Religion Wiki

Spanish Jews once constituted one of the largest and most prosperous Jewish communities under Muslim and Christian rule in Spain, before the majority was forced to convert,expelled or killed in 1492. Today, sixty-seven thousand Jews live in Spain, but the descendants of Spanish (and Portuguese) Jews, the Sephardi Jews, still make up around a tenth of the global Jewish population.The historical language of the Jews of Spain is Ladino, a Romance language, derived mainly from Old Castilian (Spanish) and Hebrew. The relationship of Ladino to Castilian Spanish is comparable to that of Yiddish to German. Nowadays Jews in Spain speak Spanish and Ladino is not widely spoken.

Early history (before 300)

Some associate the country of Tarshish, as mentioned in the books of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, I Kings, Jonah and Romans, with a locale in southern Spain. In generally describing Tyre's empire from west to east, Tarshish is listed first (Ezekiel 27.12-14), and in Jonah 1.3 it is the place to which Jonah sought to flee from the Lord; evidently it represents the westernmost place to which one could sail.

If Tarshish was indeed Spain, Jewish contact with Iberia may date back to the time of Solomon. The relationship would likely have been one based on trade. Ezekiel 27.12 describes such a connection: "Tarshish did business with you out of the abundance of your great wealth; silver, iron, tin, and lead they exchanged with you for your wares", and as much is demonstrated in I Kings 10.22: "For the king had a fleet of ships of Tarshish at sea with the fleet of Hiram. Once every three years the fleet of ships of Tarshish used to come bringing gold, silver, ivory, apes, and peacocks."

The link between Jews and Tarshish is clear. One might speculate that commerce conducted by Jewish emissaries, merchants, craftsmen, or other tradesmen among the Semitic Tyrean Phoenicians might have brought them to Tarshish. Although the notion of Tarshish as Spain is merely based on suggestive material, it leaves open the possibility of a very early, although perhaps limited, Jewish presence in the Iberian Peninsula.

More substantial evidence of Jews in Spain comes from the Roman era. Although the spread of the Jews into Europe is most commonly associated with the Diaspora, which ensued from the Roman conquest of Judea, emigration from Eretz Yisrael into the greater Roman Mediterranean area antedated the destruction of Jerusalem at the hands of the Romans under Titus. In his Facta et dicta memorabilia, Valerius Maximus makes reference to Jews and Chaldaeans being expelled from Rome in 139 BCE for their "corrupting" influences. According to Josephus, King Agrippa attempted to discourage the Jews of Jerusalem from rebelling against Roman authority by reference to Jews throughout the Roman Empire and elsewhere; Agrippa warned that "the danger concerns not those Jews that dwell here only, but those of them which dwell in other cities also; for there is no people upon the habitable earth which do not have some portion of you among them, whom your enemies might slay, in case you go to war..."

Hispania came under Roman control with the fall of Carthage after the Second Punic War (218-202 BCE). Exactly how soon after this time Jews made their way onto the scene is a matter of speculation. It is within the realm of possibility that they went there under the Romans as free men to take advantage of its rich resources. These early arrivals would have been joined by those who had been enslaved by the Romans under Vespasian and Titus, and dispersed to the extreme west during the period of the Jewish-Roman War, and especially after the defeat of Judea in 70. One estimate places the number carried off to Spain at 80,000. (Graetz, p. 42). Subsequent immigrations came into the area along both the northern African and southern European sides of the Mediterranean. (Assis, p. 9.)

Among the earliest records which may refer specifically to Jews in Spain during the Roman period is Paul's Letter to the Romans. Many have taken Paul's intention to go to Spain to minister the gospel (15.24, 28) to indicate the presence of Jewish communities there,[1] as has Herod's banishment to Spain by Caesar in 39 (Flavius Josephus, The Wars of the Jews, 2.9.6).

From a slightly later period, Midrash Rabbah, Leviticus 29.2 makes reference to the return of the Diaspora from Spain by 165. Perhaps the most substantial of early references are the several decrees of the Council of Elvira, convened in the early fourth century, which address proper Christian behavior with regard to the Jews of Spain, notably forbidding marriage between Jews and Christians. Of material evidence of early Iberian Jewry, representing a particularly early presence is a signet ring found at Cadiz, dating from the 8th-7th century BCE The inscription on the ring, generally accepted as Phoenician, has been interpreted by a few scholars to be "paleo-hebraic" (Bowers, p. 396). Among the early Spanish items of more reliably Jewish origins is an amphora which is at least as old as the 1st century. Although this vessel is not from the Spanish mainland (it was recovered from Ibiza, in the Balearic Islands), the imprint upon it of two Hebrew characters attests to Jewish contact, either direct or indirect, with the area at this time. Two trilingual Jewish inscriptions from Tarragona and Tortosa have been variously dated from the 2nd century BCE to the 6th century. (Bowers, p. 396.) There is also the tombstone inscription from Adra (formerly Abdera) of a Jewish girl named Salomonula, which dates to the early 3rd century (Encyclopaedia Judaica, p. 221).

Thus, while there are limited material and literary indications for Jewish contact with Spain from a very early period, more definitive and substantial data begins with the third century. Data from this period suggest a well-established community, whose foundations must have been laid some time earlier. It is likely that these communities originated several generations earlier in the aftermath of the conquest of Judea, and possible that they originated much earlier.

As citizens of the Roman Empire, the Jews of Spain engaged in a variety of occupations, including agriculture. Until the adoption of Christianity, Jews had close relations with non-Jewish populations, and played an active role in the social and economic life of the province (Assis at p. 9). The edicts of the Council of Elvira, although early (and perhaps precedent-setting) examples of Church-inspired anti-Semitism, provide evidence of Jews who were integrated enough into the greater community to cause alarm among some: of the Council's 80 canonic decisions, all which pertain to Jews served to maintain a separation between the two communities (Laeuchli, pp. 75–76). It seems that by this time the presence of Jews was of greater concern to Catholic authorities than the presence of pagans; Canon 16, which prohibited marriage with Jews, was worded more strongly than canon 15, which prohibited marriage with pagans. Canon 78 threatens those who commit adultery with Jews with ostracism. Canons 48 and 50 forbade the blessing of Christian crops by Jews and the sharing of meals with Jews, respectively.

Yet in comparison to Jewish life in Byzantium and Italia, life for the early Jews in Spain and the rest of western Europe was relatively tolerable. This is due in large measure to the difficulty which the Church had in establishing itself in its western frontier. In the west, Germanic hordes such as the Suevi, the Vandals, and especially the Visigoths had more or less ravaged the political and ecclesiastical systems of the Roman empire, and for a number of centuries the Jews enjoyed a degree of peace which their brethren to the east did not. (Graetz, p. 34)

Visigoth rule (fifth century to 711)

Barbarian invasions brought most of the Iberian Peninsula under Visigothic rule by the early fifth century. Other than in their contempt for Catholics, who reminded them of the Romans (Graetz, p. 45), the Visigoths did not generally take much of an interest in the religious creeds within their kingdom. It wasn't until 506, when Alaric II (484-507) published his Brevarium Alaricianum (wherein he adopted the laws of the ousted Romans), that a Visigothic king concerned himself with the Jews (Katz, p. 10).

The tides turned even more dramatically following the conversion of the Visigothic royal family under Recared from Arianism to Catholicism in 587. In their desire to consolidate the realm under the new religion, the Visigoths adopted an aggressive policy concerning the Jews. As the king and the church acted in a single interest, the situation for the Jews deteriorated. Recared approved the Third Council of Toledo's move in 589 to forcibly baptize the children of mixed marriages between Jews and Christians. Toledo III also forbade Jews from holding public office, from having intercourse with Christian women, and from performing circumcisions on slaves or Christians. Still, Recared was not entirely successful in his campaigns: not all Visigoth Arians had converted to Catholicism; the unconverted were true allies of the Jews, oppressed like themselves, and Jews received some protection from Arian bishops and the independent Visigothic nobility.

While the policies of subsequent Kings Liuva II (601-604), Witteric (603-610), and Gundemar (610-612) are unknown to us, Sisebur (612-620) embarked on Recared's course with renewed vigor. Soon after upholding the edict of compulsory baptism for children of mixed marriages, Sisebut instituted what were to become an unfortunate recurring phenomenon in Spanish official policy, in issuing the first edicts against the Jews of expulsion from Spain. Following his 613 decree that the Jews either convert or be expelled, some fled to Gaul and North Africa, while as many as 90,000 converted. Many of these conversos, as did those of later periods, maintained their Jewish identities in secret (Assis, p. 10). During the more tolerant reign of Suintila (621-631), however, most of the conversos returned to Judaism, and a number of the exiled returned to Spain (Encyclopaedica Judaica, p. 221.)

