Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Descendants of Spanish Jews Forced to Convert to Catholicism Act in Support of Israel

Referred to by non-Jewish historians derogatorily as marranos*, translatable as "pigs," these forced converts or conversos, who continued being Jews in secret, left descendants in Spain, Portugal, and Brazil, who today under the name of Bnei Anousim are aware of their ancestry.

Following is from IMRA, Independent Media Review and Analysis:


. . . there are tens of thousands, and possibly hundreds of thousands of Bnei Anousim in Spain and Portugal who are conscious of their identity and their special relationship with Israel and the Jewish People. "The fact that Bnei Anousim are taking the initiative and expressing a desire to take part in Israel advocacy efforts in their own countries is an exciting development," Freund noted. "The Bnei Anousim can serve as a wonderful corps of goodwill ambassadors for the Jewish state, and it behooves us to reach out to them and forge a stronger relationship with them," he said.

Dozens of participants, whose ancestors were forced to convert to Catholicism during the Inquisition over 500 years ago, gathered this past weekend in Barcelona for a special seminar run by Shavei Israel to train them in making Israel's case to the media.

From "For the first time, Bnei Anousim in Europe enlist to join Israel's Hasbara (Public Diplomacy) efforts"

Bnei Anousim in Spain

In the early Middle Ages, Spanish Jewry was one of the oldest and most successful Diaspora Jewish communities. But from 1391 onwards, a series of terrible disturbances and great tribulations befell the Jews of Iberia, resulting in unprecedented waves of expulsion, persecution and forced conversions. These tragic events culminated in 1492, when the remaining Jews were formally expelled by Spanish monarchs. Many of those who had been compelled to convert to Catholicism – known by the Hebrew term Bnei Anousim – remained behind, where they nonetheless continued to preserve their Jewish identity and to practice Jewish tradition covertly, away from the prying eyes of the Inquisition and its enforcers. One of the most famous example was the converted Jews from Palma de Mallorca know until today by the name “chuetas”(pig).

Bnei Anousim in Portugal

In 1497, the Portuguese king presented the Jews living in his realm with a dastardly choice: convert or die. Some chose death, but most of Portuguese Jewry was dragged to the baptismal font and compelled to accept Catholicism against their will. But many of these "New Christians" did their utmost to remain loyal to their Jewish roots, passing down the faith and practices of their ancestors across the generations. And while many were made to pay a heavy price by the Inquisition for their continued fidelity to Judaism, many others somehow succeeded in preserving their Jewish identity. Perhaps the most famous example was the community of Belmonte, in northern Portugal, where some 150 Bnai Anousim were formally restored to the Jewish people two decades ago by a rabbinical court sent from Israel.

Bnei Anousim in Brazil

When the doors of the New World swung open in the 16th and 17th centuries, Brazil came to play an important role for the Bnei Anousim. Seeking to distance themselves from Iberia, where the hand of the Inquisition was heaviest, the Bnei Anousim actively participated in the colonization and development of the new continent. Brazil offered the possibility of a new life, and the hope of one day returning to the faith of their ancestors. But the long arm of the Inquisition reached across the Atlantic, and continued to pursue the Bnei Anousim, hunting down those accused of secretly practicing Judaism and remaining faithful to the laws of Moses. But even the heartless cruelty and ruthless efficiency of the Inquisitors could not extinguish the flame of Judaism, and countless thousands of families, especially in the interior of northern Brazil, continued to preserve Jewish rituals and traditions. This flame is still very much alive today, and in cities such as Recife, Fortaleza and Natal, the descendants of Brazil's Bnei Anousim are once again clamoring to rejoin their people, the nation of Israel.

In recent years, throughout Spain, Portugal and South America, a growing number of their descendants are emerging from the shadows of history, looking to reconnect with the Jewish people and return to the faith which was so cruelly taken away from their forefathers five centuries ago.

Site Map


Read the entire article from IMRA, Independent Media Review and Analysis
at Spaniards and Portuguese whose Jewish ancestor were forced to convert during the Inquisition join efforts to support Israel
* Marranos or secret Jews (also known as Anusim) were Sephardic Jews (Jews resident in the Iberian peninsula) who were forced to adopt Christianity under threat of expulsion but who continued to practice Judaism secretly, thus preserving their Jewish identity. The term in Spanish meant pigs; it stemmed from the ritual prohibition against eating pork, a prohibition practiced by both Jews and Muslims. In Spanish, the term marrano acquired the meaning of "swine" or "filthy". In contemporary Spanish it is no longer associated with Jews. In Portuguese, the word refers only to crypto-Jews, since pig or "swine" is marrão or varrão.


No comments: