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Encyclopaedia Judaica

Jews in Spain 06: The Conversos 1391-1492 - the expulsion of 1492

Restrictions and recovery of Jewish communities - regulations of Valladolid of 1432 - discrimination of "New" Christians by the statute of Toledo since 1449 - fall of Granada and expulsion of 1492

Encyclopaedia Judaica 1971: Spain, vol.15,
                  col.237-238, map of the Jewish communities of 1474
amplifyEncyclopaedia Judaica 1971: Spain, vol.15, col.237-238, map of the Jewish communities of 1474

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

presented by Michael Palomino (2008)

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<The Conversos.

[To bring the converted Jews back to the font]

In this period the problem of Jews who had converted by force became acute. Illegal though forced conversion was, in the eyes of the Church a Converso was a true Christian and thus forbidden to return to Judaism. There were indeed a number of Jews who took their conversion to heart and, filled with the zeal of neophytes, reproached their former coreligionists for their "errors" and launched a campaign to bring them to the font.

Chief among these was Solomon ha-Levi of Burgos who became *Pablo de Santa Maria in 1391 and later bishop of Burgos. In their desperate state, the Jews could hardly respond energetically. The Christian missionary spirit did not rest content with the successes achieved. The notorious friar Vicente *Ferrer preached in the towns of Castile in 1411-12. Although opposed to forced conversion, he was ready to compel Jews to listen to him and was unconcerned by the anti-Jewish violence which was consequent on his sermons.

[Castile since 2 Jan. 1412: new Jewish quarters - hair and beard laws - no "Don" title - forbidden professions]

Following on his activity the government of Castile proclaimed on Jan. 2, 1412, new regulations concerning Jews. Henceforth, in towns and in villages, they were to inhabit separate quarters and, to distinguish them from Christians, must grow their hair and beards, and no longer be addressed by the honorific, "Don".

They were forbidden to take employment as tax farmers or fill any other public office, nor could their physicians treat Christians; lending on interest was also prohibited. All professions were closed to them and all commerce by which they might ameliorate their miserable existence forbidden. For a time even their internal autonomy and freedom of movement were in question.

[Kingdom of Aragon: reconstruction of Jewry from Saragossa - conversions since 1412 under Ferdinand I]

Encyclopaedia Judaica: Spain, vol.15,
                        col.231: Hanukka lamp of the 15th century:
                        Hanukka lamp with Moorish arches, from Spain,
                        15th century. Height 7 1/4 in. (18.5 cm.). Tel
                        Aviv, I. Einhorn Collection. Photo David Harris,
                        Jerusalem Encyclopaedia Judaica: Spain, vol.15, col.231: Hanukka lamp of the 15th century: Hanukka lamp with Moorish arches, from Spain, 15th century. Height 7 1/4 in. (18.5 cm.). Tel Aviv, I. Einhorn Collection. Photo David Harris, Jerusalem

In Aragon the situation was more favorable. The community of Saragossa, spared because of the presence of the king in the town, was able to play an important role in the reconstitution of the Aragonese communities. The action of the king gave a semblance of stability to the new Jewish groups.

In 1399 the aljama [[self-governed community]] of Saragossa, where (col. 236)

Hasdai Crescas was rabbi, obtained a new statute from Queen Violante defining its power and organization. In June 1412 Ferdinand I became new king of Aragon, thanks to the assistance and support of Vicente Ferrer, who seized the opportunity to extend his activities against the Jews of Aragon. At that moment Joshua *Lorki, who had previously disputed with Pablo de Santa Maria, decided to accept baptism under the name of Geronimo de Santa Fé.

[since August 1412: public disputation - disputation at Tortosa - council of Constance with Jewish delegates]

In August of the same year he sent a pamphlet to the antipope Benedict XIII which served as the basis for the public disputation soon to be held in Tortosa. The pope invited the Aragonese communities to send representatives to a public disputation to be held in Tortosa on Jan. 15, 1413; it actually took place the following February (see *Tortosa, Disputation of).

Probably the antipope wished to achieve a great religious success at the moment the split Church was attempting to reunite at the Council of Constance. The Jewish delegates presented themselves without great enthusiasm for the issue of the disputation was in no doubt and freedom of expression had been virtually refused. The leading Jewish delegates were *Zerahiah b. Isaac ha-Levi from Saragossa and the philosopher Joseph Albo; as was to be expected Christianity triumphed and the defeat of the Jews resulted in a wave of conversion. The rabbis were given no real opportunity to defend themselves.

The major topics of the disputation were the messianic problem and the veracity of the Talmud, and the Jewish delegates, despairing of being truly heard, wished to end the disputation. Only Zerahiah b. Isaac ha-Levi and Joseph Albo defended Judaism against all attack but they failed to convince their colleagues that there was any point in (col. 237)

replying. The disputation finally ended in December 1414 and the Jewish delegates returned home.

