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'Lost tribe' of Mallorca Jews Welcomed Back to the Faith 600 Years Later
Almost six centuries after most of them converted to Christianity, a rabbinical court has declared that descendants of a "lost tribe" from the Spanish island of Mallorca can once more be considered Jews.
A decision by the ultra-orthodox rabbi Nissim Karelitz recognises that the Chuetas of Mallorca, who were persecuted by the Spanish Inquisition and remained a distinct group within Mallorcan society until the 1970s, had the right to call themselves Jews.
Today's Chuetas are descendants of Jews who are considered to have been forcibly converted in the early 15th century, decades before Spain formally expelled its Jews in 1492.
"Since it has become clear this it is accepted among them that throughout the generations, most of them married among themselves, then all of those who are related to the former generations are Jews," the rabbi's decisions said, according to the Arutz Sheva website.
The ruling does not affect the descendants of other Jews who remained in Spain rather than joining the Sephardic communities formed in other countries after the expulsion.
Some of the Chuetas continued to practise Judaism in secret and at great personal risk. They became a target for the Inquisition, which condemned hundreds to death. Members of the community were persecuted in the 15th and 17th centuries.
Today there are 15 popular surnames on the island that originate from the Chueta community. Around 18,000 people bear the surnames.
Genetic studies have shown the tendency to intermarry that continued until the 1970s had produced a degree of "genetic homogeneity", according to researchers at the university of the Balearic Islands. The term Chueta is thought to come from the Catalan word for pig.
Rabbis will now start teaching any who are interested in embracing Judaism. Only a handful, however, are reported to have started to attend a synagogue in the Mallorcan capital of Palma.
The decision to recognise their descendants comes as another step in the hunt to recover what have been called the "lost" or "hidden" Jews. Shavei Israel, an organisation dedicated to finding them, has welcomed the decision.
"Their ancestors were kidnapped from us and taken against their will six centuries ago," the group's founder, Michael Freund, told the Jerusalem Post. "The Inquisition sought to quash their Jewish identity down through the ages and we are coming here today to say that the Inquisition did not succeed.
"Although there is no actual discrimination any longer against Chuetas, on a societal level many feel ostracised and to a certain extent outsiders."
"Acceptance of the Chuetas over the past 40 years has grown, which is positive, but brings with it a greater danger of assimilation."