APOSTASY, term applied by members of the deserted faith for the change of one faith, set of loyalties, and worship for another. The conception of apostasy could not arise in the atmosphere of polytheism practiced in antiquity before the advent of *Hellenism. The Bible frequently condemns those worshiping other gods, but though this is conceived as a heinous transgression it still lacks the totality of apostasy-conversion.
A product of the spread of Hellenistic culture in Ereẓ Israel was the group of Mityavvenim (hellenizers), who according to Jewish sources adopted Hellenistic ways of life and religious worship during the reign of *Antiochus IV Epiphanes in the second century B.C.E. Some scholars take these to be the instigators of his persecution of the Jewish faith. In the Books of the *Maccabees, the Jews who abetted the officials of the Seleucids or joined their armies are described as renegades and apostates. The Tosefta (Suk. 4:28) has preserved the tale of "Miriam of the House of Bilga [a priestly house] who apostatized (שנשתמדה) and married an official of one of the kings of Greece. As the Greeks entered the Temple, Miriam came and struck the top of the altar, saying… 'You have destroyed the property of Israel and did not come to their help in their trouble.'" The woman appears to express disillusionment with the Jewish God. Because of her apostasy, her family was disqualified from certain privileges and symbols of priestly status. *Tiberius Julius Alexander, the nephew of the philosopher *Philo Judaeus, went to the extreme of commanding some of the Roman units during the siege and subsequent destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple. As described in the Talmud, the figure of the second-century scholar and teacher Elisha b. Avuyah, who joined the pagan-philosophic camp, disputed with Jewish scholars, and ridiculed the Jewish religion, has a certain grandeur and is accorded a grudging respect.
After the rise of Christianity apostasy became an accompanying phenomenon of Jewish life, a problem between Jews and their neighbors, and a constant source of irritation to the various religious camps as well as to the apostates themselves. The forlorn hope of Judeo-Christians (see *Jewish-Christian sects) of reconciling the Law with the Cross petered out. By the latter half of the second century it had been rejected both by the vast majority of Christians and by Jews. The parting of the ways between church and synagogue had been reached. Acceptance of Christianity that had forsaken the Law was regarded by Jews as apostasy in the fullest sense. The Christian dogmas of Incarnation and Trinity gave to the acceptance of Christianity an idolatrous character (avodah zarah).
The history of ferocious persecutions and systematic humiliations which the Jews subsequently endured for their religion (see *History, Jewish; Church, *Catholic; Jewish *Badge; *Blood Libel; Desecration of the *Host) combined to invest apostasy from Judaism with the character of desertion from the persecuted and a crossing over to the persecuting ruling power. This attitude was enhanced by the fundamental divergence between Jewish and Christian approaches to conversion to the respective faiths, which led Jews to draw a strong moral distinction between apostasy and *proselytism, regarding the two in an entirely different light. As developed in Jewish theory and practice, proselytism to Judaism was made dependent on full and deliberate acceptance of partnership in the Jewish fate and historical consciousness, as well as of belief in its faith and hopes. The attitude to apostasy, however, was conditioned by the Christian missionary approach, which, even when abstaining from the use of threats or forcible coercion, still set out to gain converts by compelling Jews to attend missionary *sermons and involved automatic betterment of the social and legal status of the apostate. This therefore appeared in the Jewish view as a vulgar and essentially nonspiritual attempt to harm souls through moral pressure and promise of material gain. The fear of expulsion or massacre, which always loomed in the background, very often was the root cause of apostasy. Even an apostate whose sincerity was beyond all doubt, like *Abner of Burgos, stated in the 14th century that the starting point for his apostasy was the "revelation" he experienced, in which "I saw the poverty of the Jews, my people, from whom I am descended, who have been oppressed and broken and heavily burdened by taxes throughout their long captivity – this people that has lost its former honor… and there is none to help or sustain them… when I had meditated on the matter, I went to the synagogue weeping sorely and sad at heart. And I prayed… And in a dream, I saw the figure of a tall man who said to me, 'Why dost thou slumber? Hearken unto these words… for I say unto thee that the Jews have remained so long in captivity for their folly and wickedness and because they have no teacher of righteousness through whom they may recognize the truth" (Baer, Spain, 1 (1961), 328–9). To those who gloried in shouldering the burden of the Jewish fate and history, were imbued with love of Jewish culture and way of life, and continued to hope for salvation and the establishment of God's kingdom in the future, such a motivation inevitably appeared the outpourings of a weakling and the self-justification of a traitor. This attitude was strengthened in regard to many apostates who became willing and active virulent enemies of Judaism, like Abner of Burgos himself.
Naturally, apostasy was not always motivated by debased considerations, the historical situation, or meditations of this nature. The autobiography of an apostate of the first half of the 12th century (Hermannus quondam Judaeus, opusculum de conversione sua, ed. by G. Niemeyer, 1963; see *Hermanus Quondan Judaeus) demonstrates the effect of gradual absorption of Christian ideas and acclimatization to the Christian mode of life through everyday contacts and conversation. It brought the author, Judah ha-Levi of Cologne, to convert to Christianity and become a Premonstratensian monk.