[11 May 1415: Papal bull - 23 July 1415: new anti-Jewish laws under Ferdinand I]

Acting on a bull promulgated by Benedict XIII on May 11, Ferdinand I ordered on July 23, 1415, the Jews to submit their copies of the Talmud so that all passages deemed anti-Christian might be censored. They were also forbidden to read the *Toledot Yeshu [[anti gospel of Toledo]]. Any attack on the Church was prohibited. Jewish judges lost their authority over criminal cases, even those involving informers. They were also forbidden to extend their synagogues. Christians could no longer employ Jewish agents and the Jews were confined to a special quarter.

Apostates could inherit from their Jewish parents. With this even heavier burden to bear, many Aragonese communities were destroyed and conversions were numerous, especially among the higher classes. Aragon Judaism was close to the abyss when Benedict XIII was dismissed from the papacy (1416).

[Castile: Tolerance under John II (Castile) and Alfonso V (Aragon) - destroyed Jewish communities and recovery]

On the death of Ferdinand in the same year they acquired a temporary respite. John II, the new king of Castile (1406-54), and his contemporary, Alfonso V of Aragon (1416-58), had little taste for the religious fervor of their predecessors. The new pope was similarly disinclined to reopen this particular battle. Almost all anti-Jewish measures were therefore abrogated (1419-22). Copies of the Talmud and synagogue buildings were restored to the Jews.

In the meantime the Aragonese communities were greatly reduced; those of Valencia and Barcelona had disappeared altogether. In Majorca, the Jews who remained were dispersed by a blood libel in 1432. Only the rural settlements in the province of Aragon had escaped persecution.

At the moment of the expulsion there was an estimated 6,000 Jewish families in (col. 238)

Aragon, a meager percentage indeed of the country's total population.

In Castile there were around 30,000 Jewish families, aside from innumerable Conversos, many of whom were in fact Jews. The large communities, Seville, Toledo, and Burgos, had lost their former influence as a result of the apostasy of many members of the ruling class. Henceforward the decisive weight in the Jewish life of the kingdom was maintained by the small rural communities whose numbers rarely exceeded 50 families. The Jews were merchants, shopkeepers, or artisans, with a number of physicians. Some Jewish courtiers managed to retrieve their positions at court;

[Rab de la corte Benveniste de Soria - the community "regulations of Valladolid" since 1432]

Abraham *Benveniste de Soria was the treasurer of John II, who also appointed him rab de la corte, chief rabbi of the kingdom. Abraham Benveniste used his position to undertake the reorganization of Castilian Jewry, convoking in 1432 a convention of representatives of Spanish communities in Valladolid to formulate and adopt new regulations. Their primary concern was to reorganize systems of instruction, to be effected through a tax imposed on slaughter, on wine, on marriages, and on circumcisions.

Any community of 15 families or more was to support one primary school teacher, and a community of 40 families must employ a rabbi. It was also laid down that a community consisting of ten families must maintain a place of prayer. Various measures were formulated to regulate the election of judges, who had to act in accord with the rabbi and notables.

It was also possible to make appeal to the rab de la corte [[chief rabbi of the kingdom]]. The former laws covering informers and slanderers were abrogated; in future the rab de la corte could, under certain conditions, sentence informers to death. Forced betrothals and marriages were strictly forbidden. The rab de la corte also had to approve the appointment of any Jew to royal commissions. No Jew was allowed to obtain from the king exemption from payment of the communal taxes. Other decisions of the convention (col. 239)

concerned sumptuary laws. Through this strict centralization the Castilian communities found a solution to their problems. It is difficult to ascertain if the regulations of *Valladolid were strictly applied, but they were an answer to the plight of communities greatly reduced in numbers and wealth.

[Distinction in "New" and "Old" Christians - marriages into old Christian families - discrimination of "New" Christians since 1449 by the statute of Toledo]

Yet the most pressing problem of Spanish Jewry no longer concerned the communities, for the question of the Conversos became progressively more acute. Showing their awareness and suspicion of the true nature of the mass conversions, Spanish Christians were in the habit of referring to "New" and "Old" Christians and effecting a veritable racial distinction between them. It is undoubtedly true that many Conversos were Christians in name only, acquiring their new status through force alone, and many others had accepted baptism as a means of breaking down social, economic, and political barriers. In pursuit of these aims they had begun to marry into the great Toledan families.

Yet they too became concerned when in 1449 the rebels of Toledo issued a statute proclaiming that all New Christians - regardless of the fervor of their faith - were infamous and unfit for all offices and benefices, public and private, in Toledo and all its dependencies. They could  be neither witnesses nor public notaries. The king and pope condemned this proclamation, more through the desire to hasten the conversion of the Jews, which it rendered henceforth impossible, than through any sense of justice. Great harm was done by this proclamation, giving rise to a widespread policy of eradication of real or suspected Jewish influence. Subsequently all religious  and political agitation tended to this end.

Steps Toward the Expulsion.

