The Other within: The Marranos: Split Identity and Emerging Modernity

David Nirenberg writes:

Though the origins of the word ‘Marrano’ are obscure, its meaning is clear. It was an insult – ‘dirty pig Jew’ – applied by Christians in what we now call Spain to other Christians who were suspected of being converts from Judaism or descended from converts. The term first appears several generations after 1391, but in The Other Within Yirmiyahu Yovel uses it to describe a ‘subjectivity’ that he believes emerged with the first converts to Catholicism. According to Yovel, these converts couldn’t commit themselves wholeheartedly to any religion. Those who wanted to be Christians could not achieve ‘a natural integration into Catholicism’, since their belief was ‘an act of the will, which is often severed from the person’s actual life’. As for those who yearned for Judaism, they could not return to it openly without risking death or going into exile.

(LRB 23 July 2009)