In the Islamic environment the problems were much the same; some apostates attained prominent positions in Islamic states and society, the outer expressions of tension caused by apostasy being on a smaller scale (see below Apostasy in Islam). In the perpetual conflict and tensions that existed between Jews and Christians in medieval Europe, conversion from one faith to another, although rare, was still more frequent than either side cared to admit clearly. Thus, on the occasion of a halakhic deliberation in the 12th century, the talmudist Jacob b. Meir *Tam reported: "More than 20 letters of divorce from apostates have been written in Paris and France… and also in Lorraine… I have also seen myself the letter of divorce given by the son-in-law of the late noble R. Jacob the Parnas who has apostatized" (Sefer ha-Yashar, ed. by S. Rosenthal (1898), 45, no. 25).
Some apostates founded influential families whose Jewish origin was well known among Christians, such as the *Pierleoni family in Rome, the patrician Jud family in Cologne, and the *Jozefowicz family in Poland-Lithuania. Certainly not all apostates from Judaism attempted to injure their brethren. When a number of apostates were asked in 1236 whether there was truth in the blood libel, they denied it categorically. Prominent among the apostates who deliberately set out to attack Judaism were Nicholas *Donin in France, Pablo *Christiani, and Hieronymus de Sancta Fide (Joshua *Lorki) in Spain, and Petrus *Nigri (Schwarz) in Germany. These in the 13th to 15th centuries led the attack on Judaism in the theological *disputations, preached against Judaism, and proposed coercive measures to force Jews to adopt Christianity. Other converts who achieved high rank in the church, like Pablo de Santa Maria (Solomon ha-Levi), who became archbishop of Burgos, did everything in their power to combat Judaism. The most virulent representative of anti-Jewish animus was Abner of Burgos, who initiated the intensified persecution of the Jews in Christian Spain during the 14th and 15th centuries by formulating a complete theory that subsumes the necessity for, and justification of, such persecution. He advised the abolition of Jewish *autonomy, arguing with vicious irony that the Messiah would not come to the Jews "until the Jews possess no authority, not even such petty authority as is exercised over them by their rabbis and communal wardens, those coarse creatures who lord it over the people like kings. They hold out vain promises to them in order to keep them under constant control. Only with the elimination of these dignitaries and judges and officers will salvation come to the masses" (polemical tract, Baer, op. cit., 350). In the name of "many discerning Jews," Abner blamed the pope and Christian monarchs for failing to oppress the Jews adequately. The conditions of salvation for the Jews would come only "when many Jewish communities are massacred and the particular generation of Jews is thereby reduced in numbers, some Jews immediately convert to the dominant Christian faith out of fear, and in that way a handful are saved… and the pain of impoverishment will lead to an increase of shamelessness among them, that is, they will no longer be ashamed to profess the truth openly and convert to Christianity" (Baer, op. cit. 353–4). By this means this apostate tried to reinforce his own experience of Jewish weakness and convert it into a terrible reality that would force many more Jews to relinquish their faith.
At the time of the expulsions from Spain and Portugal at the end of the 15th century, a sharp distinction was made by Jews between the renegade apostates, whom they considered an evil and the root cause of the wave of persecutions, and the mass of forced converts, the *anusim or *Marranos, whom they still regarded as brethren, though obliged to practice Judaism clandestinely. However, in realization, the program promoted by Abner of Burgos and others like him created a strong revulsion in Christian society against both the Marranos and genuine converts alike. Political events and social attitudes in Christian Spain in the 15th to 16th centuries fomented the concept whereby the "New Christians" were not to be equated with, and trusted as, the "Old Christians" of "pure Christian blood." Thus it could happen that the second general of the Jesuit order, Diego Lainez, had to face opposition within the order because of his Jewish blood.
In the Renaissance and *Reformation environment apostasy occurred in various circumstances. One type of apostate was the rootless intellectual like Flavius *Mithridates, a translator from Hebrew and an influential expositor of Hebrew works. Others were led to convert to Christianity by their superficial contacts with Renaissance circles and the new importance attached by humanists like Johannes *Reuchlin and *Pico della Mirandola to learning Hebrew from Jewish teachers. The impoverished conditions of late medieval Germany gave rise to the opportunist who could change over at least three times from Judaism to Christianity and back again, and who on one occasion of reconversion quoted a proverb he had heard: "lasse dich taufen, ich will dir vil Gulden schaffen" ("Become baptized: I will get you plenty of money"; R. Strauss, Urkunden und Aktenstuecke zur Geschichte der Juden in Regensburg (1960), 64–66). The basic attitude of both Jews and Christians toward apostates did not change with the Reformation. Many of the teachers of Hebrew to Christians were Jews, most of them apostates. They also cooperated in bringing out Reformation translations of the Bible. In his later days, Martin *Luther displayed marked distrust of apostates from Judaism. The attacks on the Talmud made by Johann *Pfefferkorn on the eve of the Reformation and the denunciation poured by Anton *Margarita on Jewish ritual practices and way of life continued in new circumstances the tradition of virulent anti-Jewish hatemongering by apostates.
