These are some of the names that denote the Secret Jews of Spain, Jew forcibly converted to Catholicism in the dreadful Spanish Inquisition that went on for over 400 years.
Much research has been done and written about without reaching the heart or depth of the people affected by this medieval plague of anti-Semitism. However, increasing numbers of people are beginning to awaken to the fact that they possess Jewish heritage and roots and are curious to discover more about their personal family histories.
Casa Shalom is the research body of an exceptional lady, Gloria Mound, who has now contributed her rich archives to the Institute of the Secret Jews at the Netanya Academic College in Israel.
Since the transfer of Casa Shalom there have been two fascinating conferences held at the College.
Here are my notes taken during the latest conference on the Secret Jews of the Balearic Islands of Spain.
The Institute of the Anusim (Secret Jews) was given an invaluable boost when Gloria Mound contributed the archives of Casa Shalom to the Center located at the Netanya Academic College. Since then, there have been two significant conferences at the College on the subject of the Secret Jews of Spain. The second one was held on the topic of ‘The Identity of the Secret Jews of the Balearic Islands of Spain,’ a location in which Mrs. Mound has spent more than a decade researching and compiling documents and files on the subject.
Shulamit Halevi spoke about ‘In the Footsteps of the Anusim, its Historic context.’ 1391 saw the first forced conversion of Jews of Catalunia, Majorca, and other places to Catholicism, with the first major expulsion of Jews taking place in 1492.
Portugal had offered shelter at a price but the royal marriage between Spain and Portugal was partly conditional on Portugal being ethnically cleansed of its Jews. So many Jews escaped to the New World that the word and the language ‘Portugese’ was synonymous there with Jews.
The Diaspora of the Anusim spread to France and Italy, Mexico and the Americas where there are many thousands of inheritors of the original Secret Jews today. Anusim even reached as far as the Philippines, Macao in China, and into the Brazilian Amazon region. They used to say, “We come from Spain but we are not Spanish.”
Shreds of Judaism express themselves today in these far-off Catholic societies in habits that are excused with non-Jewish explanations. In Mexico, some people do not eat pork. They say it is because it is a dirty animal, or that it is the meat of ‘the lower classes.’ But the echo of Jewish ritual is there for all to see. Others wash their hands before meals because, they say, they are cleaner in their habits than other families. The original source of Jewish ritual was disguised centuries ago with explanations that were, and are, acceptable in a strictly non-Jewish environment.
We learned about the Chuetas (Xuetas) who suffered a mass forced conversion, and a collective execution in Palma de Majorca in 1435. These converted families married within the society of secret Jews even though they were forced to marry publicly in Catholic cathedrals.
In 1435, the last fifteen families who refused to convert in Majorca were called Chuetas. Chuetas never intermarried with non-Jews and maintained Jewish traditions, and observed and celebrated Jewish holy days and festivals.
It took until 1834 for the final abolition of the Spanish Inquisition. That’s more than 400 years from its cruel inception, and it took a non-Spaniard to start the process of abolition when Napoleon cancelled the Inquisition in 1808 after deposing King Ferdinand 7th. Ferdinand returned to power in 1814 and reimposed the Inquisition a year later. In 1820, after a military revolt, it was again cancelled. The introduction of the liberal government in Spain in 1823 led to the final abolition in 1834.
There was a lively discussion on the need for the Israeli Government and the Israeli Rabbinut to receive and accept the Anusim and Chuetas into Israel as Jews. Professor Michael Corinaldi strongly stressed that there is no need to convert or deny them Judaism because they never denied their Judaism. On the contrary, they maintained their Judaism under extreme duress and pain of death. “They were Jews. They are Jews today!” he said. “Any Anusim that want to come to Israel should automatically be accepted.”
Anusim and Chuetas keep traditions and have great motivation to return fully and openly to Judaism. Unfortunately, many come across the shock of official Orthodox Rabbinical Halacha as a barrier to their acceptance into Israel. When we open our gates to the Anusim and Chuetas we will see the next great Aliyah, and a massive return to Judaism.
I welcome hearing from anyone interested in this topic, or from people who would like to contribute funds for further research, or information to add to the files of Casa Shalom. We have barely scratched the surface.Someone once asked me from where will come the next great wave of Aliyah to Israel. I answered that it will be the Secret Jews who are increasingly rediscovering their Judaism, or are recovering the courage to annouce their ancient Jewishness. These people are gradually and publicly professing their Judaism for the first time in centuries. They need our encouragement.
Barry Shaw is the Special Consultant on Delegitimization Issues to the Strategic Dialogue Center at the Netanya Academic College. He is the author of ‘Israel Reclaiming the Narrative.’