For centuries, Jews, Muslims and Christians were living together in peace and harmony in Spain, and here in Mallorca, pursuing their cultures, customs and religions. Their coexistence is said to have been beneficial to the island’s society and all was well in history, or so we are told, up to the late 14th century.
Jews had settled in Spain as early as 500 BC and if not, they certainly had made their way to Iberia with the Romans (approx. 200 BC). First massive confrontations with and assassinations of Jews were documented in 1360, and the Semitic tribe in Spain suffered massacres in 1366 and 1391. By 1406, Jews were obliged to live in Juderias (ghettos) and to wear a badge identifying them as not having been baptized. Forced conversions were imposed in Murcia, Lorca, Ocaña, Illescas, Valladolid, Tordesillas, Salamanca, Toledo and Zamora under the Dominican Vincent Ferrer in the name of Juan II de Aragón, the infant king, during 1411 and 1412.
An Edict of Expulsion was issued against the Jewish community of Spain by Fernando el Católico and Queen Isabella in 1492, and they were forced to convert to Catholicism, or were expelled or killed.
In Mallorca, similar atrocities occurred. The Jews of this island faced several waves of violence. During the 14th century, hundreds were killed in pogroms. In 1435, thousands converted or went into exile as their lives were in grave danger. But there was a twist. Some Jewish community members who had earlier been baptized to Christianity were suddenly accused of secretly celebrating their faith and worshiping the Torah. These Conversos (subjects of forced conversion) were now labelled as Chuetas (Catalan: Xuetes or Juetes) or hidden Jews. The Mallorcan chuetas suffered recriminations over the next 500 years. They were forever branded and persecuted, stigmatized and segregated. Thus, they could never blend in, and, until the first half of the 20th century, they had to practice strict endogamy. Today, between 18,000 and 20,000 people on the island are carriers of one of the 15 or so surnames that are said to be of Jewish Conversos or Chuetas. Earlier this year, a leading Israeli rabbinical authority, Rabbi Nissim Karelitz formally recognized the Chuetas of Mallorca as Jews. This momentous development may open the door for a good number of Chuetas to return to their roots and rejoin the Jewish people.
One of the eminent Mallorcan experts on the subject of Xuetes is Francesc Riera Montserrat (Felanitx, 1923). I had the pleasure to converse with him recently for which I am much indebted. As it happens, senyor Riera will be honoured with the Medalla de la Ciutat de Felanitx today, July 22nd, in recognition of his tireless dedication to matters of historic relevance. Enhorabona!
The photo (top) was taken in Deià, Mallorca, Baleares, Spain. The date: July 4th, 2012. The time was 15:15:39. The photo (bottom) was borrowed from the Internet, courtesy of internacional.elpais.com.