Between 1391 and 1492 a substantial number of Spain's Jewish community, once the largest in Europe, converted to Catholicism either voluntarily or through physical or psychological coercion. While some converts publicly attended mass and privately observed the Sabbath, others were determined to abandon their Jewish past entirely but found it difficult to close the door on their heritage. In 1478 the Papacy approved Spain's request to establish an Inquisition. Its goals were to induce individuals to recant their heretical beliefs and behaviors and exclusively adhere to orthodox Christian practices and to encourage individuals to do so by making the punishment of sinners a public, exemplary event. Prior to the Inquisition, conversos continued to behave as if they were still Jews with relatively little danger; after 1480 to Judaize incurred mortal risk.
The Lost Minyan, an intricately woven tapestry of historical fiction, profiles ten Crypto-Jewish families coping with the trauma of living between worlds, neither wholly Catholic nor wholly Jewish. Struggling to hide their secrets from neighbors, servants, children, and even spouses, they try to resolve the tension between their need for and fear of community. Attempting to navigate the mandates of the Church and their own idiosyncratic version of Jewish customs, they wonder on which law to peg their hopes of eternal salvation; and they wonder how to safely pass their Crypto-Jewish identity on to the next generation. While the details and conversations of these lives are fictional, they draw from historical fact as documented in eyewitness accounts, contemporary chronicles, and the dossiers of Inquisition trials in the archives of Spain and Mexico.
David M. Gitlitz, of the University of Rhode Island, is a scholar-administrator who over the last two decades has divided his time among research on Sephardic historical topics, Spanish Golden Age literature, pilgrimage studies, and university administration and teaching.