The Jews of Spain

Jews of Spain

Part A: Long IDs

  1. Hebrew Poetry from Medieval Spain

Medieval Hebrew poetry dated back as far as 10th century was a key practice of the Jewish culture during the golden age of the Jewish culture in Spain. Jewish culture in that period involved several practices, including composition of poems. Spain became the epicenter of Hebrew poetry in the golden age of the Jewish culture. The poetic efflorescence of the Jews in the golden age indicated a wide knowledge of the Jewish letters by the poets. The common poets who composed the Hebrew poems were Talmudic scholars, Hebrew language experts, biblical exegetes, and Neoplatonic philosophers.

Although most writings from the medieval Spain were in Arabic language, poetry was mainly in Hebrew. The Hebrew poets and audiences in the medieval Spain were known as courtier-rabbis. They were deeply sunk into the Arabic culture and way of life, some even working in Muslim courts as officers (Mazur, 2008). Hebrew poets widely adopted Arabic poetics, including Arabic themes, genres and rhetoric. Until today, the medieval Hebrew poetry is considered as the summit of Hebrew literature.

  1. Mass Conversions of 1391

Mass conversions of 1391 were a practice in which the Jews of Spain were forcibly converted into Christianity. Those Jews who refused to be converted into Christianity were persecuted. Others escaped death by immigrating to other areas. Through the mass conversion, several Jews died for opposing the conversion exercise. Archdeacon Ferrand Martinez played a crucial role in giving inflammatory appeals to baptize or kill the Jews (Mazur, 2008). Riots occurred in Seville, Cordova and Madrid. On June 6, 1391, the rioting mob forced masses of Jews to be converted into Christianity, and killed 4,000 Jews who refused to be converted.

  1. Livornine

Livornine refers to two public charters offered by Ferdinand I in 1591 and 1593 to invite the Jews to Tuscany so that they could operate as merchants. In return, they would be guaranteed protection from the Inquisition. The invitation of the Jews was motivated by the desire of the Duke administration to rebuild the depressed city of Pisa and to open up the new port of Livorno to the Maritimes trade in the Mediterranean (Mazur, 2008). This was a safe haven by the Jews, as opposed to the policies formulated by Rome. This legislation demonstrated the spirit of religious liberty because it invited the Jews even though they were converted to Christianity. Such a religious liberty was uncommon in the fifteenth and sixteenth century.

  1. Sephardic Community of Amsterdam

Sephardic community of Amsterdam refers to the Sephardic Jewish settlement in Amsterdam which occurred in 1590 when the economic situations of Netherlands improved more than other territories such as Portugal and Germany. In the early years of the seventeenth century, Sephardic community in Amsterdam had grown significantly. The Sephardic community of Amsterdam was based on normative Judaism traditions (Mazur, 2008). The emergence of Sephardic community was contributed significantly by the crypto-Jewish community. The Sephardic community of Amsterdam set up the trade in colonial products in Amsterdam in 1601.

  1. Samuel Pallache

Samuel Pallache was a Jewish-Moroccan Merchant who was sent to the Netherlands in 1608 as an envoy. Pallache was a Jewish diplomat and pirate. Although he was born in Spain, his family originated from Islamic Spain. As a result of the conversion of Islamic Spain into Christianity, the family of Pallache moved to Morocco where they were accepted and tolerated just like Christians, as long as they acknowledged Islam as the national religion. Sultan Abu Maali of Morocco appointed Pallache as his personal agent in a negotiation of a common alliance between Morocco and Netherlands against Spain. A deal was made which initiated free trade between Netherlands and Morocco.

Part B: Short Essay

Compare and contrast the experience of Sephardic Jews who settled in the Islamic world (the Ottoman Empire and North Africa) after 1492 with that of Sephardic Jews who settled in Christian Europe (England, the Netherlands, and Italy).

After the expulsion of Jews from Spain in 1492, Jews moved to various places. There were an estimated total of 80,000 Jews who were expelled from Spain. They set out in two major groups. One group moved to Christian Europe including Netherlands, Portugal and Italy. The other group set out for the Islamic world including Ottoman Empire and North Africa. Aragonese Jews went to Italy while the Jews of Teruel City headed towards North Africa (Gerber, p89). In their new territories, they faced different experiences. In order to understand the similarities and differences between the experiences of the two Jewish groups, it is important to understand the nature and realities of the places they went to.

In 1492, Portugal was emerging as a powerful nation and a bitter rival of Spain in terms of economic and political influence in North Atlantic. In Northern Africa, the Jews were mainly received in Morocco. North Africa was the second major destination of the Jews. In Italy, the Jews settled in Naples and Genoa. Italy was the third major destination for the Jews after Portugal and Morocco. Only a few of the Jews who fled Spain in 1492 went to Ottoman Empire.