The stimulus provided by 18th-century Enlightenment, stirrings toward *assimilation on the cultural and social plane, and aspirations to attain *Emancipation, inaugurated a trend toward apostasy in the upper circles of Jewish society in Central and Western Europe. A number of Jews opted for Christianity as the basis of European culture and its most sublime expression, despising their Jewish background and traditional way of life as debased and degraded. Typical was a society intellectual like Rachel *Varnhagen von Ense. Others considered apostasy the most facile and ready way of attaining civil equality as an individual before the Jews as such had achieved emancipation. Moses *Mendelssohn was publicly challenged to become converted if he did not refute the testimony advanced in proof of Christianity (see *Disputations). David *Friedlaender proposed in the name of several "Jewish heads of families" to be permitted to accept Christianity without having to subscribe to its "historical dogmas." Jews also left Judaism because they did not find communal obligations or activity to their taste.
Isaac *D'Israeli stated in 1813 to the board of the Bevis Marks congregation in London, as a reason for his refusal to act as warden, that he was "a person who has always lived out of the sphere of your observation; of retired habits of life; who can never unite in your public worship, because, as now
From the second half of the 18th century the ties linking the individual with the social unit became loosened in the upper strata of European society. Jews then increasingly absorbed the culture and adopted the language of their environment. Baptism was submitted as the visiting card demanded by Christian society for its price of admission. Many able young Jewish intellectuals, among them men outstanding in their field like the jurist Eduard *Gans, Ludwig *Boerne, and the poet Heinrich *Heine, who had first wanted to use their creative activity in the Jewish framework, left Judaism to be able to work within, and contribute to, European culture and society. In some communities, such as Berlin, more than half of the descendants of the old patrician Jewish families adopted Christianity, including the Mendelssohn family. The majority of these did not claim to be drawn by an essential attraction to Christianity or act under rigorous pressure. Apostasy was regarded as a social formality performed for the sake of culture, society, or career. Many of the sensitive among them bitterly regretted their action. Much of Heinrich Heine's work is dominated by a pervasive longing for Judaism, and a biting irony against himself and his fellow apostates, their snobbery and social climbing by means of Christianity.
Karl *Marx, baptized as a child, later professed contempt for and revulsion against Judaism as the representative of Mammon. In his Christian environment Benjamin Disraeli developed a kind of pride in what he considered the destiny and genius of the Jewish "race." The heroine of his novel Tancred, Eva, sarcastically asks Tancred: "Pray are you of those Franks who worship a Jewess; or of those others who revile her, break her images, and blaspheme her pictures?" When the Christian refers to the punishment of the Jews for crucifying Jesus, Disraeli's Jewess answers with the ancient argument used by Jews in disputations: "Suppose the Jews had not prevailed upon the Romans to crucify Jesus, what would have become of the Atonement?" When the Christian answers that the Crucifixion was preordained," 'Ah,' said the lady, 'preordained by the creator of the World for countless ages! Where then was the inexpiable crime of those who fulfilled the beneficent intention? The holy race supplied the victim and the immolators…. Persecute us! Why if you believed what you profess, you should kneel to us! You raise statues to the hero who saves a country. We have saved the human race, and you persecute us for doing it.'"
Benjamin Disraeli was representative of a group of apostates who considered themselves deeply Christian in a mythical and social sense and in consequence Jewish in a racial and spiritual sense. In the 19th century they were often active in missions to the Jews, like Bishop Michael Solomon *Alexander in Jerusalem, while at the same time being very responsive to Zionism and its aspirations.
With the granting of emancipation to Jews in most of Western and Central Europe the brutal social pressure for the "visiting card of baptism" moderated. On the other hand, many Jewish scholars and scientists, in particular in Germany and Austria, became baptized for the sake of a university career, which was usually closed to a professing Jew. Some deeply committed apostates like the *Ratisbonne brothers in the 19th century founded special religious orders or groups for the propagation of Christianity among Jews. According to statistics available there were 21,000 aspostates in Poland in the 18th century, and 204,500 throughout the world in the 19th. However these figures are exaggerated since they include the Frankists in Poland and the *Cantonists in Russia.
In czarist Russia, up to 1917, there was relentless pressure for social acceptance through baptism. However, Jewish social and moral cohesion was strong and undeniable, and to a certain degree the Jewish cultural level was superior to that of the surrounding population. Here apostasy of a different type developed: people who accepted Christianity for the sake of a government or university career (a number of apostates were employed for *censorship of Hebrew books) but still retained their ties with Jewish society, and a pride in their Jewish origin, like the orientalist Daniel *Chwolson. Apostates like Jacob *Brafman, however, did much to bring discredit on the institutions of Jewish self-government and to provide fuel for antisemitism.
