Sephardism: Span­ish Jew­ish His­to­ry and the Mod­ern Lit­er­ary Imagination

Yael Hale­vi-Wise, ed.
  • Review
By – May 23, 2013
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.

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