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EARLY HISTORY (250 BCE - 711 CE)  

While the area of modern-day Spain (formerly a collection of kingdoms which included Castile, Aragon, and Catalonia) was still controlled by the Holy Roman Empire, the Catholic Church convened at the Council of Elvira (the first known council of the Christian church in Spain, held early in the 4th century at Elvira, near modern Granada) where they issued 80 canonic decisions, many of which were intended to ostracize the Jews from the general Spanish community.  Canon 49, for example, prohibited Jews from blessing their crops, and Canon 50 refused communion to any cleric or layperson that ate with a Jew.

During the early 5th century, the Visigoths captured the Iberian Peninsula from Roman rule. While initially anti-Christian, the Visigoths later converted to Christianity and adopted many of the previous laws that existed during Roman rule.

Under the rein of Toledo III, children of mixed marriages were forcibly baptized and Jews were barred from holding public office. The situation got progressively worse and, in 613 CE, the Jews were ordered to convert to Christianity or face expulsion. Though many Jews chose to leave rather than convert, a large number of them still practiced Judaism in secret, a tradition that survived for centuries.

In 633, the Fourth Council of Toledo, convened to address the problem of crypto-Judaism and Marranos (Jews who converted to Christianity to escape persecution, yet observed Jewish law in private). While opposing compulsory baptism, the Council decided that if a professed Christian was determined to be a practicing Jew, his or her children were to be taken away and raised in monasteries or trusted Christian households.



For a 1000 years or more, until 1492 --when they were forced to chose exile or conversion to Christianity-- the Jews figured prominently in the history of Spain (or Sepharad**, as they called it).

**Medieval tradition identified the biblical Sepharad (Obadiah v. 20)

with the Iberian Peninsula.  Hence Jews living in Spain were called

Sephardic Jews, a term still used with reference to the descendants

of those Jews exiled in 1492. Although the reference in Obadiah is

vague, it has also been argued that Sepharad was identified with Sardis

(modern Sart) in east central Turkey.

The Jewish community had been subject to exile or forced conversion before, but thanks to half-hearted enforcement, bribery, or protection by kings or powerful nobles, they had survived.

Under the Visigoths, the Jews jumped into prominence as being “different” following the political and religious unification of the peninsula in the late 6th century.  From 711, they played an important role in bridging Christian and Muslim lands as translators, emissaries, trans Mediterranean merchants as well as fulfilling important functions within each of those communities. They were active as doctors, scribes, tax collectors, shopkeepers, estate managers, lawyers, and merchants, in addition to more mundane work as shopkeepers, tailors, pedlars, smiths, shoemakers, tanners, weavers, builders, masons, carpenters, textile workers, potters, market gardeners, and so on.   

The situation changed dramatically in the 14th and 15th centuries, however, culminating with a decree in 1492, whereby Jews were given a choice of conversion or exile.  Thousands left, but thousands were baptized and remained, although many secretly continued practising their religion despite the attention of the Inquisition.  But officially Spain was now Catholic; there were no Jews.

**The fate of the Muslims was similar. In 1501 they faced the same choice as the Jews: exile or conversion.  Only the Muslims of Aragon escaped the edict, but in the 1525 they too met the same fate.

Very little is known of the life of the Jews in the early years of Visigothic rule in Spain, but it seems that they were tolerated.  The Visigoths had enough on their hands with the Hispano-Roman majority --not to mention rival Gothic tribes (e.g. the Sueves and Alani), stubborn Basques in the north, and a Byzantine enclave in the south east-- to be concerned about the Jews.  Generally speaking, the Visigoths used earlier Roman laws in their dealings with the Jews, e.g. the Theodosian Code of 438, which excluded Jews from governmental and military positions, put limitations on the ownership of Christian slaves, restricted the expansion of Judaism (no construction of new synagogues), and prohibited intermarriage between Jews and Christians.

The earliest Visigothic code that addressed the Jewish matter is the Breviary of Alaric II, issued in 506, which does little more than repeat the restrictions already outlined in the Theodosian Code.

The situation deteriorated for the Jews following the conversion of King Reccared (r. 586-601) from Arianism to Catholicism in 587.  Two years later, at the third Council of Toledo (Toledo III), he declared his kingdom to be officially Catholic.  From this moment, the Jews represented the only group that did not subscribe to the religious unity of the country.

Nevertheless, the edicts of Toledo III did not differ substantially from the earlier Roman and Breviary laws: e.g. marriage between Jews and Christians was disallowed; Jews could not hold public offices and thus wield power over Christians; Jews could not buy Christian slaves, and those slaves in their employ who had been obliged to convert to Judaism were to be freed without having to pay indemnity.

 It was at the beginning of the 7th century that the Jews really began to feel the weight of their “otherness.”  It started with a decree issued by King Sisebut (r. 611-20) who ordered all Jews to undergo baptism. To escape the pressure many emigrated, but many also remained who nominally became Christians but who in secret continued practising their faith. This did not, however, resolve the Jewish problem, and not all Jews who remained converted either, as is evidenced by the number of further decrees directed at Jews during the 7th century. Evidently enforcement was not rigorous, and generous protection payments undoubtedly oiled the wheels of “tolerance,” which may also explain why not all kings or nobles were uniformly ill-disposed towards the Jews either.

Still, the pressure on the Jews during the 7th century was constant, and not only in Spain; it was part of a general trend in the Christian communities of the Mediterranean at the time. In Spain, the most eloquent adversary of the Jews was the learned St Isidore (ca 560-636), author of On the Christian Faith against the Jews. However, while St Isidore disagreed emphatically with forced conversions, he argued equally strongly that the Jews were misguided in failing to recognise that the Messiah (i.e. Jesus) had been proclaimed.

During the second half of the 7th century the intensity of the decrees issued by different church councils against the Jews increased: they were prohibited from celebrating Passover, or observing their dietary laws or conducting their own weddings. They were offered the dubious choice between baptism and enslavement, their property was confiscated and they were prohibited from practising foreign trade. Jewish communities were dispersed throughout the kingdom, and Jewish children over seven years were delivered to Christian families to be brought up as Christians.  Towards the end of the 7th century, the Jews were also accused of trying to subvert Christianity and of being involved in conspiracies with their coreligionists in North Africa against the state.

The lot of the Jewish communities in the 7th century in Spain was aggravated by the rapid turnover of rulers (14 different kings in that period) and the increased powers of the church, thanks to its symbiotic relationship with the crown. The repressive injunctions against the Jews clearly made for a miserable life, and news that a new religion–Islam--was spreading rapidly across the north of Africa and extending favourable treatment to Jews would not have gone unnoticed.  After all, commercial contacts between Jews dispersed throughout the Mediterranean were commonplace, despite restrictions. In 711, Islam crossed the straits of Gibraltar.  Were the Muslim invaders encouraged by the Jews of Spain? We don’t know, but it is highly likely that they did not oppose it.


In the 8th century, the Berber Muslims (Moors) swiftly conquered nearly all of the Iberian Peninsula. Under Muslim rule, Spain flourished, and Jews and Christians were granted the protected status of dhimmi. Though this still did not afford them equal rights with Muslims, during this “Golden Age” of Spain, Jews rose to great prominence in society, business, and government.

The conditions in Spain improved so much under Muslim rule that Jews from all across Europe came to live in Spain during this Jewish renaissance.  There they flourished in business and in the fields of astronomy, philosophy, math, science, medicine, and religious study. The same period also witnessed a resurgence of Hebrew poetry and literature from a traditional and liturgical language to a living language able to be used to describe everyday life. Among the early Hebraists of the time were Yehudah HaLevi who became known as one of the first great Hebrew poets, and Menahem ben Saruq who compiled the first ever Hebrew dictionary.

The intellectual achievements of the Sephardim (Spanish Jews) enriched the lives of non-Jews as well. In addition to contributions of original work, the Sephardim translated Greek and Arabic texts, which proved instrumental in bringing the fields of science and philosophy, much of the basis of Renaissance learning, to the rest of Europe.

In the early 11th century, centralized authority based at Cordoba broke down following the Berber invasion and the ousting of the Umayyads. 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.

Yet, despite the Jews’ success and prosperity under Muslim rule, the Golden Age of Spain began to decline as the Muslims began to battle the Christians for control of the Iberian Peninsula and Spanish kingdoms in 722. The decline of Muslim authority was matched with a rise in anti-Semitic activity. In 1066, a Muslim mob stormed the royal palace in Granada, crucified Jewish vizier Joseph ibn Naghrela and massacred most of the Jewish population of the city. Accounts of the Granada Massacre state that more than 1,500 Jewish families, numbering 4,000 persons, were murdered in just one day. The conditions of Jews living on the Iberian Peninsula (Spain and Portugal) steadily began to worsen again. As a result, many people started fleeing the Iberian Peninsula to neighboring nations. Among those who fled were the famed bible commentators Abraham Ibn Ezra and Rabbi Yosef Karo (author of the Shulchan Aruch), as well as the families of Maimonides and philosopher Baruch Spinoza. (Christopher Columbus is also suspected by many to have been a Marrano, though there exists no conclusive evidence to substantiate this claim.)

