Sunday, March 2, 2008

Ingathering of Jews or proselytes?

Anonymous wrote

"Incidently, there is something else to be concerned about, and that is that EJF and the powers behind it, will want to somehow compromise the Nefesh BeNefesh program to its agenda."

From Nefesh b'Nefesh's cached website their goal is stated as :
"revitalizing the Aliyah process and increasing its awareness".

Another organization that deserves some attention because of its role in encouraging "anusim" to make aliya to Israel is Shalvai Israel.

Shalvei Israel operates Machon Miriam a Spanish language conversion institute in Israel. Dozens of Spanish and Portuguese crypto-Jews graduate from Machon Miriam each year, and proceed to undergo formal conversion by Israel’s Chief Rabbinate.

It also helps people who have converted to Judaism make Aliyah.

Shalvai Israel's cached website states:

"Rabbi Eliahu Birnbaum is the Rabbi and Educational Director of Shavei Israel..... Since 1998 he has served as Director of Machon Amiel and a judge on the Chief Rabbinate of Israel Conversion Court. "

Shalvei Israel receives much of its funding from Christian organizations as does Nefesh b'Nefesh. If I am reading this correctly, then one of the Judges on the Chief Rabbinate's Conversion Court receives funding from Christian organizations to go to South and Latin America to proselytize Hispanic Goyim.

Kulanu is another organization that proselytizes to Latin and South American "conversos" and encourages them to make aliyah to Israel.

From Kulanu's website:

"Kulanu assists communities without Jewish background who desire to embrace Judaism....For Example a Catholic named Villanueva, (in Peru) decided in 1966 to become Jewish after pondering the Bible. Many followed him, and after study with a rabbi in the late 1980s, nearly 300 people were converted by a beit din from Israel and made aliyah.

Another large group of Jews was 'lost' during the period of forced conversions to Christianity in Spain and Portugal starting in the 15th century. Many of these so-called 'Marranos' continued to practice Judaism in secret. Today their descendants can be found in Brazil, Mexico, the southwestern United States, and Majorca, as well as mainland Spain and Portugal.

Kulanu's activities concern these dispersed groups, including research, contacts, education, donation of religious books and articles, facilitation of conversion when requested, and help with relocation to Israel if desired."

One of the Rabbis involved with Kulanu as well as several other projects outreaching to "anusim' and "conversos" is Rigoberto Manny Vinas.

Vinas, born of Cuban Gentile parents who believe they are "conversos" received smicha from Yeshiva University and is currently the spiritual leader of the Lincoln Park Jewish Center in Yonkers. Much of Vina's work, which began in Rabbi Avi Weiss' Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, involves outreaching to "anusim"/"conversos" and encouraging them toward aliyah to Israel.

Incidentally, Rabbi Pinchas Weberman, who was listed on EJF's cached website as the Av Beis Din of an approved Conversion Court has a son, Rabbi David Weberman who married Esther Vinas, the sister of Rabbi Rigoberto Vinas.

The basis for outreaching to "anusim/conversos" as full Jews I have been told is a letter allegedly signed by Rabbi Aaron Soloveitchik which I have copied below:

1 nisan 5754.

To whom it may concern:

I am taking the liberty to write about the people in the Americas who claim to be descendants of the marranos of Spain and Portugal.

They must be treated like full Jews in every way.(counted for a minyan, given aliyot, etc.).

Only when one of these anusim wishes to marry a Jew, must he or she undergo full conversion. That is, he or she must undergo immersion in a mikve (without the blessing) and full acceptance of mitzvot or commitment to the Torah. A man, if he is uncircumcised, must in addition undergo circumcision; if he is already circumcised, then he has to undergo hatafat dam brit.

Hoping that this will clarify the solution to this problem, I remain -

Respectfully yours,

Rabbi Aaron Soloveitchik"

I hope that this will inspire RaP toward more research into this topic.


  1. My questions:
    How do we know that this letter is authentic?
    What is the basis of this alleged halachic position?
    A responsa is generally accompanied by supporting halachic arguments. This alleged letter, being devoid of any such references, does not contribute anything substantial to the halachic discussion, other than that Rav Aaron Solovetchik allegedly said XYZ.

  2. Please see the original letter and note the distinctiOn Rav Soloveichik makes between Bene Anusim and Guerim

  3. I concede that the letter appears to be authentic.

    I did not notice any reference there to Geirim, other than that if the Bnei Anusim wanting to marry into the Jewish people, require geirus.

    As I noted, the letter does not provide supporting halachic references or arguments, especially regarding the strange double standard that he applied.

    On one hand, he appears to take a very liberal position, giving the Bnei Anusim full Jewish standing ("in every way"; which I presume would including shechita, touching wine, and serving as a witness), yet as soon as marriage is contemplated, he does a full 180 degree reversal, and requires them to "convert". Strange.

    It is therefore difficult to see how this letter contributes anything substantial to the halachic discussion.


please use either your real name or a pseudonym.