The following articles represent Spanish & Portuguese perspectives on Anusim. In my humble opinion, they are one of the only honest sources for Anusi studies that currently exists on the internet today.
I would strongly advise others
to openly read and internalize the perspectives listed below, as they relate to Anusim, or the descendents of people who were forced to convert to other religions.
The key issue relates to how they should be treated - in terms of status.
The way in which these issues are resolved, or left unresolved, could have
consequences for both the Anusim and the State of Israel. I can only hope that the publishing of these articles
will contribute to a solution, before thousands of Jews become
intermarried. In my opinion, the Halakha in these arguments is impeccably
valid. Anusim that pass certain criteria should NOT be forced to convert -
not even symbolically.
Across-the-board conversion in these cases, is a false practice that
ignores hundreds of years of Jewish legal views on this very issue. It
also creates and compounds certain other legal problems. On the contrary, after passing an
investigation, these returnees should be brought back through a customized Teshuba return, process, which accords 100% with the greatest of Sepharadic
legal opinions and responses, must of which have been published throughout
the ages - even as they are now being ignored. The reality of an ill-equipped Israeli
response, which instead insists upon across-the-board conversions,
can and should be dealt with wisely. I can only pray that the current
system for dealing with Anusim will change very soon.
Regarding how to regard people with questionable lineage:
Issure Biah 19: English
We operate under the presumption that all families are of acceptable lineage and it is permitted to marry their descendants as an initial and preferred option. Nevertheless, if you see two families continuously quarreling with each other, you see one family that is always involved with strife and controversy, or you see a person who frequently quarrels with people at large and is very insolent, we suspect [their lineage]. It is fitting to distance oneself from such people for these are disqualifying characteristics.
Similarly, a person who always slurs the lineage of others, casting aspersions on the ancestry of families or individuals, claiming that they are mamzerim, we are suspicious that he himself is a mamzer. Similarly, if he calls others servants, we suspect that he is a servant. For whoever denigrates others, denigrates them with a blemish that he himself possesses.
Similarly, whenever a person is characterized by insolence and cruelty, hating people and not showing kindness to them, we seriously suspect that he is a Gibeonite. For the distinguishing signs of the holy nation of Israel is that they are meek, merciful, and kind. With regard to the Gibeonites, [II Samuel 21:2] states: "The Gibeonites are not of the Jewish people." For they acted extremely brazenly and would not be appeased. They did not show mercy to the sons of [King] Saul, nor did they show kindness to the Jews to forgive the descendants of their king, while [the Jews] had shown them kindness and allowed them to live.
Maternal Jewish Line
;: There is no question that for the past 600 years, the descendents of those compelled/forced to convert to Catholicism were traditionally viewed as being ba'ali teshubah returnees to the faith, as opposed to needing a new conversion - even if their families were living in idolatry for a long period of time. If the maternal line seems in tact after a thorough investigation based on last names, surviving traditions, and Catholic marriage restrictions - which maintained Jewish lineage, which continued up to fairly recent times, then these people must be regarded as returning Jews, and not required to convert.
Annousim were not punished by death for being compelled into Idol Worshp
ז ומה אם עבודה זרה, שהיא חמורה מן הכול, העובד אותה באונס אינו חייב כרת, ואין צריך לומר מיתת בית דין--קל וחומר לשאר מצוות האמורות בתורה. ובעריות, הוא אומר "ולנערה לא תעשה דבר" דברים כב,כו,.
Yesoday haTorah 5 : Nevertheless, since he was forced ANOUS, to transgress, he is not [punished by] lashing, and, needless to say, is not executed by the court even if he was forced to slay [a person]. The [punishments of] lashes and execution are administered only to one who transgresses voluntarily, [when the transgression is observed by] witnesses, and [when] a warning [was given], as [Leviticus 20:5] states concerning one who gives his children to [the worship of] Molech: "I will turn My face against that person."
