The early years of Christian rule over parts of Spain seemed promising for the Spanish Jews. Alfonso VI, the conqueror of Toledo (1085), was tolerant and benevolent 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. The Jews prospered and by 1098, nearly 15,000 Jews lived 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 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 created their hatred and envy.
After the Christian loss at the Battle of Ucles (1108), an anti-Semitic riot broke out in Toledo; many Jews were killed and 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 his father had 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. He became friendlier, giving the Jews additional privileges so they became equal to the Christians. Judah ben Joseph ibn Ezra influenced the king and after the conquest of Calatrava (1147), the king placed him in command of a fortress and later made him his court chamberlain.
Under Alfonso VIII, the Jews gained greater influence possibly helped by the king’s love of the beautiful Jewess Rachel Fermosa of Toledo. The king’s defeat at the battle of Alarcos, was attributed by many to his love affair with Fermosa and the nobility retaliated by murdering her and her relatives in Toledo.
Their condition deteriorated when the Crusaders unleashed a round of anti-Semitic riots in Toledo (1212), robbing and killing 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 for their safety. The clergy’s endeavors directed against the Jews became more pronounced. A papal bull by Pope Innocent IV in April 1250 worsened their situation 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, forbidden to appear in public on Good Friday and forced to live as a separate political body in the Juderias (Jewish ghettos).