Monday, 2 January 2017

Religious Persecution - Spain and Portugal Making Amends

Expulsion of Jews from Spain and Portugal following the Alhambra Decree, 1492.

Brexit vote sparks rush of British Jews seeking Portuguese passports | World news | The Guardian

News that large numbers of British Sephardic Jews are applying for Portuguese and Spanish citizenship in order to retain their citizenship of the European Union when Britain leaves has prompted me to look a little deeper into the historic background to this story.

Study of Spanish history is well worthwhile if you want to see how religion brutalises people and poisons communal relations. It's not the only example, of course, as examples can be found in the history of just about every European country but, outside the Balkans, Islam was not normally involved; inter-communal strife and bloodshed normally being confined to anti-Semitic Christians or different warring Christian sects. Spain managed all the blood-letting, persecution and hate perfectly well without Protestantism to provide an excuse.

The Spanish kingdoms, 1030 CE

Sephardic Jews are mostly the descendants of Jews who migrated from Palestine across North Africa and into the Iberian Peninsula when it became part of the Islamic world. All but the very north of the Iberian Peninsula became al-Andalus - from which the name Andalusia comes. Islam briefly spread across the Pyrenees into southern France as far as the Rhone, but Christianity managed to cling on to the extreme north of Spain.

They were probably not the first Jews to settle on Spain; there is a tradition that many Jews settled there during Roman times and even before as part of the diaspora following the Babylonian conquest of Judea and Israel - the 'Babylonian captivity'. Traditionally also, Sephardic Jews regard themselves as coming from Jerusalem rather than the surrounding towns and villages.

In general, although there had been restrictions on them, Jews had been well-tolerated and had played an important part in Andalusian culture. Consequently, the Jewish community in Moorish Spain had been one of the largest and most prosperous in the world. Relatively remote from the main centres of Islamic power in Baghdad and Damascus, and to a lesser extent still, Mecca and Medina, Islam in al-Andalus tended to be independent and developed it's own distinctive culture and styles of architecture, art and music. It also had it's own centres of learning at Toledo, Cordoba and Granada in which Jews played a major part.

The Caliph of the independent Caliphate of Cordoba, for example, has as his special adviser and councillor Hasdai ibn Shaprut who has been credited with being largely responsible for the prosperity of the Caliphate (the 'Golden Age'). Under his influence Cordoba became a major centre of learning. He also became a significant player in international diplomacy, corresponding with the new converted to Judaism, the King of Kazaria (between the Caspian Sea and the Black Sea north of the Caucasus Mountains). He also established an agreement with Byzantium guaranteeing the safety of Christians in al-Andalus in return for a guarantee of the safety of Jews in Byzantium.

Another example was that of Samuel Ha-Nagid ibn Nagrela (993–1056) who acted as vizier to the king of Grenada for some thirty years and became one of only two Jews to command Muslim armies; the other being his son Joseph. But the position of Jews had always been precarious and in 1066 a riot by Muslims in Grenada resulted in the 'Grenada Massacre' in which Samuel Ha-Nagid ibn Nagrela's son and successor, Joseph ibn Naghrela, was murdered along with about 4000 other Grenada Jews from some 1500 families. These attacks had become increasingly common under the influence of fundamentalist, zealous Islamic sects from North Africa which had migrated into al-Andalus and also as al-Andalus declined in prosperity.

The Spanish kingdoms, 1210 CE

This decline resulted in the conquest of Toledo by Spanish Christians from the north in 1085. In response to this threat, the Muslims of Seville appealed to the al-Moravid Muslims of North Africa for support. The al-Moravids abhorred the liberality of Islamic al-Andalus, including the influence and positions of authority over Muslims held by some non-Muslims, and instigated reforms which included large-scale forced conversions of Jews (and Christians). But this initial zeal was moderated to some extent as 'liberal' al-Andalus culture was absorbed by the al-Moravid immigrants, and the persecution of Jews was relaxed.

It returned again with a vengeance as an even more fundamentalist North African Islamic sect, the al-Mohads, replaced the al-Moravids and eventually dominated the whole of al-Andalus. Jews and Christians were expelled from Morocco and Islamic Spain, the alternative being forced conversion or death. Many of them moved north into the Catholic Christian areas where they proved especially useful because of their knowledge of the culture and language of al-Andalus. The relative safety in the Christian areas, despite the overt anti-Semitism, was the lesser of two evils.

