Monday, March 3, 2008

Descendants of Marranos (Anousim) - should they be encouraged to convert?

The problems of conversion are not limited to the question of intermarriage or the Russian and Ethiopian immigration to Israel. There is apparently a world wide effort to bring the descendants of the Jews of Spain and Portugal who were forced to convert - back to Judaism. What follows is an excerpt of an article that appears on the Aish HaTorah website [link below] which originally appeared in the Jerusalem Post. See also my previous post.

Welcome Back

What Ferdinand and Isabella, Spain's 15th century monarchs, had sought to demolish through Inquisition and expulsion, Nuria was determined to bring back to life. Her return to Judaism was the culmination of a spiritual quest, one that led her and her husband to study with an Orthodox rabbi in Barcelona who embraced them and received them with warmth and understanding.

Slowly but surely they made Judaism the focal point of their lives, adopting the rituals and lifestyle of traditional Jews. They now attend synagogue regularly, observe Shabbat and keep kosher. Nuria has even organized a local group of activists, who took upon themselves the thankless task of defending Israel's good name in the local Spanish media, where the Jewish state comes under frequent, and rather fierce, attack from its critics.

After the rabbinical court judges accepted them, Nuria decided to become "Nurit," and Edward fittingly took the name of "Yitzhak," after the patriarch who was nearly sacrificed on the altar, only to be saved at the last minute by Divine intervention.

When I saw Nurit the following day, she was at the Western Wall, her eyes filled with tears. The first thing she had done, she told me, when she approached the ancient relic of the Holy Temple, was to touch its stones. She then cast her eyes heavenwards, and addressed her grandfather: "I did it, grandpa. I have returned. I am a Jew."

Hearing this story, I was overcome with emotion. What greater testament could there be to the power of the Jewish soul, to the eternal and unbreakable spirit of the pintele Yid, the Jewish spark that can never be extinguished? Across Spain and the rest of the Spanish-speaking world, there are untold thousands, possibly more, who still carry this spark within them, longing to return to their people, to come home again to the faith and beliefs that were so cruelly torn away from them over the centuries.

The Jewish people owe it to them and to their ancestors to recognize the anguish and suffering they have endured and to facilitate their return. The descendants of the Anousim (Hebrew for "those who were coerced") are grappling with profound issues of identity, history and faith. They should not have to do so on their own.

Specifically, there are a number of steps that can and should be taken to help them, including publishing more material on Jewish topics in Spanish, opening small and accessible Jewish libraries throughout Spain, and raising awareness about them among rabbis and communal leaders to ease their reintegration into the Jewish community.

Israel should also consider establishing a national memorial to the victims of the Inquisition, and it should press the Spanish government to do the same. This would be a highly symbolic, though important, measure, one which would both educate future generations about the trauma of the Inquisition, and confer upon its victims the recognition they justly deserve.

At a time when so many young Jews are leaving the fold, Israel now has an opportunity to recover countless numbers of its long-lost brethren. From Spain to Brazil to the southwestern United States, the number of Anousim coming out into the open is surging. The time has come to welcome them back home.

This article originally appeared in the Jerusalem Post.

The full article can also be read at:


Author Biography:
Michael Freund served as deputy director of communications and policy planning in the Israeli prime minister's office from 1996 to 1999. He is currently an editorial writer and syndicated columnist for the Jerusalem Post.

No comments :

Post a Comment

please use either your real name or a pseudonym.