November 22, 2002
1. question on blessings
2. Captured Jews in Spain
1. question on blessings
From: David M:
Subject: question on blessings
Thanks for sending the book--I received it and look forward to reading it
One of the issues about the Brit Am message that still perplexes me is the
I was always under the impression, somewhat preached endlessly in Yeshiva
(and perhaps I did not understand the message correctly) that the blessings
to the tribes, and in this sense All the tribes without differentiation,
was contingent upon them obeying and following the Torah--Law. This stance
has more or less been put forward and promulgated to demonstrate the course
of Jewish History, at least in general terms, even from the times of the
bible and then the exile ie. patterns of straying, an enemy knocks at the
gates, G-d sends a redeemer; In the exile , patterns of assimilation,
degeneration and deterioration, persecution, then quiescence. What is so
unusual, if not awkward in thinking about the Brit Am message , is that the
above pattern has not exactly held consistent for the 10 Lost Tribes, as
they separated from corpus Israel and went their own way--that in essence
they have been the receivers of Enormous blessing and relative security,
despite all the warnings. thanks always
David M, New Jersey
Answer: The blessings to the Tribes
were to reach their full realization in
the end times:
[Genesis 49:1] AND JACOB CALLED UNTO HIS SONS, AND SAID, GATHER YOURSELVES
TOGETHER, THAT I MAY TELL YOU THAT WHICH SHALL BEFALL YOU IN THE LAST
The blessings concerning becoming a great and multitudinous people were
also unconditional. These devolved mainly upon Joseph.
The blessings to the tribes also included aspects of condemnation, e.g.
Reuben was not to be supreme. Simeon and Levi were to be scattered and the
spirit of Jacob not enter into their counsels. It follows that since the
tribal "blessings" in some cases included something of the opposite of
blessings then they too were unconditional.
On the other hand regarding the Biblical Period you are correct:
The Biblical message was: Do good and you will be rewarded, do bad and you
will be punished.
[Judges 2:18] AND WHEN THE LORD RAISED
THEM UP JUDGES, THEN THE LORD WAS
WITH THE JUDGES, AND DELIVERED THEM OUT OF THE HAND OF THEIR ENEMIES ALL
THE DAYS OF THE JUDGES: FOR IT REPENTED THE LORD BECAUSE OF THEIR GROANINGS
BY REASON OF THEM THAT OPPRESSED THEM AND VEXED THEM
[Judges 2:19] AND IT CAME TO PASS, WHEN
THE JUDGE WAS DEAD, THAT THEY
RETURNED, AND CORRUPTED THEMSELVES MORE THAN THEIR FATHERS, IN FOLLOWING
OTHER GODS TO SERVE THEM, AND TO BOW DOWN UNTO THEM; THEY CEASED NOT FROM
THEIR OWN DOINGS, NOR FROM THEIR STUBBORN WAY
[Judges 2:20] AND THE ANGER OF THE LORD
WAS HOT AGAINST ISRAEL; AND HE
SAID, BECAUSE THAT THIS PEOPLE HATH TRANSGRESSED MY COVENANT WHICH I
COMMANDED THEIR FATHERS, AND HAVE NOT HEARKENED UNTO MY VOICE
The question of reward and punishment
is discussed in the Book of Job but
even there the upshot is that the good are eventually rewarded even though
it sometimes happens that they suffer for reasons known (and knowable) only
to the Almighty.
We discussed at length in the past how
the aspect of national blessings had
been made unconditionally,
"And said, By myself have I sworn, says the LORD, for because you have
done this thing , and have not withheld your son, your only son,
"That in blessing I will bless you, and in multiplying I will multiply your
seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the
seashore; and your seed shall possess the gate of his enemies.;
"And in your seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed; because
you have obeyed my voice. (Genesis 22:16-18).
devolved more on Joseph than on the other tribes.