It did not last and, despite the persecutions waxing and waning, and the influence of prominent Jews waxing and waning with them, life for Jews in Christian Spain was scarcely more tolerable than it had been in al-Mohad-run al-Anadalus, as this account from the Jewish Encyclopedia shows:

The execution of Joseph Pichon and the inflammatory speeches and sermons delivered in Seville by Archdeacon Ferrand Martinez, the pious Queen Leonora's confessor, soon raised the hatred of the populace to the highest pitch. The feeble King John I, in spite of the endeavors of his physician Moses ibn Ẓarẓal to prolong his life, died at Alcalá de Henares on October 9, 1390, and was succeeded by his eleven-year-old son. The council-regent appointed by the king in his testament, consisting of prelates, grandees, and six citizens from Burgos, Toledo, León, Seville, Córdoba, and Murcia, was powerless; every vestige of respect for law and justice had disappeared. Ferrand Martínez, although deprived of his office, continued, in spite of numerous warnings, to incite the public against the Jews, and encourage it to acts of violence. As early as January, 1391, the prominent Jews who were assembled in Madrid received information that riots were threatening in Seville and Córdoba. A revolt broke out in Seville in 1391. Juan Alfonso de Guzmán, Count of Niebla and governor of the city, and his relative, the "alguazil mayor" Alvar Pérez de Guzmán, had ordered, on Ash Wednesday, March 15, the arrest and public whipping of two of the mob-leaders. The fanatical mob, still further exasperated thereby, murdered and robbed several Jews and threatened the Guzmáns with death. In vain did the regency issue prompt orders; Ferrand Martínez continued unhindered his inflammatory appeals to the rabble to kill the Jews or baptize them. On June 6 the mob attacked the Juderia in Seville from all sides and killed 4,000 Jews; the rest submitted to baptism as the only means of escaping death.

At this time Seville is said to have contained 7,000 Jewish families. Of the three large synagogues existing in the city two were transformed into churches. In all the towns throughout the archbishopric, as in Alcalá de Guadeira, Écija, Cazalla, and in Fregenal, the Jews were robbed and slain. In Córdoba this butchery was repeated in a horrible manner; the entire Judería was burned down; factories and warehouses were destroyed by the flames. Before the authorities could come to the aid of the defenseless people, every one of them — children, young women, old men — had been ruthlessly slain; 2,000 corpses lay in heaps in the streets, in the houses, and in the wrecked synagogues.

From Cordova the spirit of murder spread to Jaén. A horrible butchery took place in Toledo on June 20. Among the many martyrs were the descendants of the famous Toledan rabbi Asher ben Jehiel. Most of the Castilian communities suffered from the persecution; nor were the Jews of Aragon, Catalonia, or Majorca spared. On July 9, an outbreak occurred in Valencia. More than 200 persons were killed, and most of the Jews of that city were baptized by the friar Vicente Ferrer, whose presence in the city was probably not accidental. The only community remaining in the former kingdom of Valencia was that of Murviedro. On Aug. 2 the wave of murder visited Palma, in Majorca; 300 Jews were killed, and 800 found refuge in the fort, from which, with the permission of the governor of the island, and under cover of night, they sailed to North Africa; many submitted to baptism. Three days later, on Saturday, August 5, a riot began in Barcelona. On the first day, 100 Jews were killed, while several hundred found refuge in the new fort; on the following day the mob invaded the Juderia and began pillaging. The authorities did all in their power to protect the Jews, but the mob attacked them and freed those of its leaders who had been imprisoned. On Aug. 8 the citadel was stormed, and more than 300 Jews were murdered, among the slain being the only son of Ḥasdai Crescas. The riot raged in Barcelona until Aug. 10, and many Jews (though not 11,000 as claimed by some authorities) were baptized. On the last-named day began the attack upon the Juderia in Girona; several Jews were robbed and killed; many sought safety in flight and a few in baptism.

The last town visited was Lérida (August 13). The Jews of this city vainly sought protection in the Alcázar; 75 were slain, and the rest were baptized; the latter transformed their synagogue into a church, in which they worshiped as Marranos.

