The town of Castrillo de Matajudíos in Castile and León, Spain, is considering changing its name, which contains the phrase "Jew killer" in Spanish, according to the Jewish Daily Forward.
The town has discussed changing its name before, but no official move had been taken until Mayor Lorenzo Rodríguez put forth a firm proposal in writing to the town's 60 residents, asking them if they would like the town to retain the phrase "Matajudíos" or change it to "Mota Judíos" or "Mota de Judíos," which translates to "Castrillo Jews' Hill." Many believe that Castrillo Mota de Judíos was the original name of the town, and referred to the area of the village where the Jewish community lived.
Daily newspaper Diario de Burgos reported that the mayor is expected to hold a meeting with the residents on April 19, to talk about the theories behind the town's current name.
Rodríguez told the paper, "The majority decision will be respected, even if it is only by one vote." Before a vote can be taken, he considers it important that the residents know more about the town's role in the history of Jews in Spain.
Castrillo neighbors the larger town of Castrojeriz, which was one of Spain's first Jewish communities. The well-known "Law of Castrojeriz," or "Town Charter," gave equal rights to Jews and Christians in 974, according to the town's website.
Rodríguez said that after a massacre of Jews in Castrojeriz in 1035, many fled to nearby Castrillo. Later, in 1109, another massacre took place in Castrillo.
Rodríguez explained that after the brutal Spanish Inquisition began in 1478, the town changed its name to "Matajudíos," perhaps to emphasize its Christian character at a time of religious strife.
The Forward reports that the phrase "matar judíos," or "to kill Jews," is used in parts of Spain, particularly in the north, to describe the traditional Easter-time drinking of lemonade spiked with alcohol. Just last month a Spanish newspaper, Diario de León, reported that a neighborhood was preparing 150,000 liters of lemonade for "the tradition of 'matar judíos.'"
Maria Royo, a spokesperson for the Federation of Jewish Communities of Spain, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that the phrase comes from medieval times, when converted Jews would sometimes be publicly executed in show trials around Easter. The practice was related to the charge of Jewish deicide, attributed to the Christian bishop Melito of Sardis, which contended that the Jewish people as a whole were responsible for the death of Jesus Christ.
That claim was officially repudiated by the Catholic Church in its Nostra Aetate proclamation in 1965.
The legacy of the Spanish Inquisition lives on in the usage of the terms "matar judíos" and "matajudíos," which appear in colloquial language and place names, as well as family names. A man in Argentina was offended to find his cashier was legally named Ivan Dario Matajudios Galindo.
Royo told JTA, "Regrettably, this type of expression exists in Spain in ceremonies and parties." She added, "The people saying it are mostly unaware of the history. It is a complicated issue that is ingrained in local culture."