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Encyclopaedia Judaica

Jews in Barcelona

High positions - disputations - Jewish refugees from Black Plague persecution - restrictions - pogroms of 1391 - reconstruction - Inquisition - exodus - 20th century
Encyclopaedia Judaica (1971): Barcelona, vol. 4,
                col. 212, candlestick of synagogue in Barcelona
Encyclopaedia Judaica (1971): Barcelona, vol. 4, col. 212, candlestick of synagogue in Barcelona

from: Barcelona; In: Encyclopaedia Judaica 1971, vol. 4

presented by Michael Palomino (2008)

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Mediterranean port in Aragon, northeastern Spain, seat of one of the oldest Jewish communities in the country.

[Some spots of the Jewish community of Barcelona]

*Amram Gaon sent his version of the prayer book to "the scholars of Barcelona". In 876/7 a Jew named Judah (Judacot) was the intermediary between the city and the emperor Charles the Bald. Tenth- and eleventh-century sources mention Jews owning land in and around the city. The prominence of Jews in Barcelona is suggested by the statement of an Arabic chronicler that there were as many Jews as Christians in the city, but a list of 1079 records only 60 Jewish names. The book of Usatges ("Custumal") of Barcelona (1053-71) defines the Jewish legal status.

Jewish ownership of real estate continued: the site of the ancient Jewish cemetery is still known as Montjuich. a number of Jewish tombstones have been preserved. From the end of the 11th century the Jews lived in a special quarter in the heart of the old city, near the main gate and not far from the harbor. The main street of the quarter is still called Calle del Cal ("The Quarter of the Kahal").

[Jurisdiction - Jewish minters in Barcelona - Jewish services for the king - professions]

Barcelona Jews were subject to the jurisdiction of the counts of Barcelona. The forms of contract used by Jews here from an early date formed the basis of the Sefer ha-Shetarot of *Judah b. Barzillai al-Bargeloni, written at the beginning of the 12th century.

In the first half of the 11th century, some Barcelona Jews (col. 208)

were minters, and coins have been found bearing the name of the Jewish goldsmith who minted them. In 1104, four Jews of Barcelona received the monopoly to repatriate Muslim prisoners of war to southern Spain. Shortly afterward, *Abraham b. Hiyya was using his mathematical knowledge in the service of the king of Aragon and the counts of Barcelona, possibly assisting them to apportion territories conquered from the Muslims. From the beginning of the 13th century, the Jewish community provided beds for the royal retinues on their visits to Barcelona and looked after the lions in the royal menagerie.

The Jews were mainly occupied as artisans and merchants, some of them engaging in overseas trade.

Communal Life.

Documents of the second half of the 11th century contain the first mention of nesi'im ("princes"; see *nasi) of the house of Sheshet (see Sheshet b. Isaac *Benveniste), who served the counts as suppliers of capital, advisers on Muslim affairs, Arab secretaries, and negotiators. From the middle of the 12th century the counts would frequently appoint Jews also as bailiffs (baile) of the treasury; some of these were also members of the Sheshet family.

Christian anti-Jewish propaganda in Barcelona meanwhile increased. [[...]]

The bailiff and mintmaster of Barcelona at the time was Benveniste de Porta, the last Jew to hold this office.

The Jews were subsequently replaced by Christian burghers; Jews from families whose ancestors had formerly acquired wealth in the service of the counts now turned to commerce and moneylending. However, learned Jews such as Judah *Bonsenyor continued to perform literary services for the sovereign.


[Disputations in Barcelona]

In 1263 a public *disputation was held at Barcelona in which *Nahmanides confronted *Pablo Christiani in the presence of James I of Aragon. [[...]]

By the beginning of the 13th century, a number of Jewish merchants and financiers had become sufficiently influential to displace the nesi'im in the conduct of communal affairs. In 1241, James I granted the Barcelona community a constitution to be administered by a group of ne'emanim (secretarii, or "administrative officers") - all drawn from among the wealthy, who were empowered to enforce discipline in religious and social matters and to try monetary suits. James further extended the powers of these officials in 1272.

Solomoin b. Abraham *Adret was now rabbi in Barcelona, an office which he held for about 50 years. Under his guidance, the Barcelona Jewish community became foremost in Spain in scholarship, wealth, and public esteem. He and his sons were among the seven ne'emanim, and he must have favored the new constitution.

The ne'emanim did not admit to their number either intellecutals whose beliefs were suspect or shopkeepers and artisans. When the controversy over the study of philosophy was renewed at the end of Adret's life, the intellectuals of Barcelona did not therefore dare to voice their opinions. In 1305, Adret prohibited the youth from studying philosophy under penalty of excommunication: this provision was also signed by the ne'emanim and some 30 prominent members of the community.

[1327: Third constitution - Jewish refugees from France]

A third constitution was adopted in 1327, by which time the community had been augmented, in 1306, by 60 families of French exiles. The privileges, such as exemption from taxes, enjoyed by Jews close to the court were now abolished, and, alongside the body of ne'emanim, legal status was accorded to the "Council of Thirty", an institution that had begun to develop early in the 14th century. The new regulations helped to strengthen the governing body. Several Spanish communities used this constitution as a model.

Berurei averot ("magistrates for misdemeanors") were appointed for the first time in 1338 to punish offenders against religion and the accepted code of (col. 209)

conduct. In the following year berurei tevi'ot ("magistrates for claims") were elected to try monetary suits. The communal jurisdiction of Barcelona, which at times acted on behalf of all the communities of Catalonia and Aragon, extended to several communities, both small and large, including that of Tarragona.

[Trade restrictions for the benefit of the Christians - Black Death - protection]

In the 14th century the monarchy yielded to the demands of the Christian merchants of Barcelona and restricted Jewish trade with Egypt and Syria. In addition, the community suffered severely during the *Black Death of 1348. Most of the "thirty" and the ne'emanim perished in the plague, and the Jewish quarter was attacked by the mob. Despite protection extended by the municipality, several Jews were killed.

In December 1354, delegates for the communities of Catalonia and the province of Valencia convened in Barcelona with the intention of establishing a national roof organization for the Jewish communities of the kingdom in order to rehabilitate them after the devastations of the plague.

In the second half of the century R. Nissim *Gerondi restored the yeshivah [[religious Torah school]] of Barcelona to its former preeminence. Among his disciples were R. *Isaac b. Sheshet and R. Hasdai *Crescas, both members of old, esteemed Barcelona families who took part in the community administration after the late 1360s.

The Decline.

[Defamation of 1367 and recovery]

Around 1367 the Jews were charged with desecrating the *Host, several community leaders being among the accused. Three Jews were put to death, and for three days the entire community, men, women, and children, were detained in the synagogue without food. Since they did not confess, the king ordered their release. However, Nissim Gerondi, Isaac b. Sheshet, Hasdai Crescas, and several other dignitaries were imprisoned for a brief period.

The community gradually recovered after these misfortunes. Jewish goldsmiths, physicians, and merchants were again employed at court. After Isaac b. Sheshet's departure from Barcelona and Nissim Gerondi's death, Hasdai Crescas was almost the sole remaining notable; he led the community for about 20 years.

[Professions: artisans - 1386: New Jewish charter of professions]

The main element in the (col. 210)

Barcelona community was now the artisans - weavers, dyers, tailors, shoemakers, carpenters, blacksmiths, and coral-workers. These were organized into guilds, and demanded their share in the communal administration.

After the long period in which the ruling oligarchy had been exercising their authority to their own advantage, the 1327 charter was abolished by royal edict in 1386. A new charter was approved by which representatives of the two lower estates, the merchants and artisans, shared in the administration.

[The pogroms and the massacres of 1391]

During the persecutions of 1391, the city fathers and even the artisans of Barcelona tried to protect the Jews of the city, but without success. The violence in Barcelona was instigated by a band of Castilians, who had taken part in the massacres in Seville and Valencia and arrived in Barcelona by boat. News of the onslaught on the Jewish quarter in Majorca set off the attack on Saturday, August 5. About 100 Jews were killed and a similar number sought refuge in the "New Castle" in the Jewish quarter. The gate of the judería [[Jewish quarter]] and the notarial archives were set on fire and looting continued throughout that day and night. The Castilians were arrested and ten were sentenced to the gallows.
The following Monday, however, the "little people" (populus minutus), mostly dock workers and fishermen, broke down the prison doors and stormed the castle. Many Jews were killed. At the same time, serfs from the surrounding countryside attacked the city, burned the court records of the bailiff, seized the fortress of the royal vicar, and gave the Jews who had taken refuge there the alternative of death or conversion.

The plundering and looting continued throughout that week. Altogether about 400 Jews were killed; the rest were converted. Only a few of them (including Hasdai Crescas, whose son was among the martyrs) escaped to the territories owned by the nobility or to North Africa. At the end of the year John I condemned 26 of the rioters to death, but acquitted the rest.

[1393: restored Jewish rights - prohibition of Jewish community in 1401]

In 1393 John took measures to rehabilitate the Jewish community in Barcelona. He allotted the Jews a new residential quarter and ordered the return of the old cemetery. All their former privileges were restored and a tax exemption was granted (col. 211)

for a certain period, as well as a moratorium on debts. Hasdai was authorized to transfer Jews from other places to resettle Barcelona, but only a few were willing to move. Reestablishment of a Jewish community in Barcelona was finally prohibited in 1401 by Martin I in response to the request of the burgers.

The Conversos.

[Inquisition - emigration of the rich Jews - crisis of the town]

The renewed prosperity of Barcelona during the 15th century should be credited in part to the Conversos, who developed wide-ranging commercial and industrial activities. Despite protests by the city fathers, in 1486 Ferdinand decided to introduce the Inquisition on the Castilian model in Barcelona. At the outset of the discussions on procedure the Conversos began to withdraw their deposits from the municipal bank and to leave the city. The most prosperous merchants fled, credit and commerce declined, the artisans also suffered, and economic disaster threatened. The inquisitors entered Barcelona in July 1487. Some ships with refugees on board were detained in the harbor. Subsequently several high-ranking officials of Converso descent were charged with observing Jewish religious rites and put to death. In 1492 many of the Jews expelled from Aragon embarked from Barcelona on their way abroad.

Encyclopaedia Judaica (1971):
                  Barcelona, vol. 4, col. 211, inscription in wall
                  stone, 1820
Encyclopaedia Judaica (1971): Barcelona, vol. 4, col. 211, inscription in a wall stone, 1820

20th Century.

[Jews from Africa, Greece, Balkan countries, and from Poland and Romania - German Jews since 1933 - the community of 1968]

At the beginning of the 20th century a few Jewish peddlers from Morocco and Turkey settled in Barcelona. After the conquest of Salonika by the Greeks in 1912 and the announcement by the Spanish government of its willingness to encourage settlement of Spanish Jews on its territory (1931), Jews from Greece and from other Balkan countries migrated to Barcelona. Other Jews arrived from Poland during World War I, followed by immigrants from North Africa, and by artisans - tailors, cobblers, and hatmakers - from Poland and Rumania [[Romania]]. There were over 100 Jews in Barcelona in 1918, while in 1932 the figure had risen to more than 3,000, mostly of Sephardi origin.

After 1933 some German Jews established ribbon, leather, and (col. 212)

candy industries. By 1935 Barcelona Jewry numbered over 5,000, the Sephardim by now being a minority. During the Spanish Civil War (1936-39), many left for France and Palestine. Some of the German Jews left the city after the Republican defeat in 1939, but during and after World War II Barcelona served as a center for refugees, maintained by the *American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, and others returned to resettle.

The Barcelona community, consisting of approximately 3,000 people in 1968, is the best organized in Spain. The communal organization unites both Sephardi and Ashkenazi synagogues. There is also a community center, which includes a rabbinical office and cultural center. The community runs Jewish Sunday schools for children attending secular schools, and has a talmud torah. Youth activities include summer camps and a growing Maccabi movement. An old-age home supported by Jewish agencies outside Spain is maintained. The University of Barcelona offers courses in Jewish studies. Together with leaders of the Madrid community, Barcelona community heads were received in 1965 by General Franco, the first meeting between a Spanish head of state and Jewish leaders since 1492.

Encyclopaedia Judaica
                  (1971): Barcelona, vol. 4, col. 210, rest of ghetto
                  wall in Calle del Cal
Encyclopaedia Judaica (1971): Barcelona, vol. 4, col. 210, rest of ghetto wall in Calle del Cal

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-- J. Fiter Ingles: Expulsion de los judios de Barcelona (1876)
-- Loeb, in: REJ, 4 (1882), 57-77
-- F. de Bofarull y Sans: Los judios en el territorio de Barcelona (1910)
-- J. Miret y Sans and M. Schwab: Documents de juifs Catalans des XIe, XIIe et XIIe [[?]] sičcles (1915), 191
-- idem, in: Boletin de la Real Academia de la Historia, 69 (1916), 569-82
-- Baer, Urkunden, 1 pt. 1 (1929), index
-- Prevosti, in: Sefarad, 10 (1951), 75-90
-- A. López de Meneses, in: Estudios de Edad Media de la Corona de Aragón, 5 (1952), 677
-- idem, in: Sefarad, 19 (1959), 97-106, 323ff.
-- Madurell y Marimón: ibid., 16 (1956), 369-98; 17 (1957), 73-102; 18 (1958), 60-82; 21 (1961), 300-38; 22 (1962), 345-72; 23 (1963), 74-104; 25 (1965), 247-82; 27 (1967), 290-8;
-- Baron, Social, 4 (1957), 34, 249, notes 37-38
-- Cardoner, in: Sefarad, 22 (1962), 373-5
-- Suárez Fernández, Documentos, index
-- Baer, Spain, index
-- Millás Vallicrosa, in: Sefarad, 27 (1967), 64-70> (col. 213)

Encyclopaedia Judaica (1971): Jews in
                              Barcelona, vol. 4, col. 208
Encyclopaedia Judaica (1971): Jews in Barcelona, vol. 4, col. 208
Encyclopaedia Judaica (1971): Jews in
                              Barcelona, vol. 4, col. 209-210
Encyclopaedia Judaica (1971): Jews in Barcelona, vol. 4, col. 209-210
Encyclopaedia Judaica (1971): Jews in
                              Barcelona, vol. 4, col. 211-212
Encyclopaedia Judaica (1971): Jews in Barcelona, vol. 4, col. 211-212
Encyclopaedia Judaica (1971): Jews in
                              Barcelona, vol. 4, col. 213
Encyclopaedia Judaica (1971): Jews in Barcelona, vol. 4, col. 213