Email Email   


The first Jewish settlement in Spain is veiled by the mists of time. Did they come with the Phoenicians who had established trading stations in Andalusia? This might account for an ancient Jewish tradition that Jews settled in Spain in the time of King Solomon. However, it is evident that by the 1st century C.E., there were Jews in Spain, for the Christian apostle, Paul, spoke of visiting them there. During the unsettled times of the declining Roman empire, in which commerce and travel were very difficult, many Spanish Jews became farmers. They were held in respect by their neighbors, and Christian farmers sometimes called a Jew to bless their crops, as was the custom of the time. This condition could not be pleasing to the Christian clergy, and beginning with their Council at Elvira, in 303, councils passed various resolutions designed to break such peaceful relationships with Jews.

Beginning with the 5th century, during the early Visigoth rule of Spain, there was mutual trust between the rulers and Jews, who were merchants in, the large cities and owners of large agricultural estates, as well as artisans and workmen of all kinds. In 589, when the Visigoth King Recared became a Roman Catholic, the bishops obtained power to prohibit Judaism. Jews were given the choice of becoming Catholics or of leaving the country. This edict was not strictly enforced until the ruthless reign of King Sisebut (612-621). For a century and a half, the Jewish struggle for survival continued. Some Jews escaped from the country; some were forcibly converted and practiced Judaism secretly until the welcome Muslim invasion in 711.

In the five centuries that followed, under the rule of the various Muslim dynasties, and even under some of the newly formed Christian kingdoms, Jews had a large measure of religious freedom. Many who had fled the country returned in numbers. They also grew in power and entered every major avenue of life. Discrimination and persecution were sporadic and not too severely applied. Accompanying the increasing economic opportunities and growth, was a Jewish cultural development so rich that the period became known as the Golden Age of Spain. The Moorish scholars of Spain became the leaders in the science, poetry and philosophy of the Mediterranean lands. Under their influence, Jewish scholars, physicians, and grammarians, philosophers, poets, and commentators entered a period of brilliant creativity. The storied cities of Cordova, Toledo, Granada, and others were the homes of these men and great centers of Jewish learning. Among the first of these writers was Hasdai lbn Shaprut, Jewish scholar and a patron of Jewish scholarship. Court physician to Caliph Abd-al-Rahaman in 10th-century Cordova, Hasdai was also a linguist, and served the ruler as interpreter and unofficial advisor in the conduct of affairs with foreign diplomats at the court. There were the great grammarians, from Menachem ben Saruk to Jonah Ibn Jannah, who charted the course of the Hebrew language and ordered its ways. Greatest in a galaxy of poets, Solomon Ibn Gabirol, Judah Ha-Levi, and Moses Ibn Ezra distilled new beauties from the ancient Hebrew tongue. The roster of famous names that illuminates this period includes Samuel Ibn Naghdella, the grocer who became a diplomat, and Moses Maimonides, the philosopher and commentator who went into exile because persecutions had begun to tarnish the Golden Age.

After the Christians completed their reconquest of Spain, the power of the Church in general and of some religious orders in particular grew very great. Gradually, the Inquisition closed in upon the Jews, and under its pressures, the Jewish communities suffered. Their diminished creativity resulted in the 13th-century Silver Age of Nahmanides, the scholar who inclined to mysticism, Rabbi Solomon Ibn Adret, the religious teacher of Barcelona, and the codifier Rabbi Jacob ben Asher, who died in 1340. In 1480 the Inquisition was set up as a permanent religious court in charge of discovering, judging and handing over for punishment all religious offenders. The final triumph of the Inquisition was achieved by the monk Thomas de Torquemada. Under his influence, Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand expelled the Jews from Spain in 1492.

Thereafter, the history of Jews in Spain is the history of the Marranos, those who had publicly accepted Christianity and secretly practiced Judaism. For centuries, the Marranos were the legitimate prey of the Inquisition, until, for all intents and purposes, it was dissolved at the close of the 18th century. In 1858, the Spanish edict of expulsion was dissolved, but few Jews returned to settle there. By 1904, there were enough of them in Madrid to form a congregation. Yet even then, Jews were not permitted to use a public building as a synagogue.

The Federaci

Print Friendly, PDF & Email