Friday, December 5, 2008

Anusim & Male genetic origin

NYTimes reports news which has no halachic ramifications:

The genetic signatures of people in Spain and Portugal provide new and explicit evidence of the mass conversions of Sephardic Jews and Muslims to Catholicism in the 15th and 16th centuries after Christian armies wrested Spain back from Muslim control, a team of geneticists reports.

Twenty percent of the population of the Iberian Peninsula has Sephardic Jewish ancestry and 11 percent have DNA reflecting Moorish ancestors, the geneticists have found. Historians have debated how many Jews converted and how many chose exile. “One wing grossly nderestimates the number of conversions,” said Jane S. Gerber, an expert on Sephardic history at the City University of New York.

The finding bears on two different views of Spanish history, said Jonathan S. Ray, a professor of Jewish studies at Georgetown University. One, proposed by the 20th-century historian Claudio Sánchez-Albornoz, holds that Spanish civilization is Catholic and other influences are foreign; the other sees Spain as having been enriched by drawing from all three of its historical cultures, Catholic, Jewish and Muslim.

The study, based on an analysis of Y chromosomes, was conducted by biologists led by Mark A. Jobling of the University of Leicester in England and Francesc Calafell of the Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona. They developed a Y chromosome signature for Sephardic men by studying Sephardic Jewish communities in places where Jews migrated after being expelled from Spain in 1492 to 1496. They also characterized the Y chromosomes of the Arab and Berber army that invaded Spain in A.D. 711 from data on people living in Morocco and Western Sahara. [...]


  1. Wasn't the conversion rate vs. the Jews who chose to leave Spain rather than convert to Catholicism about 50% - 50%?

  2. Scholars disagree about how many Jews left Spain as a result of the Alhambra decree; the numbers vary between 130,000 and 800,000.

    Many of those who left Spain (about half) went to Portugal, where they only eluded persecution for a few years before the Portuguese Inquisition.

    The Jewish community in Portugal (about 10% of that country's population at the time) were declared Christians by Royal decree unless they left, but their departure was severely hindered by the King (who needed their expertise for Portugal's overseas enterprises), and the vast majority was forced to stay as nominal Christians.

    Many Spanish Jews chose, in the face of the Edict, to convert to Christianity, hoping to escape expulsion. Not surprisingly, their conversion served as poor protection from Church hostility after the Spanish Inquisition came into full effect; persecution and expulsion were common.

    Many of these "New Christians" eventually either left the country or intermarried with the local populace because of the dual Inquisitions of Portugal and Spain.

    Many Sephardic Jews settled in North Africa or elsewhere in Europe, most notably in the Netherlands and England.

    Bevis Marks in London has in it archives a list of converso families and their genealogies.

    My grandmothers family (Lis) were conversos in Portugal until 1610 when then rejoined the Jewish community in the Netherlands. They later went to live in London in the 1700s. I was able to get a copy of my grandmother's genealogy from the Bevis Marks archives from pre Expulsion Spain until the family left London for the US (around 1920).

    If you can get a copy of Joseph HaCohen (Giuseppe Coen), Emek Habakka (Habacha), (it was translated and republished in English in 1972), is a fascinating account of the Jewish history including the Expulsion.

  3. In my family it was; the older brother chose to stay and convert, the younger headed for the Carribean. I think it came down to how much liquidity your assets had; if you had the capital, you got out. If all you had was your land, you stayed, since you couldn't sell it anyway as everyone knew the government would just seize it if you refused to convert or left the country. Looks like being the non-inheriting sibling was actually a good thing in these cases :)

  4. Of course the news has halachic consequences. If 20% of the population are descended from Jewish fathers it's likely that 20% are descended from Jewish mothers. In fact someone with a "Jewish Y chromosome" probably has a better than 20% chance of being descended from Jews in the female line, because people tend to marry within similar communities. There are probably areas where the percentage of people with Jewish ancestry is low or zero, and areas where the majority of the residents have Jewish ancestry.

  5. I have found a different set of "anusim" in Southern Italy. These were indiginous Italian Jews as well as influx from Spain. I have evidence that the edict of 1541 was never properly enforced and the Jews went into the interior as they did in 1495 but this time never had the opportunity to return. Also, the traditions are all passed mother to daughter as they are all related to the house and family life. I have suggested to some to do the mtDNA test that shows matrilineal lineage. This WOULD have a halachic impact if there is a complete match to other Jews on the database.


please use either your real name or a pseudonym.