In Benzion Netanyahu’s monumental history on the origins of the Spanish Inquisition in 15th century Spain. he avers that the blood purity laws were not instituted by the Catholic Church, but rather were the work mainly of secular actions by Spaniards who had held centuries old animus to Jews and their descendants (“Nosing out fact from fiction,” Aug. 10). By the time such laws were enacted, the conversos Spaniards in 15th-century Spain were third- and fourth-generation Catholics. Overwhelmingly, most were devout Catholics, not crypto Jews.
The laws were directed at the descendants of the great conversion of Jews in 1391, following the great pogroms. The conversos of 1491, sometimes referred to as Marranos, swine in Spanish, often held high positions in the royal courts, the Catholic Church, and the nobility. The animus of the cristianos viejos (old Christians) against the cristianos nuevos (new Christians) preceded those laws by a hundred years. When Ferdinand and Isabella found it politically expedient to persecute Jews as well as Catholics of Jewish ancestry, the Holy Office of the Spanish Catholic Church signed on to the Inquisition. Hence, in Netanyahu’s view the Inquisition was based on “race” rather than religion. Of course, it is way beyond the scope of a letter to the editor to trace the history of the blood purity laws. I recommend that The Origins of the Inquisition in 15th Century Spain should be read by anyone with an abiding interest in the history of the Jewish people.