The oral tradition teaches [that we can infer]: "that person" and not one who is forced [to transgress, who transgresses] inadvertently, or [who transgresses] because of an error. If, concerning the worship of false gods, which is the most serious [of sins], a person who is forced to worship is not liable for karet, nor, needless to say, execution by a court, how much more so [does this principle apply] regarding the other mitzvot of the Torah? [Similarly,] regarding forbidden sexual relations, [Deuteronomy 22:26] states: "Do not do anything to the maiden."
Also: The main argument of almost all Sepharadi Hachamim, for the past 600 years, is that Anousim who become religious are making TESHUBA, and therefore require no conversion at all!!!
הלכות מכירה פרק י"ד, י', י"א, י"ב וט"ז
י [יב] כשם שהוניה במקח וממכר, כך הוניה בדברים--שנאמר "ולא תונו איש את עמיתו, ויראת מאלוהיך . . . אני ה'" ויקרא כה,יז, זו הונית דברים. [יג] כיצד: היה בעל תשובה, לא יאמר לו זכור מעשיך הראשונים. ואם היה בן גרים, לא יאמר לו זכור מעשה אבותיך.
יא היה גר ובא ללמוד תורה, לא יאמר לו פה שאכל נבילות וטריפות יבוא וילמוד תורה שניתנה מפי הגבורה. היו חולאים וייסורים באין עליו, או שהיה מקבר את בניו--לא יאמר לו כדרך שאמרו חבריו של איוב, "הלוא יראתך, כסלתך . . . זכור נא--מי הוא נקי, אבד" איוב ד,ו-ז,.
יב [יד] היו חמרין מבקשין תבואה--לא יאמר להם לכו אצל פלוני שמוכר תבואה, והוא יודע בו שאינו מוכר תבואה מעולם. נשאלה שאלה של דבר חכמה--לא יאמר למי שאינו יודע אותה חכמה מה תשיב בדבר זה, או מה דעתך בדבר זה. וכן כל כיוצא באלו הדברים.
טז [יח] גדולה הונית דברים מהונית ממון--שזו ניתנה להישבון, וזו לא ניתנה להשבון, וזה בממונו, וזה בגופו; והרי הוא אומר בהונית דברים "ויראת מאלוהיך" ויקרא כה,יז, לפי שהדבר מסור ללב. הא כל דבר שהוא מסור ללב, נאמר בו "ויראת מאלוהיך" שם; וגם ויקרא יט,יד; ויקרא יט,לב; ויקרא כה,לו; ויקרא כה,מג,. וכל הצועק מהונית דברים--נענה מיד, שנאמר "כי אני ה'" ויקרא כה,יז,.
10- Just as the prohibition against ona'ah applies with regard to business transactions, it applies with regard to speech, [waYiqerá 25:17]: "A person should not wrong his colleague, and you shall fear your God. I am the Lord"; this refers to verbal abuse.
What is therefore implied? If a person is one who has repented, one should not say: "Remember your initial deeds." If a person is a descendant of converts, one should not tell him: "Remember your ancestors' deeds."
11- If a convert comes to study the Torah, one should not tell him: "Should a mouth that ate meat from animals that were not ritually slaughtered and that were terefah come and study the Torah that was given by the Almighty?"
If a person was afflicted by illness and suffering or he is forced to bury his children, one should not speak to him in the manner that Job's friends addressed him [Yob 4:6-7]: "Your fear of God was for your own security.... Can you recall anyone who was innocent who perished?"
12- If donkey drivers are seeking grain, one should not tell them: "Go to so and so," if one knows that this person has never sold grain.
If a question regarding a point of knowledge was raised, one should not ask a person who has never studied that field of knowledge: "How would you answer this question?" or "What do you think about this subject?" The same applies to other similar matters...
...16-Verbally wronging a person is more severe than taking unfair advantage of him financially. For the latter can be repaid, while the former can never be repaid. The latter involves only the person's possessions, while the former involves the person himself.
