Rabbi Nissan Ben-Avraham, a resident of Shiloh, has been appointed Shavei Israel’s new emissary to the Bnei Anousim (whom historians refer to as "Marranos") in Spain.
Rabbi Ben-Avraham was born in 1957 in Palma de Mallorca, Spain, into a Chueta family. His given name at birth was Nicolau Aguilo. He immigrated to Israel in 1978, formally returned to Judaism and Hebraicized his name. He later married, was ordained as a rabbi, and became a proud father of 12 children.
As Shavei Israel's emissary in Spain, Rabbi Ben-Avraham will teach Torah, Jewish culture and tradition to Bnei Anousim, and will conduct a range of social and educational activities. His work will focus on the Bnei Anousim communities of Barcelona, Palma de Mallorca, Alicante and Seville, where he will assist those seeking to learn more about their Jewish roots.
Helping Anousim learn about Jewish roots
“This is a very moving and historic development,” said Michael Freund, founder and chairman of Shavei Israel. “It marks the first time that a member of the Bnei Anousim is returning to Spain, where he was born and raised, in order to help his fellow Anousim learn more about their Jewish roots.”
According to Freund, there are tens of thousands – and maybe even more – of Bnei Anousim in Spain, who are conscious of their special connection to the Jewish people. "We owe it to them and to their ancestors to reach out to them, embrace them and welcome them back home," he said.
The Chuetas are descendants of Mallorca's Jews who were forcibly converted to Catholicism in the 14th and 15th centuries. They were never fully accepted by their Catholic neighbors, who referred to them as Chuetas (the Catalan word for "pigs") and rejected them. They suffered from centuries of discrimination, which reinforced their identity and communal cohesiveness.
The Chuetas were forced to marry only among themselves and faced various social and professional restrictions up until the modern era. An estimated 15,000-20,000 still live in Mallorca, though many have assimilated in recent years.