Spain History

Jewish history in Spain goes back to the time of the Romans (2nd Century C.E.) and by the Middle Ages, Spain was the center of the Jewish world in Europe. Under Moslem rule, Jewish communities flourished: Jews were highly successful in the fields of agriculture, diplomacy, the arts, philosophy, commerce and sciences such as astronomy, medicine, botany and geography. They constituted about ten percent of the population (comparable only to pre-World War II Poland) and at no other time in their history (except perhaps the present-day United States) did they hold such high official posts.

As the Christians reconquered Spain, a dark cloud gradually spread over Jewish society. Jews were increasingly subjected to religious intolerance: they were forced to live in ghettos (juderías), prohibited from practicing many professions, and were victims of pogroms and blood libels. All this culminated in the expulsion order of 1492.

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.

- Early History (205 BCE-711 CE)
- Muslim Rule - Early Golden Age (8-11th Century)
- Early Christian Rule (11-14th Century)
- Conditions Worsen (1369-1492)
- Inquisition & Expulsion
- Modern Community (1869-Present)
Early History (205 BCE-711 CE)
While the area of modern-day Spain (formerly a collection of kingdoms which included Castile, Aragon, and Catalonia) was still controlled by the Holy Roman Empire, the Catholic Church convened at the Council of Elvira where they issued 80 canonic decisions, many of which were intended to ostracize the Jews from the general Spanish community. Canon 49, for example, prohibited Jews from blessing their crops, and Canon 50 refused communion to any cleric or layperson that ate with a Jew.

During the early 5th century, the Visigoths captured the Iberian Peninsula from Roman rule. While initially anti-Christian, the Visigoths later converted to Christianity and adopted many of the previous laws that existed during Roman rule.

Under the rein of Toledo III, children of mixed marriages were forcibly baptized and Jews were barred from holding public office. The situation got progressively worse and, in 613 CE, the Jews were ordered to convert to Christianity or face expulsion. Though many Jews chose to leave rather than convert, a large number of them still practiced Judaism in secret, a tradition that survivedfor centuries.

In 633, the Fourth Council of Toledo, convened to address the problem of crypto-Judaism and Marranos (Jews who converted to Christianity to escape persecution, yet observed Jewish law in private). While opposing compulsory baptism, the Council decided that if a professed Christian was determined to be a practicing Jew, his or her children were to be taken away and raised in monasteries or trusted Christian households.

Muslim Rule - Early Golden Age (8th - 11th Century)
In the 8th century, the Berber Muslims (Moors) conquered nearly all the Iberian Peninsula. Under Muslim rule, Spain flourished, and Jews and Christians were granted the protected status of dhimmi. Though this still did not afford them equal rights with Muslims, it did usher in the beginning of the "Golden Age" of Spain when Jews rose to great prominence in society, business, and government. This period also witnessed a resurgence of Hebrew poetry and literature from a traditional and liturgical language to a living language able to be used to describe everyday life.

The conditions in Spain improved so much under Muslim rule that Jews from across Europe came to live in Spain during this Jewish renaissance. Here they flourished in business and in the fields of astronomy, philosophy, math, science, medicine, and religious study. The same period also witnessed a resurgence of Hebrew poetry and literature from a traditional and liturgical language to a living language able to be used to describe everyday life. Among the early Hebraists of the time were Yehudah HaLevi who became known as one of the first great Hebrew poets, and Menahem ben Saruq who compiled the first ever Hebrew dictionary.

The intellectual achievements of the Sephardim (Spanish Jews) enriched the lives of non-Jews as well. In addition to contributions of original work, the Sephardim translated Greek and Arabic texts, which proved instrumental in bringing the fields of science and philosophy, much of the basis of Renaissance learning, to the rest of Europe.

In the early 11th century, centralized authority based at Cordoba broke down following the Berber invasion and the ousting of the Umayyads. Rather than having a stifling effect, the disintegration of the caliphate expanded the opportunities to Jewish and other professionals. The services of Jewish scientists, doctors, traders, poets, and scholars were generally valued by the Christian as well as Muslim rulers of regional centers, especially as recently conquered towns were put back in order.

Yet, despite the Jews' success and prosperity under Muslim rule, the Golden Age of Spain began to decline as the Muslims began to battle the Christians for control of the Iberian Peninsula and Spanish kingdoms in 722. The decline of Muslim authority was matched with a rise in anti-Semitic activity. In 1066, a Muslim mob stormed the royal palace in Granada, crucified Jewish vizier Joseph ibn Naghrela and massacred most of the Jewish population of the city. Accounts of the Granada Massacre state that more than 1,500 Jewish families, numbering 4,000 persons, were murdered in just one day. The conditions of Jews living on the Iberian Peninsula (Spain and Portugal) steadily began to worsen again. As a result, many people started fleeing the Iberian Peninsula to neighboring nations. Among those who fled were the famed bible commentators Abraham Ibn Ezra and Rabbi Yosef Karo (author of the Aruch), as well as the families of Maimonides and philosopher Baruch Spinoza. (Christopher Columbus is also suspected by many to have been a Marrano, though there exists no conclusive evidence to substantiate this claim.)