And with regard to verbal wronging, [weYiqerá' 25:17]: "And you shall fear your God," for this matter is of feelings masúr baLeb, and, whenever it regards to all matters of feeling, it is stated by Torah "and you shall fear your God."
Whenever a person cries out because of verbal wronging, he is answered immediately, as implied by the conclusion of the above verse: "I am God." MT Hilekhoth Mikhiráh 14:10, 11, 12 and 16.
נ"ח ב' משנה כשם שאונאה במקח וממכר כך אונאה בדברים לא יאמר לו בכמה חפץ זה והוא אינו רוצה ליקח אם היה בעל תשובה לא יאמר לו זכור מעשיך הראשונים אם הוא בן גרים לא יאמר לו זכור מעשה אבותיך שנאמר שמות כב, וגר לא תונה ולא תלחצנו:
ת"ר ויקרא כה, לא תונו איש את עמיתו באונאת דברים הכתוב מדבר אתה אומר באונאת דברים או אינו אלא באונאת ממון כשהוא אומר ויקרא כה, וכי תמכרו ממכר לעמיתך או קנה מיד עמיתך הרי אונאת ממון אמור הא מה אני מקיים ויקרא כה, לא תונו איש את עמיתו באונאת דברים הא כיצד אם היה בעל תשובה אל יאמר לו זכור מעשיך הראשונים אם היה בן גרים אל יאמר לו זכור מעשה אבותיך אם היה גר ובא ללמוד תורה אל יאמר לו פה שאכל נבילות וטריפות שקצים ורמשים בא ללמוד תורה שנאמרה מפי הגבורה - בבא מציעא נ"ח ב' גמרא
Answer: The term "Kelal Israel" only pertains to those Jews who are observant of the Toráh, that is 1, the Written Toráh, 2, the Oral explanations thereof passed down generation to generation from harSinai down to the last Sanhedrín, and 3, the decrees set forth by the Rabbis of the Talmud. Those who choose not to observe the Toráh, they cut themselves off from the rest of the community and they have no share in the World to Come. This is what the halakháh state of those Jews who willfully and knowingly desecrate Shabbat, to whom the Law ascribes them the status of Meshumadím heretics, or Mumarím rebels, of the whole Toráh. This does not apply to the 'Anusím', because they observed, certain misswót Laws of the Toráh, in secret and to the best of their abilities under the fear of death, and hence they continue to form part of Kelal Israel. In the example of the Sephardim who have lived as ‘Anusím’ to this day, what they have done for the past 500 years is the HIGHEST form of Qiddush haShem there can be. This is the reason behind why some rabbis considered them to have a higher qeddusha than the rest of Jews who can freely practice Toráh.
Question: Why I do not find agreeable Rabbi Soloveitchik and Rabbi Eliahu prescribing tebiláh as a requirement for a proper “return” of Anusím; and why I do not consider their words as a “final ruling.”
Answer: I dealt briefly in my work Ba'alé
Teshubáh, with the inconsistencies in both R. Eliahu's and R.
Soloveitchik's "teshuboth" that any novice Yeshiva student should be able to
pick right away. Please read the section in p 38.
In retrospective, my humble opinion is that the reason why tebiláh is mentioned in that ONE early Responsa 16th c., is purely for psychological reasons. Please consider when this Responsa was written the forced-Catholic-conversions had been very recent, and many Sephardim considered the baptismal waters as a huge stain on themselves, so to reverse the psychological damage Catholic baptisms had ensued in the minds of Sephardim, a dip in the miqwéh without berakháh, was suggested.
I draw this conclusion because there are other Responsa which also prescribe self-inflicted lashes, to atone for the sins the repentant former-Anús committed while under the yoke of Christianity. Again, the lashes -- which can only be declared by a Bet Din of semukhim properly invested and ordained rabbis by the authority of the Sanhedrín, and not of hedyoth lay rabbis with no real/official semikháh from the Sanhedrín, -- are only pro-forma, symbolic, in order to alleviate the psychological stress of the Anús. In any case, neither are an obligation or necessary to be accepted into the community.