[1469: Isabella and Ferdinand - since 1479: the "national unity" of Castile and Aragon is "in danger" by the Conversos - inquisition - Jews at stake]

The marriage of Isabella, heiress to the throne of Castile, and Ferdinand, heir to the throne of Aragon, in 1469 had disastrous consequences for Spanish Jewry. The two kingdoms were united in 1479. At first they took no heed of the Jewish communities as such, but they considered the Conversos a danger to national unity. The Catholic monarchs continued to employ Jewish functionaries - such as Don Abraham *Seneor, chief rabbi of Castile and tax controller for the whole kingdom, and Isaac *Abrabanel, tax farmer for part of Castile - and a number of Conversos, too.

However, in 1476 the right of criminal jurisdiction was taken from the Jewish communities. Soon the Catholic Monarchs launched a direct attack on the Conversos, inviting the *Inquisition to extend its activities to the kingdom, which their predecessors had always refused to countenance, fearing the too great power of this institution. On Sept. 27, 1480, two Dominicans were named inquisitors of the kingdom of Castile, and they began their activities in Seville in January 1481. Soon after the first Conversos condemned as Judaizers were sent to their deaths.

According to the chronicler Andres Bernaldez, more than 700 Conversos were burned at the stake between 1481 and 1488 and more than 5,000 reconciled to the Church after enduring various punishments. Inquisitors were appointed in 1481 for Aragon, where the papal Inquisition, which had been in existence for some time, was considered insufficiently effective.

[1483: Andalusia expelling the Jews]

From 1483 the Jews were expelled from Andalusia, no doubt because it appeared to the inquisitors to be impossible to root out Jewish heresies from among the Conversos while practicing Jews still lived in their midst.

Tomás de *Torquemada, confessor to the queen, was appointed inquisitor-general in the autumn of 1483, providing the Inquisition with a new impetus and stricter organization. His activities stretched from town to town throughout the whole kingdom, bringing terror to Jewish communities everywhere since they were inevitably linked with the Conversos. In less than 12 years the Inquisition (col. 240)

condemned no less than 13,000 Conversos, men and women, who had continued to practice Judaism in secret. Yet these were no more than a fraction of the mass of Conversos.

[2 Jan. 1492: Granada's fall and the drive for "religious unity" - the edict of expulsion of 31 March 1492 - exodus and new home countries]

Encyclopaedia
                Judaica: Spain, vol.15, col.239: edict of expulsion of
                1492: Last page, containing the seal and signature, of
                the edict of Ferdinand and Isabella expelling the Jews
                from Spain, Granada, March 31, 1492. Courtesy Avila
                Municipal Archives, Spain
amplifyEncyclopaedia Judaica: Spain, vol.15, col.239: edict of expulsion of 1492: Last page, containing the seal and signature,
of the edict of Ferdinand and Isabella expelling the Jews from Spain, Granada, March 31, 1492.
Courtesy Avila Municipal Archives, Spain

When the last bastion of Muslim power in Spain fell with the triumphant entry of the Catholic monarchs into Granada on Jan. 2, 1492, the urge toward complete religious unity of the kingdom was reinforced. The scandal of the Conversos who had remained true to Judaism had shown that segregation of the Jews and limitation of their rights did not suffice to suppress their influence. They must be totally removed from the face of Spain. Thus on March 31, 1492 the edict of expulsion was signed in Granada, although it was not promulgated until between April 29 and May 1. All Jews who were willing to accept Christianity were, of course, to be permitted to stay.

In May the exodus began, the majority of the exiles - around 100,000 people - finding temporary refuge in Portugal (from where the Jews were expelled in 1496-97), the rest making for North Africa and Turkey [[see: *Ottoman Empire]], the only major country which opened its doors to them. A few found provisional homes in the little kingdom of Navarre, where there was still an ancient Jewish community in existence, but there too their stay was brief, for the Jews were expelled in 1498.

Considerable numbers of Spanish Jews, including the chief rabbi Abraham Seneor and most of the members of the influential families, preferred baptism to exile, adding their number to the thousands of Conversos who had chosen this road at an earlier date. On July 31 (the 7th of Av), 1492, the last Jew left Spain.

Yet Spanish (or Sephardi) Jewry had by no means disappeared for almost everywhere the refugees reconstituted their communities, clinging to their former language and culture. In most areas, especially in North Africa, they met with descendants of refugees from the 1391 persecutions.

In Erez Israel they had been preceded by several groups of Spanish Jews who had gone there as a result of the various messianic movements which had shaken Spanish Jewry. Officially, no Jews were left in Spain. All that were left were the Conversos, a great number of whom remained true to their original faith. Some later fell victim to the Inquisition; others managed to flee from Spain and return openly to Judaism in the Sephardi communities of the Orient and Europe.

See also *Anusim; *Conversos; *Marranos; *New Christians; *Portugal; *Sephardim.> (col. 241)

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