More than 500 years after their Iberian Jewish ancestors were forced to convert to Catholicism during the Inquisition, Bnei Anousim (whom historians refer to by the derogatory term Marranos, meaning ‘pig’) in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala will get a full-time rabbi to serve their spiritual and educational needs, thanks to the Jerusalem-based Shavei Israel organization.
Rabbi Elisha Salas, 61, who served as Shavei Israel’s emissary to Portugal for the past eight years, will take up his new post as the organization’s envoy to Central America next week. He will be based in San Salvador, the capital of El Salvador, where Shavei Israel has been working for many years with a thriving community of 300 Bnei Anousim, all of whom practice Orthodox Judaism, and will also work with crypto-Jews in neighboring Guatemala and Honduras.
“We are delighted to be sending Rabbi Elisha Salas to reach out to the Bnei Anousim of El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala,” said Michael Freund, founder and chairman of Shavei Israel.
“There are thousands of Bnei Anousim throughout those countries who are conscious of their historical connection to the Jewish people. We owe it to them and to their ancestors to reach out to them, embrace them and welcome them back home. Shavei Israel will continue to intensify its efforts to assist the Bnei Anousim wherever they may be.”
A native of Chile, Rabbi Salas made aliyah to Israel in 1999 and is married with four children. After graduating from Santiago University in Chile with two degrees in accounting and religious studies, he spent five years at the Beit Midrash Sepharadi in the Old City of Jerusalem. In addition to being an ordained rabbi, Salas is certified to practice as a shochet (ritual kosher slaughterer).
In his new role, Rabbi Salas will guide the communities and teach Torah, Jewish culture and tradition, while conducting a wide range of educational and social activities. He will also arrange community events and prayers for Shabbat and holidays, give lectures on Jewish law, teach young and old how to properly read from the Torah and conduct prayers, and more.