"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.
On December 31, 1229, King James of Aragon’s knights captured Palma and, with the help of a few powerful Moorish collaborators, whom he allowed to keep their lands, soon secured the whole of the island. Though in the excitement of conquest his priests seized the largest of the three synagogues for re-consecration as a Catholic church, James was sensible enough to let the Jewish congregation have it back again, on a promise of peaceful cooperation. These Jews had taken no part in the fighting, being forbidden by the Moors to carry arms. Because the surviving Moors were lax Moslems, as their cultivation of the vine and their readiness to help King James suggests, Islam soon withered away when they began to intermarry with James’s more numerous, if equally lax, Christians. The Jews, however, continued their strict observance of the Law, and felt no temptation to do otherwise, their closest trade contacts being with other Jews in Morocco, Italy, Egypt, Asia Minor, and Flanders, who would not extend equal credit to renegades. The Cavellers, or Aragonese nobility, had taken over the rich Majorcan farmlands, and left the Jews to carry on as before, until their merchant fleet became the most powerful in the western Mediterranean. At one time it employed thirty thousand sailors and shipwrights. The language of the island was now a form of Provençal French called Mallorquin, which is still the vernacular.
By the beginning of the 14th century Spain still had no Inquisition, the Moslem and Jewish religions being both officially recognized in the northern provinces; but the Popes had begun sending Dominican friars there to direct the persecutions. The first sign of trouble for the Majorcan Jews was an incident in 1344, under King Sancho. Two German Christians, almost certainly agents provocateurs, came to Catalonia and pleaded to be received into the Jewish faith. Since the synagogues of Lerida and Gerona would not admit them, they proceeded to Palma. There the rabbis, true to the Talmudic injunction “let thy right hand beckon, but let thy left hand repulse,” pointed out the disadvantages of conversion. However, the Germans persisted, renounced Christianity, and became Jews. The Bishop of Villa Nova then brought a civil action against the Majorcan synagogues, which he naturally won; and the fine for this perversion of two Christian souls was fifteen thousand pounds’ weight of gold. Five thousand went to the King of Aragon, five thousand to the Bishop, and five thousand toward the conversion of the largest Palma synagogue into a Christian church, henceforth called Santa Fé (the Holy Faith) de la Calatrava. It is recorded that a Jewry of three hundred houses lay between the present Calle de la Calatrava and the Calle de Call.
Next, the Church persuaded the Royal Governor that the existence of the remaining synagogues was a disgrace to a Christian island and that, as he hoped for salvation, he must suppress them. So the larger synagogue became the Church of Montesión (Mount Zion); and the smaller that of San Bartolomé—at one time a nunnery, now a timber store. Yet practical common sense kept the Royal Governor from killing the goose that laid the golden eggs: the Jews were given leave to continue their devotions in a nearby building called the Tower of Love—which is still commemorated in a Palma street name. The Papal propagandists grew bolder, and at last staged one of their familiar atrocity dramas. Here is the official account by the early 18th-century historian Dameto:
In the year 1435, in the Passion Week, the Jews committed the most atrocious Action that can be imagined; they took a Moor, one of their own Slaves, and giving him the name of Jesus Christ, they began to represent in him, on the same Days of the Passion Week, what our Savior had suffered for all Men; this Moor they curs’d, whipp’d, and plac’d him upon a Cross, Crucifying a second time our Redeemer in the Person of this Wretch. This was a piece of the most execrable Impiety that could be invented by these Inhumane Monsters. But God Almighty, who in His infinite Mercy often brings Good from Evil, and from the Disgrace of Men Glory to Himself, willing to bring back these Jews to the Vineyard of their Fathers, made this Act of Impiety of use to convert them to the Christian Faith.
Yet the Bishop hearing of this Action, ordered the two Jews who were the chief Authors of this Villainy to be taken into Custody, and also the Moorish Slave whom, tho’ they had put upon the Cross, they had not killed. The Governor’s Lieutenant demanded of the Bishop these Prisoners, because they belonged to his Jurisdiction; and they were accordingly carried to the King’s Prison.