Now, let's fast-track to the 19th c., and I want you to pay close attention to the following teshubáh written by r. Yaaqov Tzvi Hirsch, an Ashkenazi rabbi.
Observe in the responsum of RASHBA"SH Ribbi Salomon ben Sémah Durán, simán 68, who wrote that those descendants of the uncircumcised Mumarím rebels, called 'Anusím', at the moment they come back doing teshubáh, [one] is not to inform them about stringent or lenient misswot commandments, and their consequent punishments and [one] is not to frighten him, rather one, is to extend upon him mercy and immersion is not necessary . . .
-- Pithhé Teshubáh, Yoreh De`áh 268:10
Now, I beg the reader observe what Hakham Ibn Zimra 16th c. Egypt, in his collection of responsa said:
It was written in the name of Rabénu Simháh, that ALL BA`ALÉ TESHUBÁH need tebiláh, however, the tebiláh does not hinder [this means, like the lack of indigo thread does not invalidate the white -any colour but the indigo-, so the teshubáh is not dependent on the immersion.], but as soon as [the Jew] thinks about teshubáh, he's immediately an entire Ssadíq Ssadíq Gamúr, but needs to afflict himself about the past,.
And now this gloss of r. Moshe Isserels the RAMA, a scion of Ashkenzi poseqim, commenting on an entry on r. Yosef Caro's Shulhan Arukh, Yoreh De'ah 268:
[An] Israel Mumár rebel Jew, who did teshubáh repent, is not required tebiláh immersion,. Only from [authority of] the Sages mideRabbanán, [it is,] and [he] must immerse himself and accept the instructions in front of three [Hakhamím].
In the particular where the RAMA’s footnote appears, Hakham Yosef Caro 16th c., is codifying that a Ger Gentile-Convert, who becomes Mehalel Shabbat Sabbath desecrator, still retains his Israelite status, and does not invalidate his conversion at all. The RaMbáM Maimónides, 12th c., says the EXACT same thing in his codification, found in Hilekhoth Mumarim. The background of this issue can be found in the Talmud in the treatise where the discussion of whether an 'aral of Israel uncircumcised Jew, needs tebiláh to partake of the sacrificial-lamb during Pesah.
So what's going on with one saying Yea, and the other Nay? First of all, going back to the premise: there is no Rabbinic i.e. Talmudic, source that indicates Tebiláh for the born-Jew who repents. Period. What the RAMA and R. Ibn Zimra bring is only a discussion that is not considered final by the MARAN Caro, or the RaMbáM Maimonides, -- and neither by the rest of the rabbis -- regarding a Ger who becomes Mehalel Shabbat. And if one would take the two-cents from the post-Rabbinic tiny minority who maintain Tebiláh for Ba'alé Teshubáh, then not only Anusím, but every other kind of astray Jew mumar, or meshumad, should be immersed when he/she does teshubáh repents, -- check again R. Ibn Zimra's words.
So where does that leave the situation?
If rabbis today were truly strict to their own current opinion which has no ground whatsoever, they literally would have to dunk 95% of Jewry in the miqwéh before three Hakhamím after accepting they are sinners, in order for them to be considered kasher and functional within a Jewish community. Otherwise, they cannot be given any honors, and one could not marry them either. But this is not happening, is it?? [Side note of interest: Actually there is no impediment in the Law that prevents us to marry and Israelite-idolater; as long as there are kasher witnesses, and a Kettubah, the marriage is kasher and binding !!!,].
