The Journey of B'nai Anusim and Tisha B'Av

by Michael Hendrix

Within two years after the Children of Israel had departed from Egypt they arrived at the threshold of their promised homeland. At the request of the people, Moses sent spies to explore the territory in preparation for their settlement in the land. However, the spies spoke unfavorably of the land, discouraging the people from entering the land. The people cried in despair and panic at the report of the spies. They sought to replace Moses with another leader who would return them to Egypt. Rashi, one of Judaism’s most famous Torah scholars, said that because the people cried without a cause on that night, God established that night for them as a time of weeping throughout the generations. That night was Tisha B’Av, the ninth of Av, on the Jewish calendar. 

Consequently, Tisha B’Av has been one of the most infamous dates on the Jewish calendar in which many tragedies have befallen the Jewish people. The most prominent of these tragic dates have also been milestone events that have had a major impact on the journey of B’nai Anusim. 

In 586 BCE the Babylonians conquered and ravaged Jerusalem. On Tisha B’Av they burned the Holy Temple that King Solomon had built. A great number of Jewish men, women and children were massacred, while others were carried into exile. According to Isaac Abravanel, a renowned Rabbi and a financial assistant to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, some of the exiles managed to escape and fled to Spain. They settled in the city of Pirisvalle. The Jewish settlers renamed the city Toledo, which Abravanel claims is derived from a Hebrew word that means exile or wandering. This Jewish community was a forerunner of Jewish settlements that would be established throughout Spain in later generations.   

In 70 CE the Romans lay siege to Jerusalem. On the 9th of Av, Tisha B’Av, they attacked Jerusalem and destroyed the Second Temple, beginning another forced exile that quite possibly resulted in many Jews fleeing to Spain. 

Destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem by Francesco Hayez.

As a result of the Roman conquest of Israel, a powerful rebellion among the Jewish people in Israel took place in 132 CE. The rebellion, known as Bar Kokhba Revolt was crushed in 135 CE, again on Tisha B’Av. It was after this final conquest of the Holy Land by the Romans that Jews were carried into exile throughout the world. During this time Spain became a popular new homeland for many Jews. 

While there were periods of peace for the Jewish people, they often encountered many trials and oppressions in Spain. Amid their difficulties, the Jewish community continued to prosper and had a great impact on the development of Spain’s society and culture. However, they eventually became the target of violent persecutions. For many, the only way to avoid death was to convert to Catholicism. Although these Jews became Catholic against their will, many continued to practice Judaism in hiding. Finally, the Catholic monarch Queen Isabella decided to expulse the remaining Jews from the country. Once this took place the authorities would be able to adequately deal with the secret Jews who were not being loyal to the Catholic faith. This produced great fear among the Anusim Jews who would remain in Spain under the sovereignty of the feared and fierce Queen Isabella.  

A young sailor by the name of Christopher Columbus entered this tense scenario with the idea of discovering new trade routes. Columbus wrote in his journal, “In the same month in which their Majesties [Ferdinand and Isabella] issued the edict that all Jews should be driven out of the kingdom and its territories, in the same month they gave me the order to undertake with sufficient men my expedition of discovery to the Indies.”  It was on Tisha B’Av of 1492 that the Jews were forced to leave Spain. On the very same day, Columbus set sail on his historic venture in which he would discover the Americas.   Many historians believe that Columbus, who may have been Anusim himself, was not in search of a trade route, but a new home of refuge for the persecuted Anusim Jews.  For certain a substantial number of Anusim accompanied Columbus in his voyages to the new world and became leaders in the exploration and settlement of the Americas.  

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