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Accepted Paper:

Kinning kin: Portuguese Marranos, "the Jewish family," and multi-scalar relations  
Naomi Leite (SOAS, University of London)

Paper short abstract:

This paper tracks the interpenetration of kinship discourses across scales and domains, through analysis of the (re)incorporation of Marranos -- Portuguese descendants of 15th-century Jews forced to convert to Catholicism -- into "the Jewish family."

Paper long abstract:

Imaginaries of essential connection at the level of peoplehood—diasporic, religious, ethnic—do not necessarily translate to kin-like interactions at the level of persons. Jews worldwide understand themselves to be a "people," a lineage group unified by mythical descent from the biblical patriarchs and matriarchs. Jewish personhood, too, is framed in terms of kinship: according to Jewish law, a Jew is the "biological" offspring of a Jewish mother or a convert to Judaism, who joins the lineage of Abraham and can thus also give birth to "biological" Jewish offspring. To what extent do these two scales of kinship intersect? This paper examines a controversial case: Portugal's "Marranos," Catholic-born urbanites who trace their ancestry to 15th-century Jews forced to convert to Catholicism. Although not Jewish according to Jewish law, Marranos are widely considered "lost brethren" who should be welcomed collectively back to "the Jewish family." Yet as individuals they have been rejected by Portugal's normative Jewish community. Consequently, they turn to international Jewish tourists and outreach workers in their search for Jewish belonging. Based on longterm fieldwork in Portuguese Marrano associations, I explore how emotional and spiritual affinity ultimately surpassed ancestry as the primary grounds of their Jewishness. Articulated in kin terms and instantiated in acts of care, transnational bonds with repeat foreign visitors created a "Jewish family" writ small, and, in turn, a path to incorporation into "the Jewish family" writ large—paradoxically not through relatedness grounded in descent, but through belonging forged in love and choice.

Panel P137
The future of global belonging: anthropological legacies of kinship studies
  Session 1