The centuries-long battle between Christians and Muslims, (known as the Reconquista), divided neighboring regions in the Iberian Peninsula until the Christians finally took full control of the entire peninsula in 1492. Though initially as hostile to the Jewish population as the Muslim rulers had become, the Christians soon realized that the Jews could prove a strong ally and enlisted many of them in their war effort. The Christians relied on the Jews for assistance in fighting the Muslim rulers since the Jews were familiar with the local language and customs. Collaboration between the Jews and Christians brought the Jews increased persecution from Muslim rulers, but full autonomy in Christian controlled regions.


The early years of Christian rule over parts of Spain seemed quite promising for the Spanish Jews. Alfonso VI, the conqueror of Toledo (1085), was tolerant and benevolent in his attitude toward them, for which he won the praise of Pope Alexander II. Soon after coming to power, Alfonso VI offered the Jews full equality with Christians and even the rights offered to the nobility to estrange the wealthy and industrious Jews from the Moors.  Jews prospered under Alfonso and by 1098, nearly 15,000 Jews were living in Toledo, a city of 50,000.

To show their gratitude to the king for the rights granted them, the Jews willingly placed themselves at his and the country’s service. At one point, Alfonso’s army contained 40,000 Jews, who were distinguished from the other combatants by their black-and-yellow turbans. (So honored and important were the Jews to the Spanish army that the Spanish chose not to initiate the battle of Zallaka until after the Sabbath had passed). The king’s favoritism toward the Jews became so pronounced that Pope Gregory VII warned him not to permit Jews to rule over Christians and roused the hatred and envy of the latter.

After the Christian loss at the Battle of Ucles (1108), an anti-Semitic riot broke out in Toledo; many Jews were slain, and their houses and synagogues burned. Alfonso intended to punish the murderers and incendiaries, but died before he could carry out his intention (1109). After his death the inhabitants of Carrion slaughtered the local Jews, others were imprisoned and their houses pillaged.

In the beginning of his reign, Alfonso VII (1111) curtailed the rights and liberties that his father granted the Jews. He ordered that neither a Jew nor a convert may exercise legal authority over Christians, and he held the Jews responsible for the collection of the royal taxes. Soon, however, he became friendlier, confirming the Jews in all their former privileges and even granting them additional ones, by which they were placed in parity with Christians. Judah ben Joseph ibn Ezra had considerable influence with the king, and after the conquest of Calatrava (1147), the king placed Judah in command of one of his fortresses, later making him his court chamberlain.

Under the reign of Alfonso VIII, the Jews gained still greater influence, aided, doubtless, by the king’s love of the beautiful Jewess Rachel Fermosa of Toledo. When the king was defeated at the battle of Alarcos, many attributed the defeat to the king’s love affair with Fermosa, and the nobility retaliated by murdering her and her relatives in Toledo.

Despite the reclaimed status of the Jews in Spain, their condition soon began to worsen once again as the Crusaders unleashed another round of anti-Semitic riots in Toledo (1212), robbing and butchering Jews across the nation. During the 13th century, Spanish Jews of both sexes, like the Jews of France, were required 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.

During this time, the clergy’s endeavors directed against the Jews became increasingly pronounced as well. A papal bull issued by Pope Innocent IV in April 1250 further worsened the situation of the Jews in Spain by prohibiting Jews from building new synagogues without special permission, outlawing proselytizing by pain of death, and forbidding most forms of contact between Jews and Christians. According to the decree, Jews were also forbidden to appear in public on Good Friday. The Jews of Spain were also forced to live as a separate political body in the Juderias (Jewish ghettos).


During the reign of Pedro I (1350-1369), the quality of Jewish life in Spain began to improve and the King became a well-known friend to the Jews. From the commencement of his reign, Pedro so surrounded himself with Jews that his enemies spoke derisively of his royal court as “a Jewish court.” In 1357, Samuel Levi financed the construction of the Sinagoga del Transito, which served as the center of Todelo's Jewish life. It is also believed that during this time kosher slaughterhouses and butchershops sprang up along the main streets of Toledo.

Soon, however a civil war erupted and a rival army, led by Pedro I’s half brother Henry II, attacked the Jews. During the war, part of the Juderia of Toledo was plundered and about 12,000 Jews were murdered without distinction of age or sex. The mob did not, however, succeed in overrunning the Juderia proper, where the Jews, reinforced by a number of Toledan noblemen, defended themselves bravely.

The friendlier Pedro was to the Jews and the more he protected them, the more antagonistic his half brother became. Later, when Henry II invaded Castile in 1360, he robbed and butchered the Jews living in Miranda de Ebro and Najera.

Yet, everywhere the Jews still remained loyal to Pedro and fought bravely in his army. In return, Pedro I showed his good will toward them, and called upon the King of Granada to also protect the Jews. Nevertheless, the Jews suffered greatly. Villadiego (whose Jewish community numbered many scholars), Aguilar, and many other towns were destroyed. The inhabitants of Valladolid, who paid homage to Henry, robbed the Jews, destroyed their houses and synagogues, and tore their Torah scrolls. Paredes, Palencia, and several other communities met with a similar fate, and 300 Jewish families from Jaen were taken prisoners to Granada. Pedro was eventually defeated and succeeded by Henry de Trastamara.


Although the Spanish Jews engaged in many activities —agriculture, viticulture, industry, commerce, and the various handicrafts — it was finance that gave them their wealth and influence. Kings and prelates, noblemen and farmers, all needed money, and could obtain it only from the Jews, who were forced to act as bailiffs, tax-farmers, or tax-collectors since Christians were forbidden from charging each other interest rates. Because of their acquired wealth, as well as government anti-semitism, Jews were forced to pay additional and exorbitant taxes to the King.

from ‘Jews, God and History’, Max Dimont 1994 p242on
Click For Video on Disputations

The “religious disputation” was the innovation of apostate Jews. Many of these converted Jews were well versed in the Talmud and, to show off their learning to their new Christian brothers or, perhaps, to curry favour with the Church, they whispered in the ears of the powerful that if, in a public disputation, it were shown how wrong the Jews were, then the entire Jewish community might convert.

These religious disputations, called ‘tournaments of God and faith’ were a combination of intellectual chess and Russian roulette. If the Jewish scholars could not disprove the charges of the Christian scholars arrayed against them, then an entire Jewish community stood the threat of a forced march to the baptismal font. If, on the other hand, they mocked the Christian scholars with superior Jewish scholarship, they ran the danger of being put to death. It took gamesmanship of the finest order to walk the thin thread of a ploy which ceded victory to the other side with­out yielding on the main points. Only those with strong nerves survived, and the judges, which might include a pope or an emperor, were often left agape at the Jewish display of scholarship, audacity, and deftness. The Jews usually won by not checkmating their opponents but by stalemating them. The trick was to drive the opponent into a comer where, if he claimed victory, he would have to deny the au­thority of the Old Testament, which would have been heresy. Luther, who was familiar with such disputations, borrowed this technique in his disputation with the Catholic. Johann Maier von Eck. When Eck, after having cited a fourth-century saint as his authority, asked Luther whom he claimed as his, Luther triumphantly shouted, “Saint Paul.” Who dares to trump Saint Paul?

It was one of these disputations which led to the first burning of the Talmud. Arraigned against four rabbis was a converted Jew named Nicholas Donin and his panel of ex­perts. Present were the queen mother and the archbishops of France. Though the judges declared the rabbis had lost and ordered the Talmud burned as a work of Satan, the queen mother and the archbishops realized the cards had been stacked and tried to set the verdict aside. But Donin ap­pealed to the king of France. It took four years of wrangling before the original decision was upheld in 1244, out of po­litical considerations, and the Talmud was finally burned.


The most famed of these gamesmanship disputations took place in 1263, before King James I of Aragon, when the scholar Moses ben Nachman was challenged to a verbal duel by an apostate named Fra Paulo Christiani on the subject of the arrival of the messiah. Nachman introduced a little wit into this disputation with such grace that the king, though adjudging him loser for his own safety, gave him a hand­some gift of money and the compliment that “never before had he heard such an unjust cause so nobly defended.”

from ‘Jews, God and History’, Max Dimont 1994, p241

The first burnings of the Talmud took place in 1244 in Paris and Rome. It was burned four more times in fourteenth-century France, and then there were no more burnings for two hundred years. The two best years for Tal­mud burning were 1553 and 1554, when it went to the stake twelve times in various Italian cities. It was burned twice more in Rome in 1558 and 1559, and then the fashion ended. In Eastern Europe, the Talmud was burned but once, in 1757.

