"A Dead Branch on the Tree of Israel"
The Xuetas of Majorca
The Xueta (pronounced: shwetta)1 community, who occupy a couple of streets in the center of Palma, the capital of Majorca, and monopolize the goldsmith and silversmith trades, are of unmixed Jewish stock, but strict Catholics. Jews are said to have first come to Majorca during the reign of the Emperor Claudius—perhaps in the year 49 C.E. when, as Suetonius records, those settled at Rome were expelled because of a disorderly Messianic uprising. Palestinian Jews joined them after Titus’s destruction of the Temple; and others again, “with some of their most celebrated rabbis,” when the Emperor Hadrian built his temple to Aelian Jove on Mount Zion. Majorca, the largest island in the western Mediterranean, lies midway between France and North Africa, and well on the route between Barcelona and Italy. It was then inhabited by the native Iberians (famous as slingers), a few Greek settlers, and four colonies of Roman veterans. The Jews soon took over trade and industry. They are said to have been the dominant class in 418 C.E., when the Visigoths secured the island; and do not seem to have fared too badly on the subsequent arrival of Genseric’s Vandals, or of Belisarius’s Byzantines, a century later. Nevertheless, Christians were not dependable. Since, in times of famine or other distress, they had a habit of making Jews the scapegoats, the Majorcan community are likely to have shed few tears when the Moslem Moors drove out the Byzantines in 720 C.E. Mohammed had, at least, ordained that religious toleration should be extended to all non-Moslem “Men of a Book”—meaning the Torah, or the Gospels—so long as they kept the peace and refrained from proselytizing; whereas the Gospels, for example in the parable of the King’s Marriage, recommended compulsory conversion. There were three flourishing Palma synagogues during the Moorish occupation, and doubtless others elsewhere in the island. The Moors improved agriculture, terracing the mountainsides for olives, and building irrigation canals; the Jews improved trade. Majorca became very rich.
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