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Contrary to common belief, the economy of Spain wasn’t
bankrupt or even slightly affected by the Expulsion of the Jews. Spain was
culturally diminished, however, and its reputation tarnished for centuries to
come. The glorious history of tolerance and of harmonious cultural and social
symbiosis that characterized Spain for nine centuries had come to an end.

Result of Expulsion

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Many expelled Jews returned to Spain and were
baptized, unable or unwilling to face the perils of an uncertain future.
However, most of the Jews of Castile who left simply went by foot across the
border into Portugal and upon payment of bribes and “entry fees,”
lived there for a short period in peace until they were again compelled to
convert or face another exile. The evidence points to the overwhelming majority
of Jews still in Spain in 1492 choosing conversion rather than exile.



Following the
Expulsion, the monarchs continued to ensure that fair treatment had been accorded
to the Jews in repayment of debts and sales of property. Commissions were
appointed in July to conduct investigations. Since there were cases of Jews
engaged in complicated business partnerships and other affairs that could not
be quickly liquidated, officials were chosen to handle these matters and make
payment to Jews after the Expulsion. Many Jews chose baptism rather than face
expulsion from their homeland. Most of the large Jewish population of Avila

The edict
was proclaimed in Granada on the 31st of March 1492, giving the Jews 3 months
to leave Spain. Despite this, even a month after this proclamation, Jews who
had not heard this continued to buy and sell property and conduct their
business with Christians normally. The monarchs wrote a letter the day the
edict was read out. They claimed that it was decided by the inquisitors, and
more specifically, Torquemada, who demanded this.

Jewish Expulsion

Even though
for the most part life continued normally for Jews in the late 15th
century, certain danger signs began apparent. In such cities as Avila and
Plasencia, some knights attacked Jews and damaged Jewish property.

Fernando and
Isabel were actually really liked by Jews. They were rarely unfair to the Jews.
As the Spanish government was a democratic body, laws were proposed and then
merely ratified by the rulers. Thus, they should not be blamed for anti-Jewish
legislation. A serious example of anti-jewish legislation came from the Cortes
de Toledo (1480). It required Jews to move to specified areas in each major

Jews were not the subject of Inquisitional activity, they testified in large
numbers against accused conversos, often against members of their own family.
They did this knowing that their testimony was false and knowing what would
happen to the accused Jew. When the King and Queen had proof of such false
testimony the Jewish witnesses were punished. Jews willingly gave such
testimony because they, like old Christians, saw conversos as their worst
enemies. It was not just the anti-Jewish polemics written by conversos that was
a major problem. The continued abandonment of their people by the conversos
made them the target of serious abuse, which included murder when possible, by
the Jews.

entire purpose of the Inquisition was to arrest, to intimidate by imprisonment
or torture, and to kill as many conversos as possible. However, the seizure of
property was also very important. Properties were taken from conversos, as the
implication of this source of wealth became increasingly apparent, blanket
preventive seizures were made whereby all the property of conversos was taken
on the general suspicion of heresy even before they were accused. Thousands of
conversos were burned at the stake.

Although the
pope gave authority to begin the Castile inquisition in 1478, it was not put in
place until 1480. He gave orders that it was to be under strict supervision of
bishops. There was to be a set procedure to be followed. However, this was not
the case because of Tom de Torqumaria, the confessor of Isabel who had a big influence
over her. Under Torquemaria an enormous, independent bureaucracy appeared
without any sign of the bishops control. Although an opportunity was given for
heretics to recant, secret accusations were actually solicited and the accused
was thrown into jail until their trial. The inquisition began in Seville,
spread quickly throughout Analusia and finally all of Spain.

Beginning of Inquisition – 1478

sister Isabel began her reign in 1474 surrounded by conversos. Her secret
marriage to Fernando of Aragon involved converso messengers and arrangers. When
Fernando became King of Spain (under the joint rule of the catholic monarchs)
his entire kingdom was in the hands of conversos.

monarch Enrique IV petitioned the Pope to begin an inquisition in Castile. The
tension between conversos and old Christians escalated to riots during the
reign of Enrique’s father, Juan, and were getting worse. The riots in 1473 in
Cordoba were marked by the murder of Castile’s condestable mayor for his
defence of conversos.

An Inquisition

failed in their efforts to develop a legal distinction between old and new
Christians. So, according to the notorious doctrine of limpieza de sangre, Jews
and Jewish converts constituted a race. It was said that Jewish blood corrupted
its possessor down to the fourth generation, regardless of intermarriage with
Christians. This doctrine removed the sincerity of converts and their
descendents from consideration. It made opposition to Jews a biological issue.
As ‘Jewish blood remained to the fourth generation, every person this affected
was barred from universities and holding public office. The first of such laws
was introduced at the college of San Bartolome of Salamanca in 1414.

Limpieza de Sangre

Jews were
not converting solely for religious reasons. In many cases they did it purely
to enhance their social and economic standing. Converting to Christianity
opened many new doors. This included positions in the Christian church itself.
In Aragon-Catalonia, conversos reached the highest government posts. This was a
significant moment in the lead up to the expulsion as it brought about
increasing resentment and hostility towards conversos among elements of the
general Christian population. They feared the growing power of the conversos. A
clear example of this was highlighted by Alonso de Oropesa, master of the Order
of San Jeronimo. His hatred of the Jews was generated by fears of possible
inquisition against the order of San Jeronimo.

Increasing Resentment of Conversos among General


Jews saw
conversos as people who changed their entire identity, not only their faith. In
the words of rabbinical authorities, the conversos had “gone out of the
peoplehood of Israel and become another people”. In their eyes there was no
hope of return to Judaism. Jewish hostility toward conversos was widespread by the
14th century.

The nature
of the conversos in Spain is crucial to understanding the events that led to
the expulsion of the Jews in 1492. Conversos were not cryto-jews. Their
conversion was sincere and they did not secretly have Jewish beliefs. Conversos
in Spain in the 1400’s were complete and willing Christians. Many of them were
the descendants of those who had converted previously.


Jews who had
converted to Christianity were known as conversos. By the middle of the 15th
century there was a huge population of conversos still living in Spain.
Weakened by the decline in numbers, demoralized by the conversion of friends
and family, and intimidated by the religious fervor of the time, the remaining
jews saw themselves for the first time as embattled.

A further
source of demoralization for the Jewish communities was added to this
catastrophe. Before the events of 1391, Solomon ha-Levy, an important rabbi in
Burgos, converted to Christianity. He not only wrote an important anti-Jewish
polemical work that had lasting influence but also encouraged the conversion of
a bright scholar, Joshua al-Lorqi, who took the name Jeronimo de Santa Fe and
wrote an even more damaging attack on the Talmud. In 1414-15, Jeronimo and Benedict
organized a disputation in Tortosa, to which all Jewish communities of
Aragon-Catalonia were ordered to send representatives. Jeronimo was the chief
Christian spokesman and the Jews again lost the debate. This time many of the
Jewish participants converted to Christianity and as news of the loss spread,
thousands more Jews converted throughout Spain.

Further Demoralization

The rate of
Jewish conversion to Christianity rapidly increased in the late 14th
century. In the summer of 1931, taking inspiration from anti-Jewish propaganda
of a minor archdeacon in Seville, mobs of peasants attacked, robbed and in some
cases killed Jews across Spain. Although the king severely punished all who
took part, irreversible damage had been done. Frightened and demoralized, many
jews converted of their own accord. However, many were forcibly baptized. This
practice had been prohibited by Pope Gregory. Despite this prohibition, once
baptized, a convert had no choice but to remain a Christian.

Events of


missionary campaign of the Dominican and Franciscan orders was also important.
From the early 13th century, efforts were intensified to convert
Jews through preaching and polemical works. The first two public disputations
between Christians and Jews in Spain were held in Barcelona during the 13th
century . Both involved Jewish converts to Christianity. The Jews lost both
debates which resulted in the abandonment of Spain for Palestine by numerous Jews.

The laws
declared by Alfonso XI in Alcala in 1348 which supported earlier attempts to
restrict Jews, were alarming signs. In Spain, in contrast to the rest of
Europe, the Jews escaped blame for the plague.

Signs of Trouble

As the
Reconquest of Muslim Spain by the Christians began in the 12th and
continued throughout the 13th, large numbers of Jews fought as
soldiers in both Christian and Muslim armies. The Jews in the Christian armies,
upon conquering an area, were rewarded with land and property, just like the
Christians. Upon completion of the reconquest (apart from Granada), Jewish
culture was beginning to flourish. There was a renaissance of the Hebrew
language which resulted in the development of a secular literature of texts
that were added to the Talmud. Spain’s Jewish scholars became the most prominent
on earth. Jewish and Christian communities were fully integrated. The Spanish
term ‘convivencia’  describes this
cultural interdependency. It cannot be translated directly but is said to mean
so much more than simply ‘living together’.


At the end
of the 12th century, the situation changed. The Almohad invasion of
Andalusia saw many Jews and Christians converted to Islam. Christian
immigration from France during the Almohad occupation enabled the gradual
development of Christian kingdoms in the north of Spain. Jews living in these
kingdoms saw their numbers rise as Jews migrated from Almohad-controlled


The Iberian
Peninsula could have been void of Jewish presence from as early as 711AD. Jews
were used during the Muslim invasion of North African Berber tribes to garrison
captured cities. Spain quickly became an important political and cultural
centre due to the influx of Jews and Muslims from Islamic kingdoms.  After the Muslims established an independent
caliphate at Cordoba, there was a cultural renaissance that the Jews played an
important role in. Jews and Muslims interacted with minimal tension.

Spain has
been home to Jewish people longer than any other country. This includes ancient
Palestine, the Jewish homeland. There is definite proof of Jewish settlement
dating back as far as 300 C.E and according to historians, they’ve been there
much earlier. It must be said that written sources from that time show the
interactions between Jews and Christians were cordial. This, however, was
affected when Visigoths set up their theocratic government. The Visigoths
converted to Catholicism. Following the coversion they began to force upon Jews
severe restrictions aimed at their compulsory baptism.

Introduction to Jews in Spain

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