Letter on the Anusim Situation
This article supports the anusim in their plight to return to Judaism.
However it supports them to return under real Judaism, not some quasi-version
of the religion.
Over the years
I have spoken extensively about the situation regarding the anusim,
the people who believe they are descendant from those forcibly converted
under the thumb of the Catholic Church in Spain and Portugal during
the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries.
are coming out in moderate numbers realizing that many of their ancestors
were Jews, and without doubt, many-but not all-were. The growth and
availability of the Internet in 1995 helped information to be shared,
and now ten years later, there is an explosion of interest. Although
there are some sincerely interested in helping these people learn more
about Judaism, there are others who lurk in the shadows of the Jewish
world preying on them, exploiting them.
These people have
a network. They all know one another, they all know what their peers
do. These people, mostly individuals, make a cash profit at the expense
of these poor people whose ancestors were victimized hundreds of years
anusim are today reaching out for help. Many desire to know everything
from what is a Jew, to how to become a Jew. Those helping the anusim
are divided in two camps, those that want to help them for intrinsic
reasons-because they need help and should be helped; and those that
help the anusim because extending advice to them will help them turn
a profit. In the former assembly are organizations such as Shavei Israel,
Chabad Lubavitch and well known individuals such as Rabbi Moshe Otero
in Miami, Moshe Lopez, in Orlando and others around the world. In the
latter are groups and individuals, some highly sneaky, that are 'working
with the anusim' for what I term, less than honorable reasons.
Of course I cannot
name names, our politically correct and litigious society will not allow
me to do that, but I can tell you what they do. What they do, is sell
Judaism for cash. They sell it to people who are sincere in spirit,
but ignorant in knowledge. They sell it to the anusim. Conversion to
Judaism has gone from something grounded in Torah and mitsvot to prostitution.
It has fallen into the black hole of 'you pay me, I give you what you
Conversion to Judaism
is now even available electronically. There is home study program, organized
under a reform Judaism frame. The candidate studies at home, then once
they feel they have studied enough to become Jewish, they fly to a hotel
in Miami where in just one eight hour class are taught by a 'rabbi,'
Jewish ethics, blessings, prayers, heritage, customs, symbols, values,
and the Holocaust. The candidate then chooses a Hebrew name, walks out
to the beach for immersion in the mikva, and instantly-they are 'Jewish.'
Only eight hours with the 'rabbi' and they are 'Jewish.' As soon as
they dry off with their towel, these 'new Jews' can drive up the block
to the Jewish Federation building on Biscayne Boulevard and apply to
make Aliyah-this is NO exaggeration. Since the Aliyah office is generally
on a speed track themselves, they can go from being Christian, Muslim,
Hindu or any non-Jewish religion for that matter, to becoming a Jew-and
getting a date for their arrive in Israel-in a matter of weeks, if not
three to five days. This Internet conversion program is just one of
exists where the conversion candidate meets twenty times with the 'rabbi'
then pays a $125 fee. With this, they get 30 minute lesson by the 'rabbi's
wife' who teaches, 'basic Hebrew reading in the last half hour.' For
$125 they have legally purchased a right to Israeli citizenship.
one that is well known among the anusim, offers his own brand of traveling
conversions. This summer he is planning to travel to Central and South
America. He plans to visit Ecuador, where he will be doing 28 conversions
among families of Anusim. In July, he makes a second trip to six countries:
Honduras, El Salvador, Colombia, Guatemala, Costa Rica, and Panama for
the same. He takes people who say they have Jewish roots, 'educates
them' and then hands them a certificate after they hand him cash or
As of February
20, 2002, anyone who goes through one of these 'conversion' programs
I have discussed is considered Jewish by the Israeli Supreme Court.
Once attending one of these 'conversion' programs they need only apply
and are then legally fall under the law which says any Jew can come
live in the State of Israel. These people are entitled to a free airplane
ticket, can move to Israel where they will receive financial benefits
and other perks for up to eleven years. Still, the people who get these
pseudo-conversions will have nothing but problems in the future. They
will have problems with bar mitsvas for their children, marriage, and
many other issues. They will remain on the margins of Jewish society,
as they have NOT had a legitimate conversion. If anusim want to return,
this is the wrong way to go about it.