The interesting aspect about Talmud burning is not that the Talmud was sent to the stake, for in the Middle Ages translations of the New Testament in languages other than Latin were consigned to the flames more frequently than the Talmud. The interesting aspect is that the Old Testament in Hebrew was never sent to the stake. Though Torah scrolls often were trampled underfoot by screaming mobs looting synagogues, or burned with the synagogue itself, such acts were never sanctioned by the Church, and the Torah was never officially condemned. Though Judaism was reviled as a blasphemy, though Jews were killed for being unbelievers, the Torah itself was looked upon with respect, for it was the Law of God. As one Pope expressed it. “We praise and honor the Law, for it was given to your fathers by Almighty God through Moses. But we condemn your religion and your false interpretation of the Law."


The Jews of the Middle Ages probably had the distinction of being the first captive audience in the world. A fifteenth- century pope conceived the idea of mass conversionist ser­mons. The Jews were herded into cathedrals, where bishops and archbishops, and sometimes even the Pope himself, would sermonize them on the evils of Judaism and the beau­ties of Christianity. Vigilance was the word for survival, as falling asleep would be a discourtesy for which death alone could atone. The Jews attended these sermons with trepida­tion, applauded with enthusiasm, and forgot with modesty. These compulsory conversion sermons lasted until late in the eighteenth century, not because of any practical results, but, may it be suggested, because no speaker could resist being flattered by such attentive audiences.


A new era of suffering and persecution started when Henry II became King in 1369.  Prolonged warfare devastated the land, and the people became accustomed to lawlessness. The Jews were reduced to extreme poverty and later expelled.

In addition, Henry II decreed that

Despite his aversion for the Jews, Henry could not dispense with their services. He employed wealthy Jews—Samuel Abravanel and others—as financial councillors and tax collectors. He also did not prevent them from holding religious disputations or deny them the right to conduct their own court proceedings.  He died in 1379.


Riots broke out in Seville led by a priest called Ferrand Martinez who had begun an anti-Jewish campaign in 1378. In public sermons, filled with hatred of the Jews, he called on all good Christians to destroy the 23 beautiful synagogues of the Jewish community of Seville, lock Jews up in a ghetto, have no dealings with them, and force them to accept Christianity. He preached that it was no crime for Christians to murder and pillage the "unbelievers".  He concentrated on the peasants and lower classes of Andalusia by urging them not to give peace to their Jewish neighbours.

In 1390, after the death of the archbishop, he became the chief deacon and church administrator of the region and continued his Jew-baiting with greater vigour when a blood-thirsty mob fell on the Jewish quarter of Seville killing all Jews falling into their hands and refusing baptism.  Many women and children were sold into slavery.  He was made a saint (see Jewish Encyclopedia)

Some, educated in talmudic yeshivot put their talents to the service of the Church, one Paulus (or Paul or Pablo) de Santa Maria (formerly Solomon Halevi, 1352-1435) was almost elected Pope in Avignon and became Primate of the Spanish Church.   He acted as Ferrers evil genius and urged him to greater ferocity to convert or exterminate the Jews.

A feeling of how the Jews reacted is given by Chaim Potok in 'Wanderings' p308

They would use their weapons to hold off the mobs.  But when it was clear that defeat was near, they would accept it as a sign from God that their deaths had been decreed. There might be a pause in the battle. The men would gather for a final decision.  To let themselves and their families be taken alive by such mobs was unthinkable.  Jewish law developed a benediction for the act of martyrdom.  Fathers would cut the throats of their wives and children and say aloud "Hear O Israel the Lord is God, the Lord is One" and commit suicide.

They died without doubting the unfathomable judgement of heaven. They felt themselves linked to the patriarch Abraham and his act of faith when he nearly sacrificed Isaac......They saw themselves continuing in the tradition of the Pietists who died fighting the Hellenists.  It was a charged, passionate choice made with the certainty that the world to come was a living reality and its rewards awaited them when they fulfilled their ultimate duty as Jews.

Accounts make it clear...that Jews were fully aware of their actions; they were testifying to the truth and continuing reality of the original covenant and to the cruelty and emptiness of the Christianity that had forced them to such a choice.  Martyrdom was an aggressive act of denial, a publicly performed act sanctifying the name of God.  During the heat of battle and before the act of suicide, Jews would shout words of derision about Jesus.  Some let themselves be taken alive, agreed to baptism and then spat on the crucifix, knowing they might be torn to pieces by the infuriated crowd.

Violence spread to other towns in Andalusia, the southern province of Castille, and then swept northward to Burgos. Within three months most of the flourishing Jewish communities in all the Christian States of Spain - Castille, Aragon, Valencia, Catalonia, as well as the Balearic Islands-were destroyed.

After the wave of conversions in 1391, three loose groups emerged: Jews who held fast to their faith and religious practice; Jews who converted to Christianity and were absorbed by Christian society; and those who existed outwardly as Christians but practiced Judaism in secret.

Many were affected.  Numbers are disputed with up to 100,000 Jews dead, 100,000 lleaving and 100,000 converting to Christianity. By 1415 it is claimed a further 50,000 converted to Christianity.  Those converting but became secret Jews were indistinguishable from those who were not.  Jews who considered their brethren to be forced converts referred to them as anussim (literally "forced ones"). The term marrano literally ‘swine’ became a term of opprobrium applied to secret Jews

From The Jewish Virtual Library

A revolt broke out in Seville after the death of King John I in 1390, leading to a period of disorder which greatly affected the Jewish community of Spain in the coming years. On Ash Wednesday 1391, Ferrand Martinez, the Archdeacon of Ecija, urged Christians to kill or baptize the Jews of Spain. On June 6, the mob attacked the Juderia in Seville from all sides and murdered 4,000 Jews; the rest submitted to baptism as the only means of escaping death. The riots then spread across the countryside destroying many synagogues and murdering thousands of Jews in the streets. During the months-long riots, the Cordova Juderia was burned down and over 5,000 Jews ruthlessly murdered regardless of age or sex. Again, more Jews converted as the only way to escape death.

Soon after, a series of laws were passed to reduce the Jews to poverty and further humiliate them. Under these laws, the Jews were ordered to:

1) Live by themselves in enclosed Juderias;

2) Banned from practicing medicine, surgery, or chemistry;

3) Banned from selling commodities such as bread, wine, flour, meat, etc.;

4) Banned from engaging in handicrafts or trades of any kind;

5) Forbidden to hire Christian servants, farm hands, lamplighters, or gravediggers;

6) Banned from eating drinking, bathing, holding intimate conversation with, visiting, or giving presents to Christians;

7) Banned from holding public offices or acting as money-brokers or agents;

8) Christian women, married or unmarried, were forbidden to enter the Juderia either by day or by night;

9) Allowed no self-jurisdiction whatever, nor might they, without royal permission, levy taxes for communal purposes;

10) Forbidden to assume the title of “Don”;

11) Forbidden to carry arms;

12) Forbidden to trim beard or hair;

13) Jewesses were required to wear plain, long garments of coarse material reaching to the feet, and Jews were forbidden to wear garments made of fine material;

14) On pain of loss of property and even of slavery, Jews were forbidden to leave the country, and any grandee or knight who protected or sheltered a fugitive Jew was punished with a fine of 150,000 maravedís for the first offense.

These laws were strictly enforced, and calculated to compel the Jews to embrace Christianity.

Though these laws were targeted against the Jews, with them suffered the entire kingdom of Spain. Commerce and industry were at a standstill, the soil was left uncultivated, and the finances disturbed. In Aragon entire communities—as those of Barcelona, Lerida, and Valencia—were destroyed, and many had lost more than half of their members and were reduced to poverty.

EXPULSION OF THE JEWS, 1492                                                                    

In 1469, Isabel, the sister of King Henry IV of Castile, married Ferdinand, the son of John II of Aragon.  By 1479 they ruled Castile and Aragon together and strengthened the Spanish church by using the Inquisition to find those practicing Judaism..  On March 31, 1492 the Edict of Expulsion was issued when the Inquisition did not achieve its aims and the Spanish Jews given four months to sell their property and leave the country.  They said  that all prior attempts to stop Christians from returning to their Jewish roots had failed.  Expulsion was the only way to guarantee Jews would not influence Spanish Christians.

Even though the root causes of expulsions between countries differed, the end result was the same.  The rulers profited in the short run as debts were cancelled and property lost. Jewish merchants, officially or not, soon returned to England and France, where their financial contributions proved invaluable to the economy. In Spain, where the expulsion was for religious reasons, the Jews were not permitted to return.   

Torquemada a pious Dominican monk became confessor to Princess Isabella, the heiress of Castile  She was crowned in 1473 and he became Spain's Inquisitor General a decade later.  In his fifteen years as head of the Spanish Inquisition it grew from a single tribunal in Seville to a network of two dozen 'Holy Offices'" creating panic and terror.