In 633, the Fourth Council of Toledo, while taking a stance in opposition to compulsory baptism, convened to address the problem of crypto-Judaism. It was decided that, if a professed Christian were determined to be a practicing Jew, his or her children were to be taken away to be raised in monasteries or trusted Christian households (Assis, p. 10). The council further directed that all who had reverted to Judaism during the reign of Swintila had to return to Christianity (Katz, p. 13). The trend toward intolerance continued with the ascent of Chintila (636-639). He directed the Sixth Council of Toledo to order that only Catholics could remain in the kingdom, and taking an unusual step further, Chintila excommunicated "in advance" any of his successors who did not act in accordance with his anti-Jewish edicts. Again, many converted while others chose exile (Encyclopaedia Judaica, p. 222).

And yet the "problem" continued. The Eighth Council of Toledo in 653 again tackled the issue of Jews within the realm. Further measures at this time included the forbidding of all Jewish rites (including circumcision and the observation of the Shabbat), and all converted Jews had to promise to put to death, either by burning or by stoning, any of their brethren known to have relapsed to Judaism. The Council was aware that prior efforts had been frustrated by lack of compliance among authorities on the local level: therefore, anyone — including nobles and clergy — found to have aided Jews in the practice of Judaism were to be punished by seizure of one quarter of their property and excommunication (Katz, p. 16).

These efforts again proved unsuccessful. The Jewish population remained sufficiently sizable as to prompt Wamba (672-680) to issue limited expulsion orders against them, and the reign of Erwig (680-687) also seemed vexed by the issue. The 12th Council of Toledo again called for forced baptism, and, for those who disobeyed, seizure of property, corporal punishment, exile, and slavery. Jewish children over seven years of age were taken from their parents and similarly dealt with in 694. Erwig also took measures to ensure that Catholic sympathizers would not be inclined to aid Jews in their efforts to subvert the council's rulings. Heavy fines awaited any nobles who acted in favor of the Jews, and members of the clergy who were remiss in enforcement were subject to a number of punishments (Encyclopaedia Judaica, p. 222).

Egica (687-702), recognizing the wrongness of forced baptism, relaxed the pressure on the conversos, but kept it up on practicing Jews. Economic hardships included increased taxes and the forced sale, at a fixed price, of all property ever acquired from Christians. This effectively ended all agricultural activity for the Jews of Spain. Furthermore, Jews were not to engage in commerce with the Christians of the kingdom nor conduct business with Christians overseas (Katz, p. 21). Egica's measures were upheld by the Sixteenth Council of Toledo in 693.

As demonstrated, under the Catholic Visigoths, the trend was clearly one of increasing persecutions. The degree of complicity which the Jews had in the Islamic invasion in 711 is uncertain. Yet, openly treated as enemies in the country in which they had resided for generations, it would be no surprise for them to have appealed to the Moors to the south, quite tolerant in comparison to the Visigoths, for aid. In any case, in 694 they were accused of conspiring with the Muslims across the Mediterranean. Declared traitors, the Jews, including baptized ones, found their property confiscated and themselves enslaved. This decree exempted only the converts who dwelt in the mountain passes of Septimania, who were necessary for the kingdom's protection (Katz, p. 21).

The Jews of Spain had been utterly embittered and alienated by Catholic rule by the time of the Muslim invasion. To them, the Moors were perceived as, and indeed were, a liberating force (Stillman, p. 53). Wherever they went, the Muslims were greeted by Jews eager to aid them in administering the country. In many conquered towns the garrison was left in the hands of the Jews before the Muslims proceeded further north. Thus was initiated the period that became known as the "Golden Age" for Spanish Jews.

Moorish Spain and the Golden Age (711 to twelfth century)

Moorish Conquest

With the victory of Tariq ibn Ziyad in 711, the lives of the Sephardim changed dramatically. In spite of the stigma attached to being dhimmis (non-Muslim members of monotheistic faiths) under Muslim rule, the invasion of the Moors was by-and-large welcomed by the Jews of Iberia.

Both Muslim and Christian sources tell us that Jews provided valuable aid to the invaders.[2]. Once captured, the defense of Cordoba was left in the hands of Jews, and Granada, Málaga, Seville, and Toledo were left to a mixed army of Jews and Moors. The Chronicle of Lucas de Tuy records that "when the Christians left Toledo on Sunday before Easter to go to the Church of the Holy Laodicea to listen to the divine sermon, the Jews acted treacherously and informed the Saracens. Then they closed the gates of the city before the Christians and opened them for the Moors." (Although, in contradiction to de Tuy's account, Rodrigo of Toledo's Historia de rebus Hispaniae maintains that Toledo was "almost of completely empty from its inhabitants," not because of Jewish treachery, but because "many had fled to Amiara, others to Asturias and some to the mountains," following which the city was fortified by a militia of Arabs and Jews (3.24). Although in the cases of some towns the behavior of the Jews may have been conducive to Muslim success, such was of limited impact overall. The claims of the fall of Iberia as being due in large part to Jewish perfidy are no doubt exaggerated (Assis, pp. 44-45).

In spite of the restrictions placed upon the Jews as dhimmis, life under Muslim rule was one of great opportunity in comparison to that under prior Christian Visigoths, as testified by the influx of Jews from abroad. To Jews throughout the Christian and Muslim worlds, Iberia was seen as a land of relative tolerance and opportunity. Following initial Arab victories, and especially with the establishment of Umayyad rule by Abd-ar-Rahman I in 755, the native Jewish community was joined by Jews from the rest of Europe, as well as from Arab territories, from Morocco to Babylon (Assis, p. 12; Sarna, p. 324). Thus the Sephardim found themselves enriched culturally, intellectually, and religiously by the commingling of diverse Jewish traditions. Contacts with Middle Eastern communities were strengthened, and it was during this time that the influence of the Babylonian academies of Sura and Pumbedita was at its greatest. As a result, until the mid-tenth century, much of Sephardic scholarship focused on Halakhah. Although not as influential, Palestinian traditions were also made manifest in an increased interest in Hebrew language and biblical studies (Sarna, pp. 325-326).

Arabic culture, of course, also made a lasting impact on Sephardic cultural development. General re-evaluation of scripture was prompted by Muslim anti-Jewish polemics and the spread of rationalism, as well as the anti-Rabbanite polemics of Karaite sectarianism (which was inspired by various Muslim schismatic movements). In adopting the Arabic language, as had the Babylonian geonim (the heads of Babylonian rabbinic academies), not only were the cultural and intellectual achievements of Arabic culture opened up to the educated Jew, but much of the scientific and philosophical speculation of Greek culture, which had been best preserved by Arab scholars, were as well. The meticulous regard which the Arabs had for grammar and style also had the effect of stimulating an interest among Jews in philological matters in general (Sarna, pp. 327-328). Arabic came to be the main language of Sephardic science, philosophy, and everyday business. From the second half of the ninth century, most Jewish prose, including many non-halakhic religious works, were in Arabic. The thorough adoption of Arabic greatly facilitated the assimilation of Jews into Arabic culture (Dan, p. 115; Halkin, pp. 324-325).

Although initially the often bloody disputes among Muslim factions generally kept Jews out of the political sphere, the first approximately two centuries which preceded the "Golden Age" were marked by increased activity by Jews in a variety of professions, including medicine, commerce, finance, and agriculture (Raphael, p. 71).

By the ninth century, some members of the Sephardic community felt confident enough to take part in proselytizing amongst previously Jewish "Christians". Most famous were the heated correspondences sent between Bodo Eleazar, a former deacon who had converted to Judaism in 838, and the converso Bishop of Cordoba Paulus Albarus. Each man, using such epithets as "wretched compiler," tried to convince the other to return to his former religion, to no avail (Katz, pp. 40-41; Stillman, pp. 54-55).

The Caliphate of Cordoba

The first period of exceptional prosperity took place under the reign ms and foreign trade. It was in his capacity as dignitary that he corresponded with the kingdom of the Khazars, who had converted to Judaism inof Abd ar-Rahman III (882-942), the first independent Caliph of Cordoba. The inauguration of the Golden Age is closely identified with the career of his Jewish councillor, Hasdai ibn Shaprut (882-942). Originally a court physician, Shaprut's official duties went on to include the supervision of custo the 8th century (Assis, pp. 13, 47).

