by Yaffah Batya daCosta
Zionism as the home land of the Jewish people. and also a movement to maintain a democratic Jewish state, is entering a dilemma. Democracy is a popularity contest; Judaism, with its high barriers to entry from outside, is not. For the past twenty years, the pool of Jewish Diaspora populations for Israel to draw from has dried up. Rates of immigration to Israel under the secular Law of Return have fallen precipitously. Exceeding 50,000 people for each year between 1990 and 2000, the number of new immigrants fell below 25,000 for each consecutive year from 2003 to 2014 and has not broken 50,000 per year since 2001.
To date, Israel has relied on its technological advantage to remain secure and attractive. However, while the Iron Dome kept its residents safe during the last rounds of fighting, it cannot hold forever and complacency should not allow Israel’s technological development to stagnate. This mandates an outward-focused, cosmopolitan national culture. Currently, though, the fastest-growing segments of Israel’s population are the least educated. This already has ramifications. For example, Israel’s growth in GDP per hour is slowing relative to the rest of the world’s.
Yet Israel has large, untapped pools of productive Jewish immigrants that may come even without a crisis in their countries. It has barely scratched the surface for the Bnei Anousim (or Crypto-Jews), descendants of Spanish and Portuguese Jews who were forcibly converted to Catholicism during the Inquisitions. Some still live in Europe. Expelled Spanish Jews traveled across the border into Portugal, and over Pyrenees Mountains into southern France, or to other European countries. In the late fifteenth century, Portugal’s Spanish Jewish refugees were mass-converted in church plazas because there were too many to bring into the church buildings. A sizable percentage retained Jewish practices in secret, many preserving them even after the Inquisitions ended more than three hundred years later.
Spanish and Portuguese Jews also sailed to the New World, ahead of the Inquisitors who followed them, as Spain and Portugal colonized most of Latin America. A large number of Bnei Anousim still live throughout the Americas. According to a study from the Technion Institute, 4 million Bnei Anousim may live in Brazil alone, 30,000 of whom have already converted or returned to openly practicing Judaism. The study identified Brazil as the number one country for aliyah potential, because Brazil’s nearly 100,000 Jews are a young and highly educated demographic concerned about their future in Brazil.
As awareness of Judaism increases, through local and Internet initiatives by a growing number of organizations, descendants of Crypto-Jews are likely to become a demographically significant group of potential immigrants to Israel. Those in Latin America, however, face a unique obstacle to immigrating to Israel within the Law of Return. And this obstacle is totally within the government’s power to erase it.
Israel has narrowly voted to change governments, replacing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with Naftali Bennett and Minister of the Interior Aryeh Deri with Ayelet Shaked. To cement its hold on power, Israel’s government of change may want to recruit this new group of potential immigrants. The Ministry of the Interior has the authority to overturn the current administrative policy established by MK Deri, and to allow Jewish rabbis and Jewish communities from elsewhere to help the Bnei Anousim.
Christianity had long persecuted the Jews, under the auspices of their “replacement theology”. And that long history is very well known. Therefore, when the Crypto-Jews (aka Bnei Anousim) immigrated to the New World, the famous letter of the Rambam to the Jews in Fez, Morocco still held sway over their commitment to be Jews secretly.
Finally in 1965 there was the Vatican II council of the Roman Catholic Church – where the nostra aetate document stated that the Church would no longer blame ALL Jews, for ALL time, for the death of the Christian Messiah. The Church decided that the Jews were their “elder brother” in faith in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. And 3 years later, the civil government of Spain officially revoked the Alhambra Decree (aka the edict of expulsion). And, more recently, both Spain and Portugal have opened the doors of their country to returning Sephardi Jews. So descendants of the “forced converts” were invited to apply for (and to receive) citizenship in their country.
But this has not happened in Israel – which is the current religious freedom crisis.
Because of longstanding Christian anti-Semitism, and fears of the locals in the Catholic Churches in Latin America, the Jewish communities instituted a ruling in 1927 (starting in Argentina – later adopted all over) that in effect banned converts (and the returnees from the Sephardi secret Jews) to join as members within those Jewish communities.
And for the past 20-30 years (depending on the country) those secret Jews in Latin America have been awakening to their Jewish Roots, and have worked to make their public come-back to the faith and traditions of our Sephardi ancestors of Spain and Portugal. But they had to develop their own communities – because the Jewish communities would not accept them as members. This, in some measure, is due to a fear of provoking anti-Semitism in these predominately Roman Catholic countries.
And now, for the past 4-5 years in Israel with the Shas party in charge of the Ministry of Interior, the Sephardi converts in Latin American countries have been banned from making Aliyah to the State of Israel – a tragic mistake – also due to the fear of anti-Semitism. And due to the fear that Christians world-wide would think Jews are stealing Christians away from their Churches – when the truth is people who’re coming back into Judaism were not really a part of the Catholic Church anyway (i.e. as secret Jews). We work with thousands of these people (from my Israeli non-profit) with an all volunteer workforce, and many activists, because no one will fund our work.
So when I’m asked WHY it is the case that both President Trump and Prime Minister Netanyahu are no longer in power – I give 2 reasons. 1) because of the Trump peace plan of Jan 2020 that said the LAND (of Jewish inheritance from the God of Israel) was going to be given away in a 2-state solution and Prime Minister Netanyahu agreed, and then 2) because the Shas Minister of Interior has been preventing the Jewish “captives” in Latin American countries from making Aliyah to the Jewish homeland. And Prime Minister Netanyahu was complicit in allowing this to go on from within an alleged right wing (Zionist) government.
So the bottom line (as we say) is that the world is suffering from increasing darkness (and anti-Semitism) because of these Sephardi Jewish who are not being allowed to come HOME to the Land of the Jews (cref. Psalm 105). And because the world won’t STAND UP for the rights of Jewish people as sovereigns in their own (God given) land.
Now, this has been the case for centuries … either many non-Jews are apathetic and indifferent about anti-Semitism. Or they say words that are positive about fighting it, but their actions do NOT match their words (hypocrisy). And peace loving people of the world can SEE this hypocrisy, and so they stop believing in governments and in leaders. The teaching in the US schools of critical race theory is a “measure for measure” punishment in the USA for NOT pushing back harder on the Palestinian Authority for their teaching of hatred for Jews in the PA schools. And the PA policy of “pay to slay” the terrorists in jails, and they get more money the more Jews that they have killed.
Until these precious Sephardi Jews are allowed to come HOME to the Jewish state (after all the suffering and neglect that our ancestors had to suffer) there will be NO PEACE – anywhere in the world. And the Moshiach/Messiah (whomever he may be) cannot be revealed! Because the entire world is NOT ready for the PEACE he will bring – if the Jewish people are continuing to suffer from harassments, lies about us, and the attempts to kill us JUST BECAUSE we are Jews.
The lack of Religious Freedom FOR ONE AND ALL in this world is a travesty and must be fought by ALL people of faith, and even by people who have no faith. The USA had been a beacon of “light” to the global community – on this matter of “personal freedoms” and also of human rights. But they’re losing their moorings … God forbid.
But for the Jewish world, and Israel, there is still hope. The Bnei Anousim communities (of halakhic Jews) opens up an entirely new pool of potential new immigrants to Israel. Their professions range from doctors, lawyers, nurses, teachers, professors, scientists, all kinds of entrepreneurs, and high-tech professions to the barbers, the taxi drivers, the construction workers, electricians, retail and commercial sales personnel, etc. We will be able to use all of these people, with their talents/expertise, to continue to grow the Israeli economy.