Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Ethiopians and Anussim

Rabbi Maroof,

Let me preface this by asking that you kindly correct any misinformation I may be working with in my question, or further elaborate where necessary.

Rav Ovadia Yosef's psak (ruling) that the returning Ethiopians can be married and need not have any conversion, returned them to their status after more than a thousand years. (This time could maybe be viewed as less of a gap since it was based on Radbaz's opinion that was issued hundreds of years ago, so it is as if they are returning to their status after only hundreds of years of uncertainty). Why is it then that for the case of the anoosim, who have a similar situation in attempting to return (as it may be argued, even in a shorter span of a verifiable gap in their status, and a more close, or at least traceable link) require at least giyyur l'humra as ruled by Rav Mordechai Eliyahu? Where does this difference arise from in their rulings? Couldn't the ruling for anoosim have similarly drawn upon a 17th or 16th century posek like Rav Duran, who was ruling that returning anoosim should be welcomed back without test?



Dear J.D.,

For the benefit of the readership, allow me to clarify the meaning of your question a bit. R' Ovadiah Yosef ruled (for example, in Yabia Omer Vol. 8, Section E"H #11) that the Ethiopian Beta Israel community was Jewish according to halacha and, therefore, required no formal conversion to join the mainstream of the Jewish people. Anussim, or people of Jewish descent whose ancestors converted to other religions under duress and have rediscovered their roots, are only accepted into the community after a process of conversion in order to make sure that they are Jewish. Your question is why we don't apply the same standards to both cases and allow Anussim to reenter the Jewish fold without undergoing a conversion.

In order to understand the answer, we must consider a key difference in the Jewish identities of the Ethiopians and the Anussim, respectively. The reason why the Ethiopian Jews lost their connection with the Jewish people for so long was, according to the theory accepted by R' Yosef, simply a result of their physical isolation from us. The Ethiopians never lost their own sense of identity and never intermarried with the surrounding peoples, but they had no contact with other Jews outside of their community. Thus, assuming that their Jewish status was authentic to begin with - a premise that R' Yosef and many other Gedolim have accepted - there is no reason to cast doubt on it now. The fact that they were separated from the rest of world Jewry for several centuries or even millenia does not take away from their Jewishness.

Modern Anussim, on the other hand, have typically identified as Catholics for several generations. Remarkably, their families frequently maintained unusual traditions that are not characteristically Catholic, such as soaking and salting meat before cooking it, not eating pork, not going to church, or lighting candles on Friday night - customs that they now realize are based upon an historical connection to Judaism. Meanwhile, though, the parents, grandparents and great grandparents of many of these Anussim may have intermarried with other Catholics, making it difficult for us, in retrospect, to determine whether their children were halachically Jewish or not. Remember that we receive our status as Jews from our mothers, not our fathers, and our mothers were Jewish because of their mothers, and so on. So there must be an unbroken chain of Jewishness on the maternal side of our families for us to be considered halachically Jewish. Thus, for a member of one of the families of Anussim to be accepted as Jewish nowadays, we would need to have proof that none of the individual's male ancestors on his or her mother's side ever married a non-Jewish woman, so that his or her mother, maternal grandmother, etc., were all Jewish. Understandably, proving this is close to impossible in the majority of cases. As a result, we require the Anussim to go through a conversion process to ensure that their Jewish identity is established beyond any doubt.

In your question, you mentioned how several illustrious rabbis in the 16th and 17th centuries wrote responsa in which they advocated accepting Anussim without any problem, i.e., without any process of conversion whatsoever. However, the situations to which those rabbis referred were different from the Anussim cases of today. In the circumstances they were discussing, the very same people who converted to Catholicism - not their descendants - are now returning to Judaism. We are not faced with the complexities of their Jewish ancestry; we know that they are Jewish, but they have defected, at least temporarily, from their religion. The rabbis argued that, despite the fact that these individuals were wrong to have converted to Catholicism, we should still accept them now that they have repented and wish to rededicate themselves to Jewish tradition. Had the same rabbis been dealing with the great-great-great-grandchildren of Anussim who reemerged from complete assimilation in the Catholic community centuries later, their rulings would have been much different.