Abd al-Rahman III's support for Arabic scholasticism had made Iberia the center of Arabic philological research. It was within this context of cultural patronage that interest in Hebrew studies developed and flourished. With Hasdai as its leading patron, Cordoba became the "Mecca of Jewish scholars who could be assured of a hospitable welcome from Jewish courtiers and men of means" (Sarna, p. 327).

During this period the achievements of Sephardic culture, which were in large measure a synthesis of different Jewish traditions, in turn influenced those other cultures which influenced it. Perhaps most notable of Sephardic achievements which occurred during and following Hasdai's time were in the literary and linguistic fields.

In addition to being a poet himself, Hasdai encouraged and supported the work of other Sephardic writers. Subjects covered the spectrum, encompassing religion, nature, music, and politics, as well as pleasure. Hasdai brought a number of men of letters to Cordoba, including Dunash ben Labrat (innovator of Hebrew metrical poetry), Menahem ben Saruq (compiler of the first Hebrew dictionary, which came into wide use among the Jews of Germany and France. Celebrated poets of this era include Solomon ibn Gabirol, Yehuda Halevi, Samuel Ha-Nagid ibn Nagrela, and Abraham and Moses ibn Ezra (Sassoon, p. 15; Stillman, p. 58).

Hasdai benefitted world Jewry not only indirectly by creating a favorable environment for scholarly pursuits within Iberia, but also by using his influence to intervene on behalf of foreign Jews, as is reflected in his letter to the Byzantine Princess Helena. In it he requested protection for the Jews under Byzantine rule, attesting to the fair treatment of the Christians of al-Andalus, and perhaps indicating that such was contingent on the treatment of Jews abroad (Assis, p. 13; Mann, pp. 21-22).

The intellectual achievements of the Sephardim of al-Andalus influenced the lives of non-Jews as well. Most notable of literary contributions is Ibn Gabirol's neo-Platonic Fons Vitae ("The Source of Life"). Thought by many to have been written by a Christian, this work was admired by Christians and studied in monasteries throughout the Middle Ages (Raphael, p. 78). Some Arabic philosophers followed Jewish ones in their ideas (though this phenomenon was somewhat hindered in that, although in Arabic, Jewish philosophical works were usually written with Hebrew characters) (Dan, p. 116). Jews were also active in such fields as astronomy, medicine, logic, and mathematics, not least because these disciplines, perhaps in contrast to today, were regarded as foundations of divine knowledge. In addition to training the mind in logical yet abstract and subtle modes of thought, the study of the natural world, as the direct study of the work of the Creator, was ideally a way to better understand and become closer to God (Dan, pp. 7-8). Al-Andalus also became a major center of Jewish philosophy during Hasdai's time. Following in the tradition of the Talmud and the Midrash, many of the most notable Jewish philosophers were dedicated to the field of ethics (although this ethical Jewish rationalism rested on the notion that traditional approaches had not been successful in their treatments of the subject in that they were lacking in rational, scientific arguments) (Dan, p. 117).

In addition to contributions of original work, the Sephardim were active as translators. Greek texts were rendered into Arabic, Arabic into Hebrew, Hebrew and Arabic into Latin, and all combinations of vice-versa. In translating the great works of Arabic, Hebrew, and Greek into Latin, Iberian Jews were instrumental in bringing the fields of science and philosophy, which formed much of the basis of Renaissance learning, into the rest of Europe.

The Taifas

In the early 11th century, centralized authority based at Cordoba broke down following the Berber invasion and the ousting of the Umayyads. In its stead arose the independent taifa principalities under the rule of local Arab, Berber, or Slavic leaders. Rather than having a stifling effect, the disintegration of the caliphate expanded the opportunities to Jewish and other professionals. The services of Jewish scientists, doctors, traders, poets, and scholars were generally valued by the Christian as well as Muslim rulers of regional centers, especially as recently conquered towns were put back in order (Assis, pp. 13-14; Raphael, p. 75).

Among the most prominent of Jews to serve as viziers in the Muslim taifas were the ibn Nagrelas (or Naghrela). Samuel Ha-Nagid ibn Nagrela (993-1056) served Granada's King Habbus and his son Badis for thirty years. In addition to his roles as policy director and military leader (as one of only two Jews to command Muslim armies — the other being his son Joseph), Samuel ibn Nagrela was an accomplished poet, and his introduction to the Talmud is standard today. His son Joseph ibn Naghrela also acted as vizier. He was murdered in the Granada massacre of 1066 together with about 4,000 other Granada Jews.[3] Other Jewish viziers served in Seville, Lucena, and Saragossa (Assis, p. 14).

The Golden Age ended before the completion of the Christian Reconquista. The Granada massacre was one of the earliest signs of a decline in the status of Jews, which resulted largely from the penetration and influence of increasingly zealous Islamic sects from North Africa.

Following the fall of Toledo to Christians in 1085, the ruler of Seville sought relief from the Almoravides. This ascetic sect abhorred the liberality of the Islamic culture of al-Andalus, including the position of authority that some dhimmis held over Muslims. In addition to battling the Christians, who were gaining ground, the Almoravides implemented numerous reforms to bring al-Andalus more in line with their notion of proper Islam. In spite of large-scale forcible conversions, Sephardic culture was not entirely decimated. Members of Lucena's Jewish community, for example, managed to bribe their way out of conversion. As the spirit of Andalusian Islam was absorbed by the Almoravides, policies concerning Jews were relaxed. The poet Moses ibn Ezra continued to write during this time, and several Jews served as diplomats and physicians to the Almoravides (Assis, p. 14; Gampel, p. 20).

Wars in North Africa with Muslim tribes eventually forced the Almoravides to withdraw their forces from Iberia. As the Christians advanced, Iberian Muslims again appealed to their brethren to the south, this time to those who had displaced the Almoravides in North Africa. The Almohads, who had taken control of much of Islamic Iberia by 1172, far surpassed the Almoravides in fundamentalist outlook, and they treated the dhimmis harshly. Jews and Christians were expelled from Morocco and Islamic Spain. Faced with the choice of either death or conversion, many Jews emigrated.[4] Some, such as the family of Maimonides, fled south and east to the more tolerant Moslem lands, while others went northward to settle in the growing Christian kingdoms.[5] (Assis, p. 16; Gampel; pp. 20-21; Stillman, pp. 51, 73.)

Meanwhile, the Reconquista continued in the north. By the early 12th century, conditions for some Jews in the emerging Christian kingdoms became increasingly favorable. As had happened during the reconstruction of towns following the breakdown of authority under the Umayyads, the services of Jews were employed by the Christian leaders who were increasingly emerging victorious during the later Reconquista. Their knowledge of the language and culture of the enemy, their skills as diplomats and professionals, as well as their desire for relief from intolerable conditions rendered their services of great value to the Christians during the Reconquista - the very same reasons that they had proved useful to the Arabs in the early stages of the Moslem invasion. The necessity to have conquerors settle in reclaimed territories also outweighed the prejudices of anti-Semitism, at least while the Moslem threat was imminent. Thus, as conditions in Islamic Iberia worsened, immigration to Christian principalities increased (Assis, p. 17).

The Jews from the Moslem south were not entirely secure in their northward migrations, however. Old prejudices were compounded by newer ones. Suspicions of complicity with the Moslems were alive and well as Jews immigrated from Moslem territories, speaking the Moslem tongue. However, many of the newly-arrived Jews of the north prospered during the late eleventh and early twelfth centuries. The majority of Latin documentation regarding Jews during this period refers to their landed property, fields, and vineyards (Ashtor, pp. 250-251).

In many ways life had come full circle for the Sephardim of al-Andalus. As conditions became more oppressive in the areas under Muslim rule during the 12th and 13th centuries, Jews again looked to an outside culture for relief. Christian leaders of reconquered cities granted them extensive autonomy, and Jewish scholarship recovered and developed as communities grew in size and importance (Assis, p. 18). However, the Reconquista Jews never reached the same heights as had those of the Golden Age.

Christian Spain (974 to 1300)

Early rule (974 to 1085)

Christian princes, the counts of Castile and the first kings of Leon, treated the Jews as mercilessly as did the Almohades. In their operations against the Moors they did not spare the Jews, destroying their synagogues and killing their teachers and scholars. Only gradually did the rulers come to realize that, surrounded as they were by powerful enemies, they could not afford to turn the Jews against them. Garcia Fernandez, Count of Castile, in the fuero of Castrojeriz (974), placed the Jews in many respects on an equality with Christians; and similar measures were adopted by the Council of Leon (1020), presided over by Alfonso V. In Leon, the metropolis of Christian Spain until the conquest of Toledo, many Jews owned real estate, and engaged in agriculture and viticulture as well as in the handicrafts; and here, as in other towns, they lived on friendly terms with the Christian population. The Council of Coyanza (1050) therefore found it necessary to revive the old-Visigothic law forbidding, under pain of punishment by the Church, Jews and Christians to live together in the same house, or to eat together.

