30 Mar Spanish & Portuguese Crypto-Jews Gather for Barcelona Seminar
Close to 100 Bnai Anousim from across Spain and Portugal will be gathering this weekend in Barcelona for an annual seminar and communal Sabbath being organized by the Shavei Israel organization.
The seminar, entitled “The Relevance and Significance of Judaism and its Precepts in Our Times,” will bring together rabbis, historians and academics from Israel, Spain and Portugal. They will discuss a variety of topics such as the centrality of Torah in Jewish life and the observance of the Mitzvot (commandments).
Bnai Anousim is the Hebrew term for people whose ancestors were forcibly converted to Catholicism during the time of the Inquisition. Historians have often referred to them as “crypto-Jews” or by the derogatory term “Marranos.” Many continued to practice Judaism in secret over the centuries.
“Hundreds of years ago, the ancestors of the Bnai Anousim were torn away from the Jewish people,” said Shavei Israel Chairman Michael Freund. “But now, many are looking for a way to reconnect with their heritage. Our goal in convening this seminar is to reach out to them and to embrace them, and to help them to find their way home.”
“We want them to know that just as they did not forget us, the Jewish people, so too we have not forgotten them,” Freund said.
In addition to traditional Sabbath prayers and festive meals, all of which will be held at Barcelona’s main synagogue, the program includes a day-trip to Gerona, where the great Biblical commentator Rabbi Moses ben Nachman, known as the Ramban, or Nachmanides, was born in 1194.
Participants will also hold a special memorial service to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the Lisbon Massacre, when thousands of Portuguese Jews who had been forcibly converted to Catholicism in 1497 were hunted down and murdered in the streets of Portugal’s capital in 1506. Some of the victims were burned alive before crowds of gleeful on-lookers.
Based in Jerusalem, Shavei Israel (www.shavei.org) reaches out and assists “lost Jews” seeking to return to the Jewish people. The group currently has full-time rabbinical emissaries in Spain, Portugal and Brazil, where they are engaged in outreach work among Bnai Anousim.
It also operates Machon Miriam, a Spanish-language conversion institute in Jerusalem under the auspices of Israel’s Chief Rabbinate, where many Bnai Anousim complete their formal process of return to Judaism.
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