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Tarot Card Games and Crypto Jews

To: alt.tarot,alt.magick,alt.magick.tyagi
From: catherine yronwode 
Subject: Tarot Card Games and Crypto Jews
Date: Sun, 11 May 2003 18:45:59 -0800


comes an article that may shed light on the commonly held Hermetic
belief that tarot or tarocchi game cards contain hidden symbolism
relating to the Jewish Kabbalah. 

The site from which this article is drawn is one that deals with
Ladino Crypto Jews, secret Jews living in Spanish and Portuguese
cultures who have hidden their Jewishness since the days of the
Catholic Inquisition. 


by Art Benveniste

adapted from an articles in HaLapid, Summer 1999

   In his presentation to the 1999 Society for Crypto Jewish Studies
Conference in Los Angeles, Seth Ward told of a woman from Northern New
Mexico whom he had interviewed. She was describing the Crypto Jewish
practices of her family and told about playing cards every September
with her Grandmother. Playing cards was an annual ritual of the family
that was somehow related to the Jewish High Holidays.
   It reminded me of a story told by Rabbi Baruj Garzon of Spain: 
   Several years ago the Jewish community of Spain wanted to buy some
land in the Barcelona Area for a Jewish summer camp. Rabbi Garzon
drove there from Madrid to negotiate with the landowner. It was late
in September. A price was agreed on and the rabbi told the landowner
that he would go back to Madrid to talk with the Board of Directors
and they could sign the papers the following week. 
   Back in Madrid that evening, Garzon received a call from the man in
Barcelona. The landowner said that there were certain days the
following week when he could not sign the papers. The rabbi wrote down
the dates and went to bed. The next day he was about to put the dates
on his calendar when he noticed that they coincided with the Jewish
High Holidays. He called Barcelona and asked why the man could not
sign on those dates. He was told that the man's family had a "strange"
calendar and that there were some days each year when they did not
work or handle money. The rabbi asked what the family did on those
days. He was told that they played cards. 
   On checking the man's "strange" calendar for the next few years, he
found that the days always fell on the High Holidays. The man had no
explanation for the card playing.
Card Playing Disguises Prayer
   The rabbi explained that during the time of the Inquisition, secret
Jews would gather for prayer by sitting around a table with cards on
the table and prayer books on their laps. When strangers came by they
would play cards and when they were alone they would turn to the
prayer books.
   Last April I repeated this story at a talk I gave in Tucson,
Arizona. My presentation was reviewed in the Chronicle, and Emma Moya
of New Mexico got a copy of it. She writes:
   "In Nuevo Mexico cards are called Barajas, [but] in other
southwestern areas the cards are called cartas. Our Academia Hebraica
in Albuquerque has researched and recorded the following information
that may or may not relate to Mr. Benveniste's statement in the
Chronicle: The word "baraja" alludes to the word "baraha", prayer in Hebrew."
   In addition, recently I received an email from Judith Crystal
Pirkle, who described her family customs. She said:
   "The stories passed down to me by my Mother and her family all
check out. Also the custom of playing cards on the Sabbath eve (Erev
Shabbat) was passed on through our family."
   As the Mexican soldiers checked houses on Friday evening to make
sure no one was observing the Sabbath, the Crypto Jews played cards
and told Torah stories by using the cards. A heavy cloth was placed on
the table with a large candle burning; at bedtime the candle was
placed under the table so it could not be seen from the windows.


cat yronwode

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