The year 1391 forms a turning-point in the history of the Spanish Jews. The persecution was the immediate forerunner of the Inquisition, which, ninety years later, was introduced as a means of watching heresy and converted Jews. The number of those who had embraced Catholicism, in order to escape death, was very large - over half of Spain's Jews according to Joseph Pérez, 200,000 converts with only 100,000 openly practicing Jews remaining by 1410.; Jews of Baena, Montoro, Baeza, Úbeda, Andújar, Talavera, Maqueda, Huete, and Molina, and especially of Zaragoza, Barbastro, Calatayud, Huesca, and Manresa, had submitted to baptism. Among those baptized were several wealthy men and scholars who scoffed at their former coreligionists; some even, as Solomon ha-Levi, or Paul de Burgos (called also Paul de Santa Maria), and Joshua Lorqui, or Gerónimo de Santa Fe, became the bitterest enemies and persecutors of their former brethren.

After the bloody excesses of 1391 the popular hatred of the Jews continued unabated. The Cortes of Madrid and that of Valladolid (1405) mainly busied themselves with complaints against the Jews, so that Henry III found it necessary to prohibit the latter from practising usury and to limit the commercial intercourse between Jews and Catholics; he also reduced by one-half the claims held by Jewish creditors against Catholics. Indeed, the feeble and suffering king, the son of Leonora, who hated the Jews so deeply that she even refused to accept their money, showed no feelings of friendship toward them. Though on account of the taxes of which he was thereby deprived he regretted that many Jews had left the country and settled in Málaga, Almería, and Granada, where they were well treated by the Moors, and though shortly before his death he inflicted a fine of 24,000 doubloons on the city of Córdoba because of a riot that had taken place there (1406), during which the Jews had been plundered and many of them murdered, he prohibited the Jews from attiring themselves in the same manner as other Spaniards, and he insisted strictly on the wearing of the badge by those who had not been baptized.

The Spanish kingdoms, 1360 CE

In 1480 the Pope authorised the establishment of the Spanish Inquisition, partly to watch over all the forcibly converted Jews to ensure none of them were secretly practising their former faith. Once the last Muslim strongholds in the south had been finally overcome in 1492, persecution of Jews by Christians could be continued with renewed vigour. With equally anti-Semitic Muslims in North Africa they had little choice but to move up into France and the Low Countries.

Flushed with victory and as a final attempt to ethnically cleanse their newly-united Spanish conquests, Ferdinand and Isabella issues the Edict of Expulsion, also known as the Alhambra Decree, which formally expelled all Jews from the Iberian Peninsula. They were permitted to take their property with them except for gold, silver and money. Issued on 31st May, 1492, Jews were given until the last day of July that year to leave. The excuse was the relapse of so many 'conversos' under the influence of practising Jews.

Bario Santa Cruz, the old Jewish Quarter in Seville.
Some streets are so narrow you need to walk in single file.
It is said that several Sephardic Jewish families living in the Netherlands, for example, still hold onto a key to a house in the Santa Cruz area of Seville. Santa Cruz stands in testimony today to the ethnic cleansing by the conquering Christians, as does the near-by Seville Cathedral which is a barely-disguised converted mosque, now full of Catholic triumphalism. The ugly brutalism of the Christian church built inside the Alhambra Palace on the hills overlooking Grenada is another such symbol.

It is also said that King Ferdinand was minded to accept a payment of 600,000 crowns to revoke the Edict of Expulsion but was persuaded against doing so by the personal intervention of Torquemada, grand inquisitor of the Inquisition who likened him to Judas.

Estimates vary but the number of Jews expelled and who subsequently never returned is put at some 50,000 to 100,000.

It is the descendants of these and other expelled Jews who have now been offered Spanish or Portuguese citizenship if they can prove their decent. The attractiveness of this offer has been further enhanced by the UK Brexit vote to retain citizenship of an EU country. The number of applications from UK Jews for Portuguese citizenship for example has gone up from 5 before the Brexit vote, to over 400.

Ireland too has seen a flood of applications for Irish citizenship from the descendants of the Irish diaspora living in Britain.

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