Welcoming Back Majorca?s Crypto-Jews

Majorca’s Jews are gearing up for a seminar aimed at strengthening the Jewish community on the small island off the coast of Spain, and reaching out to the area's large crypto-Jewish population.

Contact Editor
Israel National News Staff, | updated: 11:44

The event is being organized by Shavei Israel, a Jerusalem-based group that assists “lost Jews” seeking to return to the Jewish people. It will include traditional festive Sabbath services and meals, lectures and study groups on Jewish historical and religious subjects, and a walking tour of Palma de Majorca’s ancient Jewish quarter.

"Majorca’s Jews suffered terrible persecution over the centuries. As far back as the 1300s, the island was the scene of horrific massacres and forced conversions,” said Shavei Israel Chairman Michael Freund, noting that the Inquisition was formally abolished in Majorca only after the French conquered it in 1808.

Nonetheless, Freund said, many of those forced to convert continued to practice Judaism in secret, at great peril to their lives and well-being.

Though outwardly Catholic, Majorca’s crypto-Jews were never fully accepted by their Christian neighbors, who referred to them by the derogatory Catalan term “Chueta”, or “pig”, and refused to marry them. Historians believe there may be as many as 10-15,000 identifiable “Chuetas” now living on the island.

In recent years, a growing number of Majorca’s crypto-Jews have begun seeking to reclaim their Jewish roots. Several have moved to Israel, where they have formally returned to Judaism or are in the process of doing so.

“In the two years that I have been here, I feel that a definite change has taken place in terms of people’s attitudes towards their Jewish heritage”, said Rabbi Shaul Friberg, who serves as Chief Rabbi of Majorca and Shavei Israel’s emissary to the area. “What was previously something that was denied and kept in secret, is now more and more coming out into the open. People are showing more and more interest in their Jewish heritage,” he said.

Rabbi Friberg appears regularly at local and official functions, and is often quoted in the Majorcan press, which he says adds a new measure of acceptance and legitimacy to Jews and Judaism in the eyes of the island’s populace.

As part of its outreach efforts, Shavei Israel runs a Spanish-language conversion and return institute in Jerusalem, Machon Miriam, where some 85 students, many of them descendants of Spanish and Portuguese crypto-Jews, study annually. The institute is under the ongoing supervision of Israel’s Chief Rabbinate.

Shavei Israel also maintains a website in the Catalan language, where articles and material on Jewish topics and the Torah portion of the week can be found.

“Hundreds of years after their ancestors were compelled to convert, a Jewish awakening is taking place among the ‘Chuetas’ of Majorca”, said Freund. “It is now our responsibility to help them to come home again.”

For more information, contact: spanish@shavei.org.