Israel History

The third place that the Spanish Jews and Marranos attempted to escape to was the Land of Israel. Even though very few Spanish Jews went to Israel, a few hundred families did. It is possible to trace the beginnings of a stronger Jewish presence in the Land of Israel, a presence that has constantly grown since that time until our times, to the Spanish expulsion.

The founder of the Jewish community in Jerusalem was the renowned Rabbi Ovadiah of Bartenura, the man who penned the seminal commentary to the Mishnah still used by everyone who studies it today. He was a Spanish Jew who went to Italy, to the town of Bartenura and then to Jerusalem. He was the rabbi there and set up the Sephardic community. The second town that the Spanish Jews came to in the Land of Israel was Safed (Tzfas), situated in the hills not far from the Sea of Galilee. It is one of the four holy cities in the Land of Israel, according Kabbalistic tradition (Jewish mysticism). The others are Jerusalem, Hebron and Tiberius.

As elsewhere, the Marranos came to Israel with the Spanish exiles. In the rabbinic literature of the times one can see over and over again the challenges that the presence of the Marranos brought with them. It was at this time that, in order to differentiate themselves from the Marranos, that the Sephardim adopted a suffix to their name, the Hebrew letters samech and tet (“S” and “T” sounds respectively), which stood for Sephardi tahor, “pure Spanish Jew.” This suffix did not only serve to differentiate them from Ashkenazic Jews but from the Marranos. It was a statement saying in effect, “In this family, there were no Marranos.”

Spanish Jews fled to many parts of the world, creating Sephardic communities in such far-flung places as Palestine, Greece, Amsterdam, the Caribbean and North and South America. To this day, descendants of those expelled Jews still speak Judeo-Spanish, or Ladino, 15th-century Spanish with traces of the local languages of the countries in which they settled.