by Abraham D. Lavender, Ph.D.
Department of Sociology and Anthropology
Florida International University,   Miami, Florida 
from HaLapid, December 1996
There is increasing interest concerning where the overt Jews and crypto-Jews of Spain and Portugal settled after being exiled by the Inquisition. Morocco and other parts of North Africa, the Ottoman Empire, and Holland have been of major interest as Islamic or Protestant areas which did not have a Catholic Inquisition. In these areas, exiles generally practiced their Judaism openly. Portugal, and later, Spanish and Portuguese colonies in the Americas have been of major concern as places where the Inquisition was imposed, leading to crypto-Jews secretly practicing Judaism. But, little attention has been given to France, the only country besides Portugal (and Morocco, a short distance by water), that borders Spain. Mocatta, in The Jews of Spain and Portugal, in 1933, gave some attention to Sephardic exiles in France. But, Malino's The Sephardic Jews of Bordeaux: Assimilation and Emancipation in Revolutionary and Napoleonic France (1978) is the only major study of a Sephardic exile community in France. Malino dscusses the "Portuguese" community in Bordeaux, about one hundred miles from the Spanish border.
    France, because of its proximity to Spain, was a natural point of escape for Jews fleeing across the border. This was only slightly less likely for Jews fleeing Portugal. Jews had been officially excluded from France since 1394, and the border was officially closed to Jews, but a trip through the Pyrenees was a route taken by some exiles. Nahon writes that a geographical imperative "well nigh forced" the New Christians of Spain and Portugal "to take the road to France" even if only as a way station for other places. Roth, writing of persecution of conversos in Barcelona (Catalonia) in 1488 and in the Balearic Islands in 1489, notes that "Flight to foreign countries--particularly to the southern provinces of France--began to assume panic proportions" (p. 56). In addition to the geographical proximity, before the expulsion of Jews from France in 1394 there had been a close relation between the Jewish communities of Spain and France, with Spain providing many of the leaders for the French Jewish communities (Sahar, p. 198).
France was a Catholic country, and not only expelled its Jews in 1394, but also expelled the Jews from Provence in 1481 when Provence was formally united with France. But, France also had a Catholicism different from that in Spain, basically independent and relatively without an Inquisition. Hence, the situation for Jews was different from the situation in Spain. Although Jews had been expelled from France in the twelfth, fourteenth, and fifteenth centuries, "in Bordeaux as elsewhere in southern France, an indeterminate scattering of conversos remained behind. And after 1481, the Sephardic remnant was quietly enlarged by an uninterrupted infusion of New Christians from Spain and Portugal. Virtually all of them were judaizers--marranos" (Sachar, p. 199).
    Meanwhile, although most of Provence's Jews departed in 1481, "a tiny comminution underwent baptism and remained on. Nevertheless, throughout the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, augmented by periodic rivulets of Sephardic fugitives, the little enclave of Provencal conversos began to regain something of its former demographic vitality" (p. 199).
    France did continue to have restrictions against Ashkenazic Jews, mostly in eastern France close to Germany, even while it allowed the settlement of Portuguese Jews in Bordeaux in 1483, mainly for economic reasons. Bayonne and surrounding towns, only fifty miles from the Spanish border, also developed Sephardic communities. Sachar writes that "like the marrano community of Bordeaux, this trans-Pyrenean cluster of settlements became a major focus of crypto-Judiasm in southern France" (p. 200). Although there were ups and downs, "crypto-Judiasm could be maintained with relative impunity" because no Inquisition court existed in France, (Sachar, p. 336). As exile continued, numerous other communities developed along the Atlantic coast and inland (Nahon, p. 341).
    In 1550, France officially opened its borders, and conversos fleeing Spain and Portugal were officially allowed to live in France. As Beinart notes, "the proximity of the territorial border made it possible for conversos fleeing Spain and Portugal to maintain ties with their families who had remained there and to establish business connections supervised from France" (p. 118).
Despite some overtness, Malino shows that the "non-French, suspiciously non-Catholic" merchands Portugais did live a tense balancing act. Scarcely fifty years after recognition the "New Christians" who had been in Bordeaux for less than ten years were asked to leave, and settled mostly in Peyrehorade, Bidache, and Bayonne. In 1615, Louis XIII published an edict demanding that all Jews, disguised or not, leave France in one month, but the Parlement of Bordeaux prevented the expulsion from taking place. In 1656, Louis XIV issued an edict which in effect confined the "New Christians" to the Bordeaux, Bayonne, and surrounding areas. As Malino writes, the nouveaux Chretiens "continued throughout this time to live within the frame of Catholicism. They were baptized, married, and buried according to the Catholic tradition and made no apparent attempts to reveal a Jewish heritage. They were repeating the history of the Marranos of Spain" (p. 5).
