Spain Gets Rabbi With Marrano Roots for First Time Since Inquisition

Rabbi Nissan Ben-Avraham, a descendant of forcibly-converted Spanish Jews, appointed as Shavei Israel's new emissary to the Marranos of Spain.

For the first time since the expulsion of Jews from Spain in 1492, a descendant of forcibly-converted Spanish Jews will return to Spain to serve as a rabbi.

Rabbi Nissan Ben-Avraham, a resident of the West Bank settlement of Shiloh, has been appointed by Shavei Israel - a non-profit organization that seeks to strengthen ties between Israel and descendants of Jews around the globe - as its new emissary to the Bnei Anoushim community in Spain.

The Bnei Anoushim - referred to by historians as Marranos - were Jews who were forced to convert Catholicism and stayed behind in Spain after the expulsion of 1492. The Bnei Anoushim continued to preserve their Jewish identity and to practice Jewish tradition covertly.

Rabbi Ben-Avraham was born in 1957 in Palma de Mallorca, Spain, into a Chueta family. The Chuetas were 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. An estimated 15,000-20,000 still live in Mallorca, though many have assimilated in recent years.

Ben-Avraham, whose given name at birth was Nicolau Aguilo, immigrated to Israel in 1978, formally returned to Judaism and Hebraicized his name. He later got married, was ordained as a rabbi and became the father of 12 children.

As Shavei Israel's emissary in Spain, 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.

"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.