Anusim (Hebrew: אֲנוּסִים, pronounced [anuˈsim]; singular male, Anús, Hebrew: אָנוּס pronounced [aˈnus]; singular female, Anusáh, Hebrew: אָנוּסָה pronounced [anuˈsa], meaning "Coerced [converted Jews]") is a legal category of Jews in halakha (Jewish law) who were forced to abandon Judaism against their will, typically while forcibly converted to another religion. The term "anusim" is most properly translated as the "coerced [ones]" or the "forced [ones]".
The religious legal terms anús/anusáh/anusim is applied to those Jews who were forced to abandon Judaism against their will. Depending on the specific Jewish responsa being followed by a Jewish community receiving Anusim, the category of Anusim can also be applied to the first, second, and up to third, fourth, and at most fifth generation descendants of the initial forced converts. In all cases, the categorization as Anusim is conditional on their continuing to do whatever was/is in their power to continue practicing Judaism under the forced conditions.
Any subsequent generations of descendants of Anusim fall under the separate religious legal category of Bnei Anusim, meaning "Children [of the] Coerced [Jews]".
The term Anusim derives from the Talmudic phrase averah b’ones (Hebrew: עבירה באונס), meaning "a forced transgression." The Hebrew ones (pronounced "oh'nes") derives from the triconsonantal root א-נ-ס (Aleph-Nun-Samekh), and originally referred to any case where a Jew has been forced into any act against his or her will. In Modern Hebrew, the word ones can also mean rape.
The term anús is used in contradistinction to meshumad (מְשֻׁמָּד), which means a person who has voluntarily abandoned the practice of Jewish law in whole or part. The forced converts were also known as cristianos nuevos (Spanish) or cristãos-novos (Portuguese); or Marrano, which had and still has today a pejorative connotation in Spanish.
Besides the term anusim, Halakha has various classifications for those Jews who have abandoned, or are no longer committed to, the rabbinic Jewish tradition, whether or not they have converted to another religion.
The two most common descriptions are:
- "Min" (מין), or an apostate of Judaism, for a Jew who basically denies the existence of God; and
- "Meshumad" (מְשֻׁמָּד), or a heretic in Judaism, for a Jew who deliberately rebels against the observance of Jewish law.
The main difference between a min, a meshumad, and the anusim is that the act of abandonment of Judaism is voluntary for a min and a meshumad, while for the anusim it is not.
History of use
The term anusim became more frequently used after the forced conversion to Christianity of Ashkenazi Jews in Germany at the end of the 11th century. In his religious legal opinions, Rashi, a French rabbi who lived during this period, commented about the issue of anusim.
Several centuries later, following the mass forced conversion of Sephardi Jews (those Jews with extended histories in Spain and Portugal, known jointly as Iberia, or "Sepharad" in Hebrew) of the 15th and 16th centuries, the term "anusim" became widely used by Spanish rabbis and their successors for the following 600 years, henceforth becoming associated with Sephardic history.
The term may be properly applied to any Jew of any ethnic division. Since that time, it has also been applied to other forced or coerced converted Jews, such as the Mashadi Jews of Persia (modern Iran), who converted to Islam in the public eye, but secretly practised Judaism at home. They lived dual-religious lives, being fully practising Muslims in public life, and fully practising Jews at home.
In non-rabbinic literature, the more widely known Sephardic anusim are also referred to as:
- "Conversos", meaning "converts [to Christianity]" in Spanish, Portuguese, Catalan and Ladino (Judaeo-Spanish).
- "New Christians", or cristianos nuevos" in Spanish, and cristãos novos in Portuguese (Catalan: cristians nous).
- "Crypto-Jews", and
- "Marranos", literally meaning "swine" in Spanish, and Catalan (where it is spelled marrans), but also carrying the meaning of anusim. Also meaning "anusim" in Portuguese, but not swine, since marrão (derived from marrano) is the word for swine in Portuguese.
The Catholic Church coined the first two terms, the third is more of a modern invention by historians, and the fourth is the insulting term Spanish antisemites gave to the anusim. All four terms are sociological, whereas anusim refers to a status in Jewish law.