In summary, it is not the quantity of time that has passed since a person's separation from the Jewish people that is the decisive factor in these rulings. It is true that, the further back in history we must go to establish an individual's Jewish identity, the more difficult it is to ascertain the facts about his or her heritage, whether his or her ancestors intermarried, etc. However, in cases where extensive historical research is not necessary because of the presence of other evidence, these conclusions can be made more easily and definitively. Thus, isolated Jewish communities who have maintained an identity that is distinct from any neighboring gentiles but have lived apart from the mainstream of Jews for many generations may be accepted as halachically Jewish without conversion. Since they have not intermarried with non-Jews, we need not suspect any 'dilution' of Jewish status among them - thorough background checks are not required. By contrast, the Anussim of today are the descendants of converts to Catholicism who had completely lost any conscious identification with Judaism and may have affected the Jewish status of their children by intermarrying with other Catholics. Since developing an accurate picture of their personal histories is overwhelmingly difficult, we cannot avoid having questions about their Jewishness. Thus, the contemporary Anussim must undergo what is called 'giyur l'humra', a process of conversion to resolve the doubt that surrounds their Jewish heritage. Finally, Jews whose Jewish identity is well established but who have converted to other religions under duress may, after they have renounced their conversions, be reinstituted in the Jewish community without compunction.

Rabbi Maroof


David Vidal said...

Dear Rabbi

I am a brazilian ben-anus and as me there are many others that don't acccept conversion of any way. It is an offense to us to convert as if we were goyim. In Brazil and USA there are already many sephardic synagogues erected and maitained by the bene-anussim community. We are trying to follow the Andalusian rite that don't have a denomination as Orthodox, conservative or liberal, we are just following our ancestors tradition and nothing more.When a person claims to be anussim we just receive as one of ours and after we will ask for proofs. We accept only three maternal generations in order to know the person is a ben-anus and of course listen him about his own family history, old rites, jewish family customs and religious practices etc.
When the Portuguese bene-anussim of the 18th century were still going to Amsterdam they were received there as real jews only had to study more the jewish books and nothing else, no conversions were done. In the Modern Israel thousands of russians without documents just were accepted as jews only saying "I am a russian jew". Many of them didn't know a jewish pray or custom and had to learn how to be a jew.No one was converted. So I believe that the Rabbis in general don't understand our cause with exception of some that live in Israel and USA. I know by friends that something is being done in Israel to recognize us oficially without the guiur.

Mordekhai haLevi said...

Dear Rabbi,

The case of anusim is not of coverstion. Note that the Sephardic Hakhamim NEVER told they had to convert. Even after 1000 generation, (miElef doróth). Today, by the way, Sephardic Hakhamim are few. Nowadays Jewish world is pure Ashkenazic and Mizarchi. Political fact also have a weight about them. Is known that, if anussim return, Jewish world would be
prevalently Sephardic again, and it would change the establishment and even the future of the State of Israel, politically a Ashkanazic rulled state. What about the reform and thousands of European Jews that came to US, South America and Israel without papers? There's a case, among others, of a woman who returned to Judaism by showing just the "family name".
There are other halakhic basic things that are not taken under considerations, taken by Sephardic Sages to defend Anussim to be mentioned in other time.
First of all, all Anussim are Anussim due to their mothers, because they receive the heritge from them.
Second, is very usual that, anussim concentrate in a specific region as Brazilian Northeast and Mexican Nuevo Leon. And it's known by researchers and the local populations, that these people are Jews, not exactly using clearly the name JEW. There are cases of mixed marriages, but, indeed, less than we have today in the "regular" Jewish community, sinking in assimilation.
what happens is that the Rabbis del with they think it is and not with what it really is. They don't know Anussim and how to identify them. They see they as a far away story. Everybody just cares about Holocaust! does Israel has memorial to Inquisition victims? Indeed Sephardic, bot anussim and those descents of anussim are barely mentioned, even in the Nazi era, just European Jews are the victims. As a descent of Leghorn Jews, i always realized that we were always "exoctic" Jews. Today, we have no longer the mentality,either rabinical, educational and devotional as we did in Amsterdam, Leghorn and US. To be realized that all, founded by ex-anussim Sephardim, today completely abandoned.

Anonymous said...

