hand, it is the term–still used to this day by Moroccan Jews--for the eggs and broken bits of grain that some Sephardis add to the pot. But it can also refer to the sadness felt by those forced to leave Spain.
However, Haim says, this is only a small detail and not the most important Jewish theme in the book.
At one point, the "Festival of Tents" is described, in a clear reference to Succot: families from the town build a cabin and young women come out of the woods and invite our protagonists to join them as guests.
In the book the word "huesped" or guest is used and Haim relates this to the Aramaic word "ushpizim," with the same meaning. This was a typical custom during Succot, although Cervantes, as a son of conversos, was careful not to describe it in too much detail.
Cervantes also speaks of book burnings. "What books were burned by the Inquisition?”, asks Haim. "Those with references to Judaism."
In addition, in Chapter IX, and speaking in the first person, the author tells of walking through the Alcaná, the old Jewish and Arab section of Toledo, where he bought some old papers from a street vendor.
Thinking that they were in Arabic, he looked for a translator and was told that they were written in “a better and older” language–a clear reference to Hebrew, says Haim.
However, the most important evidence cited by Haim is perhaps the almost literal translation of an entire page of the Talmud.
This occurs when Sancho Panza, as Governor of the Island of Barataria, passes judgment in the case of a dispute between two men over the payment of a debt. The town’s people are so impressed with Sancho’s wisdom that they hail him as "a new Solomon."
While Dr. Haim is not the first Hispanist to suggest that Cervantes was of Jewish origin- Spanish scholars such as Salvador de Madariaga have suspected this in the past--his unique knowledge of Jewish history and historical and religious texts give extra weight to this theory.