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Parsha Mitzvot: Bo: The Alienated Person

“This is the decree of the Pesach Offering: No alienated person may eat from it.” (Exodus 12:43) The first marranos appeared at the end of the fourteenth century, after the persecution of 1391, when Spanish Jews began to settle in North Africa. Therefore the earliest of these questions are found in the responsa of the

great rabbis who had settled in Algiers, Rav Isaac bar Sheshet and his younger colleague, Rav Simon ben Zemah Duran. Rav Duran’s responsum on the question of the validity of the marrano marriages has become a leading case in the Law, for the marranos continued to emerge from behind the heavy curtain of the lands of persecution and in the succeeding centuries would arrive in Jewish communities all over the world. As the years went by and their Jewish contacts tended to diminish, Jewish Law tended to be stricter in its judgment of them and their status: for, why did they not escape sooner? And perhaps by this time they were a mixed descent. But in all discussions as to their status, those scholars who tended to declare their marriages valid, always referred to the responsum of Rav Simon ben Zemah Duran.

Question: With regard to these anusim (marranos) who marry marrano women by huppah and kiddushim (that is, by private Jewish marriage before going to church): If one of these marrano women comes forth to enter into a covenant and her husband is still alive, is she to be judged as a Gentile or a war-captive, since Jewish marriage does not apply to Gentiles? Or is this not the case with her? Furthermore, does the law involving her status apply if he, the husband, is uncircumcised, having been born after the persecution (of 1391), or does it apply also to one who married this woman after having converted to Christianity? The above is thy question.

Answer: There is no distinction at all to be made in this matter between a Jew (that is, an observant Jew) and an apostate; for we hold that, although he has sinned, he is still a Jew, and, as the proverb has it: “A myrtle, standing amid the willows, is still a myrtle and is known as such.” Even a proselyte, that is, one who is not born a Jew but has converted to Judaism, who returns to his original beliefs, is still to be considered a Jew with regard to this matter (that is, with regard to marriage), as is stated in the Talmud: If the proselyte had taken the ritual bath, he is now a Jew in every respect. Thus if he reverted to his original faith, he is like an apostate Jew, that is, if he marries a Jewess, his marriage is valid . . . .

All the more then does this apply to these anusim (marranos) who are children of Jacob and Judah. Therefore if one of them marries a women, his marriage is valid, and even as to the child born of them after their conversion, the same law applies to him.

Whosoever’s mother was a marrano, even if his father a Gentile, as we know from the Talmud (that is, that the child of a mixed marriage follows the status of the mother . . . ) All apostates and children of apostate women are to be considered as full Israelites with regard to marriage. This is derived a fortiori from the proselyte who reverted to his original faith, who is then certainly an apostate. So, too, the uncircumcised son of an apostate woman, if he marries a Jewess, his marriage is as valid as that of any full Jew.

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