The centuries-long battle between Christians and Muslims, (known as the Reconquista), divided neighboring regions in the Iberian Peninsula until the Christians finally took full control of the entire peninsula in 1492. Though initially as hostile to the Jewish population as the Muslim rulers had become, the Christians soon realized that the Jews could prove a strong ally and enlisted many of them in their war effort. The Christians relied on the Jews for assistance in fighting the Muslim rulers since the Jews were familiar with the local language and customs. Collaboration between the Jews and Christians brought the Jews increased persecution from Muslim rulers, but full autonomy in Christian controlled regions.

Early Christian Rule (11-14th Century)
The early years of Christian rule over parts of Spain seemed quite promising for the Spanish Jews. Alfonso VI, the conqueror of Toledo (1085), was tolerant and benevolent in his attitude toward them, for which he won the praise of Pope Alexander II. Soon after coming to power, Alfonso VI offered the Jews full equality with Christians and even the rights offered to the nobility to estrange the wealthy and industrious Jews from the Moors. Jews prospered under Alfonso and by 1098, nearly 15,000 Jews were living in Toledo, a city of 50,000.

To show their gratitude to the king for the rights granted them, the Jews willingly placed themselves at his and the country’s service. At one point, Alfonso’s army contained 40,000 Jews, who were distinguished from the other combatants by their black-and-yellow turbans. (So honored and important were the Jews to the Spanish army that the Spanish chose not to initiate the battle of Zallaka until after the Sabbath had passed). The king’s favoritism toward the Jews became so pronounced that Pope Gregory VII warned him not to permit Jews to rule over Christians and roused the hatred and envy of the latter.

After the Christian loss at the Battle of Ucles (1108), an anti-Semitic riot broke out in Toledo; many Jews were slain, and their houses and synagogues burned. Alfonso intended to punish the murderers and incendiaries, but died before he could carry out his intention (1109). After his death the inhabitants of Carrion slaughtered the local Jews, others were imprisoned and their houses pillaged.

In the beginning of his reign, Alfonso VII (1111) curtailed the rights and liberties that his father granted the Jews. He ordered that neither a Jew nor a convert may exercise legal authority over Christians, and he held the Jews responsible for the collection of the royal taxes. Soon, however, he became friendlier, confirming the Jews in all their former privileges and even granting them additional ones, by which they were placed in parity with Christians. Judah ben Joseph ibn Ezra had considerable influence with the king, and after the conquest of Calatrava (1147), the king placed Judah in command of one of his fortresses, later making him his court chamberlain.

Under the reign of Alfonso VIII, the Jews gained still greater influence, aided, doubtless, by the king’s love of the beautiful Jewess Rachel Fermosa of Toledo. When the king was defeated at the battle of Alarcos, many attributed the defeat to the king’s love affair with Fermosa, and the nobility retaliated by murdering her and her relatives in Toledo.

Despite the reclaimed status of the Jews in Spain, their condition soon began to worsen once again as the Crusaders unleashed another round of anti-Semitic riots in Toledo (1212), robbing and butchering Jews across the nation. During the 13th century, Spanish Jews like the Jews of France, were required to distinguish themselves from Christians by wearing a yellow badge on their clothing; this order was issued to keep them from associating with Christians, although the reason given was that it was ordered for their own safety.

During this time, the clergy’s endeavors directed against the Jews became increasingly pronounced as well. A papal bull issued by Pope Innocent IV in April 1250 further worsened the situation of the Jews in Spain by prohibiting Jews from building new synagogues without special permission, outlawing proselytizing by pain of death, and forbidding most forms of contact between Jews and Christians. According to the decree, Jews were also forbidden to appear in public on Good Friday. The Jews of Spain were also forced to live as a separate political body in the Juderias (Jewish ghettos).

Although the Spanish Jews engaged in many branches of human endeavor—agriculture, viticulture, industry, commerce, and the various handicrafts—it was the money business that procured them their wealth and influence. Kings and prelates, noblemen and farmers, all needed money, and could obtain it only from the Jews, who were forced to act as bailiffs, tax-farmers, or tax-collectors since Christians were forbidden from charging each other interest rates. Becuase of their acquired wealth, as well as government anti-Semitism, Jews were also forced to pay many additional and exorbitant taxes to the king.

