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Ibiza and Formentera

IBIZA AND FORMENTERA, third and fourth largest of the Balearic Islands. Situated south to south-east of Majorca, equidistant to North Africa and mainland Spain, the islands provided a strong commercial attraction to Jewish traders from the periods of Phoenician and Roman occupation, particularly for their bountiful saltpans and the dyeing industries.

Hitherto, historians have concluded that the Jews in the smaller Balearics suffered similar oppression to their coreligionists some 100 miles away in Palma, capital city of controlling Majorca. This misconception was enhanced because the name "Majorca" was given to the whole Balearic area.

The inhabitants of Ibiza and Formentera (Ibicencos) to this day bitterly resent the 700 years of Majorcan domination and greatly prize personal freedom. Local piracy, smuggling, and the proximity and affinity to Islamic Barbary all contributed to a hatred of prying eyes and the facility to hide Jews from the Inquisition.

Sixth-century church documents mention the considerable size of the Jewish population and, contrary to other Iberian centers of that period, their lack of interest in conversion to Christianity. The Jewish population increased with the annexation by James I, the "Conquistor," in 1235. In 1254, the king arranged their property assessments as part of the Aljama of Majorca. In 1329, the Jews of Ibiza requested separation from the Majorcan community which was refused.

In the terrible year for the Jews of Spain, 1391, there is no mention of outrages in Ibiza or Formentera, or of an exodus in the fateful year of 1492. All documents relating to visits by the officers of the Inquisition from 1423 onwards state that nobody was found practicing the Laws of Moses, yet research indicates that Jews continued to reside in the Islands and assisted many from elsewhere to escape the clutches of the Inquisition. Members of the Matutes family, descendants of the Motot family, that left for Italy in 1492, returned to Ibiza where they became one of the most important families in the island, playing a major role in the economic and social life there.

The Judería (ghetto) call (Jewish quarter) in Ibiza was in use as such until the 19th century and efforts are now being made for its restoration. Part of the nearby Convent of San Christobel (built in 1600) was used as a synagogue. It seems that one synagogue was in use in Formentera until 1936.

In 1867 a clearly defined Jewish community was described by Prinz Luis Salvador of Hamburg in German in his first book on the Balearic Islands but was deleted in all subsequent editions until 1979.

The survival of Jewish customs was described by visitors to the Islands as late as the 1930s. The Spanish Civil War (1936–39) and the influence of the German SS in Majorca brought fear and conversions to Catholicism. Yet the islanders protected Jewish arrivals fleeing the Nazis.

A small number of Jews of various origins now reside there and have formed a group to support the many interested in their Jewish roots and desirous of strengthening these affiliations.


B. Braunstein, Chuetas of Majorca (1952), 117; I. Macabich, Costumbre (1966), 19; G. Mound in Papers 4th and 5th British Judeo-Spanish Seminars, Glasgow, 1984 (1986); I. Cohen, Travels in Jewry (1952); JC (Sept. 4, 1936); Jerusalem Post (March 17, 1983); Die Balearen in Wort und Bild (1867); Prinz Luis Salvador, Los Antiguas Pitiusas (facsimile, 1979), 137. ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: G. Mound, in: Proceedings of the 10th World Congress of Jewish Studies (1990), Division B, vol. 2, 459–66.

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.