Another argument utilized for the use of Tebiláh on modern Anusím is because of the issue of Sefeqím Jews with doubtful lineage, i.e we are not 100% sure the mother is an Israelite,. To begin with, the issue of Safeq NEVER appears in the responsa regarding Anusím. It is a priori assumed the Anusím marry among themselves or that the maternal lineage is kasher. Second, how many Jews do you think there are today who can prove -- beyond any reasonable doubt -- that they are actually Jewish. How many Jews today do you think can bring the kasher Ketuboth of their maternal lineage for THREE generations, as it is required by Jewish Law? How many Jews can actually bring two kasher witnesses to vouch for their kasher status?? You know more than well that the Ketuboth of Reform and Conservative Jewry are not kasher, and neither are their conversions!! Orthodox rabbis today are in doubt in the ways they handle the validity of status, particularly among Ashkenazim who are safeq, for reasons than we could not possibly number or explain in this short space.
On that note, I must add that not just anyone who claims to be of the Sephardi-Anusím ought to be believed immediately without checks. There is a whole number of things that need to be observed and corroborated, before making the educated conclusion that such person is Jewish. But while that happens, the person in question CANNOT be mistreated or shunned in anyway. Such person has to be treated with respect.
When it comes to fulfilling the letter of the Law, perhaps the only Jews who are safer to marry are the Syrian Jews, and the Yemenites who remained in Yemen, among other historic communities whose paperwork and their kasher status have remained intact in their respective Diasporas.
In conclusion, it follows – as Rabbinic logic would dictate – that those who say and force the Sephardi-Anusím to go through Tebiláh with or without berakháh, are acting with impunity, a huge sense of injustice and inequality, and complete lack of fear of God. We can even charge them that they do not maintain the existence of the Almighty, because they do not uphold to His Toráh, the Prophets and the decrees of the Judges. We can be fairly certain that they bring curse to Kelal Israel, and desecrate the Toráh. It is Hillul haShem desecration of God’s Name, through and through. May He have mercy on all us because of the actions of these ignoramuses.
Question: Are the Anusím not considered to have parents, just as a normal Ger Gentile-Convert, may not, i.e. they are called ben Avraham or bat Sarah. What should be the proposal otherwise, as the birth parents of Anusím do not have proper Hebrew names? Also, in Spanish and Portuguese communities where a family may have had adopted in the past an obvious name of past Christian coercion e.g. SantaCruz, then the men of the family would be called up as ben Avraham Avinu even though they are not converts, as it was considered improper to risk embarrassing the family by reminding them in public of their past oppression. Shouldn’t it be called by the name of our father Avraham be an honor?
Answer: There is no legal requirement to have a Hebrew name. And it is neither a legal requirement for Gerim to adopt Ben-Abraham or Bat-Sarah. Jews can use any name to name themselves, and we the Sephardim have maintained the custom to retain our Spanish names. So it is not uncommon in Sephardic communities to hear namesakes like "Esperanza bat Alegre" or "Honorato ben Moise"; it is also our custom to have one name for the secular world, and yet another for our Jewish world. Sometimes neither have to do with each other, sometimes there are coded words, and sometimes they are just exact representations. An example of a coded one, the namesake Jaime represents Hayyim in Hebrew, or Diego represents Jacob. In Spanish & Portuguese congregations, some former-Anusím even changed either their secular or Hebrew names several times within their lifetime.
We do not hold to namesake purity. Actually, Moses is an Egyptian name, and Mordekhai is Persian. God has a great sense of humor. You got to love Him.
As for retaining very Christian-sounding names of Converso origin, like SantaCruz, Santa María, etc. well, I personally do not see harm in that, and I actually find it comical if such a Jew is given aliyáh to the Torah retaining such surname e.g. "Moshéh ben Yosef SantaCruz va a subir a la Toráh, veHabód", which he can choose to do so. Imagine that! But generally, those namesakes are dropped for congregational uses.
The custom for S&P is not to mention surnames like this when someone is called to subir à Torá. We always call by the family name, like: Dawidh de Moshe Pereira, Ya`aqob de Salomon Cohen-Fonseca, always naming the father. If the father does not happen to be of Jewish lineage, then it is customary to substitute his name with “Israel.”
I hope this is of help. Munchas Bendiciones de la Toráh.
