It all started when I was assigned to create a blog post about Tapas for my companies spring content roster. I did what any good content creator does when starting a project--I Googled it.
I read inspirational blogs about Midwesterners' first experience with Tapas, looked at beautifully styles pictures on Getty Images and Pinterest, stalked my favorite food blogs...Until I hit a link to a now-defunct blog post about kosher Tapas recipes. Having just read up on the pork and seafood-heavy dishes, I was a bit confused. So, I dove in.
What I read, however, is what interested me. I ended up on a Youtube version of a BBC documentary, "Blood and Gold: The Making of Spain with Simon Sebag Montefiore". In it, it is mentioned a theory that tapas were used as a form of sussing out whether or not Jews had converted during the Inquisition. The mention of it within the original blog was tiny, literally a single sentence that sent me down the rabbit hole for all of a few minutes.
While I obviously did not include this theory in the lighthearted seasonal tapas blog that my employer had asked me for, it lingered in the back of my mind, popping up whenever I thought about Spanish cuisine (which is admittedly not that often).
But fatefully, it did pop into my mind recently. As I lay in bed, preparing to go to sleep but wishing that I had the energy to go get a snack of raspberries, I went down a train of thoughts that led me back to Spanish food, specifically, tapas.
So, I made the horrible decision to tweet about it.
IMAGE: z @kitttenqueen, "person: oh i love tapas. me, remembering that its been theorized that tapas started as a means of testing whether or not Jews concerted to Christianity under threat of death by passing around tiny plates of unkosher food to "test them" & if they didnt pass, kill them. me: oh cool"
Second tweet: i am exhausted but it's even mentioned in the wiki.,, there are a few good articles on the topic (Wikipedia link).
I fell asleep soon after, thinking nothing of it. But when I woke up, I had no choice but to think about it.
My Twitter mentions were flooded with irate Spaniards. From calling me a dirty cow to simply saying I was a liar, they were enraged that I was "canceling" Tapas, a food that they claimed was at the center of their culture. Some shrieked that linking a Wikipedia is not proof and that I was trying to slander all of Spain. Others took a much easier path and called me an American bitch and used ableist language to insult my intelligence, my looks, and much of my existence.
Some people were so offended that if you now look at the Wikipedia article for tapas, it no longer includes the theory.
But the vast majority of tweets had a common thread: antisemitism.
From literally calling for another Inquisition to antisemitic dog whistles, it was was clear: the hatred of Jews boils just beneath the surface.
Spain has a long, violent history with Jews. Most notably, the Spanish Inquisition.
Again, I would like to be clear. I referenced a theory. Quite literally, I stated that "its been theorized". There was no statement of fact, no accusations, no slandering of Spain, no calls to "cancel" tapas (truthfully, how can you even cancel a type of food?). I was not, nor am I still, highly attached to this theory. It was interesting and that was it. But that doesn't matter.
It didn't matter that I was just tweeting out a late-night thought because however unintentionally on my part, I had poked the bear of Spanish antisemitism.
Ironically, many of them swore that antisemitism no longer existed in Spain; some, quite hilariously, cited that there couldn't possibly be any antisemitism in Spain because there were only 40,000 Jews in Spain. They didn't seem to realize the irony of why Spain may have so few Jews left.
After all, it was only in 2014 that the town of "Castrillo Matajudios, or "Camp Jew-killers," voted to change its name to the more neutral Castrillo Mota de Judios, "Camp Hill of Jews." (4)
I did what any person with a following does when this happens: I muted the Tweet. But I went to my Instagram, which has a majority Jewish following, and vented about my frustrations and fears on my Instagram story. I also wanted to show my non-Jewish followers how little it takes for people to sink to Nazi rhetoric and antisemitism.
Then the messages began flooding in.
One person DM'd me about their Spanish professor, originally from Madrid, who had brought this theory up in their class. They were excited to see it discussed elsewhere.
Others recounted the horrifyingly antisemitic experiences they had while simply when interacting with non-Jewish Spaniards, particularly ones associated with Catholicism.
