Heirs of Spanish, Portuguese Jews hopeful about conversion committee head

Millions of descendants of Jews who were forcibly converted to Christianity during the Spanish Inquisition hope that the new committee head will be sympathetic to their cause.

Israeli politician and former justice minister Moshe Nissim (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Israeli politician and former justice minister Moshe Nissim
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Reconectar, an organization that represents the descendants of Spanish and Portuguese Jewry, has welcomed the appointment of former justice minister Moshe Nissim as head of a government committee mandated with giving recommendations for solving the country’s conversion issue.
Nissim’s appointment was announced last week, two months after the committee was established following Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s decision to shelve controversial legislation that would have given the Chief Rabbinate a monopoly over conversions in Israel.
The legislation sparked outrage, particularly both here and in the US.
But for Reconectar the potential impact this committee reaches much further than that; to millions of descendants of Jews who were forcibly converted to Christianity during the Spanish Inquisition, also known as Bnei Anusim.
The group believes that Nissim, the son of former Sephardi Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Nissim, could be instrumental in realizing their mission in helping those who wish to return to their Jewish roots.
Reconectar noted that Rabbi Nissim was sympathetic to Bnei Anusim who sought to return to Judaism, and had called on the Jewish Agency to assist them.
“We welcome the decision by Prime Minister Netanyahu to appoint Moshe Nissim as the head of the government committee to provide recommendations on conversion,” said Ashley Perry, Reconectar president and director-general of the Knesset Caucus for the Reconnection with Descendants of Spanish and Portuguese Jewish Communities.
“We hope that he will follow his father’s many rulings and include the issue of the return of Anusim in his recommendations.”
The issue is of personal importance to London-born Perry, whose family name was originally Perez.
As a descendant of Spanish and Portuguese Jewish exiles himself, Perry said his family fled the Iberian Peninsula and made their way to Holland and then the UK.
Perry estimates that there are more than 100 million descendants of Spanish and Portuguese Jews, and that tens of millions today want to reconnect and learn about their Jewish roots, mostly in North and South America as well as Europe.
“There are millions of Anusim, completely committed to Judaism, the Jewish people and Israel, who seek official recognition and a recommendation to include them in future conversion guidelines could be a game-changing moment for the Jewish world,” he said.
Reconectar points to numerous rabbis and halachic decisors, including Rashi, the Rambam, the Shulhan Aruch, Rav Ovadia Yosef and Rav Aaron Soloveitchik, as supporters of welcoming the Bnei Anusim back to the Jewish people.
“This is an extremely exciting and precious moment in Jewish history,” said Perry. “This can literally change the status and future of our people and have many positive and practical benefits, not least to rectify a historic wrong to the Jewish people.”
“We are already gaining massive political, religious and Jewish organizational support for the Reconectar movement and a positive recommendation by Moshe Nissim’s committee will give hope for the plight of many Anusim around the world that world Jewry and Israel is ready for this momentous and historic reconnection,” he added.