The passage of the Edict of Expulsion was unusual as two of Isabella and Ferdinands most trusted senior advisors were Jewish – Abraham Senior  (1410-1512) and Isaac Abrabanel  (1437-1508).

Abraham Senior  was the Court rabbi of Castile, and royal tax-farmer-in-chief who brought about the marriage of the Infanta (later, Queen) Isabella to Ferdinand of Aragon and later (1473) reconciled Isabella and her brother, Henry IV. of Castile. In token of her gratitude she gave him a life pension of 100,000 maravedis. 

He was very interested in his persecuted coreligionists.. For example, through him the Castilian Jews raised a large sum to ransom Jews taken prisoners at the capture of Malaga.

On hearing of the Edict of Expulsion he went with Isaac Abrabanel to implore the Queen to spare them. After the expulsion he and his son were baptized in Valladolid, the King and Queen and the Primate of Spain acted as sponsors and he assumed the name Ferrad [Fernando] Perez Coronel . Possibly his age (82) accounted for this action.  His son David Senior Coronel  was also distinguished

Isaac Abrabanel, a Portuguese Jewish statesman, banker, and scholar, born in Lisbon and educated in rabbinical and Latin learning.  In 1471 he succeeded his father Judah as treasurer to Alfonso V.  On the succession of John II in 1481 he was expelled from the royal court and migrated to Spain and entered the service of Ferdinand and Isabella, as Finance Minister (1484-92) and to whom he lent money to finance the war against Granada.

A repeated story is that as Finance Minister he offered the King and Queen a vast sum if they would not sign the Edict of Expulsion.  Torquemeda, listening behind a door feared they were wavering and burst in holding a crucifix over his head crying “Behold the saviour whom the wicked Judas sold for thirty pieces of silver.  If you approve this deed then sell him for a great sum.”  Frightened the Royal couple signed the order.

Spain was unified with the capture of Granada in 1492. From then, Catholicism would be the only religion allowed so implementing the religious zeal of the Church, the Queen, and the masses. The Jews, with different beliefs, would have to be expelled. The official reason was that the Jews encouraged the Conversos (Jews who had converted to Christianity) to persist in their Jewishness and so would not allow them to become good Christians.

The Edict of Expulsion of the Jews.

(from Foundation for the Advancement of Sephardic Studies and Culture from where full text can be read)


The number expelled is disputed.   For example Martin Gilbert in ‘The Illustrated Atlas of Jewish Civilisation’ estimates that there were 230,000 in Spain.  Of these 50,000 were baptised and remained, 20,000 died en route so 160,000 emigrated.  Max Dimont in ‘Jews, God and History p228’ estimates that 150,000 Jews were in Spain.  Of these 50,000 were baptised and remained, 10,000 died en route so 90,000 emigrated.  What is important is that this saw the creation of a new diaspora in Europe, Turkey, North Africa and (eventually) America.   ‘The Expulsion from Spain as seen by a Jew in Italy’ is quoted by Sharon Keller in ‘The Jews in Literature and Art’ pp106-9 (Kohrmann, 1992)’.    

It is estimated that in 1500 the population of Spain was 5,000,000 (Spain's Demographic Evolution).  So, according to Gilbert the Jews accounted for 4.6% of the Spanish population, 1% stayed and 3.6% left for other countries.

See ‘Jewish and Converso Population in Fifteenth Century Spain’  by Norman Roth (2002) for the problems  involved in estimating the number of Jews.


Dimont (p228) goes on to say

‘throughout, North Africa, Egypt  and the Ottoman Empire the Jews enjoyed almost complete religious and economic freedom for several centuries.  Though the Turks were looked upon by the Christians as the scourge of Christendom,  Turkish policy towards the Jews for many years approximated that of the former Islamic Empire.’

To gain high office in Spain before about 1650 (?) proof had to be given that your ancestors had been Christians for some generations. (The actual number varied over time and also depended on the office). The assumption was that practicing a religion in secret was almost impossible to keep up for more than 2-3 generations. (This foreshadowed the Nazi requirement for the 'Ariernachweis').

Every Christian over twelve (for girls) and fourteen (for boys) was fully accountable to the Inquisition. Heretics and Conversos were the primary targets, but anyone who spoke against the Inquisition fell under suspicion. To help guard against the spread of heresy, Torquemada promoted the burning of non-Catholic literature—especially Jewish Talmuds and Arabic books after the capture of Granada.  Torquemada travelled with 50 mounted guards and 250 armed men to impress and intimidate. He died in 1498

The guide for informers to help identify a secret Jew included a long list of habits or characteristics such as the following:

*   Put before your neighbour morsels of food such as pork, rabbit and conger eels and if he refuses to eat, he is a Jew.

*   Watch with great care everything your neighbour does on Friday. Does he put on fresh linen?  Does he light candles at least an hour before honest men do?  Does his wife clean the house that day?  If you catch him doing those thing, you have a Jew.

As a result people often ate pork and went to church or the cathedral to prove their 'Christian credentials'.

James Michener tells the story of the scholar Tomas de Salamanca.  One day his nine year old son burst into the street shouting "my father whipped me.  He fasts on Yom Kippur."  After investigations lasting seven years sixty three of his close associates were burnt alive.  Among them were seventeen nuns who said Jewish prayers in their convent, thirty monks, seven priests and two bishops.

The psychological climate caused by fear of being taken by the Inquisition explains why conversos led secret lives.  This is vividly brought to life in books and films about this period. This secrecy has still not disappeared.  While in Belmonte (2006) we met someone who had just been made redundant as his employer had discovered he was Jewish.  Following this he was moving to Belmonte to be with other Jews.  He, and others, said a reason for this attitude was the growing influence of the Catholic Opus Dei movement in Portugal.

Auto de fe (or auto da fe, or auto da fé in Portuguese, was the medieval Spanish for "act of faith", a ritual of public penance or humiliation of condemned heretics and apostates that took place when the Spanish Inquisition had decided their punishment. Punishments for those convicted ranged from wearing a special identifying penitential tabard or "sanbenito", imprisonment, to being burnt.

It was the secular state that performed executions, usually for a repeated heresy Obdurate prisoners were burned alive, but if reconciled to the church only strangled at the stake before the faggots were lit.  

Autos de fe were celebrated in public squares or esplanades lasting several hours and attended by ecclesiastical and civil authorities. In Lisbon, the Rossio square was the burning place.

The first auto de fe took place in Seville, Spain in 1481 when six people were executed.  The last execution by the Spanish Inquisition was of schoolmaster, Cayetano Ripoll on July 26 1826 after a trial lasting nearly two years accused of being a deist. He died by garotting on the gibbet after repeating the words, "I die reconciled to God and to man."

The Inquisition went on to become a local spectacle viewed as the Romans did with gladiatorial fights and competed with bullfights as an attraction.  According to the Encyclopaedia Judaica the climax was reached on June 30, 1680 on the Plaza Mayor, Toledo in the presence of Charles II and his bride, Marie Louise d'Orléans, in honor of their marriage. Beginning at six o'clock in the morning it lasted 14 hours and 51 persons burned This was the last great solemnity of its kind, as Philip V, the first Bourbon refused, in 1701, to attend one in honor of his accession and led to its cessation.

While the expulsion was a disaster for those affected but it was followed by the creation of a new Jewish Diaspora

Relatives were forced by circumstances to conceal their religion and adopt Christianity. A boat people crisis also occurred. Ferdinand provided ships at the ports of Cartagena, Valencia, and Barcelona; but the Jews often found difficulty in landing, owing to disease breaking out while on board ship. Thus at Fez the Moors refused to receive them, and they were obliged to roam in an open plain, where many died from hunger. The rest returned to Spain and were baptized. Nine crowded vessels arrived at Naples and communicated pestilence. At Genoa they were only allowed to land provided they received baptism. Those reaching the Ottoman Empire were more fortunate, the Sultan Bayezid II was said to have sarcastically sent his gratitude to Ferdinand for sending him some of his best subjects, thus "impoverising his own lands while enriching his (Bayezid's)". These Jews mostly settled in and around Selanik (Thessaloniki in Greek), Istanbul and Izmir.

Jane S.Gerber, an expert on Sephardic history at City University, New York claims some historians grossly underestimate the number of conversions. Recent Y chromosome DNA testing by the University of Leicester and the Pompeu Fabra University has indicated that around 20% of Spanish men have direct patrilineal descent from Sephardic Jews, indicating the number of conversos may have been much higher than originally thought.

In this indirect way the non-conversos, who had been the occasion of the expulsion, became a nemesis to the Spanish kingdom. It is, however, incorrect to suppose, as is usually done, that the immediate results of the expulsion of the Jews from Spain were disastrous either to the commerce or  the power of the Iberian kingdom. So far from this being the case, Spain rose to its greatest height immediately after the expulsion of the Jews, the century succeeding that event culminating in the world-power of Philip II, who in 1580 was ruler of the New World, of the Spanish Netherlands, and of Portugal, as well as of Spain. The intellectual loss was perhaps more direct. A large number of Spanish poets and other Jewish writers and thinkers who traced their origin from the exile were lost to Spain, including men like Spinoza, Uriel da Costa, Samuel da Silva, Menasseh ben Israel, the Disraelis, but not, as is often claimed, the Montefiores, who were of Italian descent although in London they did belong to the Congregation of Spanish and Portuguese Jews.

