Miquel Segura: Chuetas–The Hidden Jews of Mallorca
ENGLISH CORNER, CON LINDA JIMÉNEZ – This week’s trivia question: In what year was Rafael Valls, the last Rabbi in Mallorca, burned at the stake by the Inquisition?
The Chuetas are descended from the Jewish inhabitants of the Spanish island of Mallorca who suffered extreme oppression in the Middle Ages, until by 1435 all of them had been killed or forcibly converted to Catholicism. Despite having been converted, the Chuetas 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.
In the 18th century, a list was hung in the Convent of Santo Domingo with the names of all the people who had been executed or had their property confiscated by the Inquisition until 1691. These were members of 15 families, and the infamous list served to perpetuate the memory of the condemned and, by extension, of all who carried those family names, even if they were not relatives and even if they were sincere Christians. This helped create a community that, although the Judaic element had disappeared, was still obliged to maintain a strong cohesion, since its members faced ostracism and discrimination from the “old Christians”. Even though the Chuetas generally have been loath to publicly identify as Jews, they continued to marry within the community, not only because of discrimination on the part of the so-called “old Christians”, but also because they themselves rejected intermarriage.
For this reason, and unlike most Crypto-Jews, many Chuetas can trace an unbroken family lineage back to the Jews of the 15th century. As a result, the authorities have determined that for those who choose to return to Judaism the sort of formal conversion typically required of those who cannot establish a clear line of Jewish descent is not necessary.
Miquel Segura, is a Chueta journalist and writer who returned to Judaism in a 2009 ceremony in New York. He has written extensively about the Chuetas, and just published a historical novel, The Rabbi’s Ashes, about Rafael Valls, the last rabbi in Mallorca.
He spoke with us about the history of the Chuetas, his own experiences, and his writings.