[Responsa, their translations and additional elucidations, courtesy of Hakham Lopes.]
On "fake-Anusim": Hijacking Converso History
Having followed the issue of modern day Conversos for over twelve years, I have witnessed first-hand how it has become crazier and crazier as time goes by. What begun as a mere blip of curiosity of “Marrano” survival, it eventually developed into a series of half-truths being played in the media, individuals and institutions purporting to report on or help them. The real stories hidden behind each published shinning article are often sad, hiding a range of misanthropy and misunderstanding that most remain unaware of until one actually meets the Conversos and hears their stories first-hand.
The newspaper stories depart from a specific rationale invented by Jewish historians back in the 19th c, and further exploited in the 20th c.; a history that lack real historical context and content, and a marginal – or skewed – understanding of Jewish law – one of the most needed dimensions to put these stories in the proper Jewish context. Modern Zionists institutions with messianist leanings, such as Shavei Israel, have seized the opportunity to retrofit the Converso story line into the “Lost Tribes” or “Lost Jews” dialectic and inoculating it with flares now common in Jewish discourse, thus furthering the ignorance and corruption of the concept of Conversos, but cashing in the rewards with either human or liquid capital to help their own political ends and agenda.
The latest craze has been to include stories of Hispanic or Lusitan peoples who are not at all connected with the Conversos in tangible ways, from people who for some reason “think” they have some sort of Jewish ancestry, for whatever reason. Among the circles of current and former Conversos who actually have a tradition of being Jews and can show for it, these are pejoratively referred to as “fake-Anusim.” Usually, these “fake-Anusim” are converts or would-be converts to Judaism who came to the decision of becoming Jews through a long and complex religious metamorphosis, often begun by joining a series of new age Protestant millenarian churches imported from the U.S., that have become widespread in Latin America in the last decades of the 20th c.
All of the foregoing, of course, is ignored by both reporters and reported. And thus, the corrupted-sense of a "Converso" follows its own dynamics to the absurd and ridiculous.
Among many European populations, and in particular among Hispanic and Lusitan peoples, it would be hard press not to find a Jewish ancestor somewhere in their genealogical tree. So potentially, if we apply the dynamics of the “Lost Tribe” mentality, any person with any given degree of European ancestry can be literally a “Jew” needed of “rescue.”
The latter vastly ignores Jewish legal realities, which follows strict protocols of Israelite recognition and confirmation. This of course is of absolute no concern by the very people reporting on the issue, and obviously by the very people living in their own fantasyland.
Certainly, there has to be room to resolve issues, and in Jewish law there are tradition-bound accommodations that address each unique circumstance in regards to confirming Jewish status, of who is and who is not a matrilineal descendant of Spanish & Portuguese Conversos, and in either case find an respectable, dignified and God-fearing halakhic solution for their re-inclusion into the Jewish fold. Yet, the blanket way it has been handled by the current rabbinical establishments, leaves much to be desired.
Hijacking Converso History
By David Ramirez
History does not necessarily belong to the one who lives it, but to the one who writes it.
The so-called Age of Enlightenment brought the separation of state from religion, and with it, the opportunity for Ashkenazi Jews to access opportunities before denied to them. Once European society became “open,” Jews belonging to the Franco-German tradition massively defected from Judaism proper, but sought to integrate a new “Jewish” consciousness based on philosophical European models en vogue at that time. Among these models we have a particular way of writing history based on the Hegel’s vision, whereby history is not the result of contextual facts, but an idealistic interpretation of those facts. This idealism came to be known as the Weltgeist, or the world spirit, and it would dominate the Halls of Academia until fairly recent.
Through this agency of idealistic interpretation, Sephardic history was affected via the particular worldview of Ashkenazi Jews who had defected from Rabbinic tradition, thereby making it not the history of Sephardim per se, but a Hegelian-Ashkenazi interpretation of Sephardim.
