It is the opinion of the Religious Committee of the Jewish Community of Oporto, as well as of reputable scholars, that there are no longer any Bnei Anousim (Crypto-Jews) in Portugal, just as there are no longer any samurai warriors in Japan, and it is misleading to imply that there are. The matter is now one for the history books, local culture and tourism.
“The concept of Crypto-Jew or Marrano [or Ben Anousim] refers to the Portuguese who, from 1497 until our days, although apparently Catholics, have clandestinely preserved the essential dogmas and observe Jewish religious practices. (…) For centuries, the Crypto-Jews saw themselves forced, due to their own tradition and to the pressure of the social environment, to choose their spouses within the family. Literally, this means a multiplicity of marriages between cousins.” (Inatio Steinhardt, Elvira Mea, Ben-Rosh, 1997)
The Jewish Community of Oporto was founded in 1923 by Captain Barros Basto and Jews from Germany, Lithuania, Russia and Poland. The leader of the Community considered the “Work of Redemption of Bnei Anousim” as failed in the 40s. He died in 1961, at a time when, with the exception of the Belmonte community which kept the ritual traditions and the family spirit through marriages, the majority of Bnei Anousim families from other regions witnessed the weakening of religious ties, emigration, assimilation and intermarriage with non-Jews, circumstances that were irreversibly aggravated during the following decades with the arrival of the open society.
“Belmonte is an exception. The Marrano population of Belmonte survived the decline of the Rescue Work and has never relinquished its ritual traditions, kept the spirit of family and of nation at weddings and, in its midst, a new generation that decided to join the central stream of Judaism, dragging parents and grandparents along and open a synagogue emerged.” (Inácio Steinhardt, Elvira Mea, Ben-Rosh, 1997)
In Brazil and other countries of the world, maybe there are still real Bnei Anousim and serious organisations, supported by poskim, to help them after an impartial investigation into ancestral family Jewish practices and genealogical documentation (which should highlight at least presumably the evidentiary basis of the Jewish matrilineality) and after checking the veracity of the information collected, as well as personal interviews and demonstrated knowledge before a qualified Beit Din.
Portugal is a country 95 times smaller in size than Brazil and all of it crossed by roads, which helps explain why the last Portuguese Bnei Anousim were those of Belmonte, a small village hidden by the highest mountain in the country, of difficult access for centuries, with almost no contact with the outside world. The Bnei Anousim of Belmonte maintained reverence for Hashem, the Jewish spirit and Jewish family matrilinearity by marriages from generation to generation, only between the Bnei Anousim families.
The discourse of proselytizing organizations, which uses abstract terms like "Jewish roots" and "return to the religion of their ancestors", is misleading and deceptive, because all the Portuguese citizens have "Jewish roots" as well as "Christian or Islamic roots", so by this logic if everyone were to convert to Christianity or to Islam they would also "return" to the religion of their ancestors.
All the Portuguese people have "Jewish roots" as far as after the Edict of Expulsion of the Jews from Portugal (1496), the overwhelming majority of Jewish families were prevented from leaving the country and generally, in the following centuries, joined the Christian population by marriage. If all the descendants of Jews were to be expelled from Portugal, this would be the equivalent of depopulating the whole country. (Lúcio d'Azevedo, "História dos Cristãos-Novos portugueses", 1921)
The fact that Portuguese citizens are descendants of Jews (and descendants of many other people) does not confer on them the status of Bnei Anousim. In fact these were the descendants of Jewish converts who secretly continued to pray to Hashem and maintained the Jewish spirit and Jewish family matrilineality in marriages, as happened with the Bnei Anousim of Belmonte in Portugal.
The current Jewish Community of Oporto would welcome within the congregation true Bnei Anousim if they still exist today in the Portuguese territory, whose existence has for long been unknown and not credible, and those interested must prove the contrary. Ben Anousim is currently a false statute that applicants take on for their own convenience, as an effective way to greatly simplify their conversion processes.
Now therefore, in view of the considerations set out above:
By virtue of this document, the REVIEW COMMISSION of the Jewish Community of Oporto is hereby created, which shall function and be governed in accordance with the following rules:
(Composition of the Commission)
The Commission is comprised of the Rabbi, a member of the Religious Committee, a Portuguese Jewish member and a foreign Jewish member of the Jewish Community of Oporto.
(Purpose of the Commission)
In the event that any person or persons declaring themselves to be “Ben Anousim” and desirous of becoming part of the Oporto's congregation, the case shall be passed to the Review Commission who will commence the pertinent investigative proceedings in order to conclude as to the veracity of the allegations made by the person(s) in question.
(Tasks of the Commission)
1. The Review Commission shall perform the following tasks:
a) Assess the ancestral Jewish practices of the family of the alleged Ben Anousim, to which end any living relatives should be interviewed and their homes and customs examined, together with any other investigations which may be necessary;
b) Investigate, as exhaustively as possible, the alleged Ben Anousim’s matrilineal genealogical documentation as well as those of known marriages;
c) Examine the personal and professional circumstances of the alleged Ben Anousim, verifying his/her true purpose and desire to become a part of the congregation of the Jewish Community of Oporto.
2. The tasks of the Commission set out in the previous paragraph shall be performed independently of the procedure for verifying the compliance with the moral prerequisites of the Jewish Community of Oporto for anyone to be able to enter the Synagogue and of the procedure for possible formal return of any Ben Anousim to Klal Israel, which is similar to the procedure for conversion to Judaism, and which must be conducted by a recognized poskim.
Extra care and special precautions must be taken when there is reason to believe that the alleged Ben Anousim is acting at the behest, instigation or in representation of Jewish proselytizing organizations or, generally, of individuals who agitate the spirit of ordinary Portuguese citizens who are merely needing spirituality or seeking an identity, by suggesting that they are Bnei Anousim.
(Costs of the investigation)
The costs of the investigations referred to in Article 3 must be borne by the alleged Ben Anousim and/or by any credible international organization that provides assistance to Bnei Anousim.
In the event that the Commission finds that the person in question is a true Ben Anousim, the procedure for his/her return to Judaism shall be accompanied by recognized poskim and credible international organizations that provides assistance to Bnei Anousim.