Sephardism proposes a new approach to the interpretation of Sephardic literature. Whereas the traditional approach tended to view Sephardic literature as an expression of Sephardic identity, the authors and editor of this work argue that this literature must be understood as politicized literary metaphor which extends awareness “over to fields that intersect with Jewish Studies by showing that changing political epistemologies were negotiated in the modern imagination.” The editor, Yael Halevi-Wise, argues that Sephardic history has, and continues to have, a dramatic impact on a variety of ethnic, religious, and national identities. Sepharad occupies an extremely important position within Western culture, far exceeding what has generally been acknowledged.
Halevi-Wise argues that Sephardism tends to polarize Sephardic history, running from idealized views of convivencia (when Jews, Moslems, and Christians all lived symbiotically together in peace in Spain) to the persecution of inquisition and expulsion from Spain and other countries (although she later concedes that the concept is much more nuanced). The authors of this book argue that both Jewish and non-Jewish writers alike tend to draw on the Sephardic experience to describe and express their concerns regarding minorities and dissidents in such varied countries as Ismar Schorsch’s Germany, Edna Aizenberg’s Latin America and Salman Rushdie’s India. It is argued that Sephardism emerged from a tension between “ …the Enlightenment’s desire to re-examine all that had been thought in the past, and romanticism’s distrust of the Enlightenment’s idea of progress;” while at the same bringing the two movements together in a mutual fascination with the Middle Ages which they both viewed as a counterpoint to modernity and progress. The literary world is fascinated by the mysterious and authentic phenomena of the “Jewish other” that has long been represented by Sephardi Jews. These essays demonstrate the critical role played by Sepharad in both Western Jewish and non-Jewish letters in a world formerly dominated by Ashkenazi Jews.
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.