Toleration and Jewish immigration (1085 to 1212)

Ferdinand I of Castile set aside a part of the Jewish taxes for the use of the Church, and even the not very religious-minded Alfonso VI gave to the church of Leon the taxes paid by the Jews of Castro. Alfonso VI, the conqueror of Toledo (1085), was tolerant and benevolent in his attitude toward the Jews, for which he won the praise of Pope Alexander II. To estrange the wealthy and industrious Jews from the Moors he offered the former various privileges. In the fuero of Najara Sepulveda, issued and confirmed by him (1076), he not only granted the Jews full equality with the Christians, but he even accorded them the rights enjoyed by the nobility. To show their gratitude to the king for the rights granted them, the Jews willingly placed themselves at his and the country's service. Alfonso's army contained 40,000 Jews, who were distinguished from the other combatants by their black-and-yellow turbans; for the sake of this Jewish contingent the battle of Zallaka was not begun until after the Sabbath had passed. The king's favoritism toward the Jews, which became so pronounced that Pope Gregory VII warned him not to permit Jews to rule over Christians, roused the hatred and envy of the latter. After the unfortunate Battle of Uclés, at which the Infante Sancho, together with 30,000 men, were killed, an anti-Jewish riot broke out in Toledo; many Jews were slain, and their houses and synagogues were burned (1108). Alfonso intended to punish the murderers and incendiaries, but died before he could carry out his intention (June, 1109). After his death the inhabitants of Carrion fell upon the Jews; many were slain, others were imprisoned, and their houses were pillaged.

Alfonso VII, who assumed the title of Emperor of Leon, Toledo, and Santiago, curtailed in the beginning of his reign the rights and liberties which his father had granted the Jews. He ordered that neither a Jew nor a convert might exercise legal authority over Christians, and he held the Jews responsible for the collection of the royal taxes. Soon, however, he became more friendly, confirming the Jews in all their former privileges and even granting them additional ones, by which they were placed on an equality with Christians. Considerable influence with the king was enjoyed by Judah ben Joseph ibn Ezra (Nasi). After the conquest of Calatrava (1147) the king placed Judah in command of the fortress, later making him his court chamberlain. Judah ben Joseph stood in such favor with the king that the latter, at his request, not only admitted into Toledo the Jews who had fled from the persecutions of the Almohades, but even assigned many fugitives dwellings in Flascala (near Toledo), Fromista, Carrion, Palencia, and other places, where new congregations were soon established.

After the brief reign of King Sancho III, a war broke out between Fernando II of Leon (who granted the Jews special privileges) and the united kings of Aragon and Navarre. Jews fought in both armies, and after the declaration of peace they were placed in charge of the fortresses. Alfonso VIII of Castile (1166-1214), who had succeeded to the throne, entrusted the Jews with guarding Or, Celorigo, and, later, Mayorga, while Sancho the Wise of Navarre placed them in charge of Estella, Funes, and Murañon. During the reign of Alfonso VIII the Jews gained still greater influence, aided, doubtless, by the king's love of the beautiful Jewess Rachel (Fermosa) of Toledo. When the king was defeated at the battle of Alarcos by the Almohades under Yusuf Abu Ya'k.ub al-Mans.ur, the defeat was attributed to the king's love-affair with Fermosa, and she and her relatives were murdered in Toledo by the nobility. After the victory at Alarcos the emir Mohammed ravaged Castile with a powerful army and threatened to overrun the whole of Christian Spain. The Archbishop of Toledo called to crusade to aid Alfonso. In this war against the Moors the king was greatly aided by the wealthy Jews of Toledo, especially by his "almoxarife mayor," the learned and generous Nasi Joseph ben Solomon ibn Shoshan (Al-H.ajib ibn Amar).

Turning point (1212 to 1300)

The Crusaders were hailed with joy in Toledo, but this joy was soon changed to sorrow, as far as the Jews were concerned. The Crusaders began the "holy war" in Toledo (1212) by robbing and killing the Jews, and if the knights had not checked them with armed forces all the Jews in Toledo would have been slain. When, after the sanguinary battle of Las Navas de Tolosa (1212), Alfonso victoriously entered Toledo, the Jews went to meet him in triumphal procession. Shortly before his death (Oct., 1214) the king issued the fuero de Cuenca, settling the legal position of the Jews in a manner favorable to them.

A turning-point in the history of the Jews of Spain was reached under Ferdinand III (who united permanently the kingdoms of Leon and Castile), and under James I, the contemporary ruler of Aragon. The clergy's endeavors directed against the Jews became more and more pronounced. The Spanish Jews of both sexes, like the Jews of France, were compelled to distinguish themselves from Christians by wearing a yellow badge on their clothing; this order was issued to keep them from associating with Christians, although the reason given was that it was ordered for their own safety.

The papal bull issued by Pope Innocent IV in April, 1250, to the effect that Jews might not build a new synagogue without special permission, also made making proselytes was forbidden to the Jews under pain of death and confiscation of property. They might not associate with the Christians, live under the same roof with them, eat and drink with them, or use the same bath; neither might a Christian partake of wine which had been prepared by a Jew. The Jews might not employ Christian nurses or servants, and Christians might use only medicinal remedies which had been prepared by competent Christian apothecaries. Every Jew should wear the badge, though the king reserved to himself the right to exempt any one from this obligation; any Jew apprehended without the badge was liable to a fine of ten gold maravedís or to the infliction of ten stripes. The Jews were forbidden to appear in public on Good Friday.

The Jewish community in 1300

The Jews in Spain were Spaniards, both as regards their customs and their language. They owned real estate, and they cultivated their land with their own hands; they filled public offices, and on account of their industry they became wealthy, while their knowledge and ability won them respect and influence. But this prosperity roused the jealousy of the people and provoked the hatred of the clergy; the Jews had to suffer much through these causes. The kings, especially those of Aragon, regarded the Jews as their property; they spoke of "their" Jews, "their" Juderias, and in their own interest they protected the Jews against violence, making good use of them in every way possible.

There were about 120 Jewish communities in Christian Spain around 1300, with somewhere around half a million or more Jews, mostly in Castille. Catalonia, Aragon, and Valencia were more sparsely inhabited by Jews.

Although the Spanish Jews engaged in many branches of human endeavor—agriculture, viticulture, industry, commerce, and the various handicrafts—it was the money business that procured them their wealth and influence. Kings and prelates, noblemen and farmers, all needed money, and could obtain it only from the Jews, to whom they paid from 20 to 25 per cent interest. This business, which, in a manner, the Jews were forced to pursue in order to pay the many taxes imposed upon them as well as to raise the compulsory loans demanded of them by the kings, led to their being employed in special positions, as "almoxarifes," bailiffs, tax-farmers, or tax-collectors.

The Jews of Spain formed in themselves a separate political body. They lived almost solely in the Juderias, various enactments being issued from time to time preventing them from living elsewhere. From the time of the Moors they had had their own administration. At the head of the aljamas in Castile stood the "rab de la corte," or "rab mayor" (court, or chief, rabbi), also called "juez mayor" (chief justice), who was the principal mediator between the state and the aljamas. These court rabbis were men who had rendered services to the state, as, for example, David ibn Yah.ya and Abraham Benveniste, or who had been royal physicians, as Meïr Alguadez and Jacob ibn Nuñez, or chief-tax-farmers, as the last incumbent of the court rabbi's office, Abraham Senior. They were appointed by the kings, no regard being paid to the rabbinical qualifications or religious inclination of those chosen

Official persecution and massacres (1300 to 1391)

In the beginning of the fourteenth century the position of Jews became precarious throughout Spain as anti-semitism increased many Jews emigrated from Castile and from Aragon. It was not until the reigns of Alfonso IV and Pedro IV of Aragon, and of the young and active Alfonso XI of Castile (1325), that an improvement set in. Pedro I, the son and successor of Alfonso XI, was favorably disposed toward the Jews, who under him reached the zenith of their influence. For this reason the king was called "the heretic"; he was often called "the cruel." Pedro, whose education had been neglected, was not quite sixteen years of age when he ascended the throne (1350). From the commencement of his reign he so surrounded himself with Jews that his enemies in derision spoke of his court as "a Jewish court." Soon, however a civil war erupted, as Henry de Trastamara and his brother, at the head of a mob, invaded (Sabbath, May 7, 1355) that part of the Juderia of Toledo called the Alcana; they plundered the ware-houses and murdered about 12,000 persons, without distinction of age or sex. The mob did not, however, succeed in overrunning the Juderia proper, where the Jews, reinforced by a number of Toledan noblemen, defended themselves bravely.

