History... From the Inquisition to Exile

Our platform is engaged in the story of Sefarad from inception through the captivating "Golden Age" era; followed by the horrors of the pogroms and Inquisition, leading to the expulsions and finally exile. We will catalogue the history of the countries the exiled traversed with a detailed, comprehensive presentation, arranged By Period, By Events, By People and By Region.

This History Section is dedicated to the expulsion and exile of the Jews, conversos and the Crypto-Jews (Bnei Anusim), following in their footsteps as they make their way across the globe in search of new homes where they settled and prospered. The forced conversion of a quarter-million Jews in Spain was, in spiritual terms, a Holocaust never equaled in the long exile of the Jewish people. Even under the worst of circumstances of assimilation it never matched the finality of conversion.

At the heart of the tragedy were the Crypto-Jews. These were Jews who had officially converted to Christianity but saw themselves as Jews and practiced Judaism in secret as much as they could. Some conversos did not leave Spain and became full-fledged Christians within 50-60 years. Even though Jewish customs were preserved in their homes, sometimes even for centuries - e.g. lighting candles on Friday night or eating unleavened bread with the onset of spring - it was treated by later generations as nothing more than a mysterious family tradition. As far as religion was concerned, they were Catholic.

The Exodus into Exile

When the expulsion order in Spain went into effect in 1492, many Jews fled across the border into Portugal. Five years later in 1497 Manuel I, king of Portugal, issued a decree also expelling the Jews. This act was a precondition by Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand II the ruling monarchs of Spain to allow Manuel to marry their daughter. Understanding the damage such an expulsion would have on Portugal's economy and its maritime expansion, the king devised a devious plan to eliminate Judaism and yet to retain the Jews. He ordered the Jews to Lisbon, promising them ships into exile, but when they arrived, they were forced to convert to Christianity. The Portuguese Inquisition was established 40 years later in 1536.

Attempting to evade the Inquisition, many Portuguese conversos and Crypto-Jews fled to Amsterdam and Salonika and other places across the Old and New worlds. Some made their way to the Americas and after settling in Brazil for a short period they arrived in New Amsterdam (New York) becoming the first Jewish settlers in the United States.

Crypto-Jews from the Iberian Peninsula had difficulties mingling with their fellow Jews. Even though the rabbis of times had decreed that conversos be accepted and taken back into the community, Jews outside of Spain had very little sympathy for the conversos. For many generations, people would not even marry into their families or treat them as Jewish — mostly out of resentment that when the moment of truth came, they opted to convert rather than take upon themselves the privation of exile. As a result, many conversos formed their own communities and remained isolated. Either way, the reaction among the Jewish people was extremely negative toward the converso community.


Exile and Resettlement of Jews, Conversos and Crypto-Jews

The primary stated purpose for the exile was to eliminate their influence on Spain's large converso population and ensure they did not revert to Judaism (some suggest the main reason was to obtain the Jewish wealth). Over half of Spain's Jews had converted because of the religious persecution and pogroms which occurred in 1391 and as such were not subject to the Alhambra Decree edict issued on 31 March 1492, by the joint Catholic Monarchs of Spain ordering the expulsion of practicing Jews from the Crowns of Castile and Aragon and its territories and possessions by 31 July of that year. As a result of the Alhambra Decree and persecution in prior years, over 200,000 Jews converted to Catholicism and between 40,000 and 100,000 were expelled. Below is the story of the Exile.

Time Heals Wounds

Holland became a world power with the help of Jewish drive and ingenuity. This was mainly the result of the Spanish Jews who had fled Spain, and then the converos who followed afterward. Many of the conversos resumed their observance and practice of Judaism openly.

Interestingly, among the things Jews brought to Amsterdam was religious tolerance. In the ancient library next to the Spanish-Portuguese library, in the rotunda, is a membership list from the 1600s. Next to each name is a code noting who was a converso. However, gradually after 50-60 years the code disappears. Everyone integrated.

We see from that how very hard it was for those Jews who gave up everything in Spain to act with complete equanimity toward those Jews who had caved into the pressure and converted. Nevertheless, time would heal the wounds.