Society for Crypto Judaic Studies
A MATTER OF CONJECTURE
Crypto Jews in Early California ?
by Maurice “Bob” Hattem
In 1967, during an archeological dig at the Royal Chapel site of the Santa Barbara Presidio, a student from UCSB, one Janet Karen, discovered a complete chicken skeleton in the corner area of the sanctuary where it had been resting for over 200 years.
Karen had worked earlier in the year at Masada in Israel . She searched the corners of her mind seeking the significance of the bones were there. Being Jewish , she remembered the ancient rite of Kapparah.
In his book, “Jewish Magic and Superstition, “ Joshua Trachtenberg explained that the Kapparah rite is an interesting version of the famous “scapegoat” offering which occurs in various forms among many peoples. According to the author, it was first mentioned in early Gaonic times and probably originated during the end of the Talmudic period.
The ceremony involved the slaughter of a cock for the males of the family and a hen for the females on the eve of Yom Kippur. The chickens were passed around the heads of the family members while biblical passages were recited and concluded with the announcement, “This foul is my substitute, this is my surrogate, this is my atonement.” As recently as fifty years ago, ceremonies of Kapparah were used in dedicating a new home by Sephardic families.
Karen was puzzled. Was the rite of Kapparah practiced at the dedication of the Royal Chapel? Were the founding fathers of California secret Jews? Buried under the floor of the chapel are many prominent figures of early California history. In one of the graves is Maria Antonia Victoria Carrillo, wife of Don Francisco de Ortega, founder of Santa Barbara , discoverer of San Francisco Bay and the pathfinder for the Portolá expedition of 1769. Both were of Spanish Jewish descent.
The late artist/historian, Russell Ruiz, was a member of the Santa Barbara trust for Historic Preservation and was involved with the digs and the eventual restoration of the Royal Presidio to its original state. With tongue-in-cheek, he had predicted that bones from sacrificed animals would be found in the four corners of the building. His conclusion was based on the Aztec custom of making sacrifices at the corners of new buildings in honor of the gods of the four directions.
Timothy S. Hillebrand, the director of the dig, was not pleased with Karen's discovery and thoughtlessly disposed of the bones. Could he have been aware of the Kapparah? In his article in the Autumn 1967 Quarterly of the Santa Barbara Historical Society's publication he states, “An interesting sidelight pertinent to this area is the discovery of a chicken skeleton on top of the side wall foundations just before the point of intersection with the so-called ‘sanctuary stairs'.”
Hillebrand was quick to add, “I do not think we can allow that this Aztec practice was conduced at the erection of the Presidio Chapel, especially since the chicken was not located in a corner after all.”
Why then was Mr. Hillebrand so quick to destroy the chicken bones that Janet Karen had shown him? Was this more food for thought to confirm the possibility of the presence of Anusim?
From Bancroft's California Pastoral, page 370, “..for a long time there was prejudice against pork. The people even refused to use lard in their cooking. Neither did they care to eat bear or sheep flesh: beef alone suited them.” Is this another clue indicating that the early Californians were secret Jews?
Santa Barbara had at its cradle, a military strong point: The Royal Presidio of old Spain . Founded on 21 April, 1782 in the presence of the Spanish governor of California , Felipe de Neve, Father Junipero Serra and its first commandant, Lt. Francisco de Ortega. It was to be the last presidio founded in California . In A Guide to Jewish References in the Mexical Colonial Era, 1521 - 1821 by the late Seymur Liebman, there is mention of a Melchoir Ortega in a document dated 1632 as a "processo." Could he have been an ancestor of Lt. Ortega?
During the 16th and 17th centuries there was a mass immigration from Spain ; many going to Mexico ( New Spain ). They numbered many thousands and who is to say that they weren't the ancestors of those noble Spanish explorers who founded and colonized California .