“Who Is a Jew?,” Fifteenth-Century Style

In 1391, a wave of violence against Jews swept through Christian Spain. In its wake, thousands of Jews converted to Christianity. The following century saw more conversions as Spain became increasingly hostile toward its Jews. Some of these conversos—as they were called—quickly returned to Judaism after the violence abated; others lived outwardly as Christians while practicing Judaism in secret; others sought to assimilate completely into Christian society; and still others followed intermediate courses of action. The status of the conversos in Jewish law produced a substantial body of rabbinic scholarship, which is the subject of a recent book by Dora Zsom. Andrew Apostolou writes:

The question of how we deal with estranged Jews turns out to be an enduring one. Similar groups to the conversos emerged in the 19th and 20th centuries in such different societies as Germany, the Soviet Union, and now the United States. The debate over how to define Jewish identity in the new state of Israel, for example, led Ben-Gurion in 1958 to write to rabbis across the world to seek their opinion on “who is a Jew?” . . .

These contemporary concerns bring us back to the question of how much impact the rabbis had. [Dora] Zsom’s narrow focus means that she cannot draw out the effect of their decisions. What we know, according to Arthur Hertzberg in his classic entry in the Encyclopedia Judaica on “Jewish Identity,” is that those conversos who wanted to become Jews often forced the gates open: “the determining act was their willingness to become part of the Jewish community, and all the halakhic doubts of rabbinic authorities remained theoretical in the face of acts of return.”

Read more at Sephardic Horizons

More about: Conversos, Halakhah, History & Ideas, Isaac ben Sheshet Perfet, Sephardim, Spain


As Hamas’s Power Collapses, Old Feuds Are Resurfacing

In May, Mahmoud Nashabat, a high-ranking military figure in the Fatah party (which controls the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority), was gunned down in central Gaza. Nashabat was an officer in the Gaza wing of the Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade, a terrorist outfit that served as Fatah’s vanguard during the second intifada, and now sometimes collaborates with Hamas. But his killers were Hamas members, and he was one of at least 35 Palestinians murdered in Gaza in the past two months as various terrorist and criminal groups go about settling old scores, some of which date back to the 1980s. Einav Halabi writes:

Security sources familiar with the situation told the London-based newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat that Gaza is now also beleaguered by the resurgence of old conflicts. “Many people have been killed in incidents related to the first intifada in 1987, while others have died in family disputes,” they said.

The “first-intifada portfolio” in Gaza is considered complex and convoluted, as it is filled with hatred among residents who accuse others of killing relatives for various reasons, including collaboration with Israel. . . . According to reports from Gaza, there are vigorous efforts on the ground to contain these developments, but the chances of success remain unclear. Hamas, for its part, is trying to project governance and control, recently releasing several videos showcasing how its operatives brutally beat residents accused of looting.

These incidents, gruesome as they are, suggest that Hamas’s control over the territory is slipping, and it no longer holds a monopoly on violence or commands the fear necessary to keep the population in line. The murders and beatings also dimension the grim reality that would ensue if the war ends precipitously: a re-empowered Hamas setting about getting vengeance on its enemies and reimposing its reign of terror.

Read more at Ynet

More about: Fatah, Gaza War 2023, Hamas