[Genesis 48:15] AND HE BLESSED JOSEPH, AND SAID, GOD, BEFORE WHOM MY
FATHERS ABRAHAM AND ISAAC DID WALK, THE GOD WHICH FED ME ALL MY LIFE LONG
UNTO THIS DAY,
[Genesis 48:16] THE ANGEL WHICH REDEEMED
ME FROM ALL EVIL, BLESS THE LADS;
AND LET MY NAME BE NAMED ON THEM, AND THE NAME OF MY FATHERS ABRAHAM AND
ISAAC; AND LET THEM GROW INTO A MULTITUDE IN THE MIDST OF THE
HIS GLORY IS LIKE THE FIRSTLING OF HIS
BULLOCK, AND HIS HORNS ARE LIKE THE
HORNS OF UNICORNS: WITH THEM HE SHALL PUSH THE PEOPLE TOGETHER TO THE ENDS
OF THE EARTH: AND THEY ARE THE TEN THOUSANDS OF EPHRAIM, AND THEY ARE THE
THOUSANDS OF MANASSEH":[DEUT 33:17].
[Genesis 49:26] THE BLESSINGS OF THY
FATHER HAVE PREVAILED ABOVE THE
BLESSINGS OF MY PROGENITORS UNTO THE UTMOST BOUND OF THE EVERLASTING HILLS:
THEY SHALL BE ON THE HEAD OF JOSEPH, AND ON THE CROWN OF THE HEAD OF HIM
THAT WAS SEPARATE FROM HIS BRETHREN.
The blessing was given and it was fulfilled.
It may be that in the future
when our peoples return back to
God then the blessings will be fulfilled in still much greater intensity.
Judah also received a blessing and will
receive a reward as we have spoken
Another point is that we must distinguish
between national blessings and
A national blessing may after it is given be irrevocable but the
individuals within the nation on the personal level
will still receive their own reward and punishment within the framework of
the nation they live in.
In the individual level Judah surprisingly
enough has not done so badly.
The Jews were persecuted and massacred quite recently and even now Jews
still suffer in some places
for being Jewish. OK we accept that and have even written about it and sent
out reports concerning it.
The Jewish people on the whole throughout their history were relatively
speaking healthier and wealthier than their neighbors.
They had a better family life and a richer social and intellectually
From an historical perspective the Jews were often oppressed by the
Gentiles but the Gentiles in most cases
oppressed each other with even greater intensity. In the long run you were
better off being Jewish.
This still holds today. I could go on and bring sources but it should be
enough to look around you.
The secret of the Jewish success is adherence to the Torah. Three
generations after leaving Torah observance
people of Jewish descent loose their advantage and their intellectual
achievements (judged by scientific discoveries, etc)
become the same as those of the people amongst whom they live. That which
has been proven concerning intellectual achievements also applies in other
2. Captured Jews in Spain
An article of great interest from the Jerusalem Post:
Fear and shadows
Nov. 21, 2002
Can it be that centuries after the Spanish Inquisition there are Crypto-Jews
in Spain who remain traumatized - and only covertly preserve a Jewish
Near the edge of the waterfront, at the end of Barcelona's famous pedestrian
walkway Las Ramblas, stands a breathtaking monument to Christopher Columbus,
medieval Spain's most famous voyager. Rising to a height of 50 meters, the
structure cuts a dramatic pose against the skyline, as the great explorer
gazes out to sea, documents in hand, gesturing toward some faraway spot
located well beyond the horizon.
Built in the 19th century to commemorate Columbus's return from his first
trip to the Americas, the statue has become a favorite landmark for natives
and tourists alike. But for all its popularity, an air of mystery surrounds
the site. Rather than depicting Columbus pointing westward, in the direction
of the Americas he is credited with discovering, it portrays him facing east,
as if being pulled in the direction of the Holy Land.
For Nuria Guasch Vidal, a Barcelona resident whose Jewish ancestors were
forcibly converted to Catholicism more than 500 years ago, the pull toward
the Holy Land is more than just a matter of architectural curiosity.
With her fashionable wardrobe and congenial smile, there is little in her
outward appearance to indicate that Vidal, like other anusim (Hebrew for
"those who were coerced," as many Marranos prefer to be called) is struggling
to come to terms with deep-rooted questions of history, identity and
Growing up in a small village of some 200 families outside Barcelona, Vidal
knew virtually nothing about her family's heritage. Her mother was originally
from Majorca, and her father hailed from Minorca, two of the four islands
forming the Balearic archipelago off Spain's southern coast.