Christopher Columbus landed in the Americas in 1492. Subsequently, the major sea powers in Europe sent expeditions to the New World to build trade networks and colonies and to convert the native peoples to Christianity. Spain concentrated on building its empire on the central and southern parts of the Americas allotted to it by the Treaty of Tordesillas, because of presence of large, settled societies like the Aztec, the Inca, the Maya and the Chibcha, whose human and material resources it could exploit, and large concentrations of silver and gold. The Portuguese built its empire in Brazil, which fell in its sphere of influence per the Treaty of Tordesillas, by developing the land for sugar production since there was a lack of a large, complex society or mineral resources.


The death of Sebastian I in 1578 saw a dynastic crisis that was resolved  in 1580  when Spain’s Phillip II invaded Portugal.  Ultimately, Philip III tried to make Portugal a Spanish province, and Portuguese nobles stood to lose all of their power.  This led to a revolution in 1640, sixty years after its creation.  Portugal and Spain were again split. 

About  twenty thousand Portuguese New Christians left Portugal for Spain as the Spanish and Portuguese Inquisitions were separate and no extradition provision ex­isted. They would have a 'clean record' and be in one of the largest economies in Europe.  Spain was beginning to realise the efect of the large exodus of 1492   Even the Spanish Inquisition concentrated on earlier, 'veteran' conversos.  

Unfortunately this resulted in a ‘Spanish problem’

About  twenty thousand Portuguese New Christians left Portugal for  Spain. They knew that the Spanish and Portuguese Inquisitions were separate and no extradition provision ex­isted.  They would then have a 'clean record' in one of the largest economies in Europe.  Spain was beginning to realise the efect of the large exodus of 1492.   Even the Spanish Inquisition concentrated on earlier, 'veteran' conversos.  

Like their ancestors, the immigrant conversos aroused intense resentment among Spain's Old Christian establishment. Eventually the Inquisition took notice.

Any lingering Jewish identity among the fourty thousand New Christians who stayed in Spain after the 1492 expulsion had virtually vanished.  With a substantial New Christian popula­tion Spain became obsessed with a 'new' Jewish problem and the word 'Portuguese' became virtually synonymous with 'Jew'.  The Spanish Inquisition operated with renewed activity. with the total backing of Felipe II. The Counter-Reformation was in full swing, and as its leader and champion in zealotry the Spanish ruler was not prepared to tolerate even the faintest deviation from his empire’s religious homogeneity.  As before, it relied on many secret informers.


Europeans and more specifically the Spanish Crown had a deep interest in regulating the flow of individuals in and out of Latin America. Leo J. Garofalo, Associate Professor of History at Connecticut College, states that “an examination of records [reveals]...the Spanish Crown’s attempt to regulate the flow of people to the Americas.” The ability to strictly regulate the flow of people allowed the Spanish Crown to keep a firm grip on power in the Americas. While the Spanish Crown attempted to regulate the flow of all individuals into the Americas they focused specifically on insuring only true Christians were granted access. Politics and law were closely intertwined meaning that if individuals did not follow the same religion and thus, the same values and morals, governance could become difficult. Therefore, the Spanish Crown was rigorous in their attempts to allow only Christians passage to the New World and required proof of religion by way of personal testimonies. Specific examples of individuals dealing with the Crown allow for an understanding of how religion affected passage into the New World.

Francisca de Figueroa, an African-Iberian woman seeking entrance into the Americas, petitioned the Spanish Crown in 1600 in order to gain a license to sail to Cartagena. On her behalf she had a witness attest to her religious purity, Elvira de Medina wrote,

 “this witness knows that she and parents and her grandparents have been and are Old Christians and of unsullied cast and lineage. They are not of Moorish or Jewish caste or of those recently converted to Our Holy Catholic Faith.”

 Despite Francisca’s race, she was allowed entrance into the Americas in 1601 when a ‘Decree from His Majesty’ was presented, it read, “My presidents and official judges of the Case de Contraction of Seville. I order you to allow passage to the Province of Cartagena for Francisca de Figueroa...” This example points to the importance of religion when attempting to travel to the Americas during colonial times. Individuals had to work within the guidelines of Christianity in order to appeal to the Crown and be granted access to travel.


In relation to Christianity term is often used by laymen to indicate any non orthodox belief such as Paganism, by definition heresy can only be committed by someone who considers himself a Christian, but rejects the teachings of the Catholic Church. A person who completely renounces Christianity is not considered a heretic, but an apostate, and a person who renounces the authority of the Church but not its teachings is a schismatic.  (Note: This was a widespread concept, for example  the Boston martyrs in 1659, 1660, and 1661 saw the persecution of heretics under Protestant rule).

In later years, the Church instituted the Inquisition, an official body charged with the suppression of heresy. This began as an extension and more rigorous enforcement of pre-existing episcopal powers (possessed, but little used, by bishops in the early Middle Ages) to inquire about and suppress heresy.  It later became the domain of selected Dominican monks under the direct power of the Pope.

The Inquisition was active in several nations of Europe, particularly where it had fervent support from the civil authority. The Albigensian Crusade (1209-1229) was part of the Catholic Church's efforts to crush the Cathars. It is linked to the movement now known as the Medieval Inquisition. The Spanish Inquisition was particularly brutal in its methods, which included the burning at the stake of many heretics. However, it was initiated and substantially controlled by King Ferdinand of Spain rather than the Church; King Ferdinand used political leverage to obtain the Church's tacit approval. Another example of a medieval heretic movement is the Czech Hussite movement in the early 1400’s.

It is widely reported that the last person to be burned alive at the stake on orders from Rome was Giordano Bruno, executed in 1600 for a collection of heretical beliefs including Copernicanism and (probably more important) an unlimited universe with innumerable inhabited worlds. The last case of an execution at an auto de fe by the Spanish Inquisition was the schoolmaster Cayetano Ripoll, accused of deism and executed by garroting on July 26, 1826 in Valencia after a two-year trial.

The development of the printing press greatly hampered the ability of the church to suppress dissidents, with the result that Martin Luther was able to successfully fight the Papacy and forge the Protestant Reformation  From Wikipedia                  

The charge of heresy was also used politically as when used  to destroy the Knights Templar a religious military order of knighthood established during the Crusades that became a model and inspiration for other military orders and fabulously wealthy.  Originally founded to protect Christian pilgrims to the Holy Land, the order assumed greater military duties during the 12th century. Its prominence and growing wealth provoked opposition from rival orders. Falsely accused of blasphemy and blamed for Crusader failures in the Holy Land, the order was destroyed by King Philip IV of France  who accused the Knights Templar of multiple acts of heresy which, following torture , was admitted to by the last Grand Master. In 1312, Pope Clement V dissolved the Knights Templar officially and the Grand Master was burned at the stake in 1314 despite having recanted his confessions.  

On July 21, 1542, Pope Paul III, with the Constitution Licet ab initio, established the Supreme Sacred Congregation of the Roman and Universal Inquisition, staffed by cardinals and other officials whose task it was "to maintain and defend the integrity of the faith and to examine and proscribe errors and false doctrines". It served as the final court of appeal in trials of heresy and served as an important part of the Counter-Reformation.

In 1908 the Inquisition was renamed the Supreme Sacred Congregation of the Holy Office by Pope Saint Pius X.

On December 7, 1965, at the end of the Second Vatican Council the Congregation's name was changed to Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

In 1983, with the new code of Canon law, "Sacred" was dropped from the names of Vatican Congregations, and so the dicastery adopted its current name Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

The last head under the old name was Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger who in 1965 became the 265th Pope  as Benedict XVI


Diego Velazquez’s Secret History. The family background the painter was at pains to hide in his application for entry into the military Order of Santiago  (by Kevin Ingram)

During Easter week 1658 Philip IV offered Diego Velazquez a noble title inviting him to choose the military order he would like to enter.  Velazquez who entertained few doubts as to the nobility of his vocation chose the noble Order of Santiago.

Before the painter could claim his knighthood he had first to demonstrate that his was a noble background unblemished by Jewish or Moorish blood, unsullied by artisanal  or mercantile endevours and free from Inquisitorial persecution.

Click here to read what happened  

On 2 January 1492, the Catholic Kings entered Grenada with great pomp and ceremony. The fall of this last bastion of Muslim power in the peninsula strengthened the drive for complete religious homogeneity. But a big obstacle had to be surmounted: the presence of thousands of converts who secretly remained loyal to Judaism. Their presence was considered scandalous: it proved that the segregation of Jews and restrictions of their rights was not enough. From then on, purity of faith became a Spanish obsession: New Christians had to be cleansed of any Jewish influence.