    Slowly, however, the crypto-Jews of southwestern France began to be referred to as Jews, and the king and his advisers "gave clear evidence that the future of these newly designated Jews was uncertain" (Malino, p. 5). By 1700, Louis XIV no longer believed in "their Catholic camouflage" and began to treat the merchands Portugais as Jews. If viewed as Jews, they would have no status, and would have "to pay exorbitant taxes for rights the nouveaux Chrietiens had always freely enjoyed" (p. 7). The worse was over, however, and gradually the nouveaux Chretiens returned to practicing Judaism, and disciplined those members of the community who strayed from the community. In addition to the ups and downs in the Bordeaux and Bayonne areas, there were problems for crypto-Jews in other parts of France. In 1632, for example, in Rouen, thirty-seven New Christians were arrested for their "Jewish ways," and an auto-de-fe was possible. They declared their fidelity to Catholicism, paid money, and were released (Nahon, p. 340)
    While there were distinct Sephardic communities (especially Bordeaux) which eventually openly returned to Judaism, most of the Sephardic Jews in France "disappeared." One theory claims that they later showed up in Holland, and another theory claims that they merged into Catholicism in France (Nahon, p. 342). While it is clear that some of the family names did show up later in Holland, it is not clear that all members of these families moved to Holland. Even if one agrees that most Sephardim/crypto-Jews moved to Holland, the possibility remains that some members/descendants of the families remained in France. The fact that the community attempted to discipline "straying" members indicates that some individuals hesitated to return openly to the community. Recognizing individual differences, it also is unreasonable to believe that all exiles and their descendants were able to overcome the pressures of the ups and downs of Christian intimidation. The fact that crypto-Judaism lasted longer in France than in any other western European country of exile (Kaplan, p. 243) increases even more the possibility that over time some descendants would have been lost to the open practice of Judaism. If some of the Sephardic exiles in France did convert to or openly follow Christianity, would they have converted to or followed Catholicism or Protestantism?  
    The Sephardim who went to France, as either overt or secret Jews, found a religious situation very different from that in Spain and Portugal, particularly because of the rise of Protestantism in France. The rise of Protestantism (French Protestants were called Huguenots) in France was significant for Jews. Protestantism had several factors that would make it more attractive than Catholicism for secret Jews who wanted a Christian outward identity or for Sephardim actually accepting Christianity over a period of decades. First, Protestantism, like Judaism, had a mutual enemy in Catholicism because of the Inquisition's attack on both. Mocatta argues that the rise of Protestantism in western Europe added to the insecurity of Catholicism, and was one factor leading to the Inquisition. In Spain, Huguenots also were persecuted. In 1565, for example, in Pamplona, the capital of Spanish Navarre, there was "an intensive round-up of active French Huguenots" (Monter, p. 149). While Pamplona was a major center of represson of Protestants, other areas also were similar. In Toledo, for example, in 1565, a tribunal "made short work" of a group of accused individuals, some of whom were Protestants (Lea, p. 450).
    Second, Protestantism, like Judiasm, had a special appeal to merchants and to the financially well-off and well-educated segments of society. Third, and related to the second point, Protestantism had a special appeal in seaports and shipping areas of France, especially in the LaRochelle area of western France, on the Bay of Biscay about two hundred miles from the Spanish border and about eighty miles from Bordeaux. The Sephardic and Huguenot areas of settlement overlapped to a noticeable extent. Fourth, at its height, before their most severe persecutions under Louis XIV, Huguenots comprised one-tenth of France's population. The largest numbers were in western and southern France, the areas closest to Spain.
Fifth, in removing many of the trappings of Catholicism (rituals, liturgy, saints, a church hierarchy, etc.), Protestantism returned to a more original Christianity which was closer to Judaism. Customs such as naming of children also followed this pattern with Old Testament (Holy Scriptures) names, instead of New Testament Saint names, being used much more frequently by Huguenots than by Catholics. By the end of the 1500s, for example, in Rouen, of the ten most frequent Protestant male names, seven (numbers 4 through 10) were Old Testament names (Abraham, Isaac, Daniel, David, Jacob, Salomon, and Samuel). Among Catholics, there was only one "Old Testament" name (Abraham), and it was in tenth place (Lavender, 1990, p. 186). This pattern of Huguenot naming continued, although weakening with time, in the United States. As late as the 1700 period, for example, Ester and Judith remained among the nine most frequent female Huguenot names in Charleston, South Carolina, while Abraham, Daniel, Isaac, and Jacob were fequent male names (Lavender, 1990, p. 194). Even as late as 1790 in the United States, Huguenots, despite rapidly assimilating and generally following non-traditional Christianity, were more likely than most other Protestant groups to have Old Testament names. The exceptions were in the Puritan areas of New England, areas which were the most traditional in their following of Christianity. Among the sixteen most frequent Huguenot male names in 1790, seven (Benjamin, Samuel, Jacob, Daniel, Abraham, Isaac, David) were Old Testament names (Lavender, 1990, p. 192). There clearly is a connection between naming patterns and ethnic/religious identity (Lavender, 1988, 1989; Nasrallah, p. 30).