The more friendly Pedro showed himself toward the Jews, and the more he protected them, the more antagonistic became the attitude of his illegitimate half-brother, who, when he invaded Castile in 1360, murdered all the Jews living in Najera and exposed those of Miranda de Ebro to robbery and death.

Massacres of 1366

"Everywhere the Jews remained loyal to Pedro, in whose army they fought bravely; the king showed his good-will toward them on all occasions, and when he called the King of Granada to his assistance he especially requested the latter to protect the Jews. Nevertheless they suffered greatly. Villadiego (whose Jewish community numbered many scholars), Aguilar, and many other towns were totally destroyed. The inhabitants of Valladolid, who paid homage to Henry, robbed the Jews, destroyed their houses and synagogues, and tore their Torah scrolls to pieces. Paredes, Palencia, and several other communities met with a like fate, and 300 Jewish families from Jaen were taken prisoners to Granada. The suffering, according to a contemporary writer, Samuel Z.arz.a of Palencia had reached its culminating point, especially in Toledo, which was being besieged by Henry, and in which no less than 8,000 persons died through famine and the hardships of war. This civil conflict did not end until the death of Pedro, of whom the victorious brother said, derisively, "Dó esta el fi de puta Judio, que se llama rey de Castilla?" ("Where is the son of a whore Jew, who calls himself king of Castile?") Pedro was beheaded by Henry and Bertrand Du Guesclin on March 14, 1369. A few weeks before his death he reproached his physician and astrologer Abraham ibn for not having told the truth in prophesying good fortune for him."[6]

"When Henry de Trastamara ascended the throne as Henry II there began for the Castilian Jews an era of suffering and intolerance, culminating in their expulsion. Prolonged warfare had devastated the land; the people had become accustomed to lawlessness, and the Jews had been reduced to poverty."[7]

"But in spite of his aversion for the Jews, Henry did not dispense with their services. He employed wealthy Jews—Samuel Abravanel and others—as financial councilors and tax-collectors. His contador mayor, or chief tax-collector, was Joseph Pichon of Seville. The clergy, whose power became greater and greater under the reign of the fratricide, stirred the anti-Jewish prejudices of the masses into clamorous assertion at the Cortes of Toro in 1371. It was demanded that the Jews should be kept far from the palaces of the grandees, should not be allowed to hold public office, should live apart from the Christians, should not wear costly garments nor ride on mules, should wear the badge, and should not be allowed to bear Christian names. The king granted the two last-named demands, as well as a request made by the Cortes of Burgos (1379) that the Jews should neither carry arms nor sell weapons; but he did not prevent them from holding religious disputations, nor did he deny them the exercise of criminal jurisprudence. The latter prerogative was not taken from them until the reign of John I, Henry's son and successor; he withdrew it because certain Jews, on the king's coronation-day, by withholding the name of the accused, had obtained his permission to inflict the death-penalty on Joseph Pichon, who stood high in the royal favor; the accusation brought against Pichon included "harboring evil designs, informing, and treason".[8]

Anti-Jewish enactments

In the Cortes of Soria (1380) it was enacted that rabbis, or heads of aljamas, should be forbidden, under penalty of a fine of 6,000 maravedís, to inflict upon Jews the penalties of death, mutilation, expulsion, or excommunication; but in civil proceedings they were still permitted to choose their own judges. In consequence of an accusation that the Jewish prayers contained clauses cursing the Christians, the king ordered that within two months, on pain of a fine of 3,000 maravedís, they should remove from their prayer-books the objectionable passages. Whoever caused the conversion to Judaism of a Moor or of any one confessing another faith, or performed the rite of circumcision upon him, became a slave and the property of the treasury. The Jews no longer dared show themselves in public without the badge, and in consequence of the ever-growing hatred toward them they were no longer sure of life or limb; they were attacked and robbed and murdered in the public streets, and at length the king found it necessary to impose a fine of 6,000 maravedís on any town in which a Jew was found murdered. Against his desire, John was obliged (1385) to issue an order prohibiting the employment of Jews as financial agents or tax-farmers to the king, queen, infantes, or grandees. To this was added the resolution adopted by the Council of Palencia ordering the complete separation of Jews and Christians and the prevention of any association between them.

Massacre of 1391

"The execution of Joseph Pichon and the inflammatory speeches and sermons delivered in Seville by Archdeacon Ferrand Martinez, the pious Queen Leonora's confessor, soon raised the hatred of the populace to the highest pitch. The feeble King John I, in spite of the endeavors of his physician Moses ibn to prolong his life, died at Alcalá de Henares on October 9, 1390, and was succeeded by his eleven-year-old son. The council-regent appointed by the king in his testament, consisting of prelates, grandees, and six citizens from Burgos, Toledo, Leon, Seville, Cordova, and Murcia, was powerless; every vestige of respect for law and justice had disappeared. Ferrand Martinez, although deprived of his office, continued, in spite of numerous warnings, to incite the public against the Jews, and encourage it to acts of violence. As early as January, 1391, the prominent Jews who were assembled in Madrid received information that riots were threatening in Seville and Cordova. A revolt broke out in Seville in 1391. Juan Alfonso de Guzman, Count of Niebla and governor of the city, and his relative, the "alguazil mayor" Alvar Perez de Guzman, had ordered, on Ash Wednesday, March 15, the arrest and public whipping of two of the mob-leaders. The fanatical mob, still further exasperated thereby, murdered and robbed several Jews and threatened the Guzmans with death. In vain did the regency issue prompt orders; Ferrand Martinez continued unhindered his inflammatory appeals to the rabble to kill the Jews or baptize them. On June 6 the mob attacked the Juderia in Seville from all sides and killed 4,000 Jews; the rest submitted to baptism as the only means of escaping death."[8]

"At this time Seville is said to have contained 7,000 Jewish families. Of the three large synagogues existing in the city two were transformed into churches. In all the towns throughout the archbishopric, as in Alcalá de Guadeira, Ecija, Cazalla, and in Fregenal, the Jews were robbed and slain. In Cordova this butchery was repeated in a horrible manner; the entire Juderia was burned down; factories and ware-houses were destroyed by the flames. Before the authorities could come to the aid of the defenseless people, every one of them - children, young women, old men - had been ruthlessly slain; 2,000 corpses lay in heaps in the streets, in the houses, and in the wrecked synagogues."[8]

"From Cordova the spirit of murder spread to Jaen. A horrible butchery took place in Toledo on June 20. Among the many martyrs were the descendants of the famous Toledan rabbi Asher ben Jehiel. Most of the Castilian communities suffered from the persecution; nor were the Jews of Aragon, Catalonia, or Marjorca spared. On July 9 an outbreak occurred in Valencia. More than 200 persons were killed, and most of the Jews of that city were baptized by the friar Vicente Ferrer, whose presence in the city was probably not accidental. The only community remaining in the former kingdom of Valencia was that of Murviedro. On Aug. 2 the wave of murder visited Palma, in Majorca; 300 Jews were killed, and 800 found refuge in the fort, from which, with the permission of the governor of the island, and under cover of night, they sailed to North Africa; many submitted to baptism. Three days later—Saturday, Aug. 5—a riot began in Barcelona. On the first day 100 Jews were killed, while several hundred found refuge in the new fort; on the following day the mob invaded the Juderia and began pillaging. The authorities did all in their power to protect the Jews, but the mob attacked them and freed those of its leaders who had been imprisoned. On Aug. 8 the citadel was stormed, and more than 300 Jews were murdered, among the slain being the only son of H.asdai Crescas. The riot raged in Barcelona until Aug. 10, and many Jews (though not 11,000 as claimed by some authorities) were baptized. On the last-named day began the attack upon the Juderia in Gerona; several Jews were robbed and killed; many sought safety in flight and a few in baptism."[8]

"The last town visited was Lerida (August 13). The Jews of this city vainly sought protection in Alcazar; seventy-five were slain, and the rest were baptized; the latter transformed their synagogue into a church, in which they worshiped as Marranos."[8]

Forced conversions and the "New Christians" (1391 to 1492)

