Recently, I wrote about world tennis champion Rafael Nadal and his probable Jewish ancestors. The story went viral and was picked up by some leading Spanish magazines. Yesterday, Nadal responded. In a story in the Times of Israel, Howard Blas writes how, while covering the present US Open tournament in Flushing Meadows, New York, he asked Nadal to respond to my theories that he is of Jewish descent. Blas writes that at first Nadal did not understand the question. After the word “Jewish” was translated into Spanish as “Judio”, i.e. “Jew”, he responded; “That’s not true. Really doesn’t matter for me. Doesn’t matter if I am or am not. But is not the case. I am not.” According to Blas: “Mystery solved.” Maybe not.
Let me start by saying that it’s Nadal’s prerogative to be whatever he wants to be. But isn’t it curious that a man who, according to Blas, “speaks English beautifully” did not understand the word “Jew” or “Jewish”? Maybe he didn’t understand Blas’ question. There is a huge distinction between “are you a Jew?” and “do you have Jewish ancestry?” Many Spaniards and Portuguese will answer “no” to the first question and “yes” to the second. This is an important distinction and Nadal may have missed it.
More than this, you have to understand the meaning of the word “Chueta.” In the lead up to the 1492 expulsion of the Jews from Spain, many Jews were forcibly converted to Christianity. But rather than be welcomed to their new faith, they were mocked as “Pig eaters” i.e. “Maranos” in Spanish, and “Chuetas” in Catalan, the language of Majorca (Mallorca, in Catalan), the island that Nadal hails from. For hundreds of years, these “New Christians” were persecuted by the “Old Christians.” In fact, back in the bad old days, fifteen family names of Chuetas were published by the church. These are: Aguiló, Bonnín, Cortès, Forteza, Fuster, Martí, Miró, Picó, Pinya, Pomar, Segura, Valls, Valentí, Valleriola and Tarongí. These families were marked for persecution. For centuries, the secret Jews of Majorca struggled to make sure their names were not on that list. The Nadals were probably one such family. Why do I say this? Because in the late sixteen hundreds a “Rafael Nadal” was hauled up before the Inquisition and tried as a “Judaizer” i.e. someone who, while pretending to be Catholic, was practicing Judaism. In the end of the 15th century, one of the founders of the Jesuit order, Jerónimo Nadal, came from the exact town as our tennis champion – Palma – and was a suspected Marano. Unless we believe that there were multiple Nadals in Palma, some Jewish, some not, Rafael is one of these Nadals. Furthermore, on his mother’s side Nadal is a “Parera” i.e. “pear tree.” This is one of the most common names adopted by those Jews who were forced to give up their Hebrew names. Are we to believe that on his mother’s side he has a Marano name and on his father’s side he has a Marano history but all this is just a coincidence and he has no Jewish ancestry at all?
Finally, there’s a basic problem with “outing” a Chueta. The essence of the Chueta experience is to cover up one’s Jewish background – denying one’s Jewish family heritage is the mechanism for one’s survival. I have met families that to this day live in terror of being found out. They celebrate Passover in their basements with the curtains drawn. No amount of encouragement will bring them out. But some have come out. In the last few years, the Israel based organization, Shavei Israel, has opened up a spiritual center in Palma, Majorca, which is serving those Majorcans who are trying to reclaim their Jewish past. Headed by Michael Freund, the organization has even managed to get a prominent Israeli rabbi to recognize Majorca’s “Chuetas” as authentic Jews from a Torah point of view. According to Freund:
…the last fifty or sixty years of liberalization on Majorca has been a double edged sword for the Chuetas. Freedom brings with it the opportunity to assimilate and the opportunity to reclaim your history. We are there to help those who want to explore their heritage. If Nadal is indeed of Jewish ancestry and if he chooses to come to our center, he will be more than welcome.
Here’s more on the Chuetas in Majorca:
Further information can be found here.
Read my recent article on The Lost Voyage of Jesus.