Iberian Anusim Make First Kosher Cheese

Cnaan Liphshiz
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Cnaan Liphshiz

For the first time since the Spanish Inquisition in Portugal, a dairy product has been given an official kosher certificate. The ground-breaking product is a hard, goat's milk cheese, manufactured by the descendant of Anusim (Jews who were forced to convert to Christianity).

Last year, Jose Braz, owner of the Queijos Braz factory, contacted Daniel Litwak, the chief rabbi of Portugal's second-largest city, Porto, and asked him to arrange a kashrut certificate for Serra da Estrala cheese, which Braz manufactures. Braz believes that his own family were members of Portugal's Jewish community in the 14th and 15th centuries, but like many others were forced to convert to escape persecution by the Inquisition.

"When I spoke to Jose, he told me he wanted to reconnect to his Jewish roots - this was the reason for contacting me," says Litwak, who was born in Argentina. "I was surprised because his brand was doing rather nicely all over Europe. He did not need the certificate to increase his turnover."

New York-born Michael Freund, the chairman of Shavei Israel, a Jerusalem-based organization that helps people with Jewish roots become more involved in their Jewish community, who immigrated to Israel some 10 years ago, told Haaretz that Portugal "is seeing a Jewish revival over the past few years."

"Recently, the first kosher wine in Portugal since the Inquisition has become available, then the first olive oil and now the cheese," Freund says. "I see a definite connection between how many of the Anusim are rediscovering their roots and the increased interest."

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