Bringing Together and Educating Descendants of Sephardic Conversos
The problem of conversion under physical duress may seem relevant to history of Spanish and Portuguese Jews forced to convert in the medieval period. But the concept of duress or coercion continues to be a topic of importance to contemporary relevance to the Jewish community.
To illustrate the extent to which the ideas of coercion impact contemporary Jewry today, we may look to Rav Yehudad Amital. In his review of present day heretics, Rav Yehuda held the the perspective of Rav Kook who essentially declared that heretics as innocents “coerced” by the predominate culture.
This designation of current day heretics and apostates as Anusim not only extends not only to their children who were to be counted as “infants who were kidnapped and raised by Gentiles,” but also those who grew up in a religious milieu and forsook that way of life. Rav Kook wrote in one of his letters (Iggerot Re’AYaH, I:171.)
“But if you think that it is fitting to ignore all those young people who have been swept from the path of Torah and faith by the raging torrent of our time, then I declare unequivocally that that is not the way that God desires. Just as Tosafot in Sanhedrin 5b, s.v. hechashud, say that one suspected of adultery should not be disqualified as a witness, because he should be regarded as having been coerced by his passions, and as Tosafot in Gittin 41b, s.v. kofin, say that they are regarded as ‘coerced’ because the maidservant seduced them, so should the torrent of our time be regarded as a wicked maidservant whom Heaven has given a last spell of free rein before she vanishes, and who is using all her many allures to seduce our young people to whore after her. They are misguided innocents, and Heaven forfend that we should adjudge them willful sinners.’”
By Rabbi Juan Bejarano-Gutierrez, the director of the B’nei Anusim Center for Education, and author of What is Kosher?