Glossary of Frequently Used Terms in Studying Anusim/Conversos

For those who are interested in the historical and religious study of Conversos or Anusim, defining the following terms may be of help.


Arabic (Ar); Hebrew (Heb); Spanish (Sp)

Agunah (Heb) – A previously married woman unable to remarry due to the lack of a Jewish divorce document.

Medieval Spain

Aljama (Ar) – A term used in official documents in Iberian kingdoms to label the self-governing communities of Moors and Jews living under Christian rule in the Iberian Peninsula.

Alcalde Mayor (Sp) – A local, administrative, and judicial official.

Alguacil (Sp) – A Spanish term referring a judge or the governor of a town or fortress. The aguacils of higher importance were referred to as Aguaciles Mayores.

Anusim (Heb) – A term referring to forced converts. It is a category of Jews in Jewish law who were converted forcibly to another religion.

Beit Din (Heb) – A Jewish court of law. A Beit Din traditionally consists of three observant Jewish men, capable of deciding Jewish legal matters.

Cohen (Heb) – A Hebrew term referring to a Jew descended from the Aaronic priesthood.

Converso (Sp) – A Jew or Muslim, who converted to Catholicism in Spain or Portugal during the 14th and 15th centuries, or one of their descendants.

Convivencia (Sp) – The period of Spanish history from the Muslim Umayyad conquest of Hispania in the early eighth century and which continued for several hundred years. It typically connotes peaceful coexistence between Muslims, Christians, and Jews.

Corregidor (Sp) – A local, administrative and judicial official in Spain.

Cortes (Sp) – A Spanish parliament in which prelates, nobles, and commoners participated.

Dhimmis (Ar) – The name applied by the Muslim conquerors to indigenous non-Muslim populations (i.e. Christians, Jews, etc.) who surrendered to Muslim control.

Geonim (Heb) – The heads of the two great Babylonian, Talmudic Academies of Sura and Pumbedita.

Get (Heb) – A Jewish divorce document.

Haliza (Heb) The procedure for the yavam to forgo marriage and release the widow to remarry whomever she wished.

Hildago (Sp) A member of the Spanish or Portuguese nobility.

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 Iggeret Hashamad (Heb) – The Epistle Concerning Apostasy written by Moses ben Maimon in which he discusses what constitutes sanctification or desecration of G-d’s Name and the acceptance of forcibly converted Jews to Islam

 Infante (Sp) – A Spanish title given to the sons and daughters (infantas) of the king in the various Christian Iberian kingdoms.

Karaites– A Jewish movement characterized by the recognition of the Hebrew Scriptures as its sole supreme legal authority as opposed to rabbinic Judaism, which considers the Oral Torah, to provide authoritative interpretations of the Torah.

Karet (Heb) Spiritual excision from the Jewish people.

Kashrut (Heb) – Jewish religious dietary laws derived from the Written and Oral Laws.

Ketubah (Heb) – A Jewish wedding contract.

Las Siete Partidas (Sp) – A Castilian law code compiled during the reign of King Alfonso X of Castile (1252–1284). It was intended to establish a uniform body of legislation for the kingdom.

Limpieza de Sangre (Sp) – A phrase meaning “purity of blood.” It referred to those who were regarded as pure “Old Christians”, without Muslim or Jewish ancestors.

Levirate Marriage – A case in which the husband had died and his wife remained childless, and the brother in law was to marry the widow by biblical law.

Levir/Yavam (Heb) – The brother in law, bound to perform levirate marriage.

Mahamad (Heb) – The governing board of each Spanish and Portuguese Jewish communities established in Western European cities.

Marrano (Spanish) – A derogatory term meaning swine or pig. It was often used to designate Conversos who Judaized.

Matzah (Heb) – Unleavened bread eaten during Passover.

Mikveh (Heb) – A ritual bath used for the purpose of ritual immersion in Judaism.

Mishnah (Heb) – The first major written redaction of Jewish oral traditions known as the Oral Torah. Together with the Gemara it forms the Talmud.

Mitzvot (Heb) – The commandments of the Written and Oral Law.

Mohel (Heb) – A Jewish person trained to perform circumcision.

New Christian – Another term used for Conversos to distinguish them from Old Christians. Old Christians were Christians prior to 1391 and did not have Jewish or Muslim heritage. The term was often used in Portugal. For the sake of simplicity, the term Converso is used throughout this work.

Niddah (Heb) – A term which refers to a woman during her menstrual cycle. It also refers to a woman who has menstruated and not completed the requirement of immersion in a mikveh (ritual bath) before resuming marital relations with her husband.

Noahides– Refers to non-Jews observing the Seven Noahide Laws which include moral and ethical aspects.

Oral Law – Rabbinic Judaism maintains that the Torah was revealed in Written and Oral form. The written text is comprised of the “Books of Moses,” The Oral Torah provides the interpretation and implementation of the commandments outlined in the Written Torah.

Shulchan Aruch (Heb) – literally the “Set table”; the principal code of Jewish law written in the 16th century.

Talmud (Heb) – A central text of Rabbinic Judaism composed of the Mishnah and its commentary, the Gemara.

Talit (Heb) – A Jewish prayer shawl. The tallit is donned during the morning prayers or all the services of Yom Kippur.

Tefillin (Heb) – Small black leather boxes containing scrolls of parchment. The scrolls inscribed with verses from the Torah. They are worn by religious Jews during weekday morning prayers.

Terumah (Heb) – A food item given to a priest as a gift.

Tosefta (Heb) – A compilation of the Jewish oral law from the late 2nd-century period, the period of the Mishnah.

Tosafot (Heb) – Medieval commentaries on the Talmud.

Tzitzit (Heb) – Ritual fringes worn on a four-cornered garment or on a Tallit in accordance with Numbers 15:37-40.

Zohar (Heb) – The principal book of Jewish mysticism.

Posted by Rabbi Dr. Juan Marcos Bejarano Gutierrez the director of the B’nei Anusim Center for Education. For a more complete review of Iberian Jewish history and the Crypto- Jewish Experience see The Rise of the Inquisition and Secret Jews: The Complex Identity of Crypto-Jews and Crypto-Judaism

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