HISTORY OF THE JEWS IN SPAIN
December 28, 2014
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Spanish Jews once constituted one of the largest and most prosperous Jewish communities under Muslim and Christian rule, before they, together with resident Muslims, were forced to convert to Catholicism, be expelled, or be killed when Spain became united under the Catholic Monarchs King Ferdinand and Isabella in 1492.
An estimated 13,000 to 40,000 Jews live in Spain today. The remnants of the Spanish (and Portuguese) Jews, the Sephardic Jews, though the worldwide figure is extremely hard to attain specifically for Jews coming from countries where there was a monetary and social disincentive for having a Jewish background (see Marranos for one example), and for various other reasons, on the other end because there are those who just choose the Sephardic set of customs or Hebrew pronunciation. The number of Jews of Sephardic lineage in Israel was put just over 60% of the overall Israeli Jewish and non-Jewish populations in 1990 and Sepharadi Jews tend to have a much higher birth-rate than the more secular oriented Ashkenazi classification of Jews. The Jews of Spain spoke Ladino, a Romance language derived mainly from Old Castilian, Judeo-Catalan and Hebrew. The relationship of Ladino to Castilian Spanish is comparable to that of Yiddish to German. Nowadays, Jews in Spain speak Spanish, while Ladino is still used in Israel.
Early history (before 300)
Some associate the country of Tarshish, as mentioned in the books of 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."
Roman Province of Hispania
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..."
The Provençal Rabbi and scholar, Rabbi Abraham ben David, wrote in anno 1161: “A tradition exists with the [Jewish] community of Granada that they are from the inhabitants of Jerusalem, of the descendants of Judah and Benjamin, rather than from the villages, the towns in the outlying districts [of Palestine].” When exactly these Jewish immigrants first settled in Spain is not clear, as there are references to two Jewish influxes into Spain, one following the destruction of Israel’s First Temple and the other after the destruction of the Second.
The earliest mention of Spain is, allegedly, found in Obadiah 1:20: “And the exiles of this host of the sons of Israel who are among the Canaanites as far as Ṣarfat (Heb. צרפת), and the exiles of Jerusalem who are in Sepharad, will possess the cities of the south.” While the medieval lexicographer, David ben Abraham Al-Alfāsī, identifies Ṣarfat with the city of Ṣarfend (Judeo-Arabic: צרפנדה), the word Sepharad (Heb. ספרד) in the same verse has been translated by the 1st century rabbinic scholar, Yonathan Ben Uzziel, as Aspamia. Based on a later teaching in the compendium of Jewish oral laws compiled by Rabbi Judah Hanasi in 189 CE, known as the Mishnah, Aspamia is associated with a very far place, generally thought of as Hispania, or Spain.
According to Rabbi David Kimchi (1160–1235), in his commentary on Obadiah 1:20, Ṣarfat and Sepharad, both, refer to the Jewish captivity (Heb. galut) expelled during the war with Titus and who went as far as the countries Alemania (Germany), Escalona, France and Spain. The names Ṣarfat and Sepharad are explicitly mentioned by him as being France and Spain, respectively. Some scholars think that, in the case of the place-name, Ṣarfat (lit. Ṣarfend) – which, as noted, was applied to the Jewish Diaspora in France, the association with France was made only exegetically because of its similarity in spelling with the name פרנצא (France), by a reversal of its letters.
Spanish Jew, Moses de León (ca. 1250 – 1305), mentions a tradition concerning the first Jewish exiles, saying that the vast majority of the first exiles driven away from the land of Israel during the Babylonian captivity refused to return, for they had seen that the Second Temple would be destroyed like the first. In yet another teaching, passed down later by Moses ben Machir in the 16th century, an explicit reference is made to the fact that Jews have lived in Spain since the destruction of the First Temple:
“Now, I have heard that this praise, emet weyaṣiv [which is now used by us in the prayer rite] was sent by the exiles who were driven away from Jerusalem and who were not with Ezra in Babylon, and that Ezra had sent inquiring after them, but they did not wish to go up [there], replying that since they were destined to go off again into exile a second time, and that the Temple would once again be destroyed, why should we then double our anguish? It is best for us that we remain here in our place and to serve God. Now, I have heard that they are the people of Ṭulayṭulah (Toledo) and those who are near to them. However, that they might not be thought of as wicked men and those who are lacking in fidelity, may God forbid, they wrote down for them this magnanimous praise, etc.”
