The Jews of Spain (Part I)

It happened thus in the last days of July 1492. Great masses of people forced themselves slowly forth to the sea, to Barcelona, to Seville, to Malaga. The Catholic clergyman Palaccio reports what he saw: “They laid down to rest in open fields. Some fell out due to exhaustion, other because of illness. Some died; others were born on the roadside. Any Christian who saw this misery was seized with pity. Some of the [Spanish] people gather in among them and ask them to undergo baptism, but their rabbi was resolute and mustered up encouragement for the tired and the despairing. The long line of people moved onward. Women sang and children beat on little hand-drums, and played on trumpets. When at some point one of these lines beheld the sea, men and women began to weep, and pulled at their hair and beseeched the Almighty for mercy and a miracle. For hours they stared at the water.”
Isabella of Castille and Ferdinand of Aragon issued their Edict of Banishment in Granada on March 31, 1492, and it became effective after a three-month period. The Jews were expelled from the country. They had lived here for 1,500 years. A portion of Jewish history which had begun in remote antiquity had now come to an end.
The beginnings of the [Jewish] settlement are legendary. After the destruction of the First Temple, Jews showed up in Tarsus [Asia Minor, now Turkey] and took part in the Phoenecian [maritime] trade. The Jewish-Christian Apostle Paul visited Spain on his missionary journeys. [This is false; Christian writings make no mention of this; they place Paul no closer to Spain than being shipwrecked on Malta.] A Midrash mentions pilgrims who came from Spain to Jerusalem to bring sacrifices; this would pertain to the time prior to the destruction of the Second Temple. After the destruction of the Temple, Jewish prisoners of war were brought to Spain, and their co-religionists purchased and redeemed them from captivity.
There were long-established Jewish communities in Spain at the time of the barbarian invasions by tribes of German Alans, Vandals, and Suevi [5th century]. The Jews leased and purchased land, pursued a many-branched overseas commerce, and occupied many civil service and legal magistrate positions, living in friendly relations with the long-established and Romanized Keltic population. [The Kelts, or Celts, kin to today’s Irish and Welsh, were the original inhabitants of Spain, preceding Carthaginians, Romans, and German tribes.]
The Visigoths established their kingdom in 484 and, encountering an established Jewish population of considerable numbers, established friendly relations with the Jews as a means of mutual self-protection, since they were Arians [a form of Christianity classified as heresy, whose followers were susceptible to persecution from Orthodox Christians]. Because the Visigoths were persecuted for their beliefs, their kingdom became a place of refuge for Jewish refugees, who fled to Spain from the Byzantine powers of North Africa.
However in 589, under pressure from the Catholic clergy, the Visigoth King Reccared converted to Catholicism and gave the Catholic clergy the assignment of creating a united and Catholic Spain. This meant persecution of those of other faiths. Church councils now passed decisions saying that the Jews should be restricted in their legal rights, their public affairs, and their rights of residence. Royal decrees ordered persecution of the Jews, and a partial expulsion was the result. Some saved themselves via baptism; others left Spain, resulting in a migration to North Africa. Polemical writings have survived from the Jewish side which refute Jewish guilt. Pressure from the Church grew continually greater and greater – until the year 711 brought Arab [Muslim] conquerors into Spain.
A great number of Jews fought with the Arab forces. They settled down in the land together with the victors [who conquered all of Spain swiftly, and went as far north as Tours, in central France, where they were beat back into Spain in 732 by a Christian French army led by Charles Martel, grandfather of the famous Charlemagne]. The land [Moorish Spain] willingly took in Jews from North Africa and western Asia, physicians and mathematicians, philosophers and philologists from Babylon and Cairo.
At this time, the Spanish-Jewish colony became a spiritual center; Moses ben Chanoch from Sura (in Persia) transplanted the traditions of learning to the Iberian peninsula. Cordoba hosted a Talmudical academy. One could study sciences and all manners of learning which the world had to offer, because one could now feel free of the perpetual political and economic oppression of the Christians. Under Arab dominion Jews turned once again to agriculture and to overseas commercial trade, now favorable because the Arabs had secured the Mediterranean Sea. They passed along the products of the Jewish weavers Jacob and Josef ibn Dschau in Spain, and even delivered to the court of the Caliph and his army.
[Every American schoolchild knows the story of Christopher Columbus setting sail from Spain on August 12, 1492 to try to find a new way to sail to India, but who discovered South America and various islands in the Caribbean Sea instead.
[What few realize is the historical connection between this major event and the other events of the year 1492 which are all interrelated, including the expulsion of the Jews from Spain.
[Earlier that year, Spain, united under Isabella and Ferdinand, completed the Reconquista, the Reconquering of Spain, from the Muslims, a culmination of almost 800 years of struggle. Having gone to all the trouble to defeat them, the monarchs weren’t about to let Muslims remain, so they forcibly expelled all who refused to convert to Catholicism, and likewise the Jews too, whom they saw as collaborators with the Muslims.

[The return of peace to Spain freed up a lot of money and allowed the monarchs to fund Columbus’s voyage. And so it was, on the very same tide that Columbus used to set forth, the last of the Jews were expelled to North Africa, on August 12, 1492 – Tisha B’Av.]

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