Whoever is remotely interested in tennis knows who Rafael (“Rafa”) Nadal is. He is the former world number one tennis player. He is presently ranked number four. He’s considered one of the greatest players of all time, probably still the best player in the world on clay. Coming back from injuries, he’s trying to fight his way back to number one. So what does this have to do with Jewish history? Perhaps nothing, perhaps a lot. Since so much of Jewish history is defined by persecution, a lot of it necessitates “decoding” a secret past. Which brings us back to Nadal.
This tennis legend comes from the island of Majorca, Spain. In 1492, the Jews of Majorca were either expelled or forcibly converted. The ones who converted were never accepted. Until recently, they were called “Chuetas” and they were a breed apart. People wouldn’t marry them and they couldn’t aspire to high positions. Everyone knew they were Jews. One local church kept a list of them for public display. Recently, liberalization has changed some of that and some Chuetas have returned to Judaism. One has become a rabbi and moved to Israel.
Is Majorcan Rafael Nadal a Chueta? Probably. His name is Rafael Nadal Parera. “Parera” was a common “converso” i.e., “convert” name. It means “pear tree”. It’s the kind of “neutral” name the newly baptized Jews adopted in the 15th century. Names like “Parera”, “Torres” and “Medina” usually reflect a hidden Jewish past. Some of these newly minted Christians tried to prove their loyalty to their new faith by being more anti-Semitic than the old Christians. But others defended their countrymen and their fellow “conversos”. Jerónimo Nadal was one of the good guys.
Like the modern day tennis player, in the 16th century, Jerónimo Nadal came from the area of Palma de Majorca. He was one of the first Jesuits representing Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the Jesuit order. At a time of anti-converso policies, Jerónimo Nadal was pro-converso, allowing them into the order. We know for a fact that Jerónimo Nadal was fluent in Hebrew. In fact, he was so knowledgeable in Jewish religious texts that there is a story that when he was in Avignon, France, during the 1560’s, the Jews there offered him the position of chief rabbi! Rabbi Nadal? So it seems that Nadal is a converso name.
There is more proof: the archives of the Spanish Inquisition tell us that at least three conversos who bore the name “Nadal” were tried as Judaizing heretics at the end of the 15th century. And at least one Nadal, called “Rafael Nadal” like the tennis player, was tried late in the 17th century (see “The Jesuit Order as a Synagogue of Jews: Studies in Medieval and Reformation Traditions”, Robert Aleksander Maryks, pp. 88-89).
But the history of the Jews of Majorca goes back way before Medieval times. They seem to have been there since at least the 1st century. There is even reason to believe that some of the Jews who were forcibly converted by the Inquisition may have been descendants of Jesus and his earliest followers. In the Archaeological Museum of Majorca, there are on exhibit three lead anchors.
These anchors were found in a 2nd century “paleo Christian” i.e., early Christian, context. It’s widely accepted that anchors are one of the earliest symbols of Christianity. These three anchors, however, were found in the grave of a man who was buried facing Jerusalem. They even bear Hebrew inscriptions! They state the name of the man in the grave. He was “Samuel, son of Chanai”. Was he an early Hebrew follower of Jesus who made his way to Majorca from the Holy Land? Incredibly, there is a tradition on the island that Jesus himself landed there. Majorcans venerate Jesus’ “holy footsteps” to this day.
Also, and this is quite unusual, “Magdalene” is a common name among the Chuetas. There is even one “Chueta” family that claims direct descent from Jesus himself!
So here is the divine joke – on Majorca, the Inquisition seems to have forced the descendants of the first followers of Jesus and his family to convert from the Christianity that Jesus taught, to the Christianity as it was developed by the Inquisition. Clearly, the Nadals are part of this secret history, part of the forcible conversions, inquisitions and secret Judaism.
I don’t know if Rafael Nadal knows any of this but, if he does, maybe he can reclaim his Jewish past at the same time as he reclaims his world number one tennis crown. As for the Chuetas, with or without Rafa, it’s time to come home. Perhaps the State of Israel should reciprocate the Spanish government’s latest moves i.e., just as Spain is offering Jews of Spanish descent fast track Spanish citizenship, Israel should offer conversos in general, and Chuetas in particular, fast track Israeli citizenship. This way, maybe Nadal can represent Israel at some future tennis championship.
For more information of the early link between the Jesus movement and Spain, see my film “Secrets of Christianity”, the episode “The Lost Voyage of Jesus”.