It was also in Grenada that the expulsion edict was signed. The monumental exodus took place and Jews were replaced by New Christians who remained in Spain. They became the new victims of the purity obsession. The derogatorily called Marranos and their descendants were forbidden to occupy public office, to belong to corporations, colleges, orders, and even to reside in certain towns.

Public positions were restricted exclusively to Christians "of impeccable descent," namely those who were not suspected of Jewish ancestry. This change of the focus of the obsession meant a relocation of hatred. Since no more Jews existed, Judeophobia sought a different victim to satisfy its virulent blood-thirst. The New Christians fit the bill. As time went by, more stringent efforts were made to exhume every trace of impure ancestors that had previously been overlooked.

Until 1860 "purity of blood" was a prerequisite to being accepted into the Military Academy. The most prestigious of Spanish colleges, San Bartolome of Salamanca, boasted that they rejected any candidate against whom the slightest rumor existed of Jewish ancestry. Since no one could be sure of his "blood purity since time immemorial," the blemish was negotiable through bribed witnesses, shuffled genealogies, and falsified documents. Until this very day a special aura is often attributed to this supposed "unity of faith" of classic Spain.

It is noteworthy that the obsession with purity of blood may have a deep relationship with the frequency with which blood libels were fabricated in Spain, where the canard, as aforementioned, was included in law. As opposed to other Western countries, there are still Spanish priests who openly revere in their churches the false memory of a martyr boy ritually murdered by blood-drinking Jews. In the St. Nicholas Church in Sevilla there is an altar devoted to Dominguito del Val, "murdered by Jews in 1250." Bishop Carlos Amigo Vallejo, who spreads this libel, is one of the patrons of a public foundation that supposedly promotes "friendship between the three Mediterranean cultures" (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.)

The fearful, mistrusting, and hate-filled atmosphere created by the libels generated collective hysteria. Not surprisingly, the 1492 expulsion took place the year after the blood libel of La Guardia, which immediately gave birth to the cult venerating the memory of the "holy martyr boy."

Generation after generation, details were added to the story, which assumed epic proportions. Each century produced a literary masterpiece that reiterated the topic. In 1583 Fray Rodrigo de Yepes wrote the Story of the Death and Glorious Martyrdom of the Innocent Saint called de La Guardia (after almost a century of Jew-free Spain) and the plot of this work was the basis for Lope de Vega's The Innocent Child of La Guardia. During the eighteenth century, Jose de Canizares adapted it in The Very Image of Christ, as did Gustavo Adolfo Becquer (1830-1870) in his story The Rose of Passion. In 1943 Manuel Romero de Castilla again published the libel under the title A Unique Event during the Kingdom of the Catholic Monarchs.

Of the two blood libels which are still celebrated worldwide, one is in Spain,18 commemorating the time in 1415 when the synagogue of Segovia was confiscated and its leaders executed after an earthquake was interpreted as a divine punishment for Jewish blood rituals.

Infant John of Aragon took part in some of the accusations. In 1367 in Barcelona, several Jewish sages (Hasdai Crescas, Nissim Gerondi, and Isaac Ben Sheshet) were among those arrested when the whole community (including children) was locked up in the synagogue for three days without food. Since they steadfastly refused to confess to a blood crime, the king ordered that they should be freed and three Jews were executed. Ten years later there were similar cases in Teruel and Huesca.

Thus the end of the glorious Jewish community of Spain was not only tragic in the suffering involved and exceptional in its enormous dimensions, it also left behind a collective memory of the demonic image of the Jews, and a fear of blood impurity. Says Rafael Cansinos Assens, one of the most important modern Spanish authors: "With the edict of expulsion of 1490, the Jews disappeared from Spain and from its literature...the Jew is erased from the consciousness of the Spaniard."19


A few Jews returned to Spain in the 19th century, and synagogues were opened in Madrid. The Jews of Morocco, where the initial welcome turned to oppression welcomed the Spanish troops conquering Spanish Morocco as liberators. Spanish historians started to take an interest in the Sephardim and their language.

The government of Miguel Primo de Rivera, 1923-1930, returned Spanish citizenship to Sephardim.

During the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), the synagogues were closed and post-war worship remained in private homes. Jews could be investigated by anti-Semitic police officers.

While there was rhetoric against the "Judaeo-Masonic conspiracy by neutral Spain 25,600 Jews used Spain to escape the Germans as long as they "passed through leaving no trace". Spanish diplomats such as Ángel Sanz Briz and Giorgio Perlasca protected some 4,000 Jews and accepted 2,750 Jewish refugees from Hungary.

In 1986 after many years of negotiation, the PSOE relations were established with Israel in 1986, denying the reason was connected with the European Economic Community.  Spain now serves as a bridge between Israel and the Arabs as seen in the Madrid Conference of 1991.

The Jewish Spanish community is now mainly from Northern Africa, especially the former Spanish colonies and Argentinia.

There are over 50,000 Spanish Jews with the largest communities in Barcelona and Madrid each with around 3,500 members.  Smaller communities include Alicante, Málaga, Tenerife, Granada, Valencia,Benidorm, Cadiz, Murcia.  

Sefarad 92 marked the 500th anniversary of the expulsion of the Jews from Spain. The principal event was President Chaim Herzog of Israel and Spain's King, Juan Carlos, prayinng together in Madrid’s Beth Yaakov synagogue to symbolise their reconciliation.

As YIDDISH is the language associated with Ashkenasim so LADINO is associated with Sephardim.  Its development is described in Jhttp://www.sefarad.org/hosted/english/eblul/judeo-spanish.html


From King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia, the (now abdicated) King and Queen of Spain
( From Epilogue to  The MEZZUZAH in the Madonna's Foot, Harper Collins 1994 )    

Although I began my quest without a clear agenda beyond exploring my past, each trip to Spain, and each new experience   with the people I met there, convinced me that a real change in the relationship between the Spanish and Jewish peoples was possible.  To-day, with only a minuscule Jewish population in their midst, most Spaniards still carry distorted stereotypical images of the Jew.  The time to heal old wounds, to sweep away obsolete myths to clear  the way for a genuine rapprochement between our two peoples is long overdue.

Even before I began my journey, I suspected that the reigning monarchs of Spain were favorably disposed towards Jews.  This impression was confirmed in 1987 when King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia were invited to a special ceremony at 'Iemple Tiberth Israel in Los Angeles. His Majesty's appreciation of the role of Jews in the historic fabric of Spain and his hope for a reconciliation between the Spanish and Jewish peoples was clearly spelled out in the fol­lowing excerpts from his address to the Sephardic community.

"How can we not, on this momentous occasion, recall the role played by the Jewish community throughout centuries of Spanish history? Its contribution to letters, science, and the arts during the Middle Ages, and the beauty of the synagogues, such as that of the Trânsito or Santa Maria la Blanca in Toledo, constitute a legacy in which we all acknowledge the rich variety of the Jewish culture and traditions.

The search for an identity and respect for the traditions that chiaracterize the Jewish people have been forged in the setting of countless adverse and difficult circumstances: unjust and unnec­essary expulsions, persecution and intolerance, culminating, more recently, in the tragedy of the Holocaust. From all this adversity, the Jewish people were able to draw teachings with a view to consolidating their faith and their traditions, in an exemplary struggle for their survival.

Today's Spain is proud of its close kinship with the (Jewish) community, which has contributed in a very special way to the prosperity of this great country.

I should like to convey to this community the greeting of a Spain in which in full conscience assumes responsibility for the negative as well as the positive aspects of its historic past. This is also a unique opportunity to emphasize the will for peace and friendship that animates the Spanish people, who see this community as part of its own history"

In 1992 Spain commemorates Sefarad'92, an event which has very special connotations for the Spanish as well as the Jewish people, whose ancestors had to leave Spain in 1492, a land they loved and where their culture blossomed for so many centuries. This anniversary is a good occasion to consider the negative impact of intolerance and prejudice, prevailing in Europe during that time, and above all it is an occasion to pay tribute to the golden age of Spanish Jewry.

The poetry of Yehuda Halevy, the scientific and philosophic inno­vations of Maimonides, and the profound contribution to astronomy by Abraham Zacuto, just to cite a few names, are inscribed with golden letters in the books of literature, philosophy, and science. We should also remember the example of tolerance and peaceful coexistence given by Jewish, Christian, and Islamic communities in Toledo, which made that city one of the most extraordinary centers of culture during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries.

This book also contributes to our common history with a very im­portant and not very well known chapter. By means of personal ac­counts we are told how the lives of many Jews were preserved during the Second World War, when thousands of foreign Jews were sheltered in Spain or granted asylum in Spanish embassies throughout the world. Although these episodes could be considered a historical paradox, con­sidering the situation in Spain at that time, they are in fact not so sur­prising, because they originate in a profound historical connection.

