The Balearic Islands

There have been Jews in the Balearic Islands since the Roman occupation. After Jaume I won the islands from the Arabs, many Jews arrived from Catalonia but also the south of France and North Africa to settle the new land. After 1343, when Pedro IV of Aragón seized the islands, the Balearic Jews began to enjoy a real golden age. The leading families traded throughout the Mediterranean and with North Africa, where they set up a highly efficient network of commercial agents. They also specialized in silver and gold and jewelry, as well as moneylending. They owned fine houses in the call at Palma de Mallorca and kept slaves. The community had its own laws and was directed by six secretaries and a council of thirty notables. Among its best-known men of learning were the rabbi Simon ben Zemah Duran, a great Talmudist who went into exile in Algiers, and the cartographers Abraham Cresques and his son Jafuda Cresques.

In 1391 the call was besieged. Many died and forced conversions followed. Some chose exile and left for Algiers. In 1435, after an accusation of ritual crime, the shrunken remainder of the community underwent forced conversion almost to a person. From this date onward, there were officially no more Jews. Jewish life continued only in a very diffuse form, among the chuetas, or crypto-Jews. They formed an extremely closed society of silver – and goldsmiths and jewellers whose integration into Majorcan society has remained problematic even in recent times.