In the 20th century the phenomenon of apostasy became more complex, with deeper implications. While its effects were more subversive for Judaism, it aroused problems of Jewish nationality and culture which were less prominent previously. Boris *Pasternak is representative of the type of apostate who left Judaism because he rebelled against historical and social realities and obligations. After describing the beatings and humiliations to which the Jews were subjected by the Cossacks of the Christian Russian army in his novel Dr. Zhivago, he states concerning the incident he has described, "that, and other incidents like it – of course none of that is worth theorizing about." Having disposed of pogroms and antisemitism by refusing to face them on the intellectual level, he continues that, in regard to "the Jewish question as a whole – there philosophy does enter." The philosophy he perceived – his theory was formulated when World War II was raging and the Jewish people was being systematically destroyed in the *Holocaust – was that Jewish history is a self-inflicted punishment through refusal to heed that in "this new way of life and of communion, which is born of the heart and is called the Kingdom of God, there are no nations, only persons." Having denied the existence of the question of nations and nationality around
Near by stood a fig tree. Fruitless, nothing but branches and leaves. He said to it:
'What joy have I of you?
Like another apostate, Eugen *Rosenstock-Hussy (for his arguments, see *Disputations), a German of the generation of World War I, Pasternak expresses a categorical and hostile repudiation of Jewish nationalism as the evil archetype of all forms of nationalism. Both men are typical of the modern apostate who joins Christianity as an individual, rejecting communal solidarity as an unwonted yoke, and repudiating Jewish historical continuity, yearning for a mystic penetration of their individuum with the suffering Christian God. In his attitude to Jewish nationalism, Pasternak displays a considerably greater hostility than his German fellow apostate, logical in a man who left Eastern European Jewry in a period of revolution, distress, and annihilation of order.
Another trend in apostasy from Judaism in its modern form is represented by Oswald Rufeisen, who as Brother Daniel entered the Carmelite order in 1945. Born in Poland in 1922, and in his youth an active Zionist, he worked in the wartime underground and saved Jews during the Holocaust. He became a Christian in 1942, but continued to consider himself a Jew. After he became a monk, he wrote to the Polish authorities applying for permission to leave Poland for Ereẓ Israel: "I base this application on the ground of my belonging to the Jewish people, to which I continue to belong although I embraced the Catholic faith in 1942 and joined a monastic order in 1945. I have made this fact clear whenever and wherever it has been raised with me officially… I chose an Order and Chapter in Israel in consideration of the fact that I would receive the leave of my superiors to travel to the land for which I have yearned since my childhood when I was a member of the Zionist youth organization" (High Court Application of Oswald Rufeisen v. The Minister of the Interior (1963), 54–55). In 1962 Brother Daniel appealed to the Israel High Court to be recognized as a Jew under the terms of the Law of Return, which grants Jews settling in Israel automatic citizenship. This application raised the problem of "Who is a Jew?" in Israel in its full modern implications. For the majority, Judge Silberg refused his petition. The judge admitted that Brother Daniel was a Jew according to halakhah, but in rendering judgment stated that the Law of Return is not based on halakhah but on the Jewish national-historical consciousness and the ordinary secular meaning of the term "Jew" as understood by Jews. After referring to the "great psychological difficulty" facing the court due to the deep sympathy and sense of obligation felt for the petitioner, the spokesman for the majority stated: "I have reached the conclusion that what Brother Daniel is asking us to do is to erase the historical and sanctified significance of the term 'Jew' and to deny all the spiritual values for which our people were killed during various periods in our long dispersion. For us to comply with his request would mean to dim the luster and darken the glory of the martyrs who sanctified the Holy Name [*kiddush ha-Shem] in the Middle Ages to the extent of making them quite unrecognizable; it would make our history lose its unbroken continuity and our people begin counting its days from the emancipation which followed the French Revolution. A sacrifice such as this no one is entitled to ask of us, even one so meritorious as the petitioner before this court" (ibid., 1–2). The court stated that in order to be declared a Jew from the point of view of the modern Jewish secular conception of Jewish nationality, adherence to the Jewish religion is not essential. At the same time apostasy to Christianity removes that person from this nationality.
