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Could Jennifer Lopez be Jewish?

J. Lo's surname as well as her mother's name link the megastar to the forcibly-converted Jews of Spain and Portugal
Jennifer Lopez participates in the "American Idol" panel at the Fox Winter TCA on Friday, Jan. 15, 2016, Pasadena, Calif. (Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP)
Jennifer Lopez participates in the “American Idol” panel at the Fox Winter TCA on Friday, Jan. 15, 2016, Pasadena, Calif. (Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP)

There is great excitement in Israel with the news that Jennifer Lopez might come to Israel as the Latina diva has reportedly been penciled in to play a concert this summer in Tel Aviv’s Hayarkon Park. If J. Lo does play Tel Aviv, it would represent the first time she will perform in the Jewish State, but what if it is not so much as a visit as a ‘homecoming’.

While the idea that Jennifer Lopez might be Jewish, or to put it more accurately, have Jewish ancestry, may be news to many, including the singer herself, this possibility is not as unlikely as it seems.

Jennifer Lopez was born in New York, to Puerto Rican parents named Guadalupe Rodriguez and David Lopez. The first thing that strikes anyone familiar with Sephardic history is that both Rodriguez and Lopez are two of the most well known names for the descendants of forcibly-converted Spanish and Portuguese Jews.

Beginning in the 14th Century, hundreds of thousands of Jews on the Iberian Peninsular and elsewhere were forced to the baptismal font or had priests throw ‘Holy Water’ on unsuspecting recipients, creating what the church and state called New Christians, while many remained Crypto-Jews, retaining their faith and traditions in secret. Anyone caught observing even the minimal form of Jewish tradition could be imprisoned, tortured and burnt at the stake by the ruthless Inquisition.

Understandably, many of these crypto-Jews escaped to the New World, the Americas, to try and get as far away as possible from the center of the reign of terror in Spain and Portugal.

Family names like Lopez and Rodriguez are patronymic, meaning that they are derived from a man’s given name, usually a father, paternal ancestor or patron. Many of the forcibly-converted Jews were given ‘Old Christian’ family sponsors and their new family names would often represent the name of the patriarch of the family, i.e. Rodriguez means the son of Rodrigo and Lopez the son of Lopo.

Sometimes whole families which held the same Jewish name took the new Spanish family name. Some have suggested that the Rodriguez (or Rodrigues in Portuguese) family is said to have emigrated as the Gradis family from the Land of Israel at the time of Bar Kochba’s insurrection (125 C.E.) and settled first in Portugal and later in Spain.

What we do know is that many bearing the name Rodriguez and Lopez were convicted as secret ‘Judaizers’, those who held onto Jewish practices in secret, by the Inquisition, and both names appear dozens of times in the Book of Guilties written by The Inquisition in Spain alone. Many Jews with both names were martyred by the Spanish Inquisition during the 17th and 18th centuries.

Famous descendants of forcibly converted Jews bearing these names include Roderigo Lopez, who had been accused by the Portuguese Inquisition of secretly practicing Judaism, and compelled to leave the country when he fled to London. Lopez, the subject of much racial jealousy, then rose to become physician-in-chief to Queen Elizabeth I of England from 1581 until his death by execution, having been found guilty of plotting to poison the Queen, even though she reportedly remained unconvinced of his guilt.

Aaron Lopez, born Duarte Lopez, belonged to a family who had openly professed Catholicism while they continued to practice Judaism in secret. He was a Portuguese Jewish merchant and philanthropist who became the wealthiest person in Newport, Rhode Island, in British America. In 1761, Lopez sued the Colony of Rhode Island for citizenship but was unsuccessful because he was a professing Jew. He then moved to Massachusetts where he successfully applied for citizenship there. Some historians believe Lopez was the first Jew to become a naturalized citizen of Massachusetts.

These are just two of many famous Jews and descendants of forcibly converted Jews to bear either the name Lopez or Rodriguez, both of which feature in this author’s extended family tree extending back many centuries.

However, alongside the name, there are other clues of a possible Jewish ancestry for Jennifer Lopez.

A Jewish presence in Puerto Rico can be traced back to the 15th century and the Second Voyage of Christopher Columbus, when many Jews settled on the island hoping to flee from the scrutiny of the Spanish Inquisition. Each of Columbus’ voyages across the Atlantic was prominently staffed by crypt-Jews and many others joined further expeditionary crews sailing for the New World. They hoped that there would be safety in distance, but unfortunately once Spain established colonies in the New World, the Inquisition surely followed. The crypto-Jews were forced to settle in the island’s remote, mountainous interior and flee from the cities and power centers.

According to a National Geographic genograhic DNA project conducted in 2014 the average Puerto Rican individual has 65% West Eurasian (Mediterranean, Northern European and/or Middle Eastern) DNA. This demonstrates the strong possibility of Jewish ancestry among many Peurto Ricans.

Obviously, all of this evidence for the possible Jewish ancestry of J. Lo is circumstantial.

Nevertheless, it would be impossible to know of the exact origins of Ms. Lopez unless a personal DNA analysis or genealogical research was undertaken.

However, I have used the story of Jennifer Lopez to demonstrate a far more important point than mere speculation about a celebrity ‘member of the tribe’.

Statistically, there are tens of millions of Hispanics, Latinos and others spread out across North and Latin America and Europe who are indeed descended from forcibly-converted Jews, known as Anousim, Conversos, or derogatorily Marranos (meaning ‘swine’).

The names Lopez, Rodriguez, Perez, Martinez, Pereira, Costa, Cardoza, and thousands of other ‘typical’ Hispanic names could be indicative of Jewish origins, and websites like Name Your Roots are providing tantalizing clues to this ancestry and how to conduct further research.

Many others are beginning to understand their origins as a result of advances in the fields of genealogy and DNA, or simply through chance encounters or simple Google searches that their unusual family customs or distinct Spanish dialects are Jewish in origin.

Large numbers of these people are looking to rejoin the Jewish social fabric or assist Jewish causes in a variety of ways.

Millions of our long-lost brothers and sisters are looking to reconnect with the Jewish People and at Reconectar we are helping to facilitate this reconnection according to their individual wishes and goals. According to Jewish law those who wish to return to the Jewish fold should be permitted and even encouraged to do so, some like Rabbi Aharon Soloveichik went even further and said they should be treated as full Jews.

Regardless, the beginning of the Twenty-First Century presents unprecedented opportunities to reconnect our people in a way simply impossible and even unthinkable in previous generations.

At Reconectar, we are already helping thousands of individuals facilitate the reconnection they seek, even if it is just to learn more about their ancestry. If Jennifer Lopez has an interest in finding out more about any possible Jewish ancestry, we can help her too.

About the Author
Ashley Perry (Perez) is President of Reconectar and Director General of the Knesset Caucus for the Reconnection with the Descendants of Spanish and Portuguese Communities. He was adviser to Israel's Minister of Foreign Affairs from April 2009 to January 2015. He has also worked with several other government ministers, Members of Knesset and many of the leading international Jewish, Zionist and Hasbara organizations.