Spaniards defend Easter tradition of ‘killing Jews’

Each year participants are encouraged to drink a special drink of wine and lemonade, which is accompanied by a call to ‘Kill Jews’


Penitents from the 'Hermandad Penitencial de las Siete Palabras' brotherhood take part in a procession during Holy Week in the northwestern Spanish city of Zamora on March 26, 2024. (Photo by CESAR MANSO / AFP) (Photo by CESAR MANSO/AFP via Getty Images)

A Spanish Easter festival has drawn criticism after encouraging people to “Matar judíos,” which translates to “Kill Jews.”

Semana Santa, otherwise known as Holy Week, is observed all over the Spanish-speaking world, but the Spanish region of León has its own unique take on the festivities.

Each year locals and tourists are encouraged to drink a special glass of wine-lemonade, which is accompanied by a call to “Kill Jews.”

Explaining the religious period to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Margarita Torres Sevilla, a professor of medieval history at the University of León, said: “It’s an expression here. For example, you tell me, ‘Have a drink with me? Okay, let’s go kill Jews.’

According to Torres Sevilla, people who take part in Holy Week might ask “How many Jews have you killed? Three, four, five” in reference to the number of drinks they have had.

The festival period is marked by 10 days of music, sermons and as many as 30 processions, featuring some 16,000 participants.

The drink that participants are encouraged to drink is made from red wine, lemons, cinnamon and sugar, sometimes with oranges and figs.

It’s a local tradition to drink 33 limonadas during the Holy Week, representing the age of Jesus when he was crucified.

The centuries-old tradition for revelers seeking limonadas is to say they are going out to “kill Jews” each time they drink one.

According to JTA, locals do not see the shocking phrase as antisemitic.

On the contrary bars and restaurants in the city advertise the drink under the “killing Jews” banner when talking about their offerings on social media.

One spanish-language Facebook post from Bar Genarín posted on March 10 said: “With the arrival of Holy Week also comes the season of Leonese limonada, a tradition that is popularly known as ‘killing Jews.’

“We offer you two varieties, the classic and a white.”

Sonia Da Costa, at Cafetería Chamberí, told JTA: “It’s strange to foreigners, but they take it with a laugh. Here it is normal.”

“People are used to it here, it’s an expression that is not racist at all,” said José Manuel, who works at Vychio Cafe Bar.

“It’s an expression from a time period of racism but now, no, it’s an expression out of custom.”

The city of León, which has a population of 124,000 has no visible Jewish community.

The Jewish quarter of León has not seen a Jewish population in hundreds of years.

But that does not stop the area teeming with revelers in search of the “killing Jews” cocktail during the festival.

According to Torres Sevilla: “The third Jewish synagogue of León was built here (1370-1481).”

The expression of “killing Jews” dates back to the 15th century, Torres Sevilla explained.

The Black Death had left many Christian noblemen in debt and one knight, Suero de Quiñones, owed payments to a Jewish merchant.

To avoid paying his debt, Quiñones whipped up religious hate against León’s Jews on Holy Week in 1449.

He and other knights launched an attack on the Jewish quarter, murdering the lender and several others on Good Friday.

Torres Sevilla explained: “Quiñones said on Holy Week, our Lord was accused by the Jews and the Jews killed him.

“So what do we do with the Jews? Kill them. But the real reason was not a Christian motive — the real reason was that he had an important debt to an important merchant of the Jewish community.”

Following the attack on the Jewish community Quiñones and his allies went to drink wine in Barrio Húmedo.

And this is where the tradition of downing limonadas to the call of “killing Jews,” comes from.

After the attack a lot of the Jewish community was expelled from León in 1481 and many of the Jews who stayed converted after 1492.

“Everybody knows about ‘kill Jews,’ but nobody knows about the Jewish history of León,” said Torres Sevilla.

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