The National Library has obtained a rare collection of 39 Portuguese auto-da-fe sermons, printed between 1618 and 1727. The texts were read out by church officials during the Spanish and Portuguese Inquisitions before ritual executions, mostly of Jews who had converted to Catholicism but were accused of still practicing the Jewish faith.
The Spanish Inquisition began in the 15th century and the Portugese Inquisition in the 16th. Jews in those countries were faced with the choice of either converting or leaving. Autos-da-fe, or acts of faith, were a major part of the inquisition, with those condemned to death being killed in an elaborate ceremony after a long sermon by a high-ranking Catholic church official who would preach the virtues of repentance to his congregation. Such trials took place mainly in Spain, Portugal, France and Italy.
"These events were a recreational Sunday activity for residents of the local towns and villages,” said Dr. Aviad Stollman, Judaica collections curator at Israel's National Library. “Although hundreds of these ceremonies took place over the course of the inquisition, only about 70 of these sermons were printed, making the books very rare."
Stollman said that each sermon had a similar structure. "The accusations [in the text] were supported by academic footnotes filled with anti-Semitic comments and quotes from the Talmud and rabbinical scripture," he said.
Due to the fact that the Spanish expulsion decree of 1492 fell one day before Tisha B'Av — the Jewish memorial day commemorating the destruction of the First and Second Temples — some people link the expulsion to the mourning for the two temples.
The National Library will hold a special event on Monday, shortly before Tisha B'Av, during which the rare texts will be revealed to the public.