Between the two wings representing current tendencies in apostasy exemplified by Pasternak and Rufeisen stands the middle-of-the-road attitude displayed by the Anglican bishop of Kingston, Hugh Montefiore. The bishop acknowledges loyalty
The issues raised by the Rufeisen decision remain very much at the heart of public deliberation in Israel. Essentially the present time marks a return to the core of the historical Jewish position on unity of faith and nation and to consideration of the apostate from this standpoint. Shortly before the expulsion of the Jews from Spain, Isaac b. Moses *Arama wrote that when "one of the gentile scholars, seeing that Jews were very eager for a letter of divorce to be given by an apostate and he refused… asked… 'Why do you want it from him? As he left his religion it would be proper for them to consider him as if he did not exist. Hence his wife should be considered a widow in every respect…' The answer was: 'Apostasy cannot be of the essence but only accidental, meaning only a change of name or the street where he lives. He cannot change his essence, for he is a Jew… This answer is true according to our religion. This is the meaning of the saying of our Sages, 'Even if he has sinned, he remains of Israel'" (Akedat Yiẓḥak (Venice, 1573), 258b no. 97, Ki-Teẓe). The Jewish sage adds that the Christian will not accept this definition since for him religion is the sole criterion. Prevailing halakhic opinion throughout the ages has always considered the apostate a Jew for all purposes of obligations, ties, and possibilities given to a Jew, but denying him some specific legal rights, in particular in the economic sphere, and in the performance of certain honorary or symbolic acts. In terms of conscience and consensus of opinion Jewish society regarded the apostate up to the 18th century as "dead," as proscribed from the Jewish community, considering him as the very essence of desertion and treason.
At the present time extreme individualism or mysticism are the main paths leading some people away from Judaism. Snobbery and careerism, missionary blandishments and promises, still play some role in bringing about apostasy, but this is diminishing. The passive attitude of the majority of believing Christians at the time of the Holocaust, and even more, the conception of many of the courageous minority who risked their lives to save Jews but insisted on "saving their souls" at the same time, often souls of children in their care, threw into relief the harsh and ugly implications in apostasy. The concept of a multi-religious Jewish nation now facing the people of the State of Israel is tied up with and intersected by the problems and phenomena of historical continuity, mutual toleration, and social cohesion of the unique concept of the people of Israel as "a kingdom of priests and a holy nation," forming the cohesive religio-national entity that has united Jews and carried their specific message through the ages.
[Haim Hillel Ben-Sasson]
Decrees of Religious Persecution and Forced Conversion in Jewish Communities in the Diaspora
The periods in history when Jewish communities were the victims of decrees of religious persecution and forced conversions engendered a host of halakhic questions concerning the attitude to Jews who had converted and subsequently returned, or wished to return to the Jewish fold. Jews who abandoned Judaism under duress often expressed a desire to return to their communities.
In Rashi's responsum, (Teshuvot Rashi, Y. Alphenbein ed. New York, 5703, s. 70), we find evidence that within the framework of excommunication edicts (herem) enacted by Rabbi *Gershom ben Judah Me'or ha-Golah in 11th-century Germany, excommunication was decreed for any individual who reminded a repentant apostate of his past. In the same responsum Rashi himself comments:
Regarding the actual process of the repentance, divergent approaches may be found. The responsa of Rabbenu Asher (Rosh) (32, 8; Rabbi Asher ben Yehiel, Germany – France, 13th–14th centuries) reflects a strict approach. The case concerned a group of women forced into apostasy who subsequently escaped and returned to Judaism. Asheri declares that the act of apostasy committed during a period of religious persecution, i.e., at a time when edicts of forced conversion were imposed on Jews, is graver than the act of conversion when there is no such decree, "because it is considered an act committed in public". Accordingly it is insufficient for the offenders to only return to the community. Rather "they require greater remorse, repentance and acceptance of suffering than those who convert in the absence of such a decree".
Rabbi Israel *Isserlein of 15th-century Germany (Terummat Haddeshen 8. 198) adopts a more lenient position: He maintains that a penitent apostate should not be burdened with too many acts of penance and mortification, "because the inclination (of a former apostate) to transgress is greater than the inclination of those who commit other sins," and there is concern that he might "shun his repentance".
A question that gave rise to dispute between halakhic authorities was whether a kohen who became an apostate and subsequently repented, retains his sanctified status as a kohen, entitling him to administer the Priestly blessing and be the first to be called up to the Torah. R. Naturnai Gaon (Otzar ha-Geonim, Gittin, 327, 328) and R. Achai Gaon (ibid., Sotah, 259) ruled that he cannot bless the community or be first to bless the Torah. On the other hand, Rabbenu Gershom (Resp. Rabbenu Gershom Me'or ha-Golah, 4) ruled that after his repentance his status was equivalent to that of all other priests, and that he was entitled to administer the priestly blessing and be the first to be called up to the Torah as a kohen. In explaining this ruling R.Gershom states that it is forbidden to
With regard to a repentant kohen, Rabbi Jacob "Baal Ha-Turim" (Tur, Orah Hayyim 128) questions whether such individual can administer the priestly blessing. However, with regard to being called up to the Torah, he rules unequivocally that such a kohen may be called up first. Rabbi Joseph Karo rules that we may rely on the opinion of those authorities who permit a kohen who left the faith and subsequently repented to administer the priestly blessing, if only in order "to create an opening for those who would repent". Regarding Maimonides' aforementioned ruling prohibiting such a kohen from performing the priestly blessing even after he has repented, Rabbi Karo maintains that the prohibition does not apply to cases in which the apostasy of the kohen in question was coerced (Bet Yosef, ibid.; Sh. Ar. OḤ 128, 37).
