Rabbi Simeon ben Zemach Duran and the Status of Anusim

The following video is a continuation of our series on rabbinic responsa and the topic of anusim. This video focuses on Rabbi Simeon ben Zemach Duran who was known as the Tashbetz, or the Rashbatz. This is an overview of the responsum and the important conclusion that is given regarding the status of anusim. The question that was posted to the Tashbetz involved a Converso who had been scribe.

In his She’elot u-Teshuvot Tashbez 3:43, Rabbi Simeon Ben Zemah Duran was presented a question regarding the legitimacy of a get written in Majorca by someone who was a Converso who purportedly violated Shabbat publicly. Unconverted Jews however, testified that his conversion was in fact under duress and threat of harm. In secret he observed Judaism to the best of his ability. His loyalty to Christianity was clearly suspect and was demonstrated by the fact that upon his death, Christians would not bury him according to Christian rites.

The inquiry focused on whether the get he wrote was invalid as in the case of a divorce document written by a Gentile referenced in Maimonides’ Mishneh Torah, Hilkhot Gerushin 3.3. The consequences of this were significant as in the case of the Rabbi Isaac Ben Sheshet Perfet. Were the get invalid and the woman to remarry without a valid divorce document, she would be legally considered an adulterous and children born from such a union would be considered mamzerim (i.e., illegitimate and unable to marry other Jews). In short, would she require another document?  Maimonides had written on the basis of Hullin 5a, that an apostate who practiced idolatry and publicly violated Shabbat was to be considered like a Gentile in every respect. Consequently such an individual would not be permitted to author valid gittin. But whether a conversion was forced or voluntary is not an issue which was discussed because Maimonides did not draw such a distinction.

Rabbi Simeon Ben Zemah Duran notes that the following case was distinct however, because witnesses testified that unlike sincere apostates, his conversion was dissimulation and his heart remained towards Heaven. Even Maimonides would agree, Rabbi Simeon ben Zemah Duran argued that the get in question was valid…

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Posted by Rabbi Dr. Juan Marcos Bejarano Gutierrez the director of the B’nei Anusim Center for Education. He is the author of The Converso Dilemma: Halakhic Responsa and the Status of Forced Converts

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