For the first time since their Jewish ancestors were compelled to convert to Catholicism nearly six centuries ago, the Chuetas of Palma de Mallorca, Spain, have been formally recognized as Jews by a leading Israeli rabbinical authority.
The Chuetas 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.
At a press conference held in Palma Monday, Shavei Israel Chairman Michael Freund, who has led the effort to gain recognition of the Chuetas as Jews, stated that Rabbi Nissim Karelitz recently issued a written opinion stating clearly and unequivocally that the Chuetas are part of the people of Israel.
Rabbi Karelitz is the Chairman of the Beit Din Tzedek of Bnei Brak, and is considered to be one of Israel’s foremost arbiters of Jewish law.
In his written opinion, Rabbi Karelitz stated that, “Since it has become clear that it is accepted among them [i.e. 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.”
Rabbi Karelitz further wrote 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 of the Mitzvot.
The decision, which was published on the letterhead of the Bnei Brak Rabbinical Court, was issued after a careful and extensive study of the history of the Chuetas and Majorca and the relevant issues in Jewish law.
Freund added that, “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.
It should be noted that 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.