Brazil’s Crypto-Jews Seek To Return

Ynet has an interesting article on Brazil’s Crypto-Jews, descendants of Marranos who in some cases have always married within their extended family. Some of these hidden Jews are now seeking to return to full Jewish practice.  And interesting point to make about this is to compare Ethiopian Jews to these Crypto-Jews. Both communities would have the status of sofek Jews, according to many poskim. But the Ethiopians have a stronger mesorah halakhicly, which is why Ovadia Yosef was able to rule Ethiopian Jews are in fact Jewish without need for a conversion. Yet I think most haredim and Modern Orthodox would be quicker to welcome Crypto-Jews back into the fold than Ethiopians. And this was evident long before DNA testing. The only reason I see for that is skin color. And that is sad.


Filed under Ethiopian Jews, History, Religion

14 responses to “Brazil’s Crypto-Jews Seek To Return

  1. Sad, yet perfectly understandable. Race is, after all, an artificial social construct. The past half-century has witnessed the granting of “whiteness” to Ashkenazi Jewry, along with its privileges in this racist society. Implicit in these privileges is the ability to look down upon others on the basis of something as silly as skin-tone.

    Technically, the Beta Israel are not Jews (Yehudim), i.e. descendants of the tribe of Judah or of the residents of Judea. They are, according to their own accounts, descended from the Tribe of Dan (Ve’ikka de’amri: Mib’nei Moshe), making them Israelites (B’nei Yisra’el) but not Jews. In other words, they are a part of Israel (the people) with all its implications of Ahavat Yisra’el and Kol Yisra’el Areivim Zeh Lazeh.

    According to the Midrash, each tribe had its own Nusach; its own religion, so to speak. Even Ovadia Yoseph’s treatment of them is racist, as it is now expected of them to follow the laws of Judaism (the religion), as they are inherently tied into the laws of Israel (the state, may it be smashed speedily in our days).

  2. D

    It would be interesting to find out if there are “safeik mamzer” issues with this community as well. With the Ethiopians the matter was dismissed quite readily with the entire “safeik” on their Jewishness; a safeik Jew is only a “safeik mamzeir” at worst and can marry into Israel following the proper geirus. If the Brazilians are fully Jewish any mamzeirim are “mamzeir vadai” and have serious problems.

  3. Yos

    To be honest, I’d almost be pleased if they met the same hostility as the Ethiopians, just so I could fool myself into believing it really was zealousness and not racism that surrounded the Falash controversy.

  4. avrohom

    you are a rosho!

    you “think” that they would”quicker” accept one over another and that makes a basis for your accusations of racism against them.

    You are a rosho merusho and you should quickly do teshuva. Paul listen, this guy is a rosho it does matter that he keeps his “cultral” shabbos with his “cultural” kasrut; he is a meysis umediach and a rosho merusho.

  5. mikhaelmeir

    They are different from Beta Yisrael in that they were living outwardly as Christians. If anything, the comparison should be made to Falash Mura. I think the descendants of Marranos from the Portuguese village of Belmonte who returned to Judaism had Orthodox geirus anyway, even though they could easily document their Jewish roots. Does anyone know what the procedure was for the Marranos who first returned to Judaism in Amsterdam, about 400 years ago?

  6. Schneur

    An important discovery would be a community of Jews observing normative Halacha based on THE ORAL LAW that is the Talmud and Mishna.After all it is that law ORAL LAW that defines our religion and differentiates ourselves in a POSATIVE way from others. Its not just our non acceptance of J. as the savior.After all Muslims , Bahai, and Zorastrians also do not accept J Yet none of these crypto Jews around the world including the Falasha had any inkling of the Oral Law !
    I can only think of the Yemenite community that meets this standard.
    The so called Jewish communities in exotic places are either communities of people whose ancestors were Jewsih or Judaizers that is Christian groups that for whatever reason adopted certain Old Testament practices like the Sabbath, portions of the kosher Code etc as their ritual system. In our days Herbert Armstrong and the Curch of God did just that. Was Garner Ted Armstrong Jewish ? but clearly and sadly have lost contact with our Oral Law and their divores and marriages leave no doubt that these people are mamzerim if they are Jewish and few can prove any definite descent froma Jewish mother.They are better off being non-Jewish at least that way they are not mamzerim.
    Its sad but these lost jews in South America etc are not jews at all. Neither are the Ethiopian Jews whom most serious historian s regard as descendants of Judaizing Christian sects.
    They are probably as Jewish as many of the so called Black jewish sects and cults in contemporary America.
    Given the present rate of intermarriage in the US , just imagine in 100 yers from now some ambitious rabbis will discover “crypto Jews” all over after all these people may have a Mezuzah in the house, some light candles, some have the custom of exchanging Chanukah gifts , others give to Israel, all enough to proclaim them as JEWS.
    If you can intermarry eat Treif, etc etc and be Jewish, what exactly are those Jewish families who fought to maintain their Jewish purity —>> Mormons ?
    We have so many assimilated Jewish families to deal with who are real Jews in Brazil, Argentina, Chile etc , that I propose we spend ur resources there. Of course if these crpto Jews want to BECOME JEWS why not , I would welcome the Irish, Italians and Dutch as well.All potential converts are most welcome to be Jews or adopt the Noachide Code.
    Only if one is a Messianic believer is there any spiritual importance in spending time and money trying to bring these Jews back to Judaism. But if one really believes in Achishenah, why not try to be better Jews and humans ourselves, that may just bring Mashaich a tad closer to fruition.

