Apostasy in Judaism

In Judaism, apostasy refers to the rejection of Judaism and possible defection to another religion by a Jew.[1] The term apostasy is derived from Ancient Greek: ἀποστάτης, meaning "rebellious"[2] (Hebrew: מורד.[3]) Equivalent expressions for apostate in Hebrew that are used by rabbinical scholars include mumar (מומר, literally "the one that was changed"), poshea Yisrael (פושע ישראל, literally, "transgressor of Israel"), and kofer (כופר, literally "denier").[3] Similar terms are meshumad (משומד, lit. "destroyed one"), one who has abandoned his faith, and min (מין) or epikoros (אפיקורוס), which denote the negation of God and Judaism, implying atheism.[3]


In the Bible

The first recorded reference to apostasy from Judaism is in Deuteronomy 13:6-11, which states:

If your very own brother, or your son or daughter, or the wife you love, or your closest friend secretly entices you, saying, "Let us go and worship other gods" (gods that neither you nor your fathers have known, gods of the peoples around you, whether near or far, from one end of the land to the other), do not yield to him or listen to him. Show him no pity. Do not spare him or shield him. You must certainly put him to death. Your hand must be the first in putting him to death, and then the hands of all the people. Stone him to death, because he tried to turn you away from the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. Then all Israel will hear and be afraid, and no one among you will do such an evil thing again.

In the Talmud

In the Talmud, Elisha ben Abuyah (referred to as Acher, the "Other One") is singled out as an apostate by the rabbis.[4]

Medieval Spain

In Medieval Spain, a systematic conversion of Jews to Christianity took place, largely under threats and force.[5] The apostasy of these conversos provoked the indignation of some Jews in Spain and it was made illegal to call a converso by the epithet tornadizo (renegade).[6]

Several inquisitors of the Spanish Inquisition, such as Tomás de Torquemada, and Francisco Quiñones the Bishop of Coria, are thought to be descendants of apostate Jews. Known apostates who made their mark in history by attempting to convert other Jews in the 14th and 15th centuries include Juan de Valladolid and Astruc Remoch.

Some Spanish Jews, however, remained crypto-Jews despite being compelled to convert to Christianity (see Anusim). They are also called Marranos.[7]

Sabbatai Zevi and Jacob Frank

In 1648 Sabbatai Zevi claimed to be the Jewish Messiah. His Jewish followers were known as Sabbateans. Zevi converted to Islam in 1666. Afterwards, some of his followers willingly converted but continued to practise Sabbatean rituals. These people became known as the Dönmeh.[8]

In the 1750s Jacob Frank claimed he was the reincarnation of Zevi and attracted many followers in Poland, known as Frankists.[9] In 1759, with Frank's encouragement, more than 500 Frankists were baptized as Catholics. Frank himself was also baptized, with the King of Poland as his godfather.[9]

See also

Notes and references

  1. Apostasy is defined as "renunciation of a religious faith".
  2. Merriam Webster: Apostasy
  3. Kaufmann Kohler and Richard Gottheil. Apostasy and Apostates from Judaism. Jewish Encyclopedia.
  4. Hagigah 14b. חגיגה יד ב (in Hebrew) via Wikisource.
  5. Figures of Conversion: The Jewish Question and English National Identity - By Michael Ragussis - Duke University Press, 1995, Page 128, Quote: "The persecutions of the Jews that dominated fifteenth-century Spain, including the forced conversion of masses of Spanish Jews"
  6. A Social and Religious History of the Jews - By Salo Wittmayer Baron - Columbia University Press
  7. Joseph Jacobs and Meyer Kayserling. "Marano." Jewish Encyclopedia. JewishEncyclopedia.com.
  8. God-Optional Judaism: Alternatives for Cultural Jews Who Love Their History By Judith Seid, Published 2001, Citadel Press: Quote: "Sabbatai Zevi converted to Islam under threat of death"
  9. Merriam-Webster's Encyclopedia of World Religions - By Wendy Doniger - Page 358 - Published by Merriam-Webster

 This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Singer, Isidore; et al., eds. (1901–1906). "article name needed". The Jewish Encyclopedia. New York: Funk & Wagnalls.

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