"The year 1391 forms a turning-point in the history of the Spanish Jews. The persecution was the immediate forerunner of the Inquisition, which, ninety years later, was introduced as a means of watching the converted Jews. The number of those who had embraced Christianity, in order to escape death, was very large; Jews of Baena, Montoro, Baeza, Ubeda, Andujar, Talavera, Maqueda, Huete, and Molina, and especially of Saragossa, Barbastro, Calatayud, Huesca, and Manresa, had submitted to baptism. Among those baptized were several wealthy men and scholars who scoffed at their former coreligionists; some even, as Solomon ha-Levi, or Paul de Burgos (called also Paul de Santa Maria), and Joshua Lorqui, or Geronimo de Santa Fé, became the bitterest enemies and persecutors of their former brethren."[8]

"After the bloody excesses of 1391 the popular hatred of the Jews continued unabated. The Cortes of Madrid and that of Valladolid (1405) mainly busied themselves with complaints against the Jews, so that Henry III found it necessary to prohibit the latter from practising usury and to limit the commercial intercourse between Jews and Christians; he also reduced by one-half the claims held by Jewish creditors against Christians. Indeed, the feeble and suffering king, the son of Leonora, who hated the Jews so deeply that she even refused to accept their money, showed no feelings of friendship toward them. Though on account of the taxes of which he was thereby deprived he regretted that many Jews had left the country and settled in Málaga, Almería, and Granada, where they were well treated by the Moors, and though shortly before his death he inflicted a fine of 24,000 doubloons on the city of Cordova because of a riot that had taken place there (1406), during which the Jews had been plundered and many of them murdered, he prohibited the Jews from attiring themselves in the same manner as other Spaniards, and he insisted strictly on the wearing of the badge by those who had not been baptized."[8]

Forced conversions

Renewed sufferings were inflicted upon the Jews as a result of the mission of the Dominican Vicente Ferrer. Ferrer traveled about Castile urging the Jews to embrace Christianity, appearing with a cross in one hand and the Torah in the other, but with the force of the law behind him. His impassioned sermons won him great influence, and he accomplished his ends in Murcia, Lorca, Ocaña, Illescas, Valladolid, Tordesillas, Salamanca, and Zamora. He spent the month of July, 1411, in Toledo; he invaded the large synagogue, which he transformed into the Church of Santa Maria la Blanca, and he is said to have baptized more than 4,000 Jews in that city. At Ferrer's request a law consisting of twenty-four clauses, which had been drawn up by Paul de Burgos, (AKA Selomuth HaLevi, AKA Pablo Santa Maria, former Rabbi of Burgos) was issued (Jan., 1412) in the name of the child-king John II. The object of this law was to reduce the Jews to poverty and to further humiliate them. They were ordered to live by themselves, in enclosed Juderias, and they were to repair, within eight days after the publication of the order, to the quarters assigned them under penalty of loss of property. They were prohibited from practising medicine, surgery, or chemistry, and from dealing in bread, wine, flour, meat, etc. They might not engage in handicrafts or trades of any kind, nor might they fill public offices, or act as money-brokers or agents. They were not allowed to hire Christian servants, farm-hands, lamplighters, or grave-diggers; nor might they eat, drink, or bathe with Christians, or hold intimate conversation with them, or visit them, or give them presents. Christian women, married or unmarried, were forbidden to enter the Juderia either by day or by night. The Jews were allowed no self-jurisdiction whatever, nor might they, without royal permission, levy taxes for communal purposes; they might not assume the title of "Don," carry arms, or trim beard or hair. Jewesses were required to wear plain, long mantles of coarse material reaching to the feet; and it was strictly forbidden Jews as well as Jewesses to wear garments made of better material. On pain of loss of property and even of slavery, they were forbidden to leave the country, and any grandee or knight who protected or sheltered a fugitive Jew was punished with a fine of 150,000 maravedís for the first offense. These laws, which were rigidly enforced, any violation of them being punished with a fine of from 300 to 2,000 maravedís and flagellation, were calculated to compel the Jews to embrace Christianity.

The Disputation of Tortosa, the most remarkable ever held, commenced on February 7, 1413, and lasted, with many interruptions, until November 12, 1414. The premier meeting, which was opened by the pope, took place before an audience of more than a thousand, among whom were several cardinals, grandees, and members of the city's aristocracy. The disputation mainly concerned whether the Messiah had already appeared, and whether the Talmud regarded him as such. Geronimo de Santa Fé, who had made charges against the Talmud, especially opposed Vidal Benveniste (who had mastered Latin, and whom the other Jewish representatives had selected as their leader), Zerahiah ha-Levi, Joseph Albo, Bonastruc Desmaëstre, and Nissim Ferrer; and he was assisted by the learned neophyte Garci Alvarez de Alarcon and the theologian Andreas Beltran of Valencia, who later became Bishop of Barcelona. At the sixty-fifth meeting Joseph Albo and Astruc ha-Levi tendered a memorial in defense of the Talmud, and on November 10, 1414, Astruc, in the name of all the representatives with the exception of Joseph Albo and Nissim Ferrer, declared that the haggadic passages which had been cited as evidence against the Talmud were not considered as authoritative by them. This, however, was in no way equivalent to the acceptance of Jesus as the Messiah and the abandonment of Judaism, as some Spanish historians assert.

According to the not always reliable historian Zurita, more than 3,000 Jews were baptized during the year 1414; this probably was not due so much to the disputation as to the forcible conversions by Vicente Ferrer, who had returned to Aragon. In Guadalajara, as well as in Calatayud, Daroca, Fraga, Barbastro, Caspe, Maella, Tamarite, and Alcolea, many Jewish families submitted to baptism. The persecution of the Jews was now pursued systematically. In the hope of mass-conversions, Benedict issued, on May 11, 1415, a bull consisting of twelve articles, which, in the main, corresponded with the decree ("Pragmatica") issued by Catalina, and which had been placed on the statutes of Aragon by Fernando. By this bull Jews and neophytes were forbidden to study the Talmud, to read anti-Christian writings, in particular the work "Macellum" ("Mar Jesu"), to pronounce the names of Jesus, Maria, or the saints, to manufacture communion-cups or other church vessels or accept such as pledges, or to build new synagogues or ornament old ones. Each community might have only one synagogue. Jews were denied all rights of selfjurisdiction, nor might they proceed against "malsines" (accusers). They might hold no public offices, nor might they follow any handicrafts, or act as brokers, matrimonial agents, physicians, apothecaries, or druggists. They were forbidden to bake or sell matzot, or to give them away; neither might they dispose of meat which they were prohibited from eating. They might have no intercourse with Christians, nor might they disinherit their baptized children. They should wear the badge at all times, and thrice a year all Jews over twelve, of both sexes, were required to listen to a Christian sermon on the Messiah (the bull is reprinted, from a manuscript in the archives of the cathedral in Toledo, by Rios ["Hist." ii. 627-653]).

The persecutions, the laws of exclusion, the humiliation inflicted upon them, and the many conversions among them had greatly injured the Jews, but with them suffered the whole kingdom of Spain. Commerce and industry were at a standstill, the soil was not cultivated, and the finances were disturbed. In Aragon entire communities—as those of Barcelona, Lerida, and Valencia—had been destroyed, many had been reduced to poverty and had lost more than half of their members. In order to restore commerce and industry Queen Maria, consort of Alfonso V and temporary regent, endeavored to draw Jews to the country by offering them privileges, while she made emigration difficult by imposing higher taxes. After the persecutions of 1391 there were in Aragon and Castile, in addition to "Judios infieles," as Paul de Burgos called them, many converts ("conversos"), or Neo-Christians. On account of their talent and wealth, and through intermarriage with noble families, the converts gained considerable influence and filled important government offices. The highest positions and dignities were held by the following Aragon families: Zaporta, Santangel, Villanova, Almazan, Caballeria, Cabrero, Sanchez, and Torrero.

Hatred of the New Christians

By the mid-15th century, hatred toward the Neo-Christians exceeded that toward the professed Jews. In Toledo a bloody uprising against the Marranos took place in July, 1467, many being killed. On March 14, 1473, an outbreak occurred at Cordova, the houses of the Neo-Christians being invaded, plundered, and burned, and many of their inmates horribly butchered. Thenceforward the history of the Jews in Spain is connected with the reciprocal relations of the "conversos" and the members of their families who had remained true to the old faith. The nobles of Spain found that they had only increased their difficulties by urging the conversion of the Jews, who remained as much a close corporation in the new faith as they had been in the old, and gradually began to monopolize many of the offices of state, especially those connected with tax-farming. At the Cortes of Fraga (1460) large numbers of "conversos" attended, much to the dismay of the hidalgos. In 1465 a "concordia" was imposed upon Henry IV. of Castile reviving all the former anti-Jewish regulations. So threatening did the prospects of the Jews become that in 1473 they offered to buy Gibraltar from this king: this offer was refused.

