Tilting at Windmills?

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 conversosJews 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…

2 Replies to “Tilting at Windmills?”

  1. Definitely there was a strong Jewish
    influence on Cervantes.

    After the battle of Le Panto he was a prisoner of the Muslims
    (Moors) for more than four years in North Africa, and no
    tough hardships were imposed on him.

    Cervantes was a fifteenth century Spaniard, and it was
    logical at that time to receive Christian, Muslim and
    Jewish influence in most of Spain,

    In many cities, such a Toledo, and for many years, perhaps
    a whole generation lived in Harmony.

    Today some of us are Quixotic about being able to live

    in Harmony and peace amongst us.

    Let us give it a try, as we live each day, remembering
    Don Quixote’s concept of peace and justice.

    Of corse that is easy to say if you live in Costa Rica.

    Lets not judge either Cervantes nor Shakespeare, as men
    able of chauvinism or prejudice.

    They were geniuses of exactly the same epoch.
    If they leaned once in a while to one side or the other,
    good for them, and good for who may
    today enjoy them.

    Enrique Carreras –

    Comment by E. CARRERAS | April 29, 2008

  2. Wow, I never knew this when writing next year’s Purim production, “haMAN of Fakachta, The Implausible Shpiel”.
    Now I’ll have to add some appropriate lines (by appropriate, I mean on the subject, but certainly not appropriate by decency standards!)

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