Historic breakthrough: Six centuries after their forcible conversion, a leading hareidi rabbi rules a Spanish island’s Chuetas are Jews.
The Chuetas of Palma de Mallorca, Spain, are the descendants of Mallorca’s Jews, who were forcibly baptized in the 14th and 15th centuries and then barred from intermarrying or assimilating with the island’s Catholic population until the modern era.
Most of the island’s Chueta community bears the names of families whose ancestors who were executed for practicing Judaism more than 300 years ago. Rabbi Karelitz’s ruling relates to those Chuetas whose ancestors practiced strict endogamy down through the generations and did not intermarry. In order for their return to the Jewish people to be complete, it will be necessary for the Rabbinical Court to get to know each individual Chueta and their personal and family background.
Shavei Israel Chairman Michael Freund revealed that Rabbi Nissim Karelitz recently issued a written opinion stating clearly and unequivocally that the Chuetas are part of the people of Israel. Freund works to bring “hidden Jews” back into the regular Jewish community and has led the effort to gain recognition of the Chuetas as Jews.
Rabbi Karelitz is the Chairman of the Beit Din Tzedek (High Rabbinical Court) of Bnei Brak and is considered to be one of Israel’s foremost arbiters of Jewish law. He is the nephew of the famed Chazon Ish, one of the greatest and most well-known rabbis of the 20th century.
In his written opinion, Rabbi Karelitz stated that, “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 G-d.“
The rabbi added that efforts should be made to draw the Chuetas closer to their Jewish religious heritage and that they should be encouraged to embrace a life of Torah and observance Jewish laws.
The decision was issued after a careful and extensive study of the history of the Chuetas and Majorca and the relevant issues in Jewish law.
“This is an historic development,” Freund told Spanish journalists in Palma. “I have been working for years to get the Chuetas of Majorca recognized as Jews. This ruling removes any doubts or questions that may have existed regarding their status. The Chuetas are now considered to be full-fledged members of the Jewish people. Rabbi Karelitz’s decision will pave the way for many of them to return to their roots nearly six centuries after their ancestors were torn away from us against their will.
“The Chuetas no longer need to live in between worlds – we have succeeded in opening the door for them to come home. And I hope and pray that many will do so.”
Shavei Israel maintains an emissary in Palma de Mallorca, Rabbi Nissan Ben-Avraham, who carries out various educational and cultural activities among the Chuetas. In the coming months, Shavei Israel, working together with the Arachim organization headed by Rabbi Yossi Walls, will launch a coordinated outreach program in Palma with the aim of enabling the Chuetas to learn more about their heritage.
The Chuetas, the Catalan word for "pigs,” suffered from centuries of discrimination, which reinforced their identity and communal cohesiveness. The Chuetas were forced to marry only among themselves and faced various social and professional restrictions up until the modern era. An estimated 15,000-20,000 still live in Mallorca, though many have assimilated in recent years.
Shavei Israel, besides working on behalf of the Chuetas, is currently active in nine countries and provides assistance to a variety of different communities, including the Bnei Menashe of India, the Bnei Anousim in Spain, Portugal and South America, the Subbotnik Jews of Russia, the Jewish community of Kaifeng in China, and the Hidden Jews of Poland from the Holocaust.