I will not add my voice to the anti-Semitic choir exploiting the recent difficult events to malign those faithful to the Torah, the nation, and the country * When the majority of the Jewish people returns to live in Israel, the obligation to fulfill the mitzvoth of challa and tithes will be of Biblical status * According to our Sages, in the future Eliyahu HaNavi will restore the scattered Jews of Israel who were forcibly removed from nation * To the presumed number of 13 million Jews in the world, the millions of other assimilated people who can prove their Jewish ancestry should be added * This number might possibly be increased by the tens of millions of descendants of the Marranos and the Ten Tribes, who upon returning, will have to undergo giur l’chumra
Following the difficult events that took place last Thursday and Friday, I considered writing about the moderation required when debating controversial and disputed issues in the State of Israel, and relate to it both halachically and ideologically. However, due to the flood of enmity and hatred emanating in recent days from the official media establishment, I decided to postpone dealing with the subject until more relaxed and balanced times. Thus, my voice will not be added to the sickening, anti-Semitic choir which despicably exploits the difficult and shocking human tragedies of the murders of a girl from Jerusalem and an Arab baby, to malign an honest and decent sector of society, the most faithful and moral citizens in the State of Israel – the religious and traditional Jews, faithful to the Torah, the nation, and the country.
Instead, I will deal with the sanctity of the Land and its mitzvoth which are contingent on our national situation, for indeed the primary solution to all the ills and problems our nation suffers hinges on the Ingathering of the Exiles, the Rebirth of Israel, and a return to the eternal values of the Torah.
“Rov Yisrael” and the Obligation of Mitzvoth Dependent on the Land
Presently, we are obligated to fulfill the mitzvoth of Shmitta (the Sabbatical year), challa (separating a section of dough from kneading and giving it to a kohen),
terumot and ma’asrot (tithes) only rabbinicaly. When ‘rov Yisrael‘ (literally, ‘the majority of Jews’) live in the Land of Israel, as termed by our Sages “rov yoshvei’ha aley’ha” (“the majority of its inhabitants dwell in it”), we will merit being obligated in the mitzvoth of challa and tithes from the Torah. And when the Jewish nation lives in the Land of Israel as required, every tribe in its place, we will merit observing the mitzvah of Shmitta and Yovel (the Jubilee year) from the Torah.
The Number of Jews in the World
First, I will clarify the definition of “rov yoshvei’ha“: Many people claim that the number of Jews in the world today is roughly thirteen million, and when more than six-and-a-half million Jews live in Israel, the first condition will be fulfilled, and we will be obligated in the mitzvoth of challa and tithes from the Torah. Others mistakenly claim that at that point we will also be obligated to fulfill the mitzvah of Shmitta from the Torah, however, they have forgotten that in order for Shmitta to be obligated from the Torah, every tribe must reside in its inheritance, and Rambam wrote that this would occur in the Days of Mashiach (Laws of Kings 11:1).
However, it seems that in regards to the definition of “rov Yisrael” as well, further investigation is required, because the number thirteen million includes only the Jews who identify themselves as Jews today, but excludes two additional groups of descendants of Jews. Together with the first group the Jewish population numbers more than eighteen million, and including the second group – more than a hundred million.
Those who Left Judaism under Duress will Return to their Source
In order to understand the issue, we must first return to what Rabbi Yehoshua and Rabbi Yehuda said in the Mishna that in the future, Eliyahu HaNavi will come to return to Israel all those Jews who were forcibly removed, i.e., were distanced from Israel due to coercion. As an example of this, the Mishna mentions the family of Beit Tzerifa who lived across the Jordan and was distanced by force by a violent man with connections to the authorities named Ben Tzion, and when Eliyahu HaNavi comes, he will return their descendants to Israel (Mishna
On this Mishna, Rambam explains that this will fulfill the words of the Torah:”Even though you are banished to the ends of the earth the Lord your God will gather you from there and bring you back again.
The Lord your God will return you to the land that belonged to your ancestors, and you will possess that land again. Then he will make you even more prosperous and numerous than your ancestors! The Lord your God will change your heart and the hearts of all your descendants, so that you will love him with all your heart and soul and so you may live!” (Deuteronomy 30:4-6). How this will occur is written in the Book of Prophets: “Look, I will send to you Eliyahu the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible Day of God. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to the children and the hearts of the children to their fathers” (Malachi 3:23-24).
However, according to the opinion of Rabbi Shimon in the Mishnah, the role of Eliyahu is to make peace in the world, and not to return to Israel those who were forcibly removed. Nevertheless, it is reasonable to assume that even Rabbi Shimon would agree that all Jews forcibly distanced from Judaism will return to their source, but in his opinion, this is not the purpose of Eliyahu HaNavi; perhaps a different prophet is designated for that purpose, or maybe genetic tests will be discovered to clarify this issue.
In summary: If even a family distanced from Israel due to a violent person is considered as having been forcibly removed, all the more so, Jews who were distanced from Israel as a result of the terrible decrees during the long exile will be considered as having been forcibly removed, and God will return them to their source. However, with regards to the number of Jews there are in the world, the question is: Who should be taken into account?
The First Group: Jews who Assimilated in Recent Times
The first group is Jews whose parents assimilated a few generations ago, and by means of fairly minor inquiries, it can be verified that their mother was Jewish. Including them, it is conceivable that today the Jewish people number at least eighteen million.