"My parents never spoke to me about our ancestry, but I always felt that
somehow we were different," she says. Though her neighbors and friends were
all religious Catholics, Vidal's family did not celebrate Christmas, and
rarely set foot in a church. Her family also followed some seemingly unusual
customs, such as dipping bread in salt, and setting the table in an
especially nice manner on Friday evenings.
Though these curious practices raised a number of questions in her mind,
Vidal, like many young people, never really bothered to investigate what lay
behind it. It was only when her grandfather lay dying that the truth finally
began to emerge, and the pieces of her personal puzzle started to come
"I am going to die soon," her grandfather told her, "so I want to ask you to
make sure that a priest does not enter the room and pray over me once I am
About this, Vidal says, her grandfather was unusually insistent, even
"I think I made a mistake," he continued, "There were a lot of things I
should have told you, but you will probably learn them on your own." And with
that, her grandfather would say no more on the subject.
This cryptic confession had a profound impact on Vidal, who began to question
her family more persistently about her background. One day, while browsing in
a bookstore, she came across a volume documenting the history of the anusim,
and was stunned to see her forebears' names listed in it.
Suddenly, she says, the realization dawned on her - "my family are descended
from Jews," a fact that her parents later confirmed, albeit reluctantly.
The reason for their hesitation, says Vidal, was really quite simple: fear of
"They connect between the past and the future. They say that wherever Jews
live, they are hated, so it is best to keep it hidden," she says.
This fear, so intangible yet so vivid and so real for many anusim, came up
repeatedly in conversations in both Madrid and Barcelona. With raw emotion
that is frequently interrupted by tears, they describe the travail of their
ancestors using the present tense, as if the Spanish Inquisition, launched in
the 15th century, had been a recent occurrence.
The word that is employed again and again to describe their feelings is
"trauma." And the impact left by that trauma is as undeniable as it is
For Haim, a young Barcelona resident who asked that his real name not be
used, the events of long ago have propelled him on a spiritual quest that
ultimately brought him back to the faith of his ancestors.
"Though my family was not happy with it, I always felt connected to Jewish
things," he says, as he proceeds to describe the challenges he faced in
coming to terms with his heritage. "My father's mother was from Majorca, and
she was a 'Chueta' - her family had been forced to convert by the Church."
Though raised as a Catholic, like the overwhelming majority of Spain's
population, Haim never felt comfortable with his identity, and increasingly
found himself drawn to Jewish studies. "I didn't feel good as a Catholic," he
says, "so I began to study and learn more about Judaism."
A visit to Israel in 1995 helped to crystallize his determination to live a
Jewish life, and when he returned to Spain, he started observing Jewish
festivals. Finding the local Jewish community unwilling to embrace him, he
nevertheless persisted in his quest, and was formally converted by a
rabbinical court in Lyons, France.
He underwent circumcision, adopted a Hebrew name, and now lives an observant
Jewish lifestyle. Haim keeps kosher, attends synagogue regularly, and put a
mezuza up on his doorpost.
Asked to explain what brought him to make such dramatic changes in his life,
Haim's eyes moistened as he whispered: "Historical justice. There is
historical justice in what I did. It is a tikkun - a rectification - for the
past, for the trauma which the Jews of Spain have experienced."
HISTORIANS are uncertain as to when Jews first arrived in Spain, though there
is evidence that the community's beginnings may go back as far as the Roman
period. The Visigoth invasion of Iberia, followed by the Muslim conquest in
the year 711 CE, gave rise to what has come to be known as the Golden Age of
Spanish Jewry, when the community enjoyed a thriving religious, cultural and
Some of Jewish history's greatest figures populated this era, from
Maimonides, the great codifier of Jewish law, to Abraham Ibn Ezra, who was a
physician, philosopher and biblical commentator. Judah Halevi authored the
Kuzari, while Bachya ibn Pakuda compiled Duties of the Heart, a book of
Jewish ethical instruction still studied today.
Throughout Moorish rule, and after the Christian reconquest of Spain -
between 756 and 1492 - Jews rose to prominence in nearly every field, from
medicine to philology to the royal courts. Yet despite the central role Jews
played in the life of the country, anti-Semitism was never far below the
surface. In 1250, the first Spanish blood libel occurred, an event that
proved to be an ominous foreshadowing of what was to come.