Aliza, a Spanish Jew @alizalarisch, messaged me discussing how the virulent antisemitism in their country made practicing Judaism something to be feared. They mentioned how their community was spread throughout the country, constantly afraid of antisemitism; "Im so sick of living in Spain, when people find out I'm Jewish they look at me as if I was an alien or call me a murderer." She continued,
"We are a small community here, and we are divided in several cities but I do my best to raise awareness between my friends and social media, sadly I don't have a big enough platform, and antisemitism is still a big thing here, even if they aren't even aware of the fact that there's a community in Spain, most of them don't even know we came back or stayed here."
I also received insight from non-Jewish Spaniards who were disgusted by the rhetoric that their fellows were spewing. Kiki, a non-Jewish Spaniard who messaged me, mentioned that because of the small population of Jews in Spain, the rampant antisemitism is a choice that people make without ever being informed about Judaism.
Kiki continued, "You’re right, simply for a reason; 99% of spanish people will never meet or know someone jewish. Being jewish here is such a minority, the general population doesn’t care about any of your struggles and history and doesn’t have any interest in knowing more about it..... They feel insulted because they don’t see something jewish and have actual feelings against it. The dehumanization of jewish people is extreme in Spain."
Upon seeing the horrific tweets sent my way, Medieval Iberian Lit and Culture Ph.D. Rowan O. kindly came to my defense. Though tapas culture as we know it is a 20th century invention, they sourced and discussed a document on Don Quixote, which backed up the discussion that yes, what we now know as tapas may very well have been used to sus out conversos in Spain. (1). "They used to slice cured ham and give it out to see who wouldn't eat it or would try to spit it out. There are even manuals on how to keep an inner temple (mental structures) to avoid persecution. And people were encouraged to do what they had to do to survive" Rowan continues in our discussion regarding the Inquisition. Just as I was, Rowan was horrified by the immediate jump to antisemitism without any consideration.
Truthfully, it should not matter whether or not the Tapas theory is true, because the reaction of calling for genocide over a theory that hurts no one is never acceptable. However, the theory itself isn't baseless, though it is still a theory. The use of food as a tool of the Inquisition, however, is well documented.
During the Inquisition, a time when Jews were forced to convert or flee, their every action was scrutinized. For those unfamiliar, during the Inquisition, many Jews converted in order to survive. Some did so with no intention of practicing Catholicism, but this was not enough for the Church or the crown. Conversos, these converted Jews, were under a microscope, and must be perfect Catholics, or else face certain death. According to The Forward, "some 100,000 Jews had been killed, while another 100,000 converted to Christianity and 100,000 more managed to survive by hiding or fleeing to safety." (6).
The habits of Jews were closely followed, as many were used in trials against Jews,
"cooking on the said Fridays such food as is required for the Saturdays and on the latter eating the meat thus cooked on Fridays as is the manner of the Jews;… cleansing or causing meat to be cleansed, cutting away from it all fat or grease and cutting away the nerve or sinew from the leg;… not eating pork, hare, rabbit, strangled birds, conger-eel, cuttle-fish, nor eels or other scaleless fish, as laid down in the Jewish law; and upon the death of parents… eating… such things as boiled eggs, olives, and other viands…" (6).
They even tracked who would use olive oil rather than pork fat, as the Christians of the time preferred. But, this love of pork runs further. Spain is known for its ham, particularly the cured ham legs that hang from the rafters of homes na shops. But even that tradition has a sinister history, "The Christian Spaniards....hung ham and other pork products visibly in their homes. This could quickly identify them as not being Jewish to the passerby. Jamón ibérico hung from the ceiling of an establishment could serve as a earning that Jews were not welcome, as well." (3).
Even Paella, a dish that is considered the national dish of Spain, was at times used to monitor the dedication of conversos. The Guardian cites the tradition of towns moving to the town square and cooking huge batches of Paella, then carefully detailing who did or did not eat from the wholly treyf (unkosher) dish (5).