As soon as the Catholic monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella ascended their respective thrones, steps were taken to segregate the Jews both from the "conversos" and from their fellow countrymen. At the Cortes of Toledo, in 1480, all Jews were ordered to be separated in special "barrios," and at the Cortes of Fraga, two years later, the same law was enforced in Navarre, where they were ordered to be confined to the Jewries at night. The same year saw the establishment of the Inquisition in Spain, the main object of which was to deal with the "conversos". Though both monarchs were surrounded by Neo-Christians, such as Pedro de Caballeria and Luis de Santangel, and though Ferdinand was the grandson of a Jew, he showed the greatest intolerance to Jews, whether converted or otherwise, commanding all "conversos" to reconcile themselves with the Inquisition by the end of 1484, and obtaining a bull from Innocent VIII ordering all Christian princes to restore all fugitive "conversos" to the Inquisition of Spain. One of the reasons for the increased rigor of the Catholic monarchs was the disappearance of the fear of any united action by Jews and Moors, the kingdom of Granada being at its last gasp. The rulers did, however, promise the Jews of the Moorish kingdom that they could continue to enjoy their existing rights in exchange for aiding the Spaniards in overthrowing the Moors. This promise dated February 11, 1490, was repudiated, however, by the decree of expulsion. See Ferdinand and Isabella.

Edict of Expulsion

Several months after the fall of Granada an Edict of Expulsion was issued against the Jews of Spain by Ferdinand and Isabella (March 31, 1492). It ordered all Jews of whatever age to leave the kingdom by the last day of July, (one day before Tisha B'Av[9]) They were permitted to take their property provided it was not in gold, silver, or money. The reason alleged for this action in the preamble of the edict was the relapse of so many "conversos," owing to the proximity of unconverted Jews who seduced them from Christianity and kept alive in them the knowledge and practises of Judaism. It is claimed that Don Isaac Abravanel, who had previously ransomed 480 Jewish Moriscos of Malaga from the Catholic monarchs by a payment of 20,000 doubloons, now offered them 600,000 crowns for the revocation of the edict. It is said also that Ferdinand hesitated, but was prevented from accepting the offer by Torquemada, the grand inquisitor, who dashed into the royal presence and, throwing a crucifix down before the king and queen, asked whether, like Judas, they would betray their Lord for money. Whatever may be the truth of this story, there were no signs of relaxation shown by the court, and the Jews of Spain made preparations for exile. In some cases, as at Vitoria, they took steps to prevent the desecration of the graves of their kindred by presenting the cemetery to the municipality—a precaution not unjustified, as the Jewish cemetery of Seville was later ravaged by the people. The members of the Jewish community of Segovia passed the last three days of their stay in the city in the Jewish cemetery, fasting and wailing over being parted from their beloved dead.

Number of the exiles

The number of those who were thus driven from Spain has been differently estimated by various observers and historians. Juan de Mariana, in his history of Spain, claims as many as 800,000. Isidore Loeb, in a special study of the subject in the "Revue des Etudes Juives" (xiv. 162-183), reduces the actual number of emigrants to 165,000. Bernáldez gives details of about 100,000 who went from Spain to Portugal: 3,000 from Benevente to Braganza; 30,000 from Zamora to Miranda; 35,000 from Ciudad Rodrigo to Villar; 15,000 from Miranda de Alcántara to Marbao; and 10,000 from Badajoz to Yelves. According to the same observer, there were altogether 160,000 Jews in Aragon and Castile. Abraham Zacuto reckons those who went to Portugal at 120,000. Lindo asserts that 1,500 families of Jewish Moriscos from the kingdom of Granada were the first to leave the country. It may be of interest to give the following estimates of Loeb's of the numbers of those who were in Spain before the expulsion and of those who emigrated to different parts of the world:

Algiers 10,000 Americas 5,000 Egypt and Tripoli 2,000 France 3,000 Holland, England, Scandinavia and Hamburg 25,000 Italy 9,000 Morocco 20,000 Turkey 90,000 Elsewhere 1,000
Total emigrated 165,000
Baptized 50,000
Died en route 20,000
Total in Spain in 1492 235,000

These estimates can possibly be regarded as a minimum; it is fairly probable that at least 200,000 fled the country, leaving behind them their dead and a large number of relatives who had been forced by circumstances to conceal their religion and to adopt Christianity. About 12,000 appear to have entered Navarre, where they were allowed to remain, but under the pressure of the kings of Spain both the newcomers and the Navarrese Jews that didn't convert to Catholicism were expelled from the kingdom in 1498. The expulsion seems to have produced a boat people crisis. The ports of Cartagena, Valencia, and Barcelona were provided by Ferdinand with ships to take the fugitives where they would; but the Jews often found difficulty in landing, owing to disease breaking out among them while on board ship. Thus at Fez the Moors refused to receive them, and they were obliged to roam in an open plain, where many of them died from hunger. The rest returned to Spain and were baptized. Nine crowded vessels arrived at Naples and communicated pestilence. At Genoa they were only allowed to land provided they received baptism. Those who were fortunate enough to reach the Ottoman Empire had a better fate, the Sultan Bayezid II was known to sarcastically send his gratitude to Ferdinand for sending him some of his best subjects, thus "impoverising his own lands while enriching his (Bayezid's)". Jews arriving in Ottoman Empire mostly settled in and around Selanik (Thessaloniki in Greek) and to some extent in Istanbul and İzmir.

According to Jane S.Gerber, an expert on Sephardic history at the City University of New York one wing of historians grossly underestimates the number of conversions. Recent Y chromosome DNA testing conducted by the University of Leicester and the Pompeu Fabra University has indicated that around 20% of Spanish men today have direct patrilineal descent from Sephardic Jews, indicating that the number of conversos may have been much higher than originally thought.[10]


The history of the Jews henceforth in Spain is that of the Conversos, whose numbers, as has been shown, had been increased by no less than 50,000 during the period of expulsion. As Spain took possession of the New World, in Mexico, the American Southwest (formerly New Spain), the Conversos attempted to find a refuge from the Inquisition in both the East and the West Indies, where they often came in contact with relatives who had remained true to their faith, or had become reconverted in Holland or elsewhere. These formed business alliances with their relatives remaining in Spain, so that a large portion of the shipping and importing industry of that country fell into the hands of the Conversos and their Jewish relatives elsewhere. The wealth thus acquired was often sequestrated into the coffers of the Inquisition; but this treatment led to reprisals on the part of their relatives abroad, and there can be no doubt that the decline of Spanish commerce in the seventeenth century was due in large measure to the activities of the non-conversos of Holland, Italy, and England, who diverted trade from Spain to those countries. When Spain was at war with any of these countries Jewish intermediation was utilized to obtain knowledge of Spanish naval activity.

In this indirect way the non-conversos, who had been the occasion of the expulsion, became a nemesis to the Spanish kingdom. It is, however, incorrect to suppose, as is usually done, that the immediate results of the expulsion of the Jews from Spain were disastrous either to the commerce or to the power of the Iberian kingdom. So far from this being the case, Spain rose to its greatest height immediately after the expulsion of the Jews, the century succeeding that event culminating in the world-power of Philip II, who in 1580 was ruler of the New World, of the Spanish Netherlands, and of Portugal, as well as of Spain. The intellectual loss was perhaps more direct. A large number of Spanish poets and other Jewish writers and thinkers who traced their origin from the exile were lost to Spain, including men like Baruch Spinoza, Uriel da Costa, Samuel da Silva, Menasseh ben Israel, and Benjamin Disraeli, but not, as is often claimed, the Montefiores, who were of Italian descent – although in London they did belong to the Congregation of Spanish and Portuguese Jews.

Modern times (since 1858)

Small numbers of Jews started to arrive in Spain in the 19th century, and synagogues were opened in Madrid. The Jews of Morocco, where the initial welcome had turned to oppression as centuries passed by, had welcomed the Spanish troops conquering Spanish Morocco as their liberators. Spanish historians started to take an interest in the Sephardim and their language.

The government of Miguel Primo de Rivera, 1923-1930, decreed the right to Spanish citizenship of Sephardim.[11]

During the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), the synagogues were closed and post-war worship was kept in private homes. Jews could be investigated by anti-Semitic police officers.

