I just finished reading a fascinating article in the European Jewish Press that spotlighted a Jewish historian’s theory that the legendary Spanish writer Miguel de Cervantes belonged to a family of conversos – Jews who were forced to convert to Christianity or face expulsion from Spain after 1492.
Historian Abraham Haim, an expert on Sephardic history and culture, claims that Cervantes’ classic “Don Quixote de la Mancha” contains numerous Jewish references and reflects “the silence experienced by a Jewish soul.”
Haim points to a number of examples from “Don Quixote,” including Kabbalistic symbolism, references to the Sukkot festival, and an “almost literal translation of an entire page of Talmud.” For me, the most interesting aspect of his theory is the claim that Cervantes wrote some of this Jewish content in code in order to avoid persecution by the Inquisition:
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.
Apparently this is not the first time that a scholar has made such a claim, but it seems to be the most authoritative yet. Perhaps this is common knowledge in academic circles, but it’s the first time I’ve heard of it – and I’m fascinated by the suggestion that we could possibly add “Don Quixote” to the canon of classic Jewish literature…