The Expulsion of the Jews in 1492 did not sever the link between Spain and the Jewish world. Jewish culture was kept alive in Spain thanks to Crypto-Jewish families, and outside the boundaries of the peninsula, first in the Mediterranean basin and the Near East, and later in the Spanish territories of North and South America. While Spain was taking its language and culture to the New World, the dis­persed Sephardim disseminated their culture to the far corners of the globe, a legacy for which the Spanish people should be thankful and proud.

I still remember, with great emotion, the warm welcome that Queen Sofia and I received in 1987 at the Sephardic Temple in Los Angeles, which marked the official reencounter between the Spanish crown and some of our most beloved brothers and sisters. Since then, the Span­ish and Jewish peoples have rediscovered the best side of our common past; my son, the Prince of Astúrias, had the pleasure of awarding the Humanities Prize, which bears his own name, to the Sephardic Com­munity.

Finally, I want to give my warmest thanks to Trudi Alexy for her de­cisive contribution to a better understanding of our two communities, by writing a book that will certainly constitute a discovery in the year commemorating the discovery of the New World.

Signed: His Royal Highness, King Juan Carlos I

On October 7, 1991, King Juan Carlos was awarded the Elie Wiesel Foundation Humanitarian Award. What follows is an ex­cerpt from the address by Elie Wiesel during the award dinner.

As a Jew, I am committed to the memory of our history, the his­tory of Israel and therefore to its right to live and fulfill its destiny in security and peace.

As a good Jew, I believe in the obligation to remember. We re­member the good and the bad, the friends and the foes. We remem­ber that during the darkest era of our recent history, Spain gave shelter to countless Jews who illegally entered its territory. And I remember that five hundred years ago, clinging to their faith, Jews were forced by your ancestors to leave Spain. Could they have imagined that their descendants would meet five centuries later in an atmosphere of tol­erance, understanding, and friendship? History does have imagina­tion as well as memory.

In 1950, when I visited your still-tormented country as a young cor­respondent for an Israeli paper, I had an eerie feeling that I had been there before. Many places seemed familiar. I thought I "remembered" events, names, experiences..

When I came to Toledo I thought I could hear—some 850 years after his death—Yehuda Halevy's powerful poem of nostalgic love for Jerusalem: "Libi ba-mizra'h ve'anokhi besof maarav": My heart, said he, is there in the East, but I am here, at the other end of the West......Barcelona evoked for me the great thinker Nahmanides. It was in that cathedral that he defeated Paolo Christiani during their famous disputation. Granada? I knew the city from Shmuel Hanagid's war poems.   Abraham Ibn Ezra was born in Córdoba. ... I have al­ways been particularly fond of him. He was a fatalist, who believed he was meant to be poor, always. In one of his songs he wrote: "If I were to sell candles, the sun would never set; if I dealt in funeral shrouds, no one would ever die . . . As long as I lived."  

Oh, yes, Your Majesty, I think of Spain and I see the noble figures of Menahem ibn Saruk and Joseph ibn Abitur, of Shlomo ibn Gabirol and Maimonides. How poor Jewish philosophy and poetry, and phi­losophy and poetry in general, would be without their legacy.

The history of your people, Your Majesty, and mine, have regis­tered many moments of glory.... Three religious communities lived and worked and dreamed together in Spain for many, many decades. . . . But our past also contains moments of despair. When I think of the great luminaries of medieval Spain I cannot help but remember the Inquisition and its flames... the public humiliation of Jews who wanted to remain Jewish ... the Expulsion and its endless procession of uprooted families in search of new havens. ...

Still, while no man is responsible for what his ancestors have done, he is responsible for what he does with that memory.

Your Majesty, what you have done with yours is what moved us to honor you tonight.

We honor your convictions and beliefs, your principles and ideals, we honor your commitment to humanity.

Having witnessed the evil in fascism and dictatorship, you chose to bring democracy to your nation by restoring its taste for religious freedom, political pluralism, and social justice.

Your personal courage in opposing the attempted coup d'etat won you the admiration of free men and women the world over.

We applaud your wisdom in separating religion and state, your compassion ... your sensitivity to and concern with Jewish fears and hopes.. . your emphasis on symbols... . Your decision to visit a syn­agogue next March, on the five-hundredth anniversary of the Expul­sion Decree, offers proof that Spain, represented by Your Majesty, has overcome its past and faces the challenges of the future. That is a no­ble gesture that will remain in our collective Jewish memory forever.


In 2006 a group of students and lecturers decided to create an organisation to promote activities that would deepen knowledge and disseminate Jewish culture throughout Spain.

This followed a 2006 course on Hebrew Thought at the Fundacio Universitat de Lieda coordinated by Professor Mario Javier Saban.

This coincided with the objectives of a group in Barcelona who wanted to create a national organisation to impart Jewish ideas and culture.

There is now the Tarbut (Hebrew for ‘culture’) throughout Spain.

For a list of events and locations click here to go to Tarbut Sefarad.


Anti-semitism still exists in Spain.  For a detailed review click  ‘The Report on Anti-Semitism in Spain, 2011.   This was created in 2009 by the Federation of Jewish Communities of Spain and the Movement against Intolerance who set up the Observatory on Anti-Semitism in Spain with the objective of centralizing, cataloguing and analyzing incidents of an Anti-Semitic nature in Spain, identifying their instigators and encouraging reflection through analysis and publications.  It is also published by the World Jewish Congress.  See also ADL Anti Defamation League - Attitudes Towards Jews in Ten European Countries, March 2012

The Community position in Spain - 2012 - is as follows (from The World Jewish Congress)


The two major centers of Jewish life in Spain are Madrid (4,500) and Barcelona (3,500), followed by Malaga, where a smaller number of Jews live. Other communities are found in Alicante, Cadiz, Marbella, Majorca, Torremolinos, and Valencia, Canary Islands, Oviedo, Seville. In Spanish North Africa, Jews reside in Ceuta and Melilla. The Jewish community of modern Spain is primarily based on waves of post-war migration from Morocco, from the Balkans, from other European countries, and, most recently (in the 1970s and 1980s), from Latin America.


The Federacion de Comunidades Israelitas de Espana, which unites the orthodox Spanish communities from different parts of the country, represents Jewish interests to the government. A sizable proportion of the community is affiliated to the synagogue-focused communal centers in Barcelona and Madrid, which, in turn, are linked to the Federacion. Barcelona also has a Reform and Chabad congregations, Madrid also has Mazorti and Chabad, Valencia also has Mazorti, Majorca and Malaga also have Chabad.

In the absence of laws restricting hate propagation or Holocaust denial, Spain serves as a publishing and distribution center for neo-Nazis and other extreme rightists. Indeed, Spain serves as a refuge for a number of Nazi war criminals and neo-Nazis convicted elsewhere of promoting racial hatred or historical revisionism.


The Latin American immigrants, who come from communities with a strong secular tradition, have formed organizations that bring Jews together for cultural and intellectual events. The Baruch Spinoza Center, and the magazine Raices (Roots) are initiatives of these secular-oriented Jews.

In Barcelona the Sephardi and Ashkenazi communities pray in separate synagogues in the same building on high holidays. Apart from the two major centers, synagogues operate in Alicante, , Malaga, Marbella, Melilla (North Africa), Seville, Torremolinos, and Valencia. Kosher food is provided at the Madrid communal center.

Jewish day schools exist in Barcelona, Madrid, and Malaga. Groups such as WIZO and B'nai B'rith are active in Spain.

A 'ZAKHOR' Center of Studies for the protection and transmission of Jewish Heritage was recently created in Barcelona.


Israel and Spain did not establish diplomatic ties until 1986, when Spain recognized the State of Israel. Prior to recognition, the Spanish Jewish community, through cultural friendship associations, provided an unofficial linkage between the two countries. Aliya: Since 1948, 1,412 Spanish Jews have emigrated to Israel.


Toledo features the Museo Sephardi (situated in the El Transito synagogue), the nearby Church of Santa Maria La Blanca (an ancient synagogue), and the former Jewish quarter. The synagogue of Maimonides can be visited in Cordoba. Most of these have long since been used as churches.

Former Jewish areas, the juderias, can be seen in, Avila, Barcelona, Besalu, Caceres, Calahorra, Córdoba, Estella, Gerona, Hervas, Jaén, León, Monforte de Lemos, Montblanc, Oviedo, Palma de Majorca, Plasencia, Rivadavia, Segovia, Tarazona, Tarragona Tortosa and Tudela


From Tracing the Tribe: The Jewish Genealogy Blog  If you've ever listened to the haunting strains of flamenco and heard what you believe are Jewish connections, you aren't wrong.

According to this article, flamenco has deep Jewish roots in addition to Indian, Greek, Roman and Persian influences.