Similarly, Gedaliah ibn Jechia the Spaniard has written:
“In ,252 anno mundi (= 1492 CE), the king Ferdinand and his wife, Isabella, made war with the Ishmaelites who were in Granada and took it, and while they returned they commanded the Jews in all of his kingdom that in but a short time they were to take leave from the countries [they had heretofore possessed], they being Castile, Navarre, Catalonia, Aragón, Granada and Sicily. Then the [Jewish] inhabitants of Ṭulayṭulah (Toledo) answered that they were not present [in the land of Judea] at the time when their Christ was put to death. Apparently, it was written upon a large stone in the city’s street which some very ancient sovereign inscribed and testified that the Jews of Ṭulayṭulah (Toledo) did not depart from there during the building of the Second Temple, and were not involved in putting to death [the man whom they called] Christ. Yet, no apology was of any avail to them, neither unto the rest of the Jews, till at length six hundred-thousand souls had evacuated from there.”
Don Isaac Abrabanel, a prominent Jewish figure in Spain in the 15th century and one of the king’s trusted courtiers who witnessed the expulsion of Jews from Spain in 1492, informs his readers that the first Jews to reach Spain were brought by ship to Spain by a certain Phiros who was confederate with the king of Babylon when he laid siege to Jerusalem. This man was a Grecian by birth, but who had been given a kingdom in Spain. He became related by marriage to a certain Espan, the nephew of king Heracles, who also ruled over a kingdom in Spain. This Heracles later renounced his throne because of his preference for his native country in Greece, leaving his kingdom to his nephew, Espan, by whom the country of España (Spain) derives its name. The Jewish exiles transported there by the said Phiros were descended by lineage from Judah, Benjamin, Shimon and Levi, and were, according to Abrabanel, settled in two districts in southern Spain: one, Andalusia, in the city of Lucena -- a city so-called by the Jewish exiles that had come there; the second, in the country around Ṭulayṭulah (Toledo).
Abrabanel says that the name Ṭulayṭulah (Toledo) was given to the city by its first Jewish inhabitants, and surmises that the name may have meant טלטול (= wandering), on account of their wandering from Jerusalem. He says, furthermore, that the original name of the city was Pirisvalle, so-called by its early pagan inhabitants. He also writes there that he found written in the ancient annals of Spanish history collected by the kings of Spain that the 50,000 Jewish households then residing in the cities throughout Spain were the descendants of men and women who were sent to Spain by the Roman Emperor and who had formerly been subjected to him and whom Titus had originally exiled from places in or around Jerusalem. The two Jewish exiles joined together and became one.
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 and build enterprises there. 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. The Jewish historian, Josephus, confirms that as early as 90 CE there was already a Jewish Diaspora living in Europe, made-up of the two tribes, Judah and Benjamin. Thus, he writes in his Antiquities: “ …there are but two tribes in Asia (Turkey) and Europe subject to the Romans, while the ten tribes are beyond Euphrates till now and are an immense multitude.” 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, 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 Breviarium Alaricianum (wherein he adopted the laws of the ousted Romans), that a Visigothic king concerned himself with the Jews (Katz, p. 10).
Visigothic coinage: King Recared
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.
Visigothic coinage: Sisebut
While the policies of subsequent Kings Liuva II (601–604), Witteric (603–610), and Gundemar (610–612) are unknown to us, Sisebut (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 was 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)
With the victory of Tariq ibn Ziyad in 711, the lives of the Sephardim changed dramatically. 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. Once captured, the defense of Córdoba 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-Berber 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-10th century, much of Sephardic scholarship focused on Halakhah. Although not as influential, Eretz Israel 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 9th 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 Córdoba 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 Córdoba
The first period of exceptional prosperity took place under the reign of Abd ar-Rahman III (882–955), the first independent Caliph of Córdoba. 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 customs and foreign trade. It was in his capacity as dignitary that he corresponded with the kingdom of the Khazars, who had converted to Judaism in 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, Córdoba 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 Córdoba, 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.
In the early 11th century, centralized authority based at Córdoba 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, Slavic, or Muladi 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. 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. 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. (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 (974–1300)
The Spanish kingdoms in 1030
Early rule (974–1085)
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 (1085–1212)
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 Sagrajas was not begun until after the Sabbath had passed. According to the article "Battle of Sagrajas", the whole Christian army was formed by 2,500 soldiers, they must have forgotten the 40,000 extra troops mentioned in this article, according to the other article "The battle started on Friday", this is a long time since after the Sabbath. 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 (according to wikipedia only ~2,300 soldiers fought on Sancho's side), 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.
Image of a cantor reading the Passover story in Moorish Spain, from a 14th-century Spanish Haggadah
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 Rachel (Fermosa) of Toledo, who was Jewish.
The Spanish Ballad (Raquel, the Jewess of Toledo), by Lion Feuchtwanger
When the king was defeated at the battle of Alarcos by the Almohades under Yusuf Abu Ya'kub al-Mansur, 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 al-Nasir 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-Hajib ibn Amar).
Turning point (1212–1300)
The Spanish kingdoms in 1210
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 it illegal for Jews to making proselytes 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
An illustration from the Sarajevo Haggadah, written in fourteenth-century Spain
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 to some of 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.