Beginning this week, Rabbi Elisha Salas will be Shavei Israel’s new emissary to the Bnei Anousim, or crypto-Jews of North Portugal.
Rabbi Salas, 53, was born in Chile and made aliyah to Israel in 1999. Salas now lives in Jerusalem and is married with four children. After graduating from Santiago University in Chile with two degrees in accounting and religious studies, Salas spent five years at the Beit Midrash Sepharadi in the Old City of Jerusalem. In addition to being an ordained rabbi, Salas is certified to practice as a "shochet" (kosher slaughterer).
As Shavei Israel's emissary in Portugal, Rabbi Salas will teach Torah, Jewish culture and Jewish tradition to Bnei Anousim (whom historians refer to by the derogatory term "Marranos"), conducting a wide range of social and educational activities in the process. The rabbi’s work will focus mainly in the Belmonte community, where a number of Bnei Anousim returned to Judaism in recent decades and now live as a traditional, thriving Jewish community.
Salas will also work with Bnei Anousim in other areas and towns throughout Portugal, primarily in the north.
“We are delighted to be sending Rabbi Elisha Salas to reach out to the Bnei Anousim of Portugal,” said Michael Freund, founder and chairman of Shavei Israel. “There are tens of thousands of Bnei Anousim throughout Portugal who are conscious of their special historical connection to the Jewish people. We owe it to them and to their ancestors to reach out to them, embrace them and welcome them back home.”
About Bnei Anousim in Portugal
In 1497, the King of Portugal presented the Jews living in his realm with a dastardly choice: convert or die. Some chose death, but most of Portuguese Jewry was dragged to the baptismal font and compelled to accept Catholicism against their will.
Many of these "New Christians," however, did their utmost to remain loyal to their Jewish roots, passing down the faith and practices of their ancestors across the generations. And while many were made to pay a heavy price by the Inquisition for their continued fidelity to Judaism, many others somehow succeeded in preserving their Jewish identity.
Perhaps the most famous example was the community of Belmonte, in northern Portugal, where some 150 Bnai Anousim were formally restored to the Jewish people two decades ago by a rabbinical court sent from Israel.
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