It is clear from Mr. Maroof commentary that he is side-stepping two cardinal aspects of the Jewish status according to the halakháh. One the one hand there is the issue of "proof", and on the other the aspect of observance and belief.
According to the halakháh, the only type of proof of lineage accepted under Jewish Law is a Ketubbáh. What is a Ketubbah? A Ketubbáh is a marriage contract effected by Jews, with at least two Jewish witnesses signing the contract. What is interesting about this contract is that it can only be effected by Jews who live according to Jewish Law, that is primarily, that they keep kashrut, are shomer Shabbat, the Festivals, etc. Otherwise the ketubbáh is worthless as a binding Jewish document, much less as proof.
The second aspect is one of observance/belief. The cardinal aspects that separates a Jew who is shomer Toráh, from one that is not, is (a) does he or does he not believe in the one and true God as proposed in our written and oral Laws; and (b) does he or does he not abide by the laws of Shabbat according to Tradition. If he denies the one and True God, then the Jew becomes a "min", an apostate; if the Jew becomes a Shabbat desecrator on his own will, then he has equal status to an idolater, entails the violation of a positive misswá (precept of the Toráh), and therefore that Jew acquires the status of a "meshumad".
Neither the min or the meshumad, repeat the Sages of Israel and Jewish Law, have a share in the world to come.
Now, the main problem with Mr. Maroof commentary is that he did not touch upon neither halakhic point, therefore making his whole argument stand on nothing. On the one hand he speaks on the issue of "time"; where does he find a halakhic proof to have time as a determining factor of Jewish status?? On the other he speaks of "Jewish identity," but he does not clarify what this identity is supposed to be.
Now, turning the tables a little, if we were to apply the halakhic concerns on modern Jews -- particularly the Ashkenazim -- we would find a gross uneveness, or should we say bias, on how he deals with the subject. The primary and notable aspect about the Ashkenazim for the past 200 years or so is that they massively defected Judaism, that is, they abandoned rabbinic tradition, which entails an abandoment of the Oral Torah, which entails them becoming meshumadim, heretics.
As heretics, or children of heretics, any Yeshiva school boy knows that such people cannot serve as witness for anything, so therefore they cannot possibly have valid ketubbot (valid marriage contracts), so therefore how can Ashkenazi rabbis confer Jewish status without this piece of valid proof for lineage?
Furthermore, how is it that rabbis have allowed the marriage between rabbanites and the children of meshumadim? This was unheard of during the time of the Talmudic sages and the Ge'onim with the Qaraite heresy.
The fact of the matter is that there are aspects of Jewish Law to allow an Israelite without ketubbot, and who has been separated from (rabbinic) Tradition, to be considered Jewish de ipso facto, right away, without any need for conversion (giur). And these are the subjects Mr. Maroof is not being forward about. And if he has problems with modern-day Anusim due to issues of lineage and/or belief, he ought to also have problems with the vast majority of Jews today. And the fact is that he is not. In ALL certainty based on Mr. Maroof's exposed wisdom, He will have no problem to count any open and defiant Shabbat desecrator adult Jewish male as part of his minyan (quorum of ten necessary for complete Tefiláh), yet he will NOT accord the same honor to a 21st anús whose family have been observant on the Laws of Shabbat for 500 years, despite there was an 350-year-Inquisition who could kill them for this act of Kiddush haShem. Maybe Kiddush haShem holds no value to Mr. Maroof.

Now, if anyone here does not see anything wrong with this picture, then I must be in the twilight zone.

Enough to say that from the time of the prophets down to the tradition of our Hakhamim (Sephardic Sages), any Israelite who grew up as a non-Jew, is still an Israelite, and must be treated with the accorded respect. This is obvious from their responsa that spans for 400 years since the Expulsion, and the communites that were established from the 17th c. (Amsterdam) down to the 20th c. (Oporto).
Sadly, an individual who was not raised within Sephardic tradition will ignore this, and adopt innovative ways that have nothing to do with Tradition. I hope Mr. Maroof has made his peace with God.

"Seven forms of visitation come upon the world for seven main transgressions... The sword visits the earth because of delayed justice and perverted justice, and because of those who decide questions of the Tora against tradition."
Pirke Abot 5.11.

Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

Although I am not comfortable with the personal attacks that have been included in some of the comments here, I have decided to publish them in the interest of free dialogue.

I encourage all participants to focus their energies on grappling with the concepts and facts under examination, and not to question, criticize or condemn the moral character of other members of this forum.

I would like to add that I am particularly puzzled by the comment of DR who seems to have misunderstood my position.

I never suggested that a family that has been consistently observing Torah for 500 years would require conversion. I also never implied that the quantity of time that passed since the "conversion" was an issue. In fact, I emphasized that the passage of time was basically irrelevant to decisions regarding Jewish status.

I clearly and emphatically stated that a family and/or community of anussim that maintained its observance of Judaism at least to the extent that its members DID NOT intermarry with gentiles would not require any conversion.

I don't have any bias in favor of Ashkenazim and, in fact, I'm Sephardic. This is a matter of halacha and not a matter of custom, so one's ethnic background should be secondary to one's commitment to the Torah's principles.

I would agree with DR, though, that in the not-too-distant future the non-Orthodox Ashkenazic communities will have major personal status problems. The proliferation and combination of non-halachic conversions, complete absence of Jewish observance and invalid ketubot will soon leave no basis whatsoever for the confirmation of the Jewishness of the members of these congregations.

Mairead said...

Dear Rabbi...

I'm not jewish, but have a question that has bothered me for years.

We know from genetic studies that the Diaspora Jews of today generally have no maternal connection to Palestine. They are descended from semitic men who, on their way north after being driven out of Palestine by the Romans, married, or at least took up with, local European women. Non-jewish women.

Since halakhic status as a Jew depends on the unbroken jewishness of one's maternal lineage, how can the nominal Jews of the Diaspora possibly claim halakhic jewishness? Is it all just conveniently handwaved away, with 100% valid conversions assumed?

