Wed, Dec 7, 2016
Those who kept their Jewish faith were made by the Catholics to pay a tax and were often badly treated and ostracized.
It must be made clear from the start that Judaism as a religion predates Christianity in the Iberian peninsula and that practically the majority of the population of this land was Jewish until the arrival of Christianity that converted the inhabitants by persuasion, at times, and sheer force, at other times. Those who kept their Jewish faith were made by the Catholics to pay a tax and were often badly treated and ostracized.
In the year 1492, the King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella captured Grenada from the Moors. The city surrendered on January 7, 1492 and the Catholic king and queen immediately ordered the expulsion of all Jews within three months time and the expropriation of all their wealth. The expulsion of this intelligent, cultured, and industrious ethnic and religious group was prompted only, in part, by the greed of the king and queen and the intensified nationalism of the people who had just brought the crusade against the Muslim Moors to a glorious close. The real motive was the religious zeal of the Church, the monarchies in presence, and the masses. Accordingly, the equivalent of 250 000 Jews were thrown in merchant ships and sent to other parts of Europe and North Africa, with no food or means to start a new life. It is considered one of the most inhuman mass expulsion in human history of people on the ground of their religious affiliation.
The account that follows details the expulsion of Spanish Jewry and its immediate consequences. It was written in Hebrew by an Italian Jew in April or May, 1495.
"About their number there is no agreement, but, after many inquiries, I found that the most generally accepted estimate is 50,000 families, or, as others say, 53,000- [This would be about 250,000 persons. Other estimates run from 100,000 to 800,000.] They had houses, fields, vineyards, and cattle, and most of them were artisans. At that time there existed many [Talmudic] academies in Spain, and at the head of the greatest of them were Rabbi Isaac Aboab in Guadalajara [probably the greatest Spanish rabbi of his day], Rabbi Isaac Veçudó in Leon, and Rabbi Jacob Habib in Salamanca [later author of a famous collection of the non-legal parts of the Talmud, the En Yaakob]. In the last named city there was a great expert in mathematics, and whenever there was any doubt on mathematical questions in the Christian academy of that city they referred them to him. His name was Abraham Zacuto."
In Portugal, in 1493, the Catholic king John (1481-1495) enslaved the Sephardic Jews and their children were sent to the Isle of St. Thomas, off the coast of Africa. He, also, ordered the Jews of Lisbon, his capital, not to raise their voice, in their prayers, so that God does not hear their complaining about the violence that was done unto them.
The Catholic Edict of the Expulsion of the Jews went public during the week of April 29, 1492. The charter declared that no Jews were permitted to remain within the Spanish kingdom, and any Jew who wished to convert was welcome to stay. The power of the wealthy Spanish Jewry was inconsequential in abrogating or changing this law. Whether a Jew was rich or or poor did not matter, they all still had either to convert or leave. Ferdinand's plans for Spain, as distorted by the Christian racism prevalent in late 15th Century Spain, did not include the one group that had done so much to serve the state i.e. the Jewish aristocracy.
The Edict was enacted on the false ground that the Catholic monarchies, that ordered the Jews to live in assigned areas in their kingdom, to allow them to continue living in peace and harmony with the Christians, have deliberately breached this agreement and proceeded by proselytism to convert Christians to their faith:
You know well or ought to know, that whereas we have been informed that in these our kingdoms there were some wicked Christians who Judaized and apostatized from our holy Catholic faith, the great cause of which was interaction between the Jews and these Christians, in the cortes which we held in the city of Toledo in the past year of one thousand, four hundred and eighty, we ordered the separation of the said Jews in all the cities, towns and villages of our kingdoms and lordships and [commanded] that they be given Jewish quarters and separated places where they should live, hoping that by their separation the situation would remedy itself. Furthermore, we procured and gave orders that inquisition should be made in our aforementioned kingships and lordships, which as you know has for twelve years been made and is being made, and by many guilty persons have been discovered, as is very well known, and accordingly we are informed by the inquisitors and by other devout persons, ecclesiastical and secular, that great injury has resulted and still results, since the Christians have engaged in and continue to engage in social interaction and communication they have had means and ways they can to subvert and to steal faithful Christians from our holy Catholic faith and to separate them from it, and to draw them to themselves and subvert them to their own wicked belief and conviction.
and in the light of this false assertion, the Catholics decided to expel them to protect their faith, but the truth of the matter is that like all Europeans up to the Third Reich, they were jealous of their intellect and their success in business :
Therefore, we, with the counsel and advice of prelates, great noblemen of our kingdoms, and other persons of learning and wisdom of our Council, having taken deliberation about this matter, resolve to order the said Jews and Jewesses of our kingdoms to depart and never to return or come back to them or to any of them. And concerning this we command this our charter to be given, by which we order all Jews and Jewesses of whatever age they may be, who live, reside, and exist in our said kingdoms and lordships, as much those who are natives as those who are not, who by whatever manner or whatever cause have come to live and reside therein, that by the end of the month of July next of the present year, they depart from all of these our said realms and lordships, along with their sons and daughters, menservants and maidservants, Jewish familiars, those who are great as well as the lesser folk, of whatever age they may be, and they shall not dare to return to those places, nor to reside in them, nor to live in any part of them, neither temporarily on the way to somewhere else nor in any other manner, under pain that if they do not perform and comply with this command and should be found in our said kingdom and lordships and should in any manner live in them, they incur the penalty of death and the confiscation of all their possessions by our Chamber of Finance, incurring these penalties by the act itself, without further trial, sentence, or declaration.
Furthermore, it is a known fact that The Catholic responsible of Spain not only expelled all Spanish Jews on ridiculous grounds of proselytism, bearing in mind that they were made to live in ghettos and had very little social contact with the Catholics, but the Spaniards, also, conspired with the European ship owners to come and take them away and take their meager savings as payment for the forced trips.
Header Image Credit: Timesofisrael
Dr. Mohamed Chtatou is a Professor of education at Mohammed V University in Rabat. He is a political and cultural analyst in the Middle East.