In rabbinic literature
The subject of anusim has a special place in rabbinic literature. In normal circumstances, a person who abandons Jewish observance, or part of it, is classified as a meshumad. Such a person is still counted as a Jew for purposes of lineage, but is under a disability to claim any privilege pertaining to Jewish status: for example, he should not be counted in a minyan, that is, a quorum for religious services.
Anusim, by contrast, not only remain Jews by lineage but continue to count as fully qualified Jews for all purposes. Since the act of the original abandonment of the religion was done against the Jew’s will, the Jew under force may remain a kasher Jew, as long as the anús keeps practising Jewish law to the best of his/her abilities under the coerced condition. In this sense, "kasher" is the rabbinic legal term applied to a Jew who adheres to rabbinic tradition and is accordingly not subject to any disqualification.
Rabbinic legal opinions
Hakham Se‘adyá ben Maimón ibn Danan, one of the most respected Sephardic Sages after the Expulsion, in the 15th century stated:
Indeed, when it comes to lineage, all the people of Israel are brethren. We are all the sons of one father, the rebels (reshaim) and criminals, the heretics (meshumadim) and forced ones (anusim), and the proselytes (gerim) who are attached to the house of Jacob. All these are Israelites. Even if they left God or denied Him, or violated His Law, the yoke of that Law is still upon their shoulders and will never be removed from them.
Hakham BenSión Uziel, the Chief Sephardic Rabbi of the State of Israel, stated in the mid-20th century:
And we still have to clarify on the (subject of) Anusím, to whom the government forbids them to perform Halakhicly valid marriages, if it's necessary to say that their wives must have a Get to permit them (to marry another man), for the reason that, by force of the Law (Hazaqáh), a man does not have intercourse for promiscuity (zenút). . . (In our very case), we deal with those who converted and kept Torah in secrecy and hide their religion because of the gentile surveillance, we say that they do have intercourse for the sake of marriage.
It follows that Hakham Uziel considered anusím as Jews, because only Jews can give or receive a get, a Jewish divorce.
But their children and grandchildren [of Jewish rebels], who, misguided by their parents . . . and trained in their views, are like children taken captive by the gentiles and raised in their laws and customs (weghidelúhu haGoyím `al dathám), whose status is that of an ’anús [one who abjures Jewish law under duress], who, although he later learns that he is a Jew, meets Jews, observes them practice their laws, is nevertheless to be regarded as an ’anús, since he was reared in the erroneous ways of his parents . . . Therefore efforts should be made to bring them back in repentance (LeFikakh rawí leHah zirán biTeshubáh), to draw them near by friendly relations, so that they may return to the strength-giving source, i.e., the Toráh.
- Chala (Jews)
- Conversion to Judaism
- Sephardic Bnei Anusim
- Who is a Jew?
- Talmud, Abodá Zará 54a
- Medieval Jewish History Resource Directory
- See Mashhadi Jewish Community History on MashadiRabbi.com
- R. Se‘adyá ben Maimón ibn Danan (16th century), Hhemdah Genuzáh, 15b
- Gitlitz, David. 'Secrecy and Deceit: The Religion of the Crypto-Jews', Albuquerque, NM: University of New Mexico Press, 2002.
- The Jews and the Crusaders: the Hebrew Chronicles of the First and Second Crusades (translator and editor: Shlomo Eidelberg). Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1977 ISBN 0-299-07060-3
- The Chronicle of Solomon bar Simson.--The Chronicle of Rabbi Eliezer bar Nathan.--The Narrative of the Old Persecutions, or Mainz anonymous.--Sefer Zekhirah, or The book of remembrance, of Rabbi Ephraim of Bonn.
- Crisis and Leadership: Epistles of Maimonides; texts translated and notes by Abraham Halkin; discussions by David Hartman. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society of America, 1985 ISBN 0-8276-0238-3 (reissued by the publisher as: Epistles of Maimonides: Crisis and Leadership in 1993).
- Henry Kamen, The Spanish Inquisition: An Historical Revision. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1997 ISBN 0-297-81719-1
- José Faur, In the Shadow of History: Jews and Conversos at the Dawn of Modernity. Albany, N.Y.: State University of New York Press, 1992 ISBN 0-7914-0801-9