The article begins with the art form's Indian roots, brought by Gypsies who traveled from northwest India to Pakistan and Persia into 14th-15th-century Europe and into Andalucia in southern Spain. Some historians say the music's debut might have been as early as 711 CE, brought by Arab armies coming from North Africa.

Andalucian music is an amalgam of Arabic music with Hindu, Greek, Hebrew, Persian influences with local folk music and dances dating back to Phoenician and Roman times.

Following the Spanish recapture of Granada - and the conversion and expulsion of its Muslims and Jews - flamenco "became a voice of protest of dissenting Christians, outlaws, Muslims, Jews and other social outcasts who did not fit into the new political order. Jews were forced to convert to Christianity or leave Spain and Gypsies were forced to settle down and put an end to their nomadic lifestyle."

Further, after the 1492 Expulsion, a Jewish voice "resurfaced" in flamenco.

The plaintive wailing of religious prayer, now forbidden, became the secular "aaiiee" of the conversos (Jews forced to convert to Christianity), with the notable exception of the Saeta. The Saeta sung today during Holy Week dates back centuries and is generally agreed to have Jewish origins. One can imagine the conversos singing in a very traditional manner for them but changing the words to provide their new faith and Christian devotion: singing, no doubt, with extra verve and passion to dispel any doubts of their sincerity. There are also strong similarities between certain synagogal chants and some early forms of cante flamenco.

One section concerns the Peteneras form of flamenco, which is likely linked to Sephardim who settled in Turkey and other Middle Eastern countries.

The Peteneras, writes the author, was passed down through the generations since the 1492 exile. Another hint as to Peteneras' Jewish origins is that even today, many Gypsies refuse to sing or dance Peteneras and consider it unlucky. The music's status as unlucky may be rooted to the long history of persecution of the Sephardim.  (see also Jewish Music, Jewish Memory)


The Spanish, Shadows of Embarrasment.  Yehuda Cohen, Sussex Academic Press 2012  (This is a review Google copy of the book with missing sections)

How many people were tortured to death during the Spanish Inquisition?

Wiki History of the Jews in Spainry of the Jews in Spain

Encyclopedia Judaeica -  The Inquisition of the Church Against the Jews  1481 -1834

Jews in Spain - Summary  (Encyclopaedia Judaica 1971)    

The History of the Inquisition of Spain, from the Time of Its Establishment to the Reign of Ferdinand VII:   Google Books

The Massacres of 5151 (1391)  By Nissan Mindel Published and copyrighted by Kehot Publication Society

Abolition of Spanish Inquisition   (Google)

Spanish Inquisition 1450 -1789  

Heresy in Christianity  (from Wikipedia)   

The Jews in Spain Under the Visigoths, The Occident and American Jewish Advocate, November 1849

History of the Jews in Spain  Origins and History of Sephardic Jewry

Christian History Timeline of the Inquisition  (Kehillat Yisroel)

The Art of Subversion in Inquisitorial Spain (Rojas and Delicado) (Google Books)


Routes of Safarad

History 5th - 15th Century

Spain’s Islamic Legacy

Jews, God, and History, Max Isaac Dimont  

The Amazing Adventures of the Jewish People, Max Isaac Dimont

Indestructible Jews: An Action-packed Journey through 4,000 Years of History , Max Isaac Dimont

Barton, Simon  A History of Spain Basingstoke, Hampshire & New York 2004.

Carr, Raymond ed.  Spain: A History  Oxford 2000                                            

Collins, Roger Early Medieval Spain: Unity in Diversity, 400-1000 London 1983

Flannery, Edward  The Anguish of the Jews: Twenty-three Centuries of Antisemitism Mahwah, New Jersey 2004

Gerber, Jane  The Jews of Spain: A History of the Sephardic Experience Toronto 1992

Katz, Steven ed. The Cambridge History of Judaism. Vol IV The Late Roman Rabbinic Period Cambridge 2006.

Marias, Julian    Understanding Spain Ann Arbor, Michigan 1992

Patai, Raphael, Patai, Jennifer  The Myth of the Jewish Race New York 1975 rev’d 1989

Roth, Norman  Jews, Visigoths and Muslims in Medieval Spain: Cooperation and Conflict Leiden, New York 1994.

Madeleine Pelner Cosman and Linda Gale Jones (2008). Handbook of Life in the Medieval World. Infobase Publishing.

Jump up ^ Beinart, Haim (2008). "Tortosa, Disputation of". Jewish Virtual Library. Retrieved June 21, 2009.

Jump up ^ Kamen, Henry (23 November 2000). The Spanish Inquisition: An Historical Revision. Orion Publishing Group. p. 10. ISBN 0-297-81719-1.

The Origins of the Inquisition in Fifteenth Century Spain, B. Netyanhu, 2002

Judaism on Trial: Jewish-Christian Disputations in the Middle Ages, Hyam Maccoby, Litman Library of Jewish Civilization, 1993


Early History


Muslim Rule

Christian Rule

Pedro I



Disputation of Paris

Talmud Burning

Mass Conversion Sermons

Conditions Worsen

Pogroms of 1391

Expulsion of the Jews, 1492

Number Expelled

Unification of
Spain and Portugal

The New World

Effect of Expulsion

Racial Purity

19th Century on






Jews have been in Spain for over 2,000 years.  Life has varied from satisfying periods to periods of suffering from local laws, people and/or  pogroms.  For example The Catholic Council of Elvira, early in the fourth century issued canons to ostracize the Jews from the general community, the Visigoths made life very hard after they converted to Christianity in their zeal to convert Jews and the pogroms of 1391. They were expelled in 1492.

900-1200 is described as the Jewish Golden Age.  Conditions differed from the rest of Europe as they lived in a triumvirate - a state ruled by Muslims with sizeable Jewish and Christian minorities who could work together. Elsewhere Christian states had Jewish minorities  used for  financial gain or to blame for local problems.  This period ended when the extreme Muslim Almohads took control.

Sometimes Christian rule seemed promising.  Alfonso VI’s army had 40,000 Jewish soldiers distinguished by their yellow and black turbans.  After the Christian loss at the Battle of Ucles (1108), an anti-Semitic riot broke out in Toledo; many Jews were killed and their houses and synagogues burned.  Later they reclaimed their status.  The 13th century saw many more killed.  Their wealth came from being forced into moneylending as Christians were forbidden from charging each other interest rates.  It saw the Disputations of Paris, Barcelona and Tortosa where Judaism had to be defended against Jewish converts where judgement was given by a Christian panel who would find in favour of the Christians.  This sometimes led to copies of the talmud being burned.

Conditions worsened and eventually to the Pogroms of 1391 with claims of 100,000 Jews killed, 100,000 leaving Spain and 100,000 converting to Christianity

Spain was virtually unified in 1469 when Isabel of Castile, married Ferdinand of Aragon. By 1479 they had strengthened the Spanish church. The Inquisition was used to find converts who practiced Judaism in secret. In 1492 the Reconquista was achieved when the isolated Muslim territory of Granada was captured.

On March 31, 1492 the Edict of Expulsion was proclaimed by Isabel and Ferdinand.  They said that the Inquisition had not achieved its aims as thousands of converts were secret Jews who were a big obstacle for Christianity. It proved that the segregation of Jews and restrictions of their rights was not enough. Jews were given four months to become Christians or sell their assets and leave the country.

The numbers are disputed but it is claimed that of the 230,000 Spanish Jews 50,000 were baptised and remained, 20,000 died en route to another country and 160,000 emigrated creating a new diaspora (the dispersion of Jews to other countries).

Muslims were given the choice of becoming Christian (secret Muslims became known as Moriscos) or leaving Spain.   

Spain became the most powerful country in Europe based largely on the wealth its ships were bringing from Spanish South America.  Its decline set in after the defeat of the Spanish Armada by the British in 1588.

Purity of blood became a Spanish obsession. New Christians (converts) had to be cleansed of Jewish influence.  Until 1860 it was a requirement for acceptance into the Military Academy.

In 1580 Phillip II of Spain invaded Portugal and unified it with Spain.  The Inquisition thought they had found those ‘secret Jews’ who remained in Spain after the expulsion. When 20,000 Jewish Portuguese converts returned they thought the problem had recurred. The Portuguese rebelled in 1640 so ending unification..

Until 1834 the Inquisition was responsible for arresting, jailing and sentencing to death the Jews. Sentences, including the death sentence, were carried out by the civil authorities at an auto de fe in a carnival atmosphere similar to the Roman gladiatorial games.

Today, there is a growing Jewish community.  The 1492 Expulsion has been reversed.  A Jew from another country who can trace their ancestors to before the 1492 Expulsion can now apply for a Spanish passport (see News).  

(The reconquest of Spain
from the Muslims)


(Muslims remaining in Spain
 after the reconquest
of Granada in 1492)

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(Caminos de Sefarad)

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Castello d’Empuries

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