Monday, February 24, 2014

Pursuing goyim with possible Jewish ancestors Michael Freund

JPost   It behooves Israel to take notice of this and to consider making its own historic gestures, particularly to the Bnei Anusim, the descendants of Spanish and Portuguese Jews who were compelled to convert to Catholicism in the 14th and 15th centuries.

At great risk to themselves and their families, many of the Bnei Anusim continued to practice Judaism covertly despite the Inquisition, carefully passing down their hidden identity from one generation to the next. Their descendants can be found in every corner of the Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking world, and their numbers are estimated to be in the millions.

At Shavei Israel, the organization I chair, we have seen a huge increase in recent years in the number of Bnei Anusim looking to reaffirm or reclaim their Jewish identity, in places as far afield as northern Portugal, Chile, El Salvador, Sicily and Colombia.

Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky, in a recent speech in Ashdod, took note of this phenomenon, correctly arguing that it is time for the State of Israel to “ease the way for their return.”

I couldn’t agree more.

The Bnei Anusim are our brethren and, through no fault of their own, their ancestors were torn away from us under duress. We owe it to them, and to ourselves, to strengthen the bonds between us and bring back to the Jewish people as many of them as possible.

Steps should be taken to address the myriad bureaucratic and religious issues that stand in their way so that the door of return for the Bnei Anusim can finally swing open.

After all, if Spain, which cast their ancestors out, is seeking ways to reconcile with the descendants of Iberian Jewry, then isn’t it time for Israel to do the same?


  1. And what would be the point? To make them 2nd-class citizens? To force them to convert (I mean most of them have been Christian for how many hundreds of years - not too easy to prove their yichus.)? And why would they be interested?
    Once again, there are people looking to dilute the Jewish people, and make them pay for it! Enough!
    We have absorbed tens of thousands of Russian goyim who cannot marry in Israel, countless fictitious conversions, and costs in the billions of shekels, we have not thrown out the Sudanese and Eritrean infiltrators who have made parts of Tel Aviv no-go zones, and whom we are paying thousand of dollars so that they will leave the country. Isn't time to put a stop to this and start investing in the Jewish, Torah observant population of this country?

    1. His organization doesn't try to get them to make aliyah without converting. Those who are interested, are taught and sent to a beit din like any other convert. If they are pressured or persuaded to convert, that would be problematic, but I've never seen any evidence that that is the case. Sure, we should "invest" in people who are already Jewish, but Freund's organization is just one small non-profit organization dealing with one particular issue -- those of Jewish descent who are interested in converting. Many of them do convert and end up very enthusiastic and fervently observant Jews (as recognized by major halachic authorities -- I think R' Amar expressed the opinion that Bnei Menashe, from India, really were a lost tribe, based on their observance alone.)

    2. Yehuda,
      Who needs Torah observant Jews in Israel. Frum Jews have minds of their own, they have issues, they don't necessarily do everything that our Zionist leaders tell them to do etc. What we really need are more citizens that we hope will do our bidding. We bring them, we convert them, we naturalize them, and they're ours. We can get them to live what we teach them is the Jewish lifestyle, and thereby increase the type of Torah Jews that will be an asset to the State of Israel. And look, there is no 100% evidence that the conversions aren't Kosher, so no one can have any provable complaints. And there even is a percentage that eventually become Frum, and the kind of Frum we like, and indebted to us. This is a win win situation.

      One persons Sapachas is another person's Oneg.

    3. It is against Jewish Law to encourage conversion to Judaism.

    4. BT - are you able to cite which Jewish law forbids this?

    5. Eddie it has been normative practice for centuries. I have a teshuva of Rav Eliashiv which prohibits it as well as a recording of Rav Reuven Feinstein affirming that goyim are not to be persuaded to convert. As noted Rav Sternbuch says they have the status of goyim. It would be simpler if you tell me who permits it?

    6. @DT - firstly I am not advocating proselytisation - but I am trying to get to the bottom of the issur or norm. If what RYSE prohibits is persuasion per se or in a specific application, eg kiruv for intermarrieds and their spouses - it makes a difference. But you are mentioning contemporary poskim - are there any earlier sources , eg Gemara, Rishonim, SA that state so explicitly?

      And then there is another angle - and I am not sure if Freudn is doing this or not - but for example opening up a Jewish cultural centre, and talking about history of Jews in Iberian peninsula. To use a marketing moshul, this is pull marketing ie it may attract people who claim they are Jews etc.
      These stories about Shavei gives the impression that he is simply approaching non Jews and persuading them that they are really Jews or should be.

    7. @Eddie why don't we work the other way. Are there any examples in Jewish history - going back 2000 years where goyim were approached and encouraged to become Jews?
      I don't think you will find much in the responsa literature for the simple reason that conversion was considered a capital crime until relatively recently.

    8. I am not a historian, so I cant answer that question.
      You are correct, that although there are Bosei Din which carry out giur, we generally do not go handing out leaflets. On the other hand, we can't be sure that kiruv groups, don't always put teffliin on Jews - maybe some of their targets are non Jewish. After all, they simply ask if someone is Jewish, and then give them a doughnut and teffilin to put on.

  2. They are anusin because they didn't leave spain... They love there money more... So don't say it is not there fault

    1. So? Even if that's true, that doesn't mean their descendents shouldn't convert and return to the Jewish people if they desire to (and are willing to accept the yoke of the mitzvos). We don't punish and scorn the sons for the sins of their fathers.

  3. 50% of Spanish Jewry chose conversion to Catholicism over leaving Span as Jews.

  4. RAP - thank you very much for your kind listing of previous posts on the topic. My question was largely academic, ie is there a clear halacha forbidding proselytisation . And each situation is judged on its own merits. Of course the default position is that we do not and have not proselytized.

    There is also the separate issue of teaching Torah to non Jews.

    One of the teshuvas of RMF contains an interesting comment:

    "One should not be concerned by
    the fact that we are teaching Torah to people whose status as Jews
    is in doubt. Since it is actually possible that they are Jews and
    since there is a reason for this education - it would appear there
    is no prohibition to teach them Torah. "

    I actually proposed an Uncertainty principle a few weeks ago, which is what this statement is predicated on. If there is a high number of descendants of Anusim still around, then some of them may still be Jewish l'fi halacha. We do not knwo who they are. In any case, the falashas were a disticnt and religiously observant group who claimed Jewishness and were considered by several poskim to be so. the Anusim now do not fulfill any of those criteria.

  5. Eddie the case of the Ethiopians and those of possible Marrano descent on not the same. Rav Moshe says that the Ethiopians who have a strong Jewish identity - though it might not be based on halacha but they view themselves as such and there are some poskim who claim they are in fact Jewish and many in the world view them as Jews - can be taught Torah and converted.

    The people Freund is going after do not have a Jewish identity - unless he gives them one. There are no poskim that say that they might be Jewish and they are not viewed as Jews by secular Jews or goyim. Thus your uncertainy principle is irrelevant in the cases that Freund deals with.

  6. The last line of my post reads " the Anusim now do not fulfill any of those criteria." ie the criteria which the Falashas did fulfill. So there may be people, who are Jewish but dont even know it, and we do not know which ones the are.


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