Simmering hatred of the Jews came to a head in 1391, when throngs of rioters,
egged on by inflammatory anti-Jewish sermons, attacked the Jewish quarter of
Seville on March 15. Disturbances continued over the next few months until,
as historian Cecil Roth writes in his A History of the Marranos, "on June 4,
1391, the mob could no longer be restrained." Jews throughout Spain were
murdered, and entire communities were wiped out.
Massacres took place in Cordoba and Toledo, and the unrest extended across
the country, from the Pyrenees mountains to the Straits of Gibraltar. All
told, according to Roth's estimate, as many as 50,000 Jews were killed.
Countless others, possibly numbering in the tens of thousands, were forcibly
Throughout the next century, however, many of these conversos began to
"backslide," secretly reverting to Judaism and all but abandoning the
Catholicism that had been forced on them. Though they continued to practice
Christianity in public, they clung to Judaism in the privacy of their homes,
and even built secret synagogues. "The vast majority," says Roth, "had
accepted Christianity only to escape death, and remained at heart as
completely Jewish as they had ever been."
Referred to with disdain as "New Christians" by their fellow Spaniards, their
Jewish ways increasingly drew the attention of the Church, which, on November
1, 1478, issued a bull empowering the Spanish monarchs to appoint a tribunal
that would deal with "heretics" and "Judaizers." Ruthless persecution and
harassment resulted in many conversos being forced to publicly confess their
"sin," while others were burned at the stake.
IN 1492, a century of Spanish maltreatment reached its peak when King
Ferdinand and Queen Isabella promulgated the Edict of Expulsion on March 31,
giving the kingdom's Jews four months to leave. But even after the Jews had
departed, the office of the Inquisition continued to hound and pursue
conversos throughout the Spanish-speaking world, reaching as far afield as
India, Angola and South America. Only in the late 19th century did the
Inquisition formally come to an end.
Nevertheless, the conversos and their descendants, including those who
remained in Spain, kept the spark of Judaism alive, covertly passing down
from generation to generation the secret of their hidden faith.
For people such as Nuria Vidal and Haim, history has come full circle, as the
Jewish spark within them ignites into a full flame. Nuria recently joined a
conversion class offered by the Barcelona rabbinate, and hopes to undergo a
"return ceremony" by the Israeli Chief Rabbinate once she is deemed ready.
People who study the anusim say Vidal and Haim may represent just the
beginning of a much more extensive phenomenon. Thanks to the Internet, and
Spain's 1975 transition to democracy, a greater sense of openness and freedom
has made it easier in recent years for anusim to emerge from the shadows and
rejoin their people.
Schulamith Halevy, a doctoral candidate at the Hebrew University of
Jerusalem, is widely considered to be a leading authority on the history of
the anusim. She has traveled extensively in Europe and South America, and
devoted her career to assisting anusim both in Israel and abroad.
"I got into this a decade ago," she says. "I have a Web site
[www.anusim.org], and people refer each other to it and to me. The Internet
gives private access to information that is critically important. I have been
contacted by thousands."
Not all are looking to formally return to Judaism, Halevy notes. Many, she
says, "want help in understanding the strange signals they have received,
some just need one person to know and guard their secret."
While she declines to offer an estimate as to the number of anusim worldwide,
Halevy is convinced that "the degree of survival is incredible, and I suspect
the numbers are staggering."
It is early Thursday morning, and some 30-odd men have gathered in
Barcelona's main synagogue for the weekday prayers. Rabbi Jacob Carciente,
Barcelona's chief rabbi, makes his way around the room, greeting those
assembled with a warm and caring smile and occasionally adjusting the
tefillin on their heads.
At a certain point, Carciente ascends the podium and leads the congregation
in prayer according to the Sephardic rite, his voice rising and falling to
the cadences of the liturgy. He reads from the Torah, completes the service,
and then expounds upon a point of Jewish law. With that, the men put away
their prayer shawls and head off to start another day's work.
Later, in his book-lined office, Carciente tells of the many phone calls and
letters he receives from descendants of the anusim.
"There are many lost Jewish souls here. We get calls all the time from people
who wish to look into their Jewish heritage or learn more about Judaism."
Asked if he thinks that the Jewish people should be doing more to assist the
anusim, Rabbi Carciente's response is firm and resolute. "We need to help
them," he says. "Halevai - if only more would come."