Support for this position can be found in an epistle written by Maimonides called "the Epistle of Apostasy." This epistle was written at a time when the Muslim rulers of Spain forced Jews to declare the truth of Muhammad's prophecy, under penalty of death.
Apostasy to Islam
Few of the Jews of Arabia embraced *Islam in the time of Muhammad. Among them *ʿAbdallah ibn Salām was the most distinguished. They contributed to the exacerbation of relations between Jews and Muslims. In the next generation ʿAbdallah ibn Sabaʾ, from Yemen, a noted partisan of Ali, is reported to have been a Jewish convert. Two other converts, *Kaʿb al-Aḥbār (companion of ʿUmar b. al-Khaṭṭāb) and *Wahb ibn Munabbih, also from Yemen, were considered authorities on Jewish lore. The affinities of Jewish and Islamic tenets and lore, coupled with the fact that there were Jews among the early converts to Islam, gave rise, among Jews, to the cycle of legends on the Jewish teachers of Muhammad, and, among Muslims, to the allegation that Jewish converts plotted to undermine Islam from within by sowing deviations and heresies. Jews in later times were faced with the complex problem of how to treat the converts to Islam, especially if they claimed to cleave to Judaism in secret (cf. opinions of *Maimonides and his father *Maimon, e.g., in Iggeret ha-Shemad).
Substantial group conversions of Jews may have taken place in the era of expansion of Islam, especially in Babylonia, but no definite information seems available. Individual and small group conversions, and occasional forced ones, took place throughout the Islamic world over the centuries. It may be assumed that the recurrent promulgation of sumptuary laws and the agitation against non-Muslims (mostly Christians) were accompanied by waves of conversion, as some people sought to escape the effect of persecution and humiliation, and experienced the disintegration of their ancestral loyalites. In Yemen in the 19th and 20th centuries Jewish orphans were often seized to be brought up as Muslims (i.e., in the "natural" religion of man, unobstructed by "misguided" parents). Some converts turned into denunciators and persecutors (see also *disputations). Certain distinguished figures in Islamic society were known to have been Jewish converts or of Jewish extraction (cf. *Ibn Killis, the poet *Ibn Sahl). Al-Isrāʾīlī as a name component is a frequent indication of Jewish origin.
The 12th century was marked by a wave of forced conversions in the wake of the Almohad upheaval (1143) in North Africa and Spain. From the other end of the Islamic world the conversion of a distinguished trio was reported: the philosopher Hibat Allah Abu al-Barakāt, the poet Isaac (son of Abraham) ibn Ezra, and the physician-mathematician *Samau'al b. Judah ibn Abbas. In the 17th century the sect of Muslim crypto-Shabbateans developed (see *Doenmeh) when partisans of the pseudo-messiah *Shabbetai Ẓevi followed the leader's example and embraced Islam. In 1839 the Jews of *Meshed (Iran) were forced to convert, with the result that they continued to live as Jews disguised as Muslims. During the *Damascus Affair (1840), terror and torture forced some to convert. Conversions were festive occasions celebrated inside and outside the mosque, especially if the convert happened to be a prominent person. Conversion stories often laid emphasis on divine intervention and visions as motivations.
In Jewish Law
In Jewish religious law, it is technically impossible for a Jew (born to a Jewish mother or properly converted to Judaism) to change his religion. Even though a Jew undergoes the rites of admission to another religious faith and formally renounces the Jewish religion he remains – as far as the halakhah is concerned – a Jew, albeit a sinner (Sanh. 44a). According to *Naḥmanides this attitude derives from the fact that the covenant between God and Israel was made "with him that standeth here with us today before the Lord our God and also with him that is not with us here today" (Deut. 29:14; Naḥmanides ad loc.). For the born Jew, Judaism is not a matter of choice and for the proselyte it ceases to be one once he has converted. However, persons who did assume another religion or formally renounced Judaism are treated differently by Jewish law from Jews who, even while sinning, have not taken such actions. These people are known in the halakhah as mumar (from the root meaning "to change"), or meshummad (from the root meaning "to persecute or force abandonment of faith"), or apikoros ("heretic"), or kofer ("denier"), or poshe'a Yisrael ("rebellious Jew"). Since in the technical halakhic sense, apostasy is impossible, the above terms are often used very loosely in rabbinic literature.
According to strict halakhah an apostate who reverts to Judaism requires no special ritual since technically he never left it. However, there are authorities who require some symbolic act. He is therefore required to confess his sins and repent of them before a collegium of three rabbis and pronounce that henceforth he will keep the laws of Judaism. Some authorities require ritual immersion in a mikveh as in the case of proselytes (Isserles to Sh. Ar., YD 268:12). The law is considerably more lenient with regard to the reversion of the Marranos and other anusim who were forced to assume another religion against their will or out of fear for their lives, and they are immediately and automatically reaccepted into the community when they express such a desire (Simeon b. Ẓemaḥ Duran, Tashbeẓ (Amsterdam, 1738), 15a–b; Maimonides, Epistle to Yemen, ed. and tr. by A.S. Halkin, 1952).
