Anusim (Hebrew: אֲנוּסִים‎), plural for anús Hebrew: אָנוּס‎, means "forced ones"[1] in Hebrew. In Jewish Law, this is the legal term applied to a Jew who was forced to abandon Judaism against his or her will, but does whatever is in his or her power to continue practicing Judaism under the forced condition. It derives from the Talmudic term aberá be' ones [2], meaning "a forced transgression." The Hebrew verb concerned originally referred to any case where a Jew has been forced into any act against his or her will. The term anús is used in contradistinction to meshumad (מְשֻׁמָּד), which means a person who has voluntarily abandoned the practice of Jewish Law in whole or part.

Meaning and history of term

Jewish Law has various classifications for those Jews who are not committed to rabbinic tradition, whether or not they have converted to another religion. The two most common descriptions are: Min (apostate), for a Jew who basically denies the existence of God; and meshumad (מְשֻׁמָּד heretic), for a Jew who deliberately rebels against the observance of Jewish Law. The main difference between a min, a meshumad and an anús is that the act of abandonment is voluntary for the first two, while for the third it is not.

The term "anusim" was used more often after the forced conversion to Christianity of German Jews at the end of the 11th century CE, although it is properly applied to any Jew of any ethnic or local national origin. Rashi, a French rabbi who lived during this period, wrote about the issue in his legal opinions. Because of the mass forced conversion of Jews in Spain and Portugal during the 14th and 15th centuries, the term became widely used by Spanish rabbis and their successors for the following 600 years.[3]. The term anusim has been applied to the Mashadi Jews of Persia, who converted to Islam in the public eye, but secretly practiced Judaism at home, even down to practicing double religion to the fullest being full Muslims in public and full Jews at home.[4]

In non-rabbinic literature, Iberian anusim are referred to as:

The Catholic Church coined the first two, the third is more of a modern invention by historians, and the fourth is the insulting term Spanish antisemites gave to the anusim. All four terms are sociological, whereas anusim refers to a status in Jewish law.

Rabbinic sources

The subject of Anusim has a special place in rabbinic literature.

In normal circumstances a person who abandons Jewish observance or part of it is classified as a meshumad. Such a person is still counted as a Jew for purposes of lineage, but is under a disability to claim any privilege pertaining to Jewish status: for example, he should not be counted in a minyan (quorum for religious services).

Anusim by contrast not only remain Jews by lineage but continue to count as fully qualified Jews for all purposes. Since the act of their original abandonment was done against the Jew’s will, the Jew under force may remain a "kasher" Jew, as long as the anús keeps practicing Jewish Law to the best of his/her abilities under the coerced condition. In this sense, "kasher" is the rabbinic legal term applied to a Jew who adheres to rabbinic tradition and is accordingly not subject to any disqualification.

All descendants of anusim (and for that matter descendants of meshumadim) via the maternal line are literally Jews, because Jewish Law explains that the child of an Israelite woman is still an Israelite, no matter what belief system the child may hold.

Indeed, as it is stated in Jewish Law:

But their children and grandchildren (of Jewish rebels), who, misguided by their parents . . . and trained in their views, are like children taken captive by them and raised in the laws of the gentiles (haGoyím 'Al Dathím), whose status is that of an 'anus (one who abjures Jewish law under duress), who, although he later learns that he is a Jew, meets Jews, observes them practice their laws, is nevertheless to be regarded as an 'anus, since he was reared in the erroneous ways of his parents . . . Therefore efforts should be made to bring them back in repentance (teshubáh), to draw them near by friendly relations, so that they may return to the strength-giving source, i.e., the Toráh

-- Mishneh Torah Sefer Shofetím, Hilekhót Mumarím 3:2

Hakham Se‘adyá ben Maimón ibn Danan, one of the most respected Sephardic Sages after the Expulsion, in the 15th century stated:

Indeed, when it comes to lineage, all the people of Israel are brethren. We are all the sons of one father, the rebels (reshaim) and criminals, the heretics (meshumadim) and forced ones (anusim), and the proselytes (gerim) who are attached to the house of Jacob. All these are Israelites. Even if they left God or denied Him, or violated His Law, the yoke of that Law is still upon their shoulders and will never be removed from them.[5]

Hakham BenSión Uziel, the Chief Sephardic Rabbi of the State of Israel, stated in mid-20th c.

And we still have to clarify on the (subject of) Anusím, to whom the government forbids them to perform Halakhicly valid marriages, if it's necessary to say that their wives must have a Get to permit them (to marry another man), for the reason that, by force of the Law (Hazaqáh), a man does not have intercourse for promiscuity (zenút). . . (In our very case), we deal with those who converted and kept Torah in secrecy and hide their religion because of the gentile surveillance, we say that they do have intercourse for the sake of marriage.

It follows that Hakham Uziel considered anusím as Jews, because only Jews can give or receive a Get, a Jewish divorce.

Further reading

  • The Jews and the Crusaders: The Hebrew Chronicles of the First and Second Crusades (translator: Shlomo Eidelberg).
  • Epistles of Maimonides: Crisis and Leadership (translator: Abraham Halkin).
  • Henry Kamen, The Spanish Inquisition: A Historical Revision.
  • José Faur, In the Shadow of History.

See also


  1. Originally, the word could refer to a person forced to any kind of act against his or her will. In contemporary Israeli Hebrew it is reserved for rape, so that anusim would be understood as "those who had been raped" or "those who had been violated"
  2. Talmud, Abodá Zará 54a
  3. Medieval Jewish History Resource Directory
  5. R. Se‘adyá ben Maimón ibn Danan (16th c.), Hhemdah Genuzáh, 15b

External links

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