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THE JEWS OF SPAIN,  

OVERVIEW
























 













By New York Times, ALAN RIDING, April 1, 1992


MADRID, March 31— In a poignant ceremony marking the 500th anniversary of the expulsion of the Jews from Spain, President Chaim Herzog of Israel and Spain's King, Juan Carlos, prayed together in the synagogue of Madrid today. Their gesture symbolized reconciliation between their people.

For Mr. Herzog, it was an occasion that "closes one more of the many painful cycles in the history of our people." And he added: "We cannot change the past. But we can learn its lessons and thus assure a better future for ourselves and humanity."

For Juan Carlos, it was a chance both to pay homage to the exiled Sephardic Jewish communities that have never forgotten their Spanish roots and to tell Jews that Sefarad -- the Hebrew name for Spain -- was "no longer nostalgia" because the country was once again their home.



The King, who wore a skullcap, was accompanied by Queen Sofia. "It may seem odd to choose the anniversary of a separation for a meeting of such profound significance," he said. "But the history of all people and, without doubt, that of Spain, is full of lights and shadows." A Dubious Choice

The expulsion edict of March 31, 1492, signed by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella in Granada, ordered "the departure of all Jews from our kingdoms with instructions that they should never return." Facing death if they stayed beyond July 31 that year, 100,000 to 200,000 fled the country.

Their departure ended a Jewish presence in Spain that dated to at least the third century and included periods of great prosperity and influence. "For those Jews, Spain was not an exile or a Diaspora," said David Grebler, president of Sefarad 92, the commission of Spanish Jews managing the observance. "Spain was their country."

The Jews' expulsion was one of the watershed events of 1492 that are being marked this year. On Jan. 2, 1492, the fall of Granada ended an eight-century Arab presence and completed the unification of Spain. On Oct. 12, Columbus reached the New World, laying the foundation for a vast Spanish empire in the Americas.

Today's ceremony in the Beth Yaakov synagogue of Madrid was accompanied by prayers and psalms. It was the principal event of Sefarad 92, an international program of publications, lectures, exhibitions, concerts and movies to commemorate both the Jews' expulsion and their cultural, scientific, medical and economic legacies.

Some Jewish organizations had expressed hope that Juan Carlos might use the anniversary today to apologize for the expulsion. But instead he was oblique, conceding that Spain had known "periods of profound respect for freedom and others of intolerance and persecution for political, ideological and religious reasons."

President Herzog evoked this bittersweet past, telling the congregation of Spanish and foreign Jews that "in our collective memory, we recall not only Spain of the Inquisition but also the Spain in which for hundreds of years a magnificent Jewish culture flourished, creating fundamental works of theology, philosophy and literature."

The expulsion edict came after similar orders in England in 1290 and in France in 1394, and was followed by Portugal's eviction of the Jews in 1496. But the flight from Spain was by far the most disruptive because Jewish communities were larger and more settled here than anywhere else in Europe.

From around the 10th century, Jews were influential, with diplomats, jurists, translators, financial experts and men of letters often linked to the Spanish courts and to Muslim rulers. There were large groups of Jews in Toledo, Burgos, Seville, Gerona and Zaragoza, and in many areas Jews, Christians and Muslims lived in harmony.

By the 14th century, however, resentment against Jews became apparent, exploding into pogroms in 1391 that resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands. As the 15th century advanced, the Jews came under strong pressure to convert to Christianity.

Many thousands did convert, but in 1478 the Spanish Inquisition was created with the idea of imposing religious unity on Spain. The church accused the Jews of proselytizing among converts, and they were ordered in 1480 by Ferdinand and Isabella to live in separate areas, and in 1483 to leave the Andalusian region in the southwest.

After the fall of Granada and the ouster of the Muslims, Torquemada, the Inquisitor General, demanded that the Jews be expelled. Spanish rulers, briefly reluctant to go that far, yielded in May and ordered the expulsion.

The edict implicity gave Jews the choice of converting or leaving, and some, including one of the court's principal tax advisers, Abraham Senior, became Catholics. The vast majority, though, decided to leave, selling or abandoning their property and taking only the belongings they could carry.

Most first entered Portugal, though some headed immediately for Naples, Rome, Marseilles or Amsterdam. They also went to the Balkans and North Africa. In time, the main Sephardic Jewish center was Constantinople.

The experience in Portugal was unusual. While the expulsion order of Dec. 10, 1496, gave Portuguese Jews 10 months to leave, the royal court decided that it needed their talents. As a result, on March 19, 1497, Portugal ordered the forced conversion of tens of thousands of Jews and then allowed them to stay.

More remarkable, though, was that the dream of Sefarad as a second promised land endured among descendants of those expelled.

To this day, Sephardic Jews preserve customs, rituals, recipes, songs and surnames like Toledo and Toledano, as well as Ladino, a language variant that is close to what their forefathers spoke here in the 15th century.

Spanish governments, in contrast, turned their back on this past until new interest in the country's Jewish heritage led to revocation of the expulsion edict in 1869. During World War II, the Franco dictatorship, despite its sympathy for Nazi Germany, gave refuge to Jewish exiles, and this was recalled with gratitude by Mr. Herzog today.

After the war, some European Jews migrated to the Barcelona area, while the first Sephardim returned after Morocco became independent in 1956, with most going to Andalusia. In 1967, freedom of worship was proclaimed and, the following year, the Madrid synagogue became the first new synagogue to open in Spain since 1492.

With the resurgence of democracy after Franco's death in 1975, Spain has actively sought to strengthen its ties with Sephardic Jews, encouraging them to return. But even now, of a national population of about 38 million, there are only about 15,000 Jews in Spain, 12,000 of them Sephardic.

Indeed, Spain, with its strong historical ties to the Arab world, delayed recognition of Israel until 1986. Since then, it has emphasized its dual Jewish and Muslim past. Last year, Madrid was selected as the site of the Middle East peace conference's opening round in October.

Today, King Juan Carlos looked back, even thanking "the hospitality of those countries that received those Spaniards who were expelled from their country."

But he preferred to look forward, telling Sephardic Jews that their return begins "to fill the vacuum left by your absence," and pledging that "never again will hate and intolerance provoke desolation and exile."

Photo: King Juan Carlos of Spain, right, accompanied President Chaim Herzog of Israel yesterday during ceremony in Madrid marking the 500th anniversary of the expulsion of the Jews from Spain. (Agence France-Presse) Map of Spain showing location of Madrid.  
(see also Baltimore Sun by Los Angeles Times, Feb 10 1991)

FROM THE KING AND QUEEN OF SPAIN

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

From ELIE WIESAL

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.

LINKS

History of the Jews of Spain   Wikipedia

SEVILLE GIRONA
Examples of what happened

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in June 2015
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CULTURE

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THE RECONQUISTA
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THE MARRANOS
Jews living in Spain who converted or were forced to convert to Christianity, They practiced Judaism
in secret

THE MORISCOS
Muslims living in Spain
who were forced to convert
to Christianity.  
They  practiced Islam
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THE

INCREDIBLE

STORY OF THE JEWISH PEOPLE


ISLAM AND THE JEWISH GOLDEN AGE IN SPAIN