A marriage, celebrated in accordance with Jewish law between two apostates or an apostate and a Jew, is valid and the parties are husband and wife according to Jewish law (Yev. 30b; Sh. Ar. EH 44:9; Tashbeẓ, loc. cit.; see Mixed *Marriage). Hence, neither of them can contract another marriage with a Jew until their said existing marriage is dissolved by divorce, valid under Jewish law, or death (ibid.). If their marriage was celebrated according to the tenets of another faith, they are not considered married in Jewish law (even if they live together as husband and wife), and consequently they do not require a divorce. Nor, in this case, is there any room for applying the presumption that a person does not have licentious sexual intercourse which is the usual basis for the assumption that the cohabitation (bi'ah) constituted an act of kiddushin, since that presumption applies only in circumstances where there is reason to assume that the parties, in cohabiting together, intended a kiddushin to come about thereby in accordance with Jewish law, a possibility excluded in this case in view of the apostate's denial of the Jewish faith and his contracting the marriage according to the tenets of another faith (for differing views on this point, see Israel b. Pethahiah Isserlein, Terumat ha-Deshen, 1, 64–65, 83–84; Isaac b. Sheshet, Responsa, no. 11; PDR, 7:35, 39–44 as against 54–56).
A child born of an apostate mother is a Jew, regardless of the stage at which she became an apostate, and if he marries a Jewess, even if she is an apostate, the marriage is valid (Maim. Yad, Ishut, 4:15).
Although generally divorce is considered to be to a woman's detriment, since she is deemed to prefer the married state (Yev. 118b), this factor is disregarded when one of the parties is an apostate. Since an apostate wife is suspected as transgressing all the commandments of the Torah, including adultery, she becomes prohibited to her husband (see *Adultery); and, as a married woman, prohibited to any other man. It can therefore be only to her benefit to be released from the bonds of marriage. Similarly, when the husband becomes an apostate: his wife will prefer a divorce to living with an apostate (Isserles, Sh. Ar., EH 140:5; 154:1; Solomon b. Abraham Adret, Responsa, 1162). Hence, even though, generally, a divorce does not take effect until the get ("bill of divorcement") has been delivered to the wife personally, or to an agent appointed by her for this purpose, in accordance with the halakhic rule that "one cannot act to a person's disadvantage without his knowledge or consent" (lit., "in his absence"; Yev. 118b), in this case, however, once the get reaches the hands of the agent, appointed not by the wife, but by the court or by her husband, it takes immediate effect, on the grounds of the opposite rule that "one may confer a benefit upon a person without his knowledge or consent" (Sh. Ar., EH 140:5; Isserlein, Terumat ha-Deshen, 1, 209, 237; (for Levirate Marriage and Ḥaliẓah with regard to an apostate – see *Levirate Marriage).
COMPETENCY AS A WITNESS
Jewish law holds the testimony of an apostate to be unreliable, since he disavows the whole of the Torah and is therefore liable to be untruthful, even though he is considered a Jew from the point of view of his personal status. However, in accordance with the regulations which aim at easing the lot of an *agunah ("deserted wife"), who has to establish death of her husband in order to remarry, the halakhah provides that the testimony of an apostate is admissable for this purpose provided that he makes the revelant statement in the course of casual conversation ("mesi'aḥ lefi tummo") and not as formal evidence.
In strict law, a son is heir to his father by the mere fact of kinship (Num. 27:8; BB 108a and 111a; and Codes) and accordingly his right is retained by the apostate son and for the same reason his father inherits him. However, the apostate having sinned, the court is authorized, if it so sees fit, to penalize him, excluding him from his father's inheritance by way of his portion passing to heirs who have not apostatized on the strength of the rule of Hefker bet din hefker (i.e., the court has the power of expropriation) as well as in order to discourage apostasy (Kid. 18a; and Codes; Asher b. Jehiel, Piskei ha-Rosh to Kid. 22). A contrary opinion quoted by Solomon b. Abraham *Adret in the name of *Hai Gaon (Responsa 292) has not been adopted by the majority of the posekim.
The general opinion of the codifiers is that mourning rites should not be observed at the death of an apostate (Sanh. 6,6; Sh. Ar., YD 345:5) unless, according to some authorities, he met a sudden death in which case it is assumed that he repented (Isserles to Sh. Ar., YD 340; 5; cf. 157 and ḤM 266:2). It was however customary in some circles to observe the mourning rites at the apostasy of a child.