Among the many subjects developed by Ashkenazi historians was the subject of the “Marrano,” Sephardic Jews forcibly converted to Christianity during the 14th and 15th centuries and their descendants, also known as “Conversos” or “New Christians.” In Jewish Law, these same individuals are categorized as “Anusim,” which is a legal status for Jews who are forced to live as non-Jews.
As I have proven elsewhere in another publication, the rabbinical treatment of Anusim until the first-half of the 20th century has always been to treat them as Jews through and through, as reflected by a lineage of Sephardi rabbinical responsa that reaches all the way to the 14th c. But this is an obscure Jewish legalistic subject that most modern Jews, religious or non-religious, ignore or it is beyond their scope of interest or understanding.
The “Marrano” is a most anti-Semitic and hateful term invented by rabid Spanish anti-Semites in the Middle Ages, but somehow and inexplicably sugarcoated by Ashkenazi historians during the 19th century – usage perhaps inaugurated by Heirich Graetz –, and continued by such scions as Cecil Roth and Bension Netanyahu in recent memory. Using the word “Kike” – an equally repulsive anti-Semitic term – in any respectable publication today certainly would not get the same treatment and permissibility.
In the historiographies and literature of Sephardim, the term “Marrano” was never utilized all the way through the 18th century.
Along with the adoption of this anti-Semitic term, historians developed straightforward tautologies to explain the history of Conversos, particularly in regards to their relationship to Jewish beliefs and practice. Often lacking the contextual Jewish and non-Jewish social, political and historical landscape of Conversos, such tautologies have ruled the discourse in the Academia. Among them, there is one in particular that attempts – quite ineffectively, but imaginatively – to describe the Jewish status of these so-called “Marranos.” What result more injurious and ironic is the fact that most of these lauded Ashkenazi historians, if not all, comprehend little or nothing of Jewish Law, and perhaps are more assimilated than modern-day Conversos. In the end, it becomes a game of the pot calling the kettle “black.”
The oft-repeated equation “Marrano” ® 500 years ® Non-Jew ® Conversion ® “Return” has become the accepted norm to publicize the subject, somehow portraying the alleged “Marrano” as Jewish, yet in the background treating him as a non-Jewish candidate to Jewish conversion. Dana Rosenblatt writes one such “Marrano” piece that reflects the convoluted re-imaging of Sephardi history and Jewish status in the Ashkenazi mind.
Rosenblatt writes about a certain Moshe Nunez, who as many others is an innocent bystander to the Ashkenazi Weltgeist. Living in what is perceived as the most Jewish environment there could ever be, Moshe’s Hispanity, chiles, and background become a perfect opportunity to show how truly “diverse” and “open” American Jewry can be, and a cause celebre to show “Marranos” have survived. None of which happen to be true in the article.
Bearing a typical surname common among Sephardim, Mr. Nunez quest to find his place in Jewish society has somehow led him to make connections that are neither historically objective nor valid under the hubris of Jewish Law. But the genesis of how this begins is not necessarily his fault, but in the way misinformed Jews introduce it within the regalia of Ashkenazi-written Sephardic history, as he himself reflects.
“ ‘The Nunez family started as a Jewish name,’ Moshe Nunez says. ‘During the Inquisition they were forced to convert or practice their faith in secret. Most of the Nunez family... like mine assimilated and lost their Judaism.’ ”
Fact check #1: The Nunes/Nuñez surname is of non-Jewish origins, albeit one adopted by Spanish Jews forcibly converted to Christianity. Many Sephardim preserved the surname even after reverting back to Judaism, and it continues to this day. Many notable Jews bear this surname in history. However having the ‘Nuñez’ surname alone does not construe one as being descendant of Spanish Jews.
Fact check #2: Many descendants of forcibly converted Sephardim preserved some sort of Jewish ritual in their daily lives. In essence, they never lost Judaism, though often they did not know what the ritual meant. The oft-repeated obituary “Most. . . lost their Judaism” does not hold true.
