A leading rabbi and halachic authority in Israel has recognized the Chuetas of Palma de Majorca as Jewish, the Shavei Israel organization announced on Monday.
The Chuetas are descended from the Jewish inhabitants of the Spanish island of Majorca who suffered extreme oppression in the Middle Ages, until by 1435 all of them had been killed or forcibly converted to Catholicism.
Because the Chuetas are related to the previous generations and married among themselves they should be considered Jewish, Shavei Israel Chairman Michael Freund told reporters that Rabbi Nissim Karlewitz, chairman of the Beit Din Tzedek (rabbinical court) in Bnei Brak, wrote in a letter to the organization.
“Since it has become clear that it is accepted among them [the Chuetas] that throughout the generations most of them married among themselves, then all those who are related to the former generations are Jews, from our brethren the children of Israel, the nation of God,” Karlewitz wrote.
“We, the Jewish people, have a responsibility to the Chuetas,” Freund told The Jerusalem Post
. “Their ancestors were kidnapped from us and taken against their will six centuries ago. The Inquisition sought to quash their Jewish identity down through the ages and we are coming here today to say that the Inquisition did not succeed. Jews are still here and the Chuetas are still here, and the best revenge on the Inquisition would be to bring as many of these people as possible back to their roots and back to their people.”
Despite having been converted, the Chuetas – whose name comes from the Catalan word for pig – continued to face intense discrimination and oppression, and were not allowed to marry Catholics or adopt certain professions. Because of the ban on intermarriage, the Chuetas almost exclusively married within their own community.
“Although there is no actual discrimination any longer against Chuetas, on a societal level many feel ostracized and to a certain extent outsiders,” Freund said. “Acceptance of the Chuetas over the past 40 years has grown, which is positive, but brings with it a greater danger of assimilation, which is why the timing of this announcement is so important.”
Karelitz’s decision refers to the Chuetas as a collective, and for anyone wanting to return in full to the Jewish community it will be necessary for a rabbinical court to speak with the individual. According to Freund, many of the Chuetas have documentation attesting to their family lines, often going back 500 years.
“There are 15 distinct Chueta family names. Because of the historical circumstances and because of the endogamy practices, it is relatively easy to document and prove their genealogy,” Freund said.
In May, the president of the Balearic Islands province of Spain,
Francesc Antich, attended a memorial service in the Majorcan capital of
Palma commemorating the execution in 1691 of 37 Chuetas for practicing
Judaism in secret, including Rabbi Rafael Valls, the secret rabbi of the
Chuetas who, along with two others, was burned alive. Antich condemned
the “grave injustice” done against the Chuetas, the first time an
official from Majorca had condemned such events.
“The recognition of their Jewishness was received with great happiness
and joy, some people at the announcement burst into tears, because they
now know the Jewish people are aware of them and feel a kinship with
them,” Freund said of the press conference on Monday.
Rabbi Nissan Ben-Avraham, who is of Chuetas origin and works for Shavei
Israel in Palma de Majorca, will be joining with the Arachim outreach
organization to provide a program of lessons in Hebrew, Jewish history,
culture and religion for the Chuetas.
“We are not coming here to tell people how to live their lives, we are
just presenting them with an option. Those who wish to return to the
Jewish people will now have opportunity to do so and will be welcomed
back with open arms. Our goal is to help as many as possible to return
to their Jewish roots,” Freund said.