Frequently Asked Questions

Who are the descendants of Spanish and Portuguese Jewish communities?

These are people whose Jewish ancestors, Sephardim, had lived in Spain and Portugal since Roman times. Their systematic persecution, including forced conversion to Catholicism, began in the 14th century. These forced converts, numbering in the hundreds of thousands, were varyingly referred to by names such as Crypto-Jews, Conversos, Marranos, Chuetas and Anousim (lit. the forced ones). Their descendants, numbering in the high tens of millions, now live across the world, but primarily in North and Latin America and Europe.

It is possible to split these descendants into three groups. The first group consists of those who always kept their Jewish identity, customs and traditions inside the family, often hiding publicly. The second group consists of those who knew or had suspicions about their Jewish ancestry, sometimes through oral hints or strange customs. The third group is completely unaware of their Jewish ancestry. However, some in this group retain strange customs which unbeknown to them are Jewish in origin and simple internet searches are able to explain the origins of their family customs.

Additionally, thanks to DNA and genealogical advances more and more people are beginning to understand their heritage.

What is their status under Jewish law?

Since their expulsion from the Land of Israel during Roman times, Jews have lived across the known world. Over the last 2,000 years, many Jews have been forcibly converted on numerous occasions to Christianity or Islam in places like Spain, France, Hungary, Germany, Ethiopia, Iran and Yemen. Rabbis during these times had to grapple with the issue of how to relate to these people according to Jewish law. In almost all cases these people were seen as part of the Jewish People, including their descendants.

Unbeknown to many Jews in the normative communities today, their ancestors may well have been forcibly converted to another religion but they were welcomed back into the Jewish community when they were able to return. Up until the 18th Century, any Anous (singular of Anousim) who wished to return was almost routinely welcomed back to the Jewish community with little or no formal ceremony. This was based on many opinions and decisions dating back to antiquity, including Rashi, Rambam and in the Shulchan Aruch which stated that Anousim should be welcomed back to Jewish communities.

Today, largely because there have been few forcible conversions of Jews in recent years, few rabbis have addressed the issue in a substantial way, and many are not even aware of the history.

However, some rabbis have addressed the issue in recent years, including then-Chief Rabbis Ovadia Yossef and Shlomo Amar who ruled that the Falash Mura (the descendants of Ethiopian Jews who had been forcibly converted to Christianity) were Jewish and eligible for Aliyah, immigration to the State of Israel.

Some rabbis, like renowned Torah scholar Rabbi Aaron Soloveichik, ruled that the Anousim should be treated as full Jews in “every way”. Others, like Rabbi Amar, have created a Certificate of Return specifically for Anousim who wish to formally return to Judaism.

Today, there is no one single formal approach from the rabbinical world on this question.

How do I know if I have Jewish ancestry?

There are many ways of ascertaining if one has Jewish ancestry. The first and easiest step is to check whether the family name(s) is on a list of those that could be indicative of Jewish ancestry. The Name Your Roots website and application can provides some useful information and resources to start your investigations about your heritage through your family name.

Another way is to build a family tree that can trace your family back to Jewish ancestry. One way of doing this is to look at the remarkably well-informed Inquisitorial records where some have been able to trace their maternal line back to recognized Jews.

Another way is to take a DNA test to ascertain whether you have Jewish ancestry and who you might be related to.

Other ways are to search online whether any of the ‘strange’ family customs are Jewish in origin.

How do I reconnect with the Jewish People?

The question of reconnection is deeply personal one and differs from person to person. Reconectar is not a missionizing organization and has no hidden agendas so we help individuals reconnect in any way they deem appropriate.

Reconnection can mean for some people merely to express an interest and learn more about their ancestry and heritage up until a desire to formally return to the Jewish People, and many other possibilities in between. You tell us what you want and we will try and find solutions.

How can I live in Israel?

One of the first laws promulgated by the recently established State of Israel was the Law of Return. The law states that any Jew, and subsequently added, any child or grandchild of a Jew, can become an Israeli citizen. This also includes those who convert to Judaism by a rabbinical court recognized by Israel’s Chief Rabbinate. People who convert through a recognized non-Orthodox authority can still make Aliyah, but will not necessarily be considered Jewish by the state’s Orthodox authorities for the purposes of marriage or conferring the status to children.

There is generally no conversion of non-Israeli citizens in Israel, but one can apply to the a Foreign Nationals Exceptions Committee to apply for a conversion in Israel. Shavei Israel also offers a conversion program, specifically for Anousim.

A final option is to obtain an official Certificate of Judaism or Return which would be given by a recognized rabbi after satisfying specific criteria; usually after proving ancestry, traditions, and knowledge of Judaism (some include DNA as another criterion). However, few rabbis know what this is and fewer recognize them fully.

How can I visit Israel?

Israel is one of the most popular and diverse places to visit in the world. To visit Israel you may have to apply for one of the following visas, including student, work or tourist. There are also tour operators geared specifically for the Spanish-speaking world, like HolaLand.

How can we express our affinity towards the State of Israel?

There are many ways to express your affinity towards the State of Israel.

Firstly, one can buy Israeli products and contribute to Israel’s economy. Another way is to learn about Israel and share it with others. There are some great organizations which can help you learn about Israel, Zionism and the remarkable story of the Jewish People’s return to its ancestral homeland.

How can I learn more about Judaism and Jewish customs?

While there many types of Jews from differing backgrounds, there is a tradition in Judaism to follow the specific customs of one’s ancestors. Anousim come from a rich and beautiful Spanish and Portuguese (La Nação or Western Sephardi) tradition, with communities around the world. The Halachic (Jewish law) authority for many of the customs and traditions of the Spanish and Portuguese Jewish traditions is called the Keter Shem Tov.

The wider Sephardi world generally follows the Shulchan Aruch and especially the rulings of the greatest Sephardi scholar of the last generation, Rabbi Ovadia Yossef, where there are laws and traditions spanning a wide gamut of everyday life-cycle events.

How can I help others reconnect with the Jewish People?

Reconnecting the descendants of Spanish and Portuguese Jewish communities with the Jewish world can become the greatest and most important challenge for world Jewry in the 21st Century. As opposed to previous generations, today’s technology provides us with opportunities to connect our people in ways previously thought impossible.

The best way to help this movement is firstly to create awareness and secondly to help those individuals or communities who wish to reconnect online and offline, through Reconectar.

Our Facebook pages are:

Reconectar English

Reconectar Spanish

Reconectar Portuguese

Other organizations we recommend and cooperate with include:

The Institute for Sefardi and Anousim Studies

The Society for Crypto-Judaic Studies

Shavei Israel

Casa Shalom

The Center for Latino-Jewish Relations and Crypto-Jewish Studies

The Association of Crypto-Jews