    As pressures periodically increased against the "New Christians" in France, it is difficult to believe that some did not overtly convert to Christianity. And, if they did, it is reasonable that some would have chosen Protestantism rather than Catholicism in the period when Protestantism was still strong. Huguenots also had a mixed treatment in France, some times being good and some times suffering much persecution because they were not Catholic. Thousands were killed, sent to prison, or had their children taken away. Louis XIV ended Huguenot rights in 1685, and gave the Huguenots a short period of time to convert to Catholicism or go into exile. About 160,000 Huguenots went into exile, and about 850,000 openly converted to Catholicism. Similar to crypto-Jews, some overtly practiced Catholicism but remained crypto-Protestants (Noveaux Convertis). Paul Revere's family is believed to have been crypto-Protestants (Forbes, p. 5). There were times when it was safer to be a crypto-Jew overtly practicing Catholicismthan to be a Huguenot, but in the earlier years (up to about 1572) it was safer to be a crypto-Jew overtly practicing Protestantism than to be an overt Jew.
Throughout Huguenot history, French Protestantism has had a special affinity for Jews. The Huguenots, especially in the Lanquedoc area of southern France, later (beginning about 1700) referred to themselves as living in "The Desert" which they likened to the Hebrews living in the Desert. The Huguenot shield had a burning bush in the middle, with God's name written in Hebrew (Lavender, 1993). In the Nazi period French Protestants had an admirable record of defending Jewish refugees.
    Did crypto-Jews or former Sephardim come to the United States as part of the Huguenot migration (the decade after the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685 being the most active decade)? One prominent Huguenot family in the southern United States has maintained a traditional family belief (not accepted by all members of the family, of course) that they are descended from a prominent Sephardic family exiled during the Inquisition. Part of the reason is the similarity of their surname to that of this prominent Sephardic family of Spain. My research so far has found two members of this family who think there is some truth to the family folklore. Others, of course, are hesitant to believe in or acknowledge Jewish ancestry because of their strong and prominent membership in the Christian culture.
    Other Huguenot family names also suggest a possible connection with Jewish origins. Mauze, for example, according to one source, comes from the small town of Mauze near LaRochelle. This source, which spells the name as Mauze or Moze, says the name is believed to have been derived from the Arabic word "mauz" meaning plantian tree (Mauzey, p. 112). Another source lists one spelling as Mose (Liddell, p. 394), which some researchers would say suggests a possible Jewish origin. Simons, DeSpain, and Pardieu (Pardo?) are other surname examples which raise questions about possible Jewish or Spanish origins. Pardo usually is a Sephardic name (Moya, p. 13). Simons (Simoes) is a fairly common Portuguese name, and could be either Old or New Christian. Novinsky refers to Francisco Gomes Simoes as an Old Christian (p. 113), but Filgueira refers to Francisco Simoes Tinoco as a New Christian (p. 26). Simao (Simon), common as a Jewish given name and surname, is also a Portuguese surname, although much less common than Simons.  Simons is rare as either a Spanish and French surname, although Simon is fairly common in both languages. DeSpain means "from Spain." Of course, these names also could have non-Jewish origins, requiring detailed research to determine whether the origins are Jewish or non-Jewish.
In the United States, and more so in some specific areas such as Charleston, South Carolina, the Huguenots intermarried with prominent other Protestant families and became full members of the Christian (mostly Protestant) aristocracy. As in other areas of crypto-Judaic studies, research in this area is hindered because of reluctance of some descendants to acknowledge either overt or covert Jewish ancestry. In the 1920s, after becoming active with the crypto-Jewish community in Belmonte, Portugal, Lucien Wolfe helped organize a "Pro-Marrano" Committee in London, with branches in the United States and France. This was not continued, and more questions than answers remain on crypto-Jews in France and on French Huguenot descendants in the United States.
    From a historical sociology perspective, however, the historical situations are too suggestive to overlook the possibilitiy of a Spanish-French connection leading to crypto-Jews in France. As interest increases in Sephardim in general (Lavender, 1975), interest should also increase in specific areas in order to give a better understanding of the tremendous diversity within the Jewish community.
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Dr. Abe Lavender is a member of the Society for Crypto-Judaic Studies, the Association for the Social Scientific Study of Jewry, and the Huguenot Society of South Carolina. His Huguenot ancestors include the Simons and Mauze families of Charleston, S.C. His five books include A Coat of Many Colors: Jewish Subcommunities in the United States, French Huguenots: From Mediterranean Catholics to White Anglo Protestants, and Jewish Farmers of the Catskills: A Century of Survival.
Society For Crypto Judaic Studies