Disputation of Barcelona

Though their holy texts were often burned by royal decree, and many Jews were forced to convert to Christianity, during the rule of King James of Aragon (a Christian-ruled province of Spain) the Spanish monarchy started to take an interest in Jewish philosophy and religion, if only so that they could better understand Jews and convince them to convert. In 1263, King James convened a special council of Dominican (Christian) and Jewish clergymen to debate three key theological issues: whether the Messiah had already appeared, whether the Messiah was divine or human, and which religion was the true faith. Nachmanides (Rabbi Moshe ben Nahman Gerondi, Ramban), a Jewish theologian and philosopher was called upon to represent the Jews; while Friar Pablo Christiani, a Jew who later converted to Christianity, represented the Church.

The disputation lasted four days and drew the attention of the entire Jewish community. Though the King granted Nachmanides the freedom to speak freely, the Jewish community feared that any statement that offended the King would lead to increased persecution. As the disputation turned in favor of Nachmanides the Jews of Barcelona entreated him to discontinue; but the King, whom Nachmanides had acquainted with the apprehensions of the Jews, desired him to proceed. At the end of disputation, King James awarded Nachmanides a prize and declared that never before had he heard “an unjust cause so nobly defended.” Despite the King’s declaration, the Dominicans still claimed victory, which led Nachmanides to publish a transcript of the debate to prove his case. From this publication, Christiani selected certain passages which he construed as blasphemies against Christianity and denounced to his general Raymond de Penyafort. A capital charge was then instituted, and a formal complaint against the work and its author was lodged with the King. King James mistrusted the Dominican court and called an extraordinary commission, ordering the proceedings to be conducted in his presence. Nachmanides admitted that he had stated many things against Christianity, but he had written nothing which he had not used in his disputation in the presence of the King, who had granted him freedom of speech.

The justice of his defense was recognized by the King and the commission, but to satisfy the Dominicans, Nachmanides was sentenced to exile for two years and his pamphlet was condemned to be burned. The Dominicans, however, found this punishment too mild and, through Pope Clement IV, they succeeded in turning the two years exile into perpetual banishment. Nachmanides left Aragon never to return again and, in 1267, he settled in the Israel. There he founded the oldest active synagogue in the Old City of Jerusalem, the Ramban Synagogue.

The Reign of Pedro I

During the reign of Pedro I (1350-1369), the quality of Jewish life in Spain began to improve and the King became a well-known friend to the Jews. From the commencement of his reign, Pedro so surrounded himself with Jews that his enemies spoke derisively of his royal court as “a Jewish court.” In 1357, Samuel Levi financed the construction of the Sinagoga del Transito, which served as the center of Todelo's Jewish life. It is also believed that during this time kosher slaughterhouses and butchershops sprang up along the main streets of Toledo.

Soon, however a civil war erupted and a rival army, led by Pedro I’s half-brother Henry II, attacked the Jews. During the war, part of the Juderia of Toledo was plundered and about 12,000 Jews were murdered without distinction of age or sex. The mob did not, however, succeed in overrunning the Juderia proper, where the Jews, reinforced by a number of Toledan noblemen, defended themselves bravely.

The friendlier Pedro was to the Jews and the more he protected them, the more antagonistic his half-brother became. Later, when Henry II invaded Castile in 1360, he robbed and butchered the Jews living in Miranda de Ebro and Najera.

Yet, everywhere the Jews still remained loyal to Pedro and fought bravely in his army. In return, Pedro I showed his good will toward them, and called upon the King of Granada to also protect the Jews. Nevertheless, the Jews suffered greatly. Villadiego (whose Jewish community numbered many scholars), Aguilar, and many other towns were destroyed. The inhabitants of Valladolid, who paid homage to Henry, robbed the Jews, destroyed their houses and synagogues and tore their Torah scrolls. Paredes, Palencia, and several other communities met with a similar fate, and 300 Jewish families from Jaen were taken prisoners to Granada. Pedro was eventually defeated and succeeded by Henry de Trastamara.

Conditions Worsen (1369-1492)
When Henry de Trastamara ascended the throne as Henry II (1369), the Jews of Spain witnessed the dawn of a new era of suffering and persecution. Prolonged warfare devastated the land, and the people became accustomed to lawlessness. The Jews were reduced to extreme poverty and later expelled.

In addition, Henry II decreed that Jews:

1) Be kept far from palaces;
2) Were forbidden to hold public office;
3) Must live separate from Christians;
4) Should not wear costly garments nor ride on mules;
5) Must wear