IN THE STATE OF ISRAEL
The foregoing rules are generally followed in the interpretation of laws with reference to the question of determining the legal status of an apostate, unless the context or the purpose of the law requires a different construction. The question of whether the term "Jew" in the "Law of Return, 1950," which entitled "every Jew" to enter Israel as an immigrant, included an apostate, or whether an apostate could be registered as being of Jewish nationality
Legends of apostates abound in Jewish folktales concerning blood libels. Portrayed as a greater enemy to the Jewish people than the Gentile, the apostate is described as the cause of numerous antisemitic persecutions and Jewish communal disasters. In his attempt to prove his worth to the antisemites, he spreads calumnies against the Jews and leads the attacks on them. It was customary to spit three times on the ground when meeting an apostate, and to recite Isaiah 49:17. The figure of the apostate is also ridiculed in many tales which describe his dilemma in the bathhouse where the contrast between the sign of the circumcision and the cross which he wears in the form of a necklace, is revealed. The problem of the apostate's affinity is finally resolved by the decision that he "belongs to the devil." Tales of the repenting apostate, whose conversion to Christianity was originally insincere, are the basis of the Yiddish proverb "A Jew does not abandon his religion."
HISTORY: Graetz, Hist, 6 (1949), index; A.D. Nock, Conversion (1933); S.L. Zitron, Meshumodim, 2 vols. (1923); S.M. Ginsburg, Historishe Verk, vol. 2 Meshumodim in Tsarishen Rusland (1946); Baer, Spain, index; H. Heine, Confessio Judaica (Ger., 1925); J. de le Roi, in: Nathanael, 15 (1899), 65–118 (Ger.); N. Samter, Judentaufen im neunzehnten Jahrhundert (1906); P. Browe, Judenmission im Mittelalter und die Paepste (1942). APOSTASY TO ISLAM: I.J. Benjamin, Acht Jahre in Asien und Afrika (1858), 74f.; I. Goldziher, in: REJ, 43 (1901), 1ff.; Samauʿal al-Maghrībi, Ifḥam al-Yahūd, ed. and tr. into Eng. by M. Perlmann (1964), 115f./85f.; Revista degli Studi Orientali, 4 (1911–12), 495; W.J. Fischel, in: Zion, 1 (1936), 49–74; idem, in: Commentary, 7 (1949), 28–33; I. Ben-Zvi, in: Zion, 4 (1939), 250–7; Ashtor, Toledot, 1 (1944), 279–91, 303ff.; 309f.; 2 (1951), 88–95; H.Z. Hirschberg, Yisrael be-Arav (1946), 142f., 151f., 174, 176; A.S. Halkin, in: Joshua Starr Memorial Volume (1953), 101–10; S.D. Goitein, Jews and Arabs (19642), 77–84; Baron, Social, 3 (1957), 76ff., 96, 111f., 122ff., 290ff.; A. Ben-Jacob, Yehudei Bavel (1965), index S.V. Hitaslemut, D. Corcos, in: Zion, 32 (1967), 137–60. JEWISH LAW: Levi, in: REJ, 38 (1899), 106–11, 114–6; Weinberg, in: No'am, 1 (1958), 1–51; Benedikt, ibid., 3 (1960), 241–58; ET, 1 (19623), 202; 8 (1957), 443–4; 12 (1967), 162–6; B. Schereschewsky, Dinei Mishpaḥah (19672), 80, 229, 333; M. Elon, Ḥakikah Datit… (1968), 52–53; idem, in: ILR, 4 (1969), 128ff.; Eisenstein, Dinim, 23, 206ff.; S.B. Freehof, Reform Responsa (1960), 192–9; idem, Recent Reform Responsa (1963). 120–37. ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: M. Elon, Ha-Mishpat ha-Ivri (1988), 92, 542, 546, 633, 1111, 1405, 1418; idem, Jewish Law (1994), 1:103, 2:660, 664, 784, 3:1674, 1690; M. Elon and B. Lifshitz, M. Elon, B. Lifshitz, Mafteah ha-She'elot ve-ha-Teshuvot shel Ḥakhmei Sefarad u-Ẓefon Afrikah, 1 (1986), 247–48, and general index, B. Lifshitz, E. Shohetman, Mafteah ha-She'elot ve-ha-Teshuvot shel Ḥakhmei Ashkenaz, Ẓarefat ve-Italya (1997), 179–81, and general index; O. Ir-Shay, "Mumar ke-Yoresh bi–Teshuvot ha-Ge'onim," in: Shenaton ha-Mishpat ha-Ivri, 11–12 (1984–1986), 435–61; T. Regev, "Ma'amadam shel Kiddushei Mumar bi-Gezerot Tatnu u-be-Gerush Sefarad," in: Geranot, 1 (2001), 97–108; M. Corinaldi, Dinei Ishim, Mishpaḥah ve-Yerushah – Bein Dat le-Medinah (2004), 264–70. FOLKLORE: Schwarzbaum, Studies in Jewish and World Folklore (1968), 341–2 and index.
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