During World War II the neutrality of Francoist Spain, in spite of the rhetoric against the "Judaeo-Masonic conspiracy", allowed 25,600 Jews to use the country as an escape route from the European theater of war, as long as they "passed through leaving no trace". Furthermore, Spanish diplomats such as Ángel Sanz Briz and Giorgio Perlasca protected some 4,000 Jews and accepted 2,750 Jewish refugees from Hungary.

As the Franco regime evolved, synagogues were opened and the communities could hold a discreet activity.[12]

Spain and Israel

The later Israeli ambassador Shlomo Ben-Ami still remembers the Spanish Legion escorting his family out of Tangiers towards Israeli ships anchored in Ceuta. During the Spanish transition to democracy, the recognition of Israel was one of the issues of modernization.

The UCD governments were divided. They did not want to risk the Arab friendship and subjected the establishment to the beginning of a durable solution of the Israeli-Arab conflict. After years of negotiations, the PSOE government of Felipe González established relations with Israel in 1986, denying links between relations and the admission of Spain into the European Economic Community. Spain tries to serve as a bridge between Israel and the Arabs as seen in the Madrid Conference of 1991.

Modern Jewish community

The modern Jewish community in Spain consists mainly of Sephardim from Northern Africa, especially the former Spanish colonies. In the 1970s, there was also an influx of Argentinian Jews, mainly Ashkenazim, escaping from the military Junta.

Melilla maintains an old community of Moroccan Jews. Some famous Spaniards of Jewish descent are the businesswomen Alicia and Esther Koplowitz, and the politician Enrique Múgica Herzog, though none of these is of Sephardic origin. The city of Murcia in the southeast of the country has a growing Jewish community and a local synagogue. Kosher olives are produced in this region and exported to Jews around the world. Also there is a new Jewish school in Murcia as a result of the growth in Jewish population immigrating to the Murcia community PolarisWorld.[13] There are rare cases of Jewish converts, like the writer Jon Juaristi. Like other religious communities in Spain, FCJE has established agreements with the Spanish government,[14] regulating the status of Jewish clergy, places of worship, teaching, marriages, holidays, tax benefits, and heritage conservation. There are currently around 50,000 Spanish Jews,[15] with the largest communities in Barcelona and Madrid each with around 3,500 members.[16] There are smaller communities in Alicante, Malaga, Tenerife, Granada, Valencia,Benidorm, Cadiz, Murcia and many more.

See also


  1. See, e.g., Yitzhak Baer, A History of the Jews in Christian Spain, Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society of America (1961), p. 16; Salo Wittmayer Baron, A Social and Religious History of the Jews: Christian Spain, New York: Columbia University press (1952), p. 170; Safrai, S. and Stern, M., eds., The Jewish People in the First Century, Assen, Netherlands: Van Gorcum & Comp. (1974), p. 169; Bowers, W. P. "Jewish Communities in Spain in the Time of Paul the Apostle" Journal of Theological Studies Vol. 26 Part 2 (October 1975) p. 395.
  2. Roth, Norman (1994), Jews, Visigoths and Muslims in medieval Spain : cooperation and conflict, pg, 79-90, Leiden: Brill, ISBN 9004099719 
  3. The Treatment of Jews in Arab/Islamic Countries
  4. The Forgotten Refugees
  5. Sephardim
  6. 'The Jewish Encyclopedia'
  7. The Jewish Encylcopedia
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 8.4 8.5 8.6 The Jewish Encyclopedia
  9. Hebrew calendar dates start at sunset. 31 July 1492 until sunset was the 7th of Av; from sunset it was the 8th. Presumably the edict took effect at midnight, which was already the 8th, the day before the 9th.
  10. 'DNA study shows Spain's Jewish and Muslim ancestry' International Herald Tribune
  11. The Spanish Civil Code of 2002, article 22 treats Sephardim in the same terms of nationals of Ibero-America, Andorra, Philippines, Equatorial Guinea and Portugal.
  12. "The Virtual Jewish History Tour: Spain"
  13. ayunt.murcia - HebreoCollege Murcia empezamos en 2003 como escuela privada en polaris world para 214 familias jud
  14. Ley 25/1992, de 10 de noviembre, por la que se aprueba el acuerdo de cooperación del Estado con la Federación de Comunidades Israelistas de España.
  15. [1]
  16. [2]


  • Alexy, Trudi, The Mezuzah in the Madonna's Foot: Oral Histories Exploring Five Hundred Years in the Paradoxical Relationship of Spain and the Jews, New York: Simon & Schuster (1993). ISBN 0-671-77816-1, hardcover; ISBN 0-06-060340-2, paperback reprint.
  • Ashtor, Eliyahu, The Jews of Moslem Spain, Vol. 2, Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society of America (1979)
  • Assis, Yom Tov, The Jews of Spain: From Settlement to Expulsion, Jerusalem: The Hebrew University of Jerusalem (1988)
  • Bartlett, John R., Jews in the Hellenistic World: Josephus, Aristeas, The Sibylline Oracles, Eupolemus, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press (1985)
  • Bowers, W. P. "Jewish Communities in Spain in the Time of Paul the Apostle" Journal of Theological Studies Vol. 26 Part 2, October 1975, pp. 395–402
  • Dan, Joseph, "The Epic of a Millennium: Judeo-Spanish Culture's Confrontation" in Judaism Vol. 41, No. 2, Spring 1992
  • Encyclopaedia Judaica, Jerusalem: Keter Publishing House, Ltd. (1971)
  • Gampel, Benjamin R., "Jews, Christians, and Muslims in Medieval Iberia: Convivencia through the Eyes of Sephardic Jews," in Convivencia: Jews, Muslims, and Christians in Medieval Spain, ed. Vivian B. Mann, Thomas F. Glick, and Jerrilynn D. Dodds, New York: George Braziller, Inc. (1992)
  • Graetz, Professor H. History of the Jews, Vol. III Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society of America (1894)
  • Halkin, Abraham, "The Medieval Jewish Attitude toward Hebrew," in Biblical and Other Studies, ed. Alexander Altman, Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press (1963)
  • Katz, Solomon, Monographs of the Mediaeval Academy of America No. 12: The Jews in the Visigothic and Frankish Kingdoms of Spain and Gaul, Cambridge, Massachusetts: The Mediaeval Society of America (1937)
  • Lacy, W. K. and Wilson, B. W. J. G., trans., Res Publica: Roman Politics and Society according to Cicero, Oxford: Oxford University Press (1970)
  • Laeuchli, Samuel Power and Sexuality: The Emergence of Canon Law at the Synod of Elvira, Philadelphia: Temple University Press (1972)
  • Leon, Harry J., The Jews of Ancient Rome Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society of America (1960)
  • Lewis, Bernard , Cultures in Conflict: Christians, Muslims, and Jews in the Age of Discovery, US: Oxford University Press (1995)
  • Mann, Jacob, Texts and Studies in Jewish History and Literature I Cincinnati: Hebrew Union College Press (1931)
  • Markman, Sidney David, Jewish Remnants in Spain: Wanderings in a Lost World, Mesa, Arizona, Scribe Publishers, 2003
  • Raphael, Chaim, The Sephardi Story: A Celebration of Jewish History London: Valentine Mitchell & Co. Ltd. (1991)
  • Sarna, Nahum M., "Hebrew and Bible Studies in Medieval Spain" in Sephardi Heritage, Vol. 1 ed. R. D. Barnett, New York: Ktav Publishing House, Inc. (1971)
  • Sassoon, Solomon David, "The Spiritual Heritage of the Sephardim," in The Sephardi Heritage, Vol. 1 ed. R. D. Barnett, New York: Ktav Publishing House Inc. (1971)
  • Scherman, Rabbi Nosson and Zlotowitz, Rabbi Meir eds., History of the Jewish People: The Second Temple Era, Brooklyn: Mesorah Publications, Ltd. (1982)
  • Stillman, Norman, "Aspects of Jewish Life in Islamic Spain" in Aspects of Jewish Culture in the Middle Ages, ed. Paul E. Szarmach, Albany: State University of New York Press (1979)
  • Whiston, A. M., trans., The Life and Works of Flavius Josephus Philadelphia: The John C. Winston Company (19??)
  • This article incorporates text from the 1901–1906 Jewish Encyclopedia, a publication now in the public domain.

External links

This page uses content from the English Wikipedia. The original article was at History of the Jews in Spain. The list of authors can be seen in the page history.