The main difference between the experiences of the Jews who fled to the Christian Europe and the experiences of those who fled to the Islamic world is that the Jews who fled to Christian Europe were received more harshly by their hosts than those Jews who fled to the Islamic world. Portugal, where the most Jewish refugees from Spain were found, treated the Jews harshly. Their reception was good at first, but when the Dom Manuel married the Infanta Isabella of Aragon, things took a new shape for the Jews. In order to avoid the return of the Jewish exiles into Spain, Isabella and Ferdinand set a pre-condition for Manuel to banish the Jews before being allowed to marry the Ifanta Isabella (Mazur, 2008). As a result, Manuel gave the Jews eleven months in 1496 to convert to Christianity or leave. Most Jews opted to leave. Faced with the dilemma of losing revenue due to the exit of his subjects, Manuel seized the Jews at the port of Lisbon, and forced them to convert into Christianity.

On the other hand, the major destination of the Jewish Exiles – North Africa, was a better destination for the Jews than Portugal. Although they were received well in North Africa, the Portuguese and Spanish Jews were faced by two major challenges as they settled. The first challenge was the relationship between the local Jewish authorities and the local Muslim Authorities.  The second challenge was the prevailing economic hardships and political hardships that affected North Africa in 16th century (Meyerson, p120). The Jews were very unsecure due to the volatility of the North Africa’s political system. In terms of religion, the Jews in North Africa enjoyed a good relationship with Christians and Muslims. Anti-Jews violence that existence towards the end of the medieval period was not a result of religious ideologies, but a result of general social tension that was mainly influenced by political instability in the region.

Like in Portugal, the Jews were discriminated religiously in Italy. Spanish Jews who fled to Italy were barred from entering Rome. They were “kept outside of the walls of Rome because they were said to be infested by the plague” (Ray, p46). Like the expulsion in Spain, the Jews were also excluded from Southern Italy in a long and disorganized process. Italian catholic Monarchs wanted the Jews out of their territory, so they enforced an edict of expulsion. However, some Jews converted into Christianity and they were left to stay in Rome, however lightly they took the religion.

Lastly, Ottoman Empire, unlike all the other three destinations of the Jews, was the most receptive of the Spanish Jews. Joining the Iberian settlers who arrived at the Mediterranean fifty years earlier, they formed “the wealthiest and most diverse Sephardic settlements in the world” (Ray, p47).  In North Africa and Italy, the Jews faced a continuous siege of warfare. In Ottoman Empire, the Jews were received, occupied in new territories and integrated into the empire’s system easily. Unlike the Italians and the Portuguese, the Ottomans viewed the Jews as good agents of economic prosperity and utilized that opportunity for the mutual benefit of both the Jews and the Ottoman Empire.

The main similarity between the reception of the Jews in the Christian Europe and their reception in the Muslim world is that they the issue of religion played a crucial role. In Northern Africa, the Jews were given the condition that they were to respect Islam as the national religion. Similarly, Italy and Portugal adored their Christian religion above the Jewish and Islam religions. This went to the extent of forcibly converting the Jews to Christianity. In Ottoman Empire, Islam was also the key religion, and although the Jews were allowed to practice their religion, Islam was maintained as the primary religion of the empire. This shows that the Jewish religion was considered inferior by all the destinations of the Jews as compared to the native Christian religion of Europe and native Islam in the Muslim world.

Another similarity between the experiences of Spanish Jews in Christian Europe and experiences of the Spanish Jews Muslim world is that the Jews were viewed as important economic agents in their destinations. In Ottoman Empire, the Jews were considered as fruitful economic agents and were allowed to enjoy mutual benefits. In Portugal, they were considered as fruitful economic agents but they were treated as the Portuguese subjects with minimal rights.

In conclusion, it is clear that the experiences of the expelled Spanish Jews in Christian Europe and Muslim world exhibit some differences and some similarities. In terms of similarities, it is clear that the experiences of the Jews in Christian Europe as well as the experiences of the Jews in Muslim world were characterized by demeaning of the Jews religion by both the Muslim and Christian world. Furthermore, the Jews were treated in Muslim and Christian world as resourceful economic agents. In terms of differences, the Jews were mistreated in the Christian Europe but were treated well in the Muslim world.


References list

Gerber, J. The Jews of Spain: A History of the Sephardic Experience, Chapter Seven.

Mazur, P. A. (2008). The Roman Inquisition and the crypto-Jews of Spanish Naples, 1569–1582. (Dissertation Abstracts International, 69-3).

Meyerson, M. A Jewish Renaissance in Fifteenth Century Spain, Chapter Three (pp. 109-142).

Ray, J., After Expulsion: 1492 and the making of Sephardic Jewry, Chapter Two.

Ruderman, D. Early Modern Jewry: A New Cultural History, Chapter One.

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