Mallorca's Jews Get Their Due

Spanish Island's Community Alive and Thriving

Jewish Lineage: Joan Punyet Miró
sarah wildman
Jewish Lineage: Joan Punyet Miró

By Sarah Wildman

Published April 13, 2012, issue of April 20, 2012.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

‘We descend from Jews, I am sure of it,” said Joan Punyet Miró, the youngest grandson of the eponymous painter. We were sitting in his offices in the heart of Palma de Mallorca, blocks from the imposing sandstone cathedral within which his grandfather once sought refuge and around the corner from the glorious and airy new modern art museum Es Baluard. “You see,” he continued, “Miró is known as a chueto name.”

“Chueto” is the pejorative, Mallorcan form of the Spanish words marrano, a hidden Jew, and converso, a Jew forced to convert during the Inquisition. It means “pig” in the local dialect, a riff off the pork that Jews were forced to eat to “prove” their Catholicism. So well known are chueto names in Mallorca that they continued to carry great weight for centuries after the Inquisition; in 1978, posters Miró designed for a play were defaced, painted and written over with the word chueto in all capital letters. It was not a friendly gesture.

Waves of Violence: The Jews of Palma de Mallorca were forced to live in ‘ghettos,’ like the one above, beginning around the Roman era.
Getty Images
Waves of Violence: The Jews of Palma de Mallorca were forced to live in ‘ghettos,’ like the one above, beginning around the Roman era.

Those chueto names are identifiable, in part, because on this idyllic Balearic Island about 120 miles off the east coast of Spain, crypto-Jews remained connected to their heritage and distinct from the rest of the Mallorcan population. Marriages to chuetos were frowned upon, so the chuetos continued to marry within the community, wiping out most family names. Though today these crypto-Jews number about 20,000, there remain only some 15 family names, like Miró, that are considered “chueto.”

But the aggression and suspicion experienced by Miró and other Jews very recently gave way to something else entirely: recognition. Last July, a few weeks after I met the Miró family, Rabbi Nissim Karelitz, chairman of the Beit Din Tzedek, in Bnei Brak, announced that members of the chueto population of Mallorca could reclaim their identity, should they choose, some 600 years after the Spanish Inquisition. Their unique separation from the rest of Spanish and Mallorcan society had preserved their Jewishness, he reasoned. At the moment when Mallorca’s chuetos might have finally blended into the rest of society, they no longer had to.

The ancient Jewish presence lives here like a ghost in the alleyways around the cathedral, and in the blood of the chueto families that hung on to their identities for several hundred years.

Jews began living on Mallorca in the Roman era, if not before. They nestled in the twisting streets of the island’s main city, Palma, in two calls, or ghettos: “major” and “menor.” Jews thrived under North African occupation, and then became comfortable and wealthy in the 13th and early 14th centuries, when the Spanish kings took over. They were cartographers and astronomers, merchants and traders. Though the Jews were forced to live in distinct areas of the city, those areas were, and remain, marvelous quarters, well ventilated by winds from the sea.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Are Michelangelo's paintings anti-Semitic? Meet the Jews of the Sistine Chapel: http://jd.fo/i4UDl
  • What does the Israel-Hamas war look like through Haredi eyes?
  • Was Israel really shocked to find there are networks of tunnels under Gaza?
  • “Going to Berlin, I had a sense of something waiting there for me. I was searching for something and felt I could unlock it by walking the streets where my grandfather walked and where my father grew up.”
  • How can 3 contradictory theories of Yiddish co-exist? Share this with Yiddish lovers!
  • "We must answer truthfully: Has a drop of all this bloodshed really helped bring us to a better place?”
  • "There are two roads. We have repeatedly taken the one more traveled, and that has made all the difference." Dahlia Scheindlin looks at the roots of Israel's conflict with Gaza.
  • Shalom, Cooperstown! Cooperstown Jewish mayor Jeff Katz and Jeff Idelson, director of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, work together to oversee induction weekend.
  • A boost for morale, if not morals.
  • Mixed marriages in Israel are tough in times of peace. So, how do you maintain a family bubble in the midst of war? http://jd.fo/f4VeG
  • Despite the escalating violence in Israel, more and more Jews are leaving their homes in Alaska to make aliyah: http://jd.fo/g4SIa
  • The Workmen's Circle is hosting New York’s first Jewish street fair on Sunday. Bring on the nouveau deli!
  • Novelist Sayed Kashua finds it hard to write about the heartbreak of Gaza from the plush confines of Debra Winger's Manhattan pad. Tough to argue with that, whichever side of the conflict you are on.
  • "I’ve never bought illegal drugs, but I imagine a small-time drug deal to feel a bit like buying hummus underground in Brooklyn."
  • We try to show things that get less exposed to the public here. We don’t look to document things that are nice or that people would like. We don’t try to show this place as a beautiful place.”
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.