Rabbi Nissim Karelitz, the head of the Beit Din Tzedek Rabbinical Court in Bnei Brak has ruled that the Chueta community of the Spanish island of Palma de Majorca are Jewish.
The announcement came from the Shavei Yisrael organization that is dedicated to finding the ten lost tribes as well as those who were forced to convert to other religions, such as Islam and Christianity. The Chuetas are a minority on the island of Majorca that are descended from Jews that entirely converted to Christianity during the Spanish Inquisition. Because of the systematic discrimination against them, they never intermarried with the rest of the population on the island and according to Halacha would still be considered Jewish. However, Rabbi Karelitz qualified his statement by saying those who wish to return to Judaism would have to speak with a Jewish court, who would deal with each case on an individually.
Michael Freund, Shavei Yisrael’s chairman who worked for years to prove the Chueta community’s status, praised the decision, saying that the Chueta responded to the recognition with “great happiness and joy and some people burst into tears.”
The Chuetas come from 15 families. The families were discriminated against even post-conversion to Christianity and were banned from certain professions and could not marry Catholics, much like the Marannos and Bnei Anousim in Spain. Because of this, the community never intermarried. Freund says that many of the Chuetas can trace their lineage back at least 500 years, which was enough proof for Rabbi Karelitz to declare them Jewish.
In May, there was a memorial service held for 37 Chuetas who were executed in 1691, including their rabbi, Rabbi Rafael Valls. One of the Chuetas who rejoined the Jewish community, Rabbi Nissim Ben-Avraham, will be providing his community with classes in Hebrew, Jewish Law, Jewish History and other subjects to help the community reconnect with its roots.
Freund qualified his statements by saying that the announcement and sending of a Rabbi to Majorca had no intention of forcing religion upon the community, but is instead supposed to help the Chueta rediscover their roots and if they want, be able to rejoin the wider community.