The issue becomes more aggravated with the enthusiastic and mystical misdirection of rabbis, who although say things to encourage the would-be convert, ultimately it adds to the confusion:
‘The Jewish community in Milan welcomed the family "with open arms," Moshe said. "The rabbi said to me, 'Moshe, you are Jewish, you were always Jewish.'’
So then why, as it follows in the piece, the conversion process is intrinsic to this so-called “return”?
Because Mr. Nunez’ father comes from the traditional New Christian enclave of Guadalajara Mexico, it is very possible his father is Jewish; but being that his mother is American whose ethnic background is not revealed, his status follows hers, and therefore the construction of ‘being Jewish’ falls apart under the hubris of Jewish Law. It follows too, Mr. Nunez joining the Jewish people in the way he did cannot ever be considered a “return,” or teshubáh, under the same legal parameters. This distinction is never present in the regalia of articles and books we get treated about “Marrano” stories within the Weltgeist.
Furthermore, as it is common in these type of articles, we have the opinions of Ashkenazi rabbis, who hold to the same mantra of non-Jewishness on anything Spanish.
‘ “Rubenstein says that quite a few non-Jewish Hispanics come to The Shul to learn more about Judaism, and while they may not be able to prove they are Jewish, they believe they are descendants of Jews and seek to reconnect with their Jewish roots.
If a person wants to practice Judaism but cannot verify their Jewish roots, Rubenstein recommends they go through a formal conversion as the Nunez family did.
"It's difficult to verify because there's some 400 or 500 years of history that people cannot trace, especially since Judaism is passed through the mother and the last name reflects that of the father," Rubenstein says.’
For reasons that deserves deeper study, the Ashkenazi psychological projection of Sephardim as non-Jews – or the lesser Jews – has been an ongoing problem both in the U.S. and Israel, a subject that has been common for non-Ashkenazi immigrants into a predominantly Ashkenazi population. In this vein, Aviva Ben-Ur in her “Sephardic Jews in America” treats us to some colorful stories of Ashkenazi-Sephardi encounters at the turn of the 20th century.
But who would dare to ask Ashkenazim how they could prove their Jewish lineage? As one can easily find out from many Ashkenazi Jews themselves, from the Orthodox to the Reform, proving their Jewish lineage becomes elusive once you start trying to find reliable records valid under Jewish Law. Rabbi Obadiah Yosef – the former Sephardic Chief Rabbi – himself implied this concern a few years ago in a controversial public statement; perhaps this was a reprisal for the conversions forced-upon to Yemenite and Moroccan Jews by the Ashkenazi Orthodox establishment when they were brought over shortly after the foundation of the State of Israel.
The issue is not proving or disproving, but who holds the power is the one who controls the conversation, a matter of political expediency where respect and halakhic correctness are not of the essence. Sephardim having being effectively muted from any real discourse, the final conclusion of this story is the lack of real elements that the article tries to portray.
The most tragic of results, then, is when people like Mr. Nunez who cannot tangibly ascertain any Converso background, become representatives to the plight of Iberian Anusim and – as many Sephardim who have adopted Ashkenazi mores and thought patterns – another poster-boy to Ashkenazi re-imaging of the Sephardi.
This in part reinforces and gives legitimacy the continued quasi-forced-conversions on the real Iberian Anusim, which have been happening in recent years with no one to protect them, and no one weighty importance to speak against it. For the discerning eye, this is by all means a desecration of God’s name, dishonor to their ancestors who died and suffered under the Inquisition upholding the Torah, and a huge deception and manipulation of facts, both historical and halakhic: Or what are in sum acts of Hillul haShem, and ironically, enacted by the very religious “authorities” who are supposed to prevent – and protect us – from such heretical acts.
Ultimately too, presenting a Chabad-style of living does not constitute a return to Sephardic roots to any tangible degree, but this is something that neither Mr. Nunez or Ms. Rosenblatt would know because Sephardic tradition is really not present, and most Sephardim themselves do not really care to make it so.