Brazil’s Anousim Get a Rabbi
For the first time, an Israeli organization has dispatched a rabbi to northern Brazil to do outreach work among the numerous Bnai Anousim (descendants of Jews forcibly converted to Catholicism during the Spanish Inquisition) living in the region. Rabbi Avraham Amitai, a graduate of Israeli rabbinical seminaries who is fluent in Hebrew, English and Portuguese, was sent recently to serve as a full-time emissary in the Brazilian cities of Recife and Fortaleza by the Jerusalem-based Shavei Israel (organization (formerly known as Amishav). At the request of Brazil’s governing Jewish Federation, Rabbi Amitai will act as the rabbi of the small Jewish community in each locale, while also seeking to facilitate the return of the Bnai Anousim in the area.
We have been considering the possibility of sending a rabbi to Brazil for quite some time, said Shavei Israel Chairman and Arutz-7 columnist Michael Freund. The area around Recife in northeastern Brazil is said by historians to contain one of the largest concentrations of Bnai Anousim in the world, so when Brazil’s Jewish Federation approached us about the need for a rabbi to serve in the area, we knew this was an opportunity that could not be missed.
Freund noted that Portuguese crypto-Jews arrived in Recife in the 16th century, and there were known to be as many as 10 secret synagogues operating in the area. By the 1590s, the Inquisition began to operate in Recife, and many secret Jews were sent back to Lisbon, Portugal where they were burned at the stake for their beliefs, he said. Nonetheless, countless others continued to preserve their Judaism in secret, passing it on down through the generations until today.
In addition to Brazil, Shavei Israel currently has emissaries in Spain and Portugal working to facilitate the return of the Bnai Anousim to the Jewish people. It also operates Machon Miriam, a Spanish-language conversion institute in Jerusalem under the auspices of Israel’s Chief Rabbinate, where many Anousim complete their formal process of return.