The People thinking that the Governor delayed the Punishment of these Wretches, began to murmur and use very bitter Reflections against him, which was not a little encouraged by the Preachers from their Pulpits. The Governor to prevent any bad Accident, called a Council, and had one of the Criminals put to Torture before them. He confessed the Crime, and accused his Accomplices; of whom sixteen had already been seized and put in Prison. In the Space of five Days, the Process was ended, by which the four Principal Actors, viz., the Rabbies Struch, Sibili, Farrig and Stellator were condemned to be burnt; with this Clause, that their Sentence should be changed to hanging in case they would turn Christians and be baptized. The Sentence being published, the Governor sent two Confessors to take care of the Salvation of their Souls: by whose means God was pleased to convert these Jews. They were baptiz’d, and had Christian names given them.
The Example of these four, who were the wisest of their Religion, had such an influence over the Rest, that in two Days’ time there were above two hundred Baptized in the Great Church. The Prisoners also met with the same Mercy: for, the Governor having ordered to bring the Criminals to Punishment, the Vicar General desired him to stay till they were baptized, and had received the Holy Sacrament; which they did with great Devotion. The Mob, whose temper is always variable and discontented, now began to have Compassion on these Wretches, and begged for their Pardon. There were also three of the converted Jewesses, who came with their Children in their Arms, accompanied with some Ladies of the Place, who fell down upon their knees before the Bishop and Governor, and in Tears implor’d Mercy. The Governor remained undetermined till the Bishop, Magistrates, Canons, Nobles, and Priors of the Convents intreated on their behalf, upon Account of so extraordinary a Conversion of the Jews. Upon this he called a Council, who unanimously voted their Pardon, which, with their Liberty, was accordingly given them; and they afterwards went in Procession to the Great Church, where a Te Deum was sung with great Devotion and Solemnity.
Nevertheless, it is probable that the rabbis who had “bowed in the House of Rimmon” continued to practice Judaism at home behind closed doors.
Forty years later the crown of Majorca passed to the Spanish monarchy at the marriage of Ferdinand, King of Aragon, and Queen Isabella of Castile (1474-1504), who together set up a national Inquisition independent of the Papacy, and banned both Islam and Judaism. Penalties for continuing to observe the Law already so restricted the Jews in their daily life—those convicted of heresy might no longer employ Christian servants, ride horses, wear silk, furs, or jewels, or travel without permission—that in 1453, when King Alfonso the Magnanimous ruled Majorca, all but the ship-owners, druggists, bankers, furriers, and jewelers, who continued buying protection from the Royal Governors, or the Papal emissaries, or both, went over to Christianity in a mass, and now form part of the ordinary Catholic population. (It would be no exaggeration to say that all Majorcan tradesmen and businessmen of established family are of Jewish descent, and that the reputation which they everywhere enjoy for cleanliness, fair dealing, sobriety, industry, family affection, and a hatred of physical violence is due to this inheritance. They are also apt to form closeknit colonies abroad. For example: they control the high-class fruit trade throughout France, and the pastry trade in two or three South American republics.)
Worse followed. A deputation of the Spanish nobility complained to Ferdinand and Isabella that the greater part of Spain’s wealth had passed into the hands of Jewish moneylenders. By a decree of May 1492, all Jews were given four months to choose between leaving the country (though without any gold, silver, precious stones, or other valuables) and embracing the Catholic faith. Eighty thousand emigrated to Portugal, the Balkans, and elsewhere; the figures for Majorca are unknown. Some families hoped to stay and ride out the storm, but by 1504, after various autos-da-fé had taken place in Palma, they realized their mistake. The good old days were over; and good days they had been. Despite a lack of secure harbors in the island, the Palma Lonja, or Exchange, had been so prosperous at one time that the Genoa Exchange was forced to close its doors. Now, however, their ships were being redirected to the American run; and the price of protection had risen ruinously. They decided to make a pretense of conversion, while continuing to worship their God in private; and so became the ancestors of the Xuetas.
The Mallorquin word Xueta—elsewhere in Spain converted Jews are called Marranos—has been given different etymologies. Some connect it with the French word chouette (screech owl), a bird of ill omen. Others say that it is formed from xua, the Mallorquin for pork chop; because the converted Jews used to eat pork in front of their shops, as a proof that they had renounced the Law. But the word is, it appears, no more than “Jeu-ete,” a playful diminutive of “Jew.”
Though the conquest of the Americas filled Spain with treasure, this did not benefit the country itself so much as had been hoped. On the contrary, the sturdiest and most energetic Spanish peasants became soldiers, and for the next hundred years fought in the Caribbean, Italy, France, and the Low Countries. Prices soared, industry and trade dried up, learning stifled, English privateers played havoc with the Spanish fleet, the Armada was lost, and Philip Ill’s expulsion of the Moriscoes—the ex-Moslem peasantry—left whole regions uncultivated. By the middle of the 17th century, Spain was nearly burned out. The English were founding colonies in the New World; Cromwell had invited Dutch Jews to England, where they introduced sound banking and made London the financial center of Europe. Yet the swifter the decline of Spanish national prestige, the more fanatic the triumph of faith. The Xuetas of Palma were spied upon, and many proved to be still faithful to Judaism, though a hundred and sixty years had elapsed since Judaism had been theoretically suppressed. The Inquisitors handed over those who remained “hardened” to the civil authorities for public burning. “Spectacles were organized in accordance with the most brilliant functions celebrated by the triumph of the Faith in Madrid, Palermo and Lima.”
Of the condemned Jews, some thought it better to pretend a change of heart, so that their bodies at least could be buried, not burned, and thus await the resurrection of the just. Others thought that God would not forgive such an act of treason, and felt bound by the text of Isaiah: “For Zion’s sake I will not hold my peace.” Here are two contrasting cases from the long list of victims proudly published by Father Garau, the rector of the Jesuit College of Montesión, who was Chief Examiner for the Inquisition.
The first prisoner abjured his faith:
Juan Antonio Pomar, by trade merchant, a native and resident of this city, seventy years of age, arrested for Judaism. He appeared at the audo-da-fé in the dress of a penitent, with a two-peaked hood and a candle of green wax in his hands. His sentence, with its penalties, having been read out, he formally abjured his errors, was duly reconciled with the Church, warned, reprehended, cursed, and condemned to wear a felon’s dress, be imprisoned for life, and to have all his goods confiscated.
For Zion’s sake, the second prisoner would not hold his peace. He was Rafael Valls, the leader of a large party of rich Xuetas who had engaged an English ship and secretly sailed for England. A tempest, however, drove the ship back; the Xuetas were arrested, charged with tax evasion, and their goods confiscated to the value of several million florins.
Rafael Valls the Elder, soap-maker by trade and, as it were, the Rabbi of all the Jews, aged fifty-one, a native and resident of this city, who after a reconciliation with the Church relapsed, and was arrested again for Judaism. He appeared in the same guise as the two last-mentioned [Catalina Tarongi, aged fifty, a cooper’s wife, and Rafael Tarongi, her brother, aged twenty-one and unmarried, who had worn coats decorated with devils and the flames of hell, and hoods fainted with toads, snakes, and horned monsters] and his sentence with its penalties having been read, was handed over to the secular arm to burn alive, as the last-mentioned had also done, with confiscation of his goods, being a heretic, apostate, Judaizer, and backslider, who had been convicted, confessed to his crime, but remained most obstinately rooted in his errors.
The full account of the burning is too sadistic to reprint here; but we learn that Rafael Valls “stood like a statue” and continued to curse the Jesuits who had condemned him, until the end. All this took place, by the way, where the Plaza Gomila, known as “the open psychotic ward” from the type of tourists it attracts, now spreads its numerous café tables at the foot of Bellver Castle Hill.
The document ends with a typical decree of the Inquisition:
All the offenders listed in this report have been publicly sentenced by the Holy Office, as avowed heretics; their possessions confiscated and devoted to the Royal Treasury; themselves pronounced incompetent and disqualified from holding or acceding to any rank, or benefices, whether ecclesiastical or secular, or any other public offices or honors; unfit to carry on their persons, or have carried by their dependents, gold, silver, pearls, precious stones, coral, silk, camlet, or broadcloth; to ride on horseback, carry arms, or practice and use the other things which, by common law, the laws and pragmatic sanctions of this Kingdom, or the directions and style of the Holy Office, are prohibited to persons thus degraded; the same prohibition extending, in the case of women under sentence of burning, to their sons and their daughters; and in the case of men, down to the third generation in tail male; condemning at the same time the memory of those executed in effigy, ordaining that their bones (provided that these can be distinguished from those of faithful Christians) shall be exhumed, handed over to justice and to the secular arm, to be burned and reduced to ashes; and there shall be obliterated or scraped away all inscriptions appearing in the burial places of the said heretics, wherever they may be, whether affixed, or painted; and all armorial bearings, so that there/remain nothing of them on the face of the earth except the memory of their sentence and of their execution.
The Xuetas, although making a great show of Catholic piety, continued to be shunned by all other Majorcans—including those Jews of the 1453 conversion who had forgotten their origin. In the year 1773 the enlightened King Charles III, famous for his expulsion of the Jesuits, received a deputation of eight leading Xuetas; as the result of which he issued a remarkable edict, intended to break down the prejudice which excluded them “from all societies, employments, honors, and amenities to which every honest Catholic subject of the King has a right to aspire,” though they paid taxes and undertook all the public services demanded of them. The King ordered that they should be granted complete equality with the rest of his Majorcan subjects, and remarked that Christian baptism destroyed any “taint of lineage.” He forbade the use of the “offensive word Xueta” under severe penalties, commanded the destruction of all barriers or gates which formed the Palma ghetto, and gave the inhabitants leave to settle wherever they pleased in the island.
The edict was disregarded, except insomuch as the Captain General tried to clear the ghetto by inviting the Xuetas to colonize the nearby desert island of Cabrera, which they of course refused to do. In 1782, when the King issued another, even stronger, edict, the Palma civil and ecclesiastical authorities, including the University, protested that the behavior required of them was “diametrically opposed to the clean Majorcan tradition,” Which excluded the descendants of converts forever from all offices, honors, and dignities in the island. These people, they maintained, still conserved “Talmudic fantasies and customs” that caused a natural disgust among pure-blooded Majorcans and, whatever the deputation may have told the King, far preferred to live in the ghetto, though many of them owned large houses outside. Elsewhere—in Catalonia, for example—the descendants of converted Jews had merged with the general population within two generations; but it had not happened, and could never happen, in Majorca. The Xuetas of Palma formed a closed society. They refused to attend the City Hospital, preferring their own mutual-aid organization; scorned agricultural labor, and observed a certain unparalleled and disgraceful Paschal custom, which earned them the horror of all good Christians. Their great show of religious devotion was puerile in its enthusiasm and excess. They had, in the previous century, refused to let pure-blooded Majorcans join their Silkworkers’ Guild. And, despite the King’s wishes, they must remain a distinct society, because no decent father of a family would dream of letting his daughter marry a descendant of those who had rejected Christ. Moreover, when, on publication of the King’s first edict, a Xueta tried to enter the Tailors’ Guild and won his case in the civil courts, the guild masters had announced that sooner than admit him they would prefer to be disbanded.
This second edict, therefore, also remained a dead letter. The “disgraceful Paschal custom,” by the way, was that of killing a lamb and awarding a prize to the man who displayed the fattest carcass hanging up at the entrance to the house. The Captain General now abolished this custom—presumably a reminiscence of the Passover Seder—as a studied insult to Christ, the true Paschal Lamb.
Judaism is no longer an officially proscribed religion in Spain. A liberal revolution caused the Holy Office to be finally dissolved in 1834—and later, in Barcelona, permission was even granted for the building of a synagogue. Though destroyed in 1936 during the troubles, the synagogue has recently been rebuilt, and a cinema is now annually hired as an overflow meeting place for the celebration of Yom Kippur. This, however, is a concession to the foreign Jewish colony.
The Xuetas of Palma, however careful in their Catholic observations, are still shunned by the more backward part of the population as somehow responsible for Christ’s crucifixion, and tacitly debarred from becoming priests, nuns, or until lately, army officers. Except in rare instances, they marry only among themselves. They continue to control the goldsmith trade, but their shops are now stocked with factory-made jewelry for tourists, and the craftsmen confine themselves to repair work. Most of Palma’s plumbers are Xuetas; the trend began, I am told, when the demand for silver-chain purses, which the Xuetas made by the thousand, ended at about the same time as modern plumbing came in. A few Xuetas have gone out into the larger world and become internationally famous: among them Don Antonio Maura, the far-sighted Spanish liberal statesman of the 1890’s, whose father was a furrier’s cutter. Baruch Braunstein, in a book on the Xuetas published by Columbia University twenty years ago, estimated that they then consisted of some three hundred families; this seems plausible.
Some Xueta characteristics are obvious. The jewelers have a habit of standing at the doorways of their shops to welcome customers, which nobody else does here; and give unlimited credit to people with honest faces. They live economically, and their tiny shops with jewelry in the windows are often false fronts to moneylending businesses. They also have a wholesome fear of litigation and, I am told, settle their internal disputes by appeal to an hombre recto, or upright character—an ex-colonel of the Caveller family—whom they know as altogether unbribable and unprejudiced and would never insult with the offer of fees. To have earned their confidence is sufficient honor, and they always abide by his decision. Another of their habits is nostalgically to attend Montesión Church, once their synagogue. Xuetas in Sóller and other small towns have a sort of rabbi as their moral and spiritual leader—a Catholic, of course, but a layman.
Recently I bought from a Palma jeweler named Pomar—perhaps a descendant of the Pomar who recanted—a small crowned lion in silver, hanging from a buckle set with a red stone. The lion had bells attached to its feet, and a fifth bell above its head. Señor Pomar had no idea what it represented, but guaranteed it to be ancient Majorcan work. I was antiquary enough to recognize the crowned lion as the Lion of Judah, and the red stone as the emblem of Judah; I guessed that the five bells represented the five Books of Moses. It proved, in fact, to be the ornament from an early 16th-century Torah.
I was about to send off this piece, when the following extraordinary news item reached me:
Forward [the Jewish Daily Forward in New York], August 26, publishes article by Israel correspondent L. Rochman, who reports that several thousand Marranos, living on the island of Majorca, have appealed for permission to enter Israel. It has generally been believed, Rochman states, that in the five hundred years since the Spanish Inquisition, when many Jews were forced to abandon Judaism, the Marranos, who practiced their religion in secret, had all but disappeared.
The appeal, sent to Ben Gurion, is postmarked Palma, the capital of Majorca. It reads:
“We have heard that God has remembered His people and that after two thousand years the Jewish state has been recreated. We are several thousand men, women, and children, the remnants of Spanish Jewry. The cruel Inquisition forced our ancestors to deny their religion and accept the Catholic faith. We appeal to you as the head of the Israeli government to help us return to the faith of our fathers, to our people, and to our homeland. Regretfully, we know very little of Jewishness, and therefore urge you to supply us with books on Judaism written in the Spanish language. We Marranos yearn to return to our people.”
The appeal is signed by Marti Valls, who, Rochman says, has also written to the Minister of Religion in Israel, and to the Jewish Agency.
He states further that no one in Israel “knows exactly how to respond to the Marranos’ appeal.” They are “generally skeptical of repenters” and, furthermore, “have had a very unfortunate experience with a village of Italian converts, who came to Israel but found it very difficult to adjust to living conditions there.” In the meantime, he adds, a delegation from Israel is on its way to Majorca. . . .
I recognized the double surname Marti Valls as a typically Xueta one. Rafael Valls was the rabbi who died at the stake in 1691; and Leonor Marti, a seventy-year-old widow who died impenitent in prison during the same pogrom and was burned in effigy, together with a casket of her bones. So I went to consult Don Antonio, a prosperous Xueta of my acquaintance, and asked if he knew anything about the matter. He told me: “I know several Valls Marti’s and Marti Valls’s, but none has asked permission to make any appeal on my behalf, or my sons’, and after all we are pretty well known in our small community. I don’t say it is necessarily a hoax. Who knows what some imbeciles will write in a moment of enthusiasm? But why should we want to leave Majorca? We have been here many centuries longer than the noble families themselves; this is our home, and the streets in which most of us live do not form a ghetto. I am proud of my Hebrew ancestry, and if the Caveller and allied families do not wish to marry with us, we do not wish to marry with them. The ignorant people envy us because we are successful in business and now practically run the island. What do we care? Our success is due to three qualities which we have learned to cultivate: intelligence, sobriety, and strict honesty. Thirty years ago we got many gross insults; but the people have since become civilized, and some even realize how much Spain owes to us historically. We were the leading cartographers and navigators of the Middle Ages. My mother’s name, by the way, is Cortes; and the Hernan Cortes who discovered the mainland of America was a collateral ancestor. So, perhaps, was Cristobal Colom [Columbus]—we have Coloms in our pedigree—who gave Majorcan names to his first landfalls in Haiti, including the unique Sa Ona and Martinet, and both of whose pilots were Xuetas. I could show you a book, secretly printed, which lists all the Xueta names. You would be surprised how many they are.”
I have since tried to check up on Don Antonio’s statements. “That is more or less true,” a non-Xueta government employee told me, “especially about the straight dealing. But Don Antonio greatly exaggerates the community’s wealth and influence. They control the jewelry business, and do pretty well for themselves by lending money on security that would not satisfy the banks; however, the big business interests are not in their hands. In the last century they won a practical monopoly of the medical, legal, and musical professions, but now they have lost it. And the once important fur trade has ceased to exist. The prejudice against them still continues; at the schools, Xueta boys are thrown very much on their own society, as they were when I was a schoolboy, twenty years ago. Surnames, by the way, are not an infallible test of Xueta ancestry; because Jews long ago were allowed to borrow the names of their Christian patrons who gave them protection. ‘Pomar’ is an example; ‘Fortaleza’ is another.
“There are two classes of Xueta, familiarly known as the oreya de bax and the oreya d’alt—the ‘droop-eared’ and the ‘prick-eared.’ The droop-eared are mechanics; the prick-eared are businessmen. These terms are said to derive from the different sort of caps they once wore. The prick-eared (to whom Don Antonio belongs) look down on the droop-eared, arid the two groups seldom intermarry. But the droop-eared look down on masons, and agricultural laborers, if any Xueta family has fallen so low as to live that way. What Don Antonio says about intermarriage is not quite true either. If a Xueta boy can marry well outside, that is considered a good thing. They argue: ‘We can do with healthy new blood.’ When Don Antonio’s cousin, for instance, married a girl of poor Caveller family six years ago, the wedding was a big fiesta for the Xuetas; but she has proved barren. Her own family never approved of the marriage, and Don Antonio resents her having spoilt their plans. Barrenness is a serious matter here, when there is no divorce. Xuetas, like most of us Spaniards, consider children as riches, not as a nuisance.
“Though the Goldsmiths’ Street is no longer a ghetto, my father remembers when, sixty years ago, it had a large gate at each end, kept locked and barred from dusk to dawn. A socket of one of the gates can still be seen at the Santa Eulalia end, and a sort of invisible barrier still separates the community from the rest of Palma. The prick-eared are ultra-orthodox Catholics, and when the other day one of them, a doctor, turned Protestant—that’s a long story, into which a German girl enters—the whole family, to the third degree, were ashamed to show their faces in the street for months.”
Two of my informants tried to persuade me that in some families Judaism continues even today, behind doubly locked doors, and in whispers. But this seems to be a baseless legend, perpetuated to justify local anti-Semitic prejudice. And that Don Antonio prides himself on his Hebrew ancestry may well be a sign of the times; Palma swarms with tourists, including sympathetic American Jews.
A close friend of mine, a Hungarian Jew, long resident in Barcelona, was recently visited by a poor Xueta from Majorca, inquiring about a free trip to Israel as a Jewish immigrant. He had no family and nothing to lose, and supposed Israel to be a land of plenty—like Venezuela, where a stream of Majorcans, Xuetas among them, have gone lately in search of sudden wealth. But my Hungarian friend is explicit on this point: that the Xuetas are “a dead branch on the tree of Israel,” and so conservative in their ways that they would remain staunch Catholics even if a revolution were to sweep away every priest in Spain.
1 Also spelled “Chueta”—ED.