Among the Xuetas of Majorca

Jan. 11 2023

The Mediterranean island of Majorca, which has been under Spanish rule since the 13th century, has only a small Jewish population. But about 20,000 of its residents are Xuetas—a special term for Majorcans of Jewish dissent—although only a small percentage of these actively identify as such. Ari Blaff tells their story:

Violent pogroms in the 14th century devastated the Majorcan Jewish community, which traced its roots back a millennium. Fearing for their survival, in 1435 the entire community underwent a mass conversion. Henceforth, no one among these “New Christians” practiced their Judaism publicly, although a smaller subgroup of crypto-Jews did in private.

Still, the conversions didn’t satisfy everyone. The Spanish Inquisition conducted periodic autos-da-fé (public burnings) singling out New Christians thought to have remained faithful to their Judaism. Suspected crypto-Jews persecuted by the Inquisition had their names written on sanbenitos [sackcloth caps or cloaks] that were publicly displayed in the Church of Santo Domingo in Palma (which is no longer existent).

By some estimates, the lists included hundreds of names. However, burgeoning renovation costs (alongside speculations of bribery to have one’s name removed) led authorities in the mid-1700s to preserve only fifteen surnames that persisted over the coming centuries on Majorca as a sign of forbidden Jewish roots. Descendants of these families came to be known as “Xuetas,” which some believe stems from combining the Catalan words xulla (bacon or pork) and Jueu (Jew). Although the surviving members of these Xueta families of crypto-Jews were spared the worst aspects of the Inquisition, their surnames were tainted by association.

For centuries, these fifteen families were effectively barred from marrying any other Majorcans and were forced to look for spouses within their small community.

Read more at Tablet

More about: Marranos, Sephardim, Spanish Inquisition


When It Comes to Peace with Israel, Many Saudis Have Religious Concerns

Sept. 22 2023

While roughly a third of Saudis are willing to cooperate with the Jewish state in matters of technology and commerce, far fewer are willing to allow Israeli teams to compete within the kingdom—let alone support diplomatic normalization. These are just a few results of a recent, detailed, and professional opinion survey—a rarity in Saudi Arabia—that has much bearing on current negotiations involving Washington, Jerusalem, and Riyadh. David Pollock notes some others:

When asked about possible factors “in considering whether or not Saudi Arabia should establish official relations with Israel,” the Saudi public opts first for an Islamic—rather than a specifically Saudi—agenda: almost half (46 percent) say it would be “important” to obtain “new Israeli guarantees of Muslim rights at al-Aqsa Mosque and al-Haram al-Sharif [i.e., the Temple Mount] in Jerusalem.” Prioritizing this issue is significantly more popular than any other option offered. . . .

This popular focus on religion is in line with responses to other controversial questions in the survey. Exactly the same percentage, for example, feel “strongly” that “our country should cut off all relations with any other country where anybody hurts the Quran.”

By comparison, Palestinian aspirations come in second place in Saudi popular perceptions of a deal with Israel. Thirty-six percent of the Saudi public say it would be “important” to obtain “new steps toward political rights and better economic opportunities for the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.” Far behind these drivers in popular attitudes, surprisingly, are hypothetical American contributions to a Saudi-Israel deal—even though these have reportedly been under heavy discussion at the official level in recent months.

Therefore, based on this analysis of these new survey findings, all three governments involved in a possible trilateral U.S.-Saudi-Israel deal would be well advised to pay at least as much attention to its religious dimension as to its political, security, and economic ones.

Read more at Washington Institute for Near East Policy

More about: Islam, Israel-Arab relations, Saudi Arabia, Temple Mount