  7. Joe in Australia

    I don’t think any serious historians believe that the so-called Ethiopian Jews were actually Jewish in the sense of being predominantly descended from Jews. I don’t have any problem with them converting, but without a conversion I wouldn’t count one for a minyan.

  8. Both Schneur and Joe are wrong here. Historians are divided on the roots of the Beta Israel community. Some believe they are “Judaizers” from the 1300s. Some believe the community is much older and has authentic Jewish roots. Neither opinion matters halakhicly, because in part because neither rules out conversion.

    But this hides the real point. There is and was a rush among Ashkenazim living in America and Israel to rule out Ethiopian Jews. This rush is due to skin color. Rav Moshe knew this. The Rav knew the. Rav Aaron knew this.

    Here’s the rub. There is a black African tribe with real, 100% kosher Jewish DNA. They’re the Lemba of South Africa. And some want to return and move to Israel. They’ll need conversions because their mesorah is much weaker than Ethiopian Jews’ mesorah. But they’re really our Jewish brothers.

    I don’t see any of you rushing to embrace them, even though scholars and historians now acknowledge their Jewish heritage. Why is that?

  9. Yochanan Lavie

    Many people would rather their daughters marry a white gentile than a black Jew. Some of the posters are not racist, and raise valid halachic issues. But let’s face it- racism is a huge problem in our communuty.

  10. Yos

    “Some of the posters are not racist, and raise valid halachic issues. But let’s face it- racism is a huge problem in our communuty.”

    Halacha to me is beside the point. Like Shmarya has consistently pointed out, neither conclusion rules out conversion according to Orthodox standards. It’s the willingness to distance themselves from Africans while – on the other hand – embracing Russians (and the like) who may have only a scarcely superior pedigree and no interest in being observant beyond Israeli citizenship.

    Would a conventional proselyte fare any better, ancestory aside?

  11. שי

    Oh my! Crypto-Jews and bla bla. They have nothing to do with Ethiopians! What do they have to do with Ethiopian Jewish people or history? May be because they are dark?? Many of you guys must be big MORONS!
    I don’t even know why Ethiopians get excluded from Sephardim despite the fact that they hold an old and biblical Mizrachi culture. Why? because they are extremely dark? That’s how you idiots think! Only the skin color defines Judaism — distorting what the halakah says.
    Leave these descent people alone please!
    By the way, is this being posted by educated people or just some ordinary fools?

  12. Schneur

    I think what we have here is exactly the reverse of what is being stated.
    We have a group of 3rd generation American Jews raised in the real religion of american Jewry – Liberal thinking, who came of age in the heady days of the Civil Rights movement in the U.
    S and worshipped Martin Luther king and others They were full supporters of that movement.
    But fate was cruel their guilt could not be channeled in Judaism as there were no jewish Blacks in the US .
    Many of these Liberal Jews found their way to Orthodoxy and other streams of Judaism in the 1970’s and brought their Liberal thinking with them.
    Their obsession with Falashas is not despite their color, but exactly because of their color.
    These same people are not interested in large groups of Jews with more claim to Judaism ,that are about like tens of thousands of Poles who are really Jewish, tens of thousands(probably much more) of Russians who are Jewish,or other highly assimilated groups of Jews the world over.These people are European and white, thus not sexy, not Third World , not in the Liberal agenda. No they be -DAVKA need to assuage their guilt feelings about Blacks and are obsessed with the Falasha community.
    I am not against accepting these people as Jews provided they undergo conversion and more imprtantly actually accept normative Judaism.

  13. Joe in Australia

    Schneur, to be fair these Poles and Russians are physically safer than the Falashas, so it’s reasonable to be less worried about them.

    In any event, I stand by my statement that no serious historians believe that the Falashas are of predominantly Jewish descent.

    With all respect to Shmarya, there is no such thing as “real, 100% kosher Jewish DNA” except in the sense that all Jews possess DNA. If you’re going to say that the Lemba are predominantly descended from Jews then you’ve got a huge evidentiary burden ahead of you. All the arguments I’ve seen come from people like Shai here who says “Ethiopians … hold an old and biblical Mizrachi culture.” What’s a biblical Mizrachi culture? There’s no such thing. This whole subject is full of weird claims that ultimately reduce down to “you don’t believe they’re Jewish because you’re racist!” So sorry. I don’t believe they’re Jewish because everything we know about their history and culture leads me to believe otherwise. On the other hand, I have precisely zero problems with them converting to Judaism. So no more accusations of racism, please.

  14. שי

    Mizrachi culture:- I meant the rituals and religous songs etc. It’s more similar to the Meghrebis and Teimanis. erase “biblical”

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