It is worth noting that this group includes people who despite being intelligent and highly informed, as a result of the terrible vicissitudes that the Jewish people have experienced in recent times, they are unaware of their Jewish origin. Take for example Madeleine Albright, who served as United States Secretary of State in the Clinton administration, and was the highest ranking woman in the U.S. administration up until then. She herself was born in Prague to two Jewish parents who had converted to escape persecution. She grew up Catholic, and only after many years learned of her Jewish ancestry, and that many members of her family were murdered in the Holocaust.
Incidentally, the parents of the father of the Secretary of State of the current U.S. administration, John Kerry, were also Jewish and converted to escape the fate of the Jews. He also did not know about it for years, and only as an adult learned about the origin of his family. These are just examples of the first group that with the help of relatively simple inquiries can be proven with certainty that they are Jewish according to halakha (Jewish religious law).
The Second Group: Jews who Assimilated during the Agony of Exile
The second group is much larger, and includes all the descendants of Jews who assimilated among the Gentiles under pressure from the throes of the ominous exile, but in keeping with halakha they are Jews, for they are descendants of Jewish mothers, and according to halakha, anyone whose mother was Jewish – even after a hundred generations, remains Jewish.
Anusim in Spain and Portugal
If we were to calculate statistically the Anusim (Marranos, or crypto-Jews), who are Jewish according to halakha, the world Jewish population would apparently be over a hundred million. For example, it is estimated that approximately ten percent of the population of Spain, and fifteen percent of Portugal, are descendants of Anusim. Seeing as all the descendants of the Jewish daughters are Jews, it follows that the percentage of Jews in the population is maintained. And seeing as it was the Spaniards and the Portuguese who established the Latin American countries, it follows that the descendants of Anusim alone now number about thirty to forty million. And who knows, maybe among the descendants of the Anusim the percent of immigrants to America was even higher, for by doing so, they escaped the terror of the Inquisition.
Anusim in Europe
Even in Western Europe, for over a thousand years, many Jews were forced to convert, such that it can be estimated that at least ten percent of the population of Western Europe and those who immigrated to the United States, Canada, and Australia, are descendants of Jews. Thus, we are speaking about an additional thirty to forty million descendants of Jews.
The Rest of the Anusim
There are other descendants of Jews in Arab countries, Iran, and Eastern Europe where Jews were also forced to convert, albeit at a lower percent. Thus, after an initial assessment, we are speaking of more than a hundred million Jews, and who knows – maybe a lot more.
And this is without counting the descendants of the Ten Tribes, some of whom have surely returned and joined the Jewish nation, but others remained in their lands of exile. True, we do not know if the populations among whom they lived increased or diminished, because historical upheavals are liable to reduce or eliminate certain nations, or cause others to increase. But it is clear that the nations among whom the Anusim were assimilated after the destruction of the Second Temple, normally increased significantly.
Who is Included in Counting “the Majority of its Inhabitants”
If we go according to the opinion of those who believe that Jewish people number roughly thirteen million Jews, as is the estimated number of people who identify as Jews today, then in a few years, the majority of the world’s Jews will be living in Israel.
However, it seems that at the very least, the number of Jews in the world should include all the members of the first group, i.e., all people whose parents assimilated in recent generations – approximately the last hundred years – whom by fairly minor inquiries such as documents and testimonies, can be proven to be descendants of a Jewish mother, for according to halakha, it is impossible to ignore what can be determined relatively easily.
In contrast, regarding the members of the second group, the descendants of all the Anusim who assimilated amongst the Gentiles throughout the ages, there is room for doubt. Although it can be said that, in the end, all those removed from the Jewish people will return, in the meantime, since there is no way to find out who they are – they cannot be taken into account, but only those who can prove with certainty that they are Jewish. On the other hand, it can be argued that all those who are Jewish according to halakha should be taken into account even if in practice, it is impossible to ascertain their identity.
Practically speaking, it seems that this will have to be resolved by a Beit Din Gadol (Sanhedrin), that by virtue of all Jews living in Israel, they will decide the question of which Jews are reckoned in calculating “rov yoshvei’ha aley’ha“, and consequently, when we will be able to say that the majority of the Jewish people live in Israel. And perhaps we might have to wait for a prophet to guide us on this issue.
The Return of Anusim Descendants to Israel
Evidently, the more we advance in the mitzvah of yishuv ha’aretz (settling the Land) and deepen our faith through Torah study and observance, the status of the Jewish nation will rise, and many descendants of the Anusim will awaken to seek their Jewish roots, return to their source, and observe the Torah and mitzvoth. Perhaps a genetic test will also be discovered that can prove the origin of the Jews. And although apparently we cannot rely on genetic testing alone, and the scattered returning to Israel will have to undergo giur l’chumra (conversions performed as precautionary measures), nevertheless, they will be considered the same as Jews required to undergo giur l’chumra (similar to what our Sages determined, that a Jew who converted and returned to Judaism, must undergo a sort of conversion, by immersion in a mikveh and accept the mitzvoth,
R’ma, Y.D. 268:12).
This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper, and was translated from Hebrew. Other articles by Rabbi Melamed can be found at: