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Encyclopaedia Judaica

Jews in Spain 03: Jewish positions in the Christian reconquest

Jews settling the land of the Christian kingdoms - tolerance and Jews at court - the Golden Age

from: Spain; In: Encyclopaedia Judaica 1971, vol. 15

presented by Michael Palomino (2008)

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<The Reconquest Period.

[Revenge movements Visigothic successor states - tolerant Carolingian Empire]

For many years the history of the Jews in Christian Spain became an element in the struggle for the reconquest. In the early stages of this the Jews suffered alongside the Muslims from the violence of the newly-founded Christian state in Oviedo, which regarded itself as the successor of the Visigoths and felt bound to punish the so-called treason of the Jews. However, in many Christian principalities the influence of the Carolingian Empire was paramount and the Jews were treaded more moderately.

Little is known about the Catalonian Jewish communities during this period; their presence is attested by a few tombstones. More records are available on the communities in the county of León. In this province a problem arose which perplexed the Christian kings of the reconquest for many years: how to settle, colonize, and develop regions won back from the Muslim invaders.

It is fairly clear that this preoccupation prompted a change in their attitude toward the Jews so that gradually they began to consider them a useful and even essential section of the population.

[Development of the Christian states with the Jews: example León - privileges and freedom for settlers]

Relations with the Christian population changed, and this period saw the emergence of organized communities, influential in trade and industry, in northwest Spain. In the new capital, León, from the tenth century the Jews controlled the commerce in textiles and precious stones. They also owned many estates in the kingdom. In the young state of Castile the judicial status of the Jews was almost equal to that of the Christians. In the meantime the Jewish population in the small Christian states was insignificant.

At the beginning of the 11th century, assisted by the decline of the caliphate, the Christian hold in Spain increased through the initiative of Alfonso V of León (999-1027), who set himself out to attract settlers to his lands by granting them privileges and freedom. Among these new settlers were numerous Jews, who shared the same advantages as the Christians. It is difficult to establish their origins: did they come from France or from Muslim Spain, where their situation was now less secure than before?

At any rate it is highly likely that at the beginning of the 11th century, especially with the onset of the Berber invasions, many Jews from the Muslim region made their way to the Christian kingdom, attracted by the advantages offered to new settlers, to join earlier Jewish arrivals.

[Changes in the Jewish communities under Christian rule]

The (col. 226)

face of Spanish Jewry was transformed; for the first time the influence of oriental Jewry penetrated a Christian land, dislodging the influence of Franco-German Jewry from its monopolistic position.

In spite of the internal reverses and setbacks disturbing the countries of Christian Spain, which also had an effect on the Jews, Jewish communities were organized and securely established. Their status was clearly defined: whether they lived on territory belonging to nobles, monastic orders, or elsewhere, the Jews belonged to the king, who protected them and to whom they owed fealty. For some time this principle was interpreted literally - as the blood money due on the killing of a Jews had to be paid directly to the king.

[Crusades without influence on Jewry of the Iberian Peninsula]

The abortive Crusade of 1063 did not affect the development of the Jewish communities. According to legend, the great national hero El Cid employed Jews as treasurers, financial agents, lawyers, and administrators. Alfonso VI certainly employed as his physician and financier the Jew Joseph ha-Nasi *Ferrizuel, called Cidellus or little Cid, who did a great deal to help his coreligionists.

It appears that Alfonso was the Spanish king who inaugurated a tradition that lasted as long as Spanish Jewry itself: that of the Jewish courtiers who, while still remaining faithful to their religion, exercised considerable authority over the inhabitants of the kingdom. During Alfonso's reign the reconquest suffered a setback with the defeat of Zallaker in 1086; no doubt there were some who cast aspersions on the Jews of the king who had refused to tight.

In the meantime in *Barcelona the Jews continued to be important landowners. According to some estimates, in the 11th and 12th centuries they owned around one-third of the estates in the country, which explains why the second Council of Gerona demanded that they continue to pay the tithes due to the Church on land that they had purchased from Christians.

In 1079 there were at least 60 Jewish heads of families in Barcelona. This was the milieu which produced the first great figures of Spanish Jewish culture: the rabbi Isaac b. Reuben al-Bargeloni ("from Barcelona") the many-faceted *Abraham b. Hiyya ha-Nasi, and the rabbi *Judah b. Barzillai al-Bargeloni. Writing in a Christian land, these three authors belonged to a totally different cultural environment from their contemporary, Rashi, and attest the originality of Spanish Jewish thought which, from the end of the 11th century, gained in importance and impact.

The Golden Age in Spain.

[since 1085: Reconquests under Alfonso I of Castile: Toledo, Tudela, Saragossa - tolerance to the Jews]

When Toledo fell to Alfonso I of Castile in 1085 the Jewish inhabitants, unlike the Muslims, did not flee the town, and it seems that they continued to live in their old quarter, joined there by newcomers from old Castile and León and refugees from Muslim lands.

On the death of the king in 1109, the security of the Jews was revealed as illusory since it was based solely on royal favor, which more tardily was again extended by Alfonso's  successor. In the meantime Christianity gained ground in Spain.

*Tudela fell to King Alfonso I of Aragon in 1115. Jews and Muslims alike were granted full religious freedom, but while the Muslims were ordered to leave the town itself the Jews were granted permission to remain in their own quarter, which lay within the city walls. Thus, preferred to the Muslims, they were no longer an object of fear to the Christians.

The Jews of *Saragossa, conquered in 1118, enjoyed the same privileges and this precedent was followed in almost all towns on the way of the triumphant Christian advance.

[Reconquests of Barcelona county: Tortosa, Lérida]

The county of Barcelona, united with the kingdom of Aragon in the time of Count Ramón Berenguer IV (1131-62), had also taken part in the reconquest. In 1148 *Tortosa fell to the count who, having given important possessions to the Jews there, promised supplementary (col. 227)

freedoms to any of their coreligionists who wished to settle in the town. When *Lérida was conquered in 1149, the Jews were once more asked to stay and preferred to the Muslims. Nevertheless they were not always protected from the maneuverings of the Christian lords, who cared more for immediate gain than for future settlement.

[Shift of the Spanish Jewish center from the south to the north - Jewish positions within the Spanish Christian kingdoms - lawsuits: oath "More Judaico"]

At this time the focal point of Spanish Jewry had shifted from the Muslim south to the Christian north, where the Jewish population had increased considerably. However, the internal structure of the communities changed little and the rule of the notables remained firmly established. The court Jews still occupied all important positions, which scarcely troubled newcomers, who were above all concerned with establishing themselves and finding a means of livelihood. The tended to settle in the towns more than in the countryside. Occasionally the Christian kings gave them the citadel of a conquered town and there they established themselves, assuring at the same time their internal communal autonomy and external security. Engaged largely in commerce and industry and in the administration of the possessions of the nobles, the Jews were barely concerned with moneylending.

The Jews were serfs of the king, property of the royal treasury alone, but in times of stability this meant no more than an obligation to pay taxes; the king took no interest in the internal structure of the communities, which remained autonomous organizations. Known as *aljama (the Arabic name being retained), the Jewish communities were each independent political entities paying taxes directly to the royal treasury, with full administrative and judicial autonomy, under the very general supervision of a royal functionary.

In the case of suits with Christians, the Jews had to take a special *oath more judaico and were forbidden to engage in judicial duels.

[since 12th century: anti-Jewish law of the municipalities against rich Jews - important Jews at the courts - democratic reaction of the poor]

From the end of the 12th century, however, municipal legislation weighed more heavily on the Jews: the municipalities were desirous of curbing the power of rich Jewish businessmen. But in spite of their efforts they did not succeed in supplanting the king as the supreme authority over the Jews.

Meanwhile in Barcelona, Toledo, and Saragossa the Jewish courtiers, and aristocracy in their own right, acquired even greater importance. They were tax farmers and undertook diplomatic missions and were frequently looked upon askance by the communities too, whose authority they sometimes tried to avoid. It is there fore hardly surprising that from the early 13th century the first signs of a democratic reaction were apparent, the poorer demanding a voice in the communal councils alongside the rich.

[Movement of Maimonides - question of validity of philosophy in Judaism - further Christian reconquests - and important Jews in the new Christian kingdoms]

In this period the *Maimonidean controversy split Spanish Jewry. Beginning in Provence, it spread through the Midi, developing into a dispute on the very validity of philosophy within Judaism. It was the first sign of self-examination by the communities and of the renunciation of ideas absorbed from the Muslim and then from the Christian background. This tendency was expressed in the condemnation of the writings of Maimonides, several of them being suppressed. The controversy simmered down, only to break out with renewed ferocity some time later.

In the meantime the reconquest proceeded apace. James I of Aragon (1213-76) took the Balearic Islands (1229-35) and Valencia (1238). Ferdinand III of Castile (1217-52) captured *Córdoba (1236), *Murcia (1243), and *Seville (1248). Alfonso X (1252-84) extended the conquest so far that only the kingdom of Granada remained in Muslim hands.

All these kings had employed Jews in their armies and all had requested them to settle in towns evacuated by Muslims. Everywhere the Jews who had lived under Muslim rule were permitted to remain in their old quarter, were preferred to Muslims, and their previous privileges were confirmed. Their ownership of land expanded, for the (col. 228)

kings frequently granted them lands and other possessions in order to attract them to settle. More Jewish shops opened in the towns, arousing the opposition of the municipalities, who wished to limit their commerce.

[since 1263: code Las Siete Partidas by Alfonso X: Jewish religious rights - religious borders - badge]

Around the middle of the 13th century King *Alfonso X prepared a code of laws covering all the inhabitants of his kingdom. This code known as Las Siete Partidas, was formulated around 1263, but was only very gradually applied, especially from 1348. It defined with great precision the principles of royal policy toward the Jews and in this respect was extremely influential. The Jews were accorded complete religious liberty, on condition that they did not attack the Christian faith; measured were taken to prevent the possibility of *blood libels; and they were forbidden to leave their homes during Easter.

They were also prohibited from holding positions of authority over Christians. The number and size of synagogues were strictly limited, but it was forbidden to disturb the Jews on the Sabbath, even for legal reasons. No force was to be used to induce them to adopt Christianity, while those who had converted were not to be taunted with insults about their origins, nor to lose their rights of succession to the property of their former coreligionists.

By contrast, any Christian who converted to Judaism was to be put to death and his property declared forfeit. Jews and Christians were not to occupy the same house, and Jews could not own Christian slaves. They were also to carry a special badge which identified them as Jews. Thus the policy of the Church triumphed.

[Jewish quarters, synagogues, Jewish school leaders, Jewish courts of law - the "rab de la corte"]

The aljamas [[Jewish quarters, synagogues]] turned more in on themselves, reinforced their autonomy. Under the direction of their *muqaddamin (or *adelantados) [[school leaders]] they established their own courts of law, but maintained the right of appeal before the royal court.

At this period the king appointed a functionary, known as the rab de la corte, to supervise the affairs of the Jewish communities. It appears that his nomination by the king did not give rise to any special problems, for he generally did not interfere with the internal organization of the communities.

[Jewish positions in the Christian courts - dynasties of Jewish courtiers]

Jewish courtiers, largely in Castile, rose to the highest positions. Therefore their fall was usually attended by the most brutal consequences for the communities to which they belonged, and thus the latter could not consider them as shtadlanim [[advocates]], but rather as high functionaries and financiers whose influence depended more on their talents than on any representative status. the Castilian monarchs seem to have been well satisfied by their services. As Jews they could not aim for political power nor could they ally themselves with the nobility or the clergy.

Thus there developed in the Christian lands the custom, long widespread in the Orient, of employing Jews in the highest administrative and financial positions. The nobles imitated the kings in employing Jewish experts. Some of these Jewish courtiers, while still holding to the Jewish faith, were influenced by the Christian environment; wishing to live as nobles, they competed for royal favor.

Veritable dynasties of courtiers emerged: the powerful families wielded considerable importance in their communities. Don Solomon *ibn Zadok of Toledo, known as Don Çulema, was ambassador and almoxarife major [[major inspector]]. His son and successor, Don Isaac ibn Zadok, known as Don Çag de la Maleha, played an important role in reestablishing the finances of Alfonso X, who granted him and his associates authority to farm taxes owing on the previous 20 years in return for payment of the enormous sum of 80,000 gold maravedis for the years 1276 and 1277.

This kind of contract could be very remunerative although the king frequently went back on his word. It sometimes happened that, as in the case of Don Çag, a Jewish courtier fell from royal favor and, as a result, lost his life. The very financial success of the courtiers tempted the kings to impose enormous taxes on the Jewish communities, (col. 229)

who were impoverished by their efforts to pay them. The Church, the Cortes, and the nobility frequently cast a jaundiced eye on the rise of the Jewish courtiers, who competed with them for royal favor and gave too powerful a hand to the strengthening of the monarchy. thus they frequently put pressure on the king to dislodge his Jewish courtiers. In spite of all efforts, however, the institution of the Jewish courtier increased in influence in Castile, rather than the contrary.

[Aragon: Jews settling from the north to the south - Jewish positions and protected Jews]

In Aragon Jewish courtiers were to be found at the court of James I who used them as interpreters in his survey of the Arab lands he had reconquered. The king also invited the Jews to settle in his newly acquired lands; they were to receive their share of the conquered territory on the sole condition that they settled on it. There too they were preferred to Muslims, for the problem of resettling the former Arab lands was ever present. Thus Jews from the north of Aragon spread gradually southward, establishing new communities.

By the edict of Valencia, March 6, 1239, the king confirmed the authority of the bet din [[Jewish law court]] in suits between Jews, except in cases of murder. He also recognized the need for witnesses of each religion in cases involving Christians and Jews. The validity of the oath more judaico was reaffirmed. Any Jew who was arrested must be freed between midday on Friday and Monday morning.

The king took the Jews and their property under his protection and forbade anyone to harass them except for a debt or crime which could be firmly established. This charter often served as the model for similar charters in towns throughout Aragon. James I also undertook to protect the Jews of newly conquered Majorca. As these measures proved insufficient to populate the new communities, on June 11, 1247, James promised safe conduct and citizenship to any Jew coming by land or sea to settle in Majorca, Catalonia, or Valencia.

As far as the internal life of the communities was concerned, he confirmed and extended their autonomy. By the privilege granted to the community of *Calatayud on April 22, 1229, he authorized the community to appoint a rabbi and four directors (adenanti) to control their affairs, and to dismiss these officials if they deemed it necessary. They were also authorized to arrest and even sentence to death any malefactors in their midst. The community did not have to account for any death sentences it passed but had to pay the king 1,000 solidos for every one of these.

The four adenanti directing the community could, with the agreement of the aljama [[Jewish community]], pronounce excommunication. Thus the elected heads of the community exercised considerable power, especially the authority to impose the death sentence, which in fact was only pronounced against informers. The king rarely attempted to interfere with this autonomy, leaving the communities to direct their own affairs.> (col. 230)

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Encyclopaedia Judaica: Spain, vol. 15,
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