Last week, the Mediterranean resort city of Palma de Mallorca, Spain, was the
scene of a remarkable historical event. After centuries of denial, a Spanish
regional government condemned the Inquisition, and its persecution of Jews who
had been forcibly converted to Catholicism.
At a special ceremony,
Frances Antich Oliver, president of Spain’s Balearic Islands, uttered words that
no Spanish leader before him had ever had the courage to declare.
burning of Jews at the stake by the Inquisition was, he said, “our worst sin. It
horrifies us, but we must always remember it so that it never occurs again.”
Highlighting the maltreatment meted out to the Chuetas – as descendants of
Mallorcan Jews who were compelled to convert in the 15th century are known –
Oliver said in no uncertain terms that they had been subjected to “a grave
This marked the first time that a Spanish official had spoken
so boldly in denunciation of the Inquisition’s crimes, signaling a possible
turning point in the process of Spain coming to terms with the horrors of its
The timing of the ceremony was rife with meaning.
held on the 320th anniversary of the infamous Auto-da-fé of May 6, 1691, when
the zealots of the Inquisition put 37 Chuetas to death in Palma for secretly
practicing Judaism. Three of the victims were burned alive in front of tens of
thousands of enthusiastic locals in the city’s Gomila Square.
them, Rafael Valls, was the secret rabbi of the Chuetas, and despite the torture
to which he had been subjected for the previous three years, he refused to
renounce his faith in the God of Israel, even as the flames engulfed
Another victim, Raphael Benito Terongi, also demonstrated incredible
fidelity to the heritage of his ancestors. While sitting in the Inquisition’s
prison awaiting execution, Terongi found a piece of glass and, in a staggering
act of defiance, used it to circumsize himself. He too, along with his sister
Catalina, was cast onto the pyre.
Looking back on their sacrifice, one
can only marvel at their valor and determination. Valls and the Terongi siblings
– and others like them – were Jewish heroes, and their memories should be
THE PALMA ceremony came about as the result of a meeting I
held three months ago with Oliver’s top aide, Albert Moragues. Accompanied by
Rabbi Yossi Wallis, head of the Arachim organization and a direct descendant of
Rafael Valls, we proposed the idea for the ceremony and, much to our surprise,
the government consented.
The event drew hundreds of local participants,
and generated a great deal of discussion in the local press about the misdeeds
of the Inquisition and the suffering that had been inflicted on the
It compelled Majorcan society to take an honest look at itself,
and helped educate a new generation about this dark chapter in the island’s
In the popular imagination, the Spanish Inquisition and the
expulsion of the Jews from Spain are intertwined, and often confused, even
though the former began before 1492 and continued long afterwards.
other things, the Inquisitors were hunting down Bnei Anusim (whom historians
refer to by the derogatory term “Marranos”) because they clung to their Jewish
faith in private even as they professed Catholicism in public.
to the late historian Cecil Roth, the Inquisition’s henchmen murdered over
30,000 of these “secret Jews,” while countless others were condemned for
covertly preserving Jewish practices.
Their descendants now live
throughout the Spanish- and Portuguese- speaking countries, with many now
seeking to return to the Jewish people.
IN LIGHT of the success of the
Palma event, I think it’s time for other regions of Spain, as well as the
Spanish national government, to hold similar ceremonies.
officials should apologize for the Inquisition, and its state-sponsored
Even after the passage of so many centuries, it is not too late
for Spain and its government to seek atonement for the sins of their past
against the Jewish people. Pope John Paul II apologized on behalf of the papacy,
so why shouldn’t Spain do so as well? Some might think there is little point in
revisiting the events of so long ago. Why open old wounds? But such an attitude
only compounds the wrong done to generations of hidden Spanish Jews and Bnei
Anousim. They and their descendants deserve an official apology and an act of
The tenacity they demonstrated in the face of the Inquisition
is a living example of the power of Jewish memory, and of our people’s refusal
to succumb, submit or surrender.
Many gave their lives for the sake of
their Jewish identity.
The least we can do is to ensure that their
sacrifice is never forgotten.The writer serves as Chairman of Shavei Israel (www.shavei.org) – a
Jerusalem-based group that assists “lost Jews” seeking to return to the Jewish