The question can
be asked, why are so many people are streaming out of poor Latin American
countries claiming they are Jewish? While some are actually descendants
of Jews-others just want to move to a modern country and reap the benefits
which will be handed them on a silver platter. The fact is programs
exist to convert anusim (or for that matter anyone of another religion)
and give them a less-than-halachic conversion. The 'rabbis' who are
'converting' the anusim (or as they like to use the term 'returning
them') back to Judaism, have developed their model outside a halachic
framework, where they make a profit from the fees charged for the conversion.
Klal Yisrael, the
Jewish nation, must and shall welcome all ger zedekim (righteous converts)
into Judaism. However, just like converts have a responsibility to be
sincere, their teachers must be respected authorized members of the
Jewish community, not fly-by-night hawkers who hang out a shingle which
reads 'rabbi' and can authorize documents proclaiming the person who
handed cash over to them to be Jewish.
Members of the
orthodox community must be vigilant and not fall for people calling
themselves 'anusim experts' or 'advocates for the anusim,' when these
people themselves have no interest in the anusim other than for financial
gain. Some of these so-called 'anusim experts' are nothing more than
missionaries who work under the Protestant myth that the Jews must return
to Zion, even the 'crypto-Jews.' Some of these people have moved to
Israel where they are pulling the wool over the eyes of the orthodox
rabbanim, the media and the government. These people who are not legitimate
have charmingly convinced influential people in the Israeli government
that they are indeed legitimate, usually because they are name droppers
and have persuaded legitimate people to be their friends. The leaders
of these groups must be rooted out and stopped.
Rabbis and Israeli
politicians, I warn you now, watch for those that will come to you,
sweet talking about grand ideas of bringing thousands upon thousands
of Hispanic anusim into Israel. They make such grand statements because
there is a capitation fee per head, per anusim convert/returnees. Again,
while there are legitimate organizations and individuals helping lost
Jews, there are also individuals starting multiple different organizations
with fanciful creative titles, doing nothing but leading people astray
while emptying their wallets and damaging their psyches.
have a responsibility to protect the Jewishness of the Jewish state.
It is one thing not to be observant, it is another to take actions which
directly cause destruction of your religion. Similarly, the leading
rabbis of our generation need to address this issue today. They need
to develop a set of standards the Jewish world can implement when educating
the anusim, how to address their unique needs and how to protect them
from snake oil salesman and others who put a stumbling block before
the blind. To their credit, some of the rabbanim have, yet, most have
Even the most secular
Jew should take measures to defend the religion of their grandparents
from division into two distinct camps. A system which has Jews on one
side that are Jews according to God, Torah, Talmud and tradition, and
another one which has 'Jews' based on a political-social model made
up of gentiles who have gone through a Jewish-like quasi right of passage
and paid an entrance fee to a con artist. Many of these people are sincere
in their desire to convert, but are being deceived by the 'rabbis' they
approach. How can reform and conservative 'rabbis' insist that converts
be holier than they, that converts be obliged to observe laws of kashruth,
observe the Shabbat and holidays, put on Tefillin each morning, pray
three times a day, etc. When the 'rabbi' who is supervising the conversion
most likely does not observe these practices himself?
the persons conducting these pseudo-conversions realize that there is
no way individuals will take on the yoke of Torah and follow through
observing all of the commandments that one is required upon converting.
How can these people be expected to do this with such little education,
no follow up, no community, no future, no planning, no Jewish infrastructure
and no support to help new converts. So the final question is, if these
'rabbis' know their anusim conversion candidates will become transgressors
once converted, why would they want them to become Jews in the first
place? The reason is simple: money, greed, profit.
Mr. Alfassa is an international advocate for Sephardic
Jewry. He is the founder and executive director of the International
Society for Sephardic Progress.