I'm interested because of the vast difference ("vast" is too small a word here, but I can't think of a bigger one) between the Jews I grew up with in the '40s / early '50s, and the Israelis.

The parents of the jewish kids I knew growing up were mostly socialists who seemed to be thoughtful, ethical, kind, generous people. I don't really know how religious they were (most men wore the kippeh), but they were deeply committed to education and learning, they seemed to worry a lot, and they tried hard to make the world a more humane place for everyone. I suppose they were Ashkenazim originally, since they had Germanic or Slavic family names and spoke Yiddish over the heads of us kids (which is where I picked up the bisseleh I have).

They were admirable people, and had I not become agnostic as a teen, I might have converted to Judaism on the strength of my respect and liking for those whom I knew.

But the mamzerim who invaded and occupy Palestine? If the people I knew were Jews, then the Israelis are something else. Warmed-over nazis, maybe. Alternately, if the Israelis are Jews, then what on Earth were the people I knew 55-60 years ago?

Are there any for-sure-authentic Jews left, apart from the descendents of those who never left Palestine?

Shayn dank fun

Anonymous said...

Naziboy Mairead said:
We know from genetic studies that the Diaspora Jews of today generally have no maternal connection to Palestine. They are descended from semitic men who, on their way north after being driven out of Palestine by the Romans, married, or at least took up with, local European women. Non-jewish women.

This is grossly inaccurate, to put it midly.
You're alluding to the situation with Ashkenazic Jews, couching it as representative of all Jewish diasporas. "Nice" try.
Some properly conducted genetic studies strongly suggest that 40% of Ashkenazic Jews trace back to 4 maternal ancestors who migrated to Europe from the land of Israel.
Moreover, marriage with those local non-Jewish European females was limited to the priliminary stage of establishing Jewish communities in Northern France, Germany, Poland, Russia and elsewhere.
Also, some of the men who originally ventured past Italy or directly to the abovementioned lands took had been married and took their wives along.

Naziboy Mairead said:
But the mamzerim who invaded and occupy Palestine? If the people I knew were Jews, then the Israelis are something else. Warmed-over nazis, maybe. Alternately, if the Israelis are Jews, then what on Earth were the people I knew 55-60 years ago?

You mean we invaded and occupied the land that was ours to begin with and was subsequently usurped from us by the Romans, Arabs and a long chain of occupiers thereafter?

Did you take care to iron your brownshirt and polish your jackboots before posting your message, Naziboy? How much goosestepping did you perform the same day?


Rabbi Maroof,
why have you let this Naziboy jerk's submission go unresponded?

Kol Tuv,

Anonymous said...

Rabbi Maroof,

Maroof in Arabic means "do me a favor." Well, Rabbi do me a favor. There is a marked difference between the Anussim of Portugal and those of the Americas. I have visited the villages of Tras-dos-montes in Portugal and have talked to people and so have other Jews who have studied and researched this issue from an academic point of view. There is plenty of proof that these people have never lost their jewish identity and that they keep all the signs of being Jews as well as they can and as well as they could under the treat of the inquisition. They are Jews and to force them to convert is to deny the over 500 years of persecution and keeping their Jewish identity even at the pain of death. Let us be gracious and allow these people to be Jews and immigrate to Israel and settle the Negev the way Obadiah the prophet spoke long ago. The land of Israel will make sure that they and their children after them will find the balance and their rightful place among the elect of Israel.

Joseph Shulam

Anonymous said...

Interesting is that matrilinear heredity of jewry was originaly designed by rabbis as emergency solution for children born as result of rape or relation between pagan a man and jewish woman. Rabbis wanted legalize these children, but later this rabbinic decision replaced patrilinear heredity descibed in Torah. Funny is that reasult of this rabbinic decision we can found more than 50% of ashkenazi Levites with non-semitic DNA haplogroups.

Dr. J said...

DNA is a matter of fact and not an opinion. The Ethiopian Jews have 0% DNA that relates to the Israelites. Alternatively, the DNA found in many of the Anusim communities indicates that they intermarried far less that those of traditional Judaism. Makes sense due to the history of persecution and the fact that the Anusim communities had a very high value on the purity of blood. Indeed, converts were NOT accepted.

Anonymous said...

Dear Rabbi, please keep in mind that alot of the sephardi conversions were done under torture and not by choice and thus don't understand why anusim seem again to be judged and procecuted by other jews. who is one jew to tell another that they are not a jew? I am a decedant of portuguese jews I am portugese and proud of my history. I don't understand why the inquisition and other massacres such as the lisbon aren't recongized and hold the same weight as the holocoust.. Is aschanazy blood more precious than sephardic? God values us all