Soaring heavenward in Tomar, Portugal at site of inquisition
Soaring heavenward in Tomar, Portugal at site of inquisition Flash 90

Am Shalem movement Chairman Rabbi Haim Amsalem responded to a report submitted by a committee appointed by Diaspora Affairs Minister Naftali Bennet, in which it was determined there are roughly 100 million people in the world who are connected to Judaism or Israel.

Crypto-Judaism is secret adherence to Judaism while publicly professing to be of another faith; practitioners are referred to as "crypto-Jews". Today, individuals and communities in Spain and Portugal, and the places where Jews fled from there, have been discovering evidence of their Jewish ancestry and started openly practicing the faith that their ancestors were barred from keeping for centuries.

The report to which Amsalem refers claims as many as 95 million people worldwide possibly descended from Jews. Produced by a special committee formed by the Diaspora Affairs Ministry in 2016, the report suggests that in addition to the roughly 14 million people identifying as Jews around the globe, there are some 95 million more likely descended from Jews who assimilated or were forced to convert – sometimes referred to as “lost Jews”.

"I appeared before the Diaspora Ministry committee about two years ago," Rabbi Amsalem told Arutz Sheva. "I know that a year ago the committee summarized its conclusions, but for some reason it delayed publication and I'm not surprised.

"We have between 60 and 100 million people who define themselves as having an affinity to the Jewish people. In South America alone I estimate there are 30 million. These aren't lost tribes or descendants of the Bnei Menashe," referring to the Lost Tribe of Israel who were brought to Israel from India. "These are people who until 150 years ago maintained their Judaism and according to all standards they are from the seed of Israel. Not all of them want to convert, but they do want a friendly connection with the Jewish people and it's a great mitzvah to bring them closer."

Why do you think the committee is afraid?

"There's the well-known slogan: 'The Jewish religion isn't missionary.' I say that the Jewish religion must be committed to helping all those who wish to return to the Jewish people, and that many of them, their parents and grandparents, were burned at the stake in the name of their Jewishness."

Rabbi Amsalem at Likud party conference
Rabbi Amsalem at Likud party conference Flash 90

Is it the role of the State of Israel or any rabbi abroad to be responsible for conversions of those with such affinity?

"The State of Israel and the Rabbinate have long not been doing their job. I would almost say they've completed their historic role. We sit here in the State of Israel with hundreds of thousands who assimilate every day - and the Chief Rabbinate is unable to take up the gauntlet.

"There's a solution if they want. It's not a one-minute conversion. The community rabbis, unfortunately, aren't among those known for courage. They look at what the Chief Rabbinate of Israel is doing - and the Chief Rabbinate is doing nothing. The Chief Rabbinate of Israel is incapable of solving the problems of the Jewish identity of the State of Israel. The Chief Rabbinate of Israel long ago lost its way, became non-Zionist, became extreme, and became political. I have no expectations of them. Today, via the Internet, these descendants of Anusim from all over the world, and especially from South America, find their way to Judaism alone. They come to the rabbinical courts ready for conversion, and many of them return slowly."

The conversion problem also affects assimilation?

"There's the well-known equation that anyone who makes it harder on conversion facilitates assimilation. Who brought us assimilation? It's the extreme approach, instead of embracing and bringing near. Anyone seeking to convert today is asked for almost impossible conditions. Everyone knows that Rabbinate conversion is equal to private conversion, and everything is politics and an entire money industry," he says.

"With us, in Giyur k'Halakha, rabbis do the holy work without budgets of tens of millions of shekels. Most of them work voluntarily and make a quiet revolution. This is the revolution that the Jewish people needs. This mission is a holy mission."

The Chief Rabbinate and the Diaspora Ministry chose not to respond to Rabbi Amsalem's claims.

הרב אמסלם חזקי ברוך

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