After the expulsion of Jews from Spain in 1492, women came to play a central role in preserving Jewish–and Sephardic–culture. In the far-flung Spanish diaspora, women used songs and story-telling to transmit culture and as a form of educating their children.

Their songs reflected the values of the Sephardic culture– longing for the return to Spain, and universal concerns of love, loyalty, and tradition. Their songs also reveal the earthy secularism that was part of the Sephardic tradition. In those tens of thousands of households which outwardly converted to Christianity, but secretly continued to practice Judaism, women played an especially crucial and unique role.  In traditional Judaism the synagogue was the domain of men and the home the domain of women, but after “conversion,” the household replaced the synagogue as the spiritual center for Conversos, and as a consequence women ascended to many roles previously held by men: teachers, ritual slaughters, transmitters of ritual and tradition.

In the contemporary era, as some of these families and communities have re-embraced Judaism  and returned to the synagogue, the change has generated deep strains within family and communal life as men have asserted greater authority at the expense of women. In my talk I will explore the role of women in both types of communities, the religious communities in the wake of the Spanish diaspora, illustrating some of my points with Sephardic songs and legends.


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