Food is such a telling part of the violence of the Inquisition that NPR covered a Cuban-Catholic who discovered, through food recipes, that they were the descendant of conversos, also known as "crypto-Jews" (2). She discovered why her mother taught her to check every egg for blood (blood is unkosher and cannot be consumed). and why her grandmother would only bake in batches of 5 pounds, as well as leaving a small part out to be burned (from the practice of baking challah--five pounds is needed to say the prayer, while the small amount is burnt as a sort of offering).
The truth is, while there is a long, bloody history surrounding food in Spain, the food itself isn't the problem. The problem is that the long, bloody history has created hundreds of young Spanish antisemites who are ready to call for genocide over a theory about a Spanish food.
"@elmadafakajones @kitttenqueen oh my G*d the Jewish people it's the most toxic people ever / Search on Wikipedia why Jewish people was persecuted one very Poland in the world and every century in the history / maybe Jewish people are like cancer? Not maybe, for sure / so it's not anti-semitism, it's auto defense"
This antisemite defending Spain against my "attacks" uses the Nazi rhetoric of Jews being forced out of countries and justifies it by calling Jews a cancer.
That person is in good company, with hundreds more espousing Nazi rhetoric and applauding the Inquisition and Holocaust as good things. However, as previously mentioned, there was a slight conflict regarding the hatred of Jews and simultaneous denial of the Holocaust.
This person felt so incensed by my tweets about Tapas that they took to dm'ing me, in Spanish,
"Long live the Catholic kings who expelled the Jews. 17 countries can't be wrong. And by the way, it was not 6 million (although I wish it had been).
This is a delightful blend of antisemitism that truly cannot be ignored.
It perfectly encapsulates the issue of antisemitism that I was facing at the hands of non-Jewish Spaniards.
They simultaneously denied the Holocaust (specifically that six million Jews were murdered), praised the Inquisition, royalty, and church that executed it against us, wished that we were murdered while also stating that we weren't actually murdered.
It is gaslighting and abuse at its finest. As Kiki stated earlier, most Spaniards don't think they will encounter a Jewish person, so every action they take against Jews is a choice that they have made, one that is influenced by the centuries of antisemitism ingrained in their country.
This is by no means the worst of what my friends and I received, again, over a tweet theorizing the beginnings of Tapas.
Some Spaniards messaged and tweeted me that while they didn't agree with the antisemitism, it was my fault because I was making fun of Spanish culture. When I asked how, they didn't quite have an answer other than to say that I was lying about it (regardless of my presentation of a theory or my presentation of facts about the Inquisition and food). Others suggested that because Spain is at times made fun of by other Europeans, Spaniards are sensitive to so-called attacks on their culture. None of this validates the onslaught of antisemitism that a theory garnered. Others suggested that it was a fluke and th at Spain was not antisemitic in any way.
But this isn't a fluke. On the 24th of December 2020, antisemitic graffiti was discovered on the gates of a Jewish cemetery outside of Madrid. Along with “good Jew dead Jew’ and “murdering Jews we will hang you”, there was Holocaust denial spray painted onto the gates. (7)
Days before that, Spanish Nazis waved flags bearing the swastika in a Spanish town square.
But even this isn't a fluke. There were more videos of Nazis in Spain, particularly in Madrid, some even screaming "Seig Heil".
Antisemitism didn't disappear with the ending of the Inquisition, though many non-Jewish Spaniards claim it did. Both overt and covert antisemitism lie just beneath the surface, so close to bursting that a simple tweet is enough to incite days of antisemitic abuse from Spanish nationalists.
As an openly Jewish person, not a day goes by that I don't face antisemitic abuse of some kind. Whether it be extremely subtle like comments of "wooden doors" (an antisemitic dogwhistle that references Holocaust denial and the use of wooden doors in gas chambers) to outright death threats, I am deeply numbed to the bigotry ingrained in online spaces.
This experience, however, was a stark reminder of how a history of antisemitism and violence does not end easily. I encourage you all to examine how you interact with antisemitism, how you foster it, and how quickly you fall into Nazi rhetoric when angered.
A special thanks to Aliza, Kiki, Rowan O., and all those who contributed to the creation of this article.
CRITIQUING THE ELITE IN THE BARATARIA AND "RICOTE" FOOD EPISODES IN "DON QUIXOTE II"