Friday, October 19, 2012

The Secret Jews of the Balearic Islands

On Mon Oct 15 a conference was held at Netanya Academic College on the topic, "The Struggle for Identity of the Secret Jews of the Balearic Islands of Spain."  It was co-sponsored by Casa Shalom - The Inst. for Marrano/Anusim Studies, the Intl. Inst. for the Study of Secret Jews (Anusim) at NAC, the Embassy of Spain in Israel and the Centro-Sefarad in Madrid, Spain.  It was opened with remarks by Dr. David Altman, Sen. VP of NAC, HE Fernando Carderera,  Ambassador of Spain in Israel, Prof. Michael Corinaldi, Chairman of IISSJ and Justice Meir Shamgar, Pres. (ret.) of the Israeli Supreme Court.
The presentations were divided into three sessions:  1. The phenomenon of the Anusim: social, political and cultural aspects; 2. Expression of the Anusim experience in the Balearic Islands; and 3. The Anusim of Majorca: a strategy of Jewish existence.  Certainly there was overlap in the presentations in these sections, but they provided a coherent picture of the amazing phenomenon of the existence of Secret Jews (Anusim or chuetas) in the Balearic Islands of Spain 500 years after the expulsion of 1492.
I do not propose in the space available to describe each speaker or presentation, I can only summarize my overall impressions.  I found  the introductory lecture by Dr. Schulamith HaLevy of Hebrew University on "the geographic and historic background of the diaspora of the Anusim" to be a very useful summary of the origins and current status of the phenomenon of the Secret Jews, also known as "Marranos"  (in Spanish), Chuetas (in Catalan) and Anusim (in Hebrew).  Mrs. Gloria Mound, a pioneer in the field of Anusim studies in the Balearic Islands, expanded on this background by emphasizing the complexity of the history of the Secret Jews of the Balearic Islands, where not all of them were actually converted forcibly, where only 15 specific families were forcibly converted (as conversos) in the Cathedral of Palma (and their descendents then constituted the original chuetas) and where each Island had its own history. 
For example, Minorca was ruled by the British for over 100 years and this influenced the treatment of the formerly Jewish minority, and the Inquisition centered largely on Majorca.  The inhabitants of the Islands speak a dialect of Catalan and regarded any incursion of Spanish Castilian authority with suspicion, leading to the acceptance of the Secret Jews, especially on Ibiza.  What remains clear though is that it was a mutual repulsion that kept the New Christians and the Old Christians from inter-marrying, leading to the phenomenon of intramarriage between the Secret Jewish families that preserved their identity to a large extent over the centuries.  Prof. Goncal Lopez-Nadal of the Unviersity of Majorca described the large role that Chuetas played in the development of the maritime trade of Majorca in the 17th and 18th centuries. 
Several personal reminiscences provided a fascinating corollary to the historical and geographic analyses.  Ladd Ehlinger, architect and historian from New Orleans, described his genealogical researches to find his familiy origins that led him to discover his Minorcan Sephardi roots in Louisiana centuries ago.  Two speakers who identify themselves as Bnei Anusim, descendents of the Secret Jews, described their own histories, Miquel Segura, a well-known journalist and historian related his own version in his talk entitled "Chuetas of Majorca, we are the history," and Pere Bonnin described "the influence of the Torah on Hispanic place names and personal names."  He pointed out that the river Ebro probably came from a rendering of Hebrew, and the very name Balearic may derive from the name of the God Ba'al referring to the Phoenicians who also settled the Islands.  There is dispute as to the origin of the term chueta, some, such as Prof. Corinaldi referring to its origin in the Catalan for "pig," while Pere Bonnin preferred the origin in the term jueta from Jeues or Jew.    In describing the situation of the Secret Jews of the Balearic Islands he said "the persecuton was relentless, detailed and cruel."


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