Jug­gling Iden­ti­ties: Iden­ti­ty and Authen­tic­i­ty Among the Crypto-Jews

Seth D. Kunin

  • Review
By – August 31, 2011

Jug­gling Iden­ti­ties is a seri­ous exam­i­na­tion of the phe­nom­e­non of Cryp­to-Jew­ish iden­ti­ty. The book is based on field work con­duct­ed by its author, Seth Kunin, over a peri­od of twelve years in New Mex­i­co. Kunin begins with an overview of his method­ol­o­gy (“par­tic­i­pant obser­va­tion” and unstruc­tured inter­views”) includ­ing a caveat regard­ing its limitations.

He then intro­duces argu­ments that have been made for and against the authen­tic­i­ty of Cryp­to-Judaism in the region. In the lat­ter camp is Judith Neu­lan­der, whose cri­tique, accord­ing to Kunin, is pri­mar­i­ly based on the con­clu­sion that rit­u­als which orig­i­nat­ed with­in Chris­t­ian Pen­te­costal­ism have been misiden­ti­fied as Jewish.

Kunin places him­self among those schol­ars who argue that there is his­tor­i­cal and ethno­graph­ic evi­dence that sub­stan­ti­ates the asser­tions of cul­tur­al self-iden­ti­ty expressed by those describ­ing them­selves as Cryp­to- Jews. Nev­er­the­less, Kunin him­self is less focused on the proof of his­tor­i­cal authen­tic­i­ty than with the self-under­stand­ing of those iden­ti­fy­ing as Crypto-Jews.

The result­ing book is most read­i­ly acces­si­ble to those with some back­ground in anthro­pol­o­gy, although the excerpts from inter­views make for fas­ci­nat­ing read­ing for the non-specialist.

Ran­dall Belin­fante has served as the Librar­i­an of the Amer­i­can Sephar­di Fed­er­a­tion for more than 13 years. He has tak­en a tiny col­lec­tion of 200 books and built an assem­blage of over 10,000 items. Mr. Belin­fante holds degrees in var­i­ous aspects of Jew­ish stud­ies, and dur­ing his tenure at ASF, he has inves­ti­gat­ed a vari­ety of top­ics, pre­sent­ing papers on such diverse top­ics as the Mizrahi Jews dri­ven from their homes in Islam­ic coun­tries and the cryp­to-Jew­ish Mash­hadis of Iran. He has also writ­ten many book reviews on books of Sephar­di / Mizrahi interest.

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