Reclaiming the Anusim: the Sephardic Perspective

— by Carlos Zarur

According to an article in eSefarad ,”A decision by the ultra-orthodox rabbi Nissim Karelitz recognizes that the Chuetas of Mallorca, who were persecuted by the Spanish Inquisition and remained a distinct group within Mallorcan society until the 1970s, had the right to call themselves Jews.” How do Sephardic Jews view this?

Some in the Sephardic community ask themselves, “who is this Ashkenazi rabbi to make that decision?” They believe that the Chuetas of Mallorca never stopped being Jews.  Even if they did not practice Judaism, they preserved the Jewish identity by avoiding intermarriage at all. Mallorcan Secret Jews (Xuetas) are halachically Jewish, since they did not intermarry for centuries.

More after the jump.
Since medieval times, the Sephardic sages ruled that Ashkenazi Rabbis do not have powers of decision regarding Sephardic matters, and vice versa. Halachic Sephardic sources say it very clearly: Crypto-Jews, Anusim, or Conversos are Jews, as well as their children, if they have hazzaqqa (force of tradition of being Jews), endogamy (marrying only other anusim or other Jews), Jewish genealogy, and the proven historic practice of Jewish customs.

Sadly, there are not too many scholars, anthropologists, or rabbis qualified to determine who is who in the Crypto-Jewish world. Modern day rabbis, even those who are Sephardic, are not aware of how the Halacha sees these people. They are not trained to research the Crypto-Jewish phenomenon, since they are not anthropologists, or trained in anthropological research.

Ashkenazi and Sephardic hakhamim (learned scholars) disagree on Halachic matters on how to deal with the Crypto, or “secret” Jews. Sephardic rabbis have always helped secret Jews to return to the open Jewish practice, without any kind of conversion. Ashkenazi rabbis always asked for re-conversion, which makes sense, since Ashkenazi rabbis were not part of the Sephardic world and were not aware of the phenomena.

For a secret Jew, it is very insulting to be asked for a conversion (an approach supported by many mainstream Sephardic Jews, anthropologist, and some rabbis). These conversions are pasul (invalid) and totally non-Halachic. Of course, each case should be individually analyzed by knowledgeable people, using very strict criteria. After all, there are several cases of fake Crypto-Jews.

Carlos Zarur holds Masters’ Degrees in Jewish studies in the areas of Comparative Religious Studies, Sephardic Studies, Marranism Studies (Crypto Judaism), Peripheral Jewish Communities, Culture and Customs of Oriental (Mizrahi) Jewries, and Western and Eastern Sephardic Culture and Customs. He also has done field research in Crypto-Judaism in several countries in Europe and the American Continent, Syrian Jews, and the Jews of India. As a Professor, he has taught at the University of Colorado in the Anthropology Department and The Jewish Studies Program.

A Jewish Action Plan Regarding the Komen Bigotry


Rather than post a new story, please note that this morning Komen restored Planned Parenthood for now. Hadassah sent out a press release that they are grateful for this about face. Grateful? How about relieved and vigilant. I’m keeping my money on Planned Parenthood.

I hope the analysis below that I posted yesterday remains in your saved email to use the key points for future such situations.

The Komen situation is a fundamental abrogation of Jewish values and any breakdown along Republican and Democratic lines on this one is a dangerous and false dichotomy. I’ve today been able to speak “off the record” with several Komen employees at a variety of regional levels.

Apparently some of their staff are tendering resignations, many more are wrestling with themselves over whether to do so, given the high national rate of unemployment.

More after the jump.
The coherence of Komen’s large-scale well-orchestrated total follow-through process on breast cancer care is going to fragment, sadly, as agencies and patients debate whether to continue accepting their funding. I’m advised a woman who skips a step to avoid Komen-funded services in a care sequence, who returns later, needing funded care via Komen partnerships, can be disallowed sequence participation and funded services in some states due to existing state policies.

The Judeo-Christian Myth: Jewish Values Are NOT Synonymous with Right Wing Christianity

Let us be clear, Jews can’t have freedom of religion in a country where abortion isn’t allowed and our tradition isn’t respected. As likely you know, Judaism stipulates that the mental and physical health of the mother comes first. In our tradition, abortions are not a category of always refuse or always abort, but rather a situation by situation matter for deep reflection, study and decision by the woman. Orthodox Jews would likely seek the counsel of their rabbi, as well. The majority of Jews are not Orthodox, and so we would counsel a woman with an unwanted pregnancy to seek support and guidance if she wishes — from her rabbi, healthcare professionals, family, and, if known, the man who is source of the sperm that has resulted in the pregnancy.

Most Jews advocate responsible reproductive behavior, including the use of birth control, while at the same time encouraging those who are able and willing to have or adopt and raise children.

A Revolting Revolution

Like most revolutionary (revolting feels to be a better word) acts that attack the fabric of a given society, the Komen decision has more implications than just our pillorying and de-funding them. Emerging breaches in continuity of care must be addressed quickly by agencies like Planned Parenthood.

Planned Parenthood for example, does mammography referrals to private and public service delivery sites, that in some states, Komen has been funding. Women’s health organizations work together, normally, to ensure continuity of coverage. So specifically, please urge Planned Parenthood to add funding or delivery of mammography to their service provision with your new or diverted donations.

Mitzvah-Centered Living is Our Credo

This is a very sad time of fissure in American society. May we all be blessed to lead inclusive mitzvah-centered, rather than self-centered lives.


Rather than post a new story, please note that this morning Komen restored Planned Parenthood for now. Hadassah sent out a press release that they are grateful for this about face. Grateful? How about relieved and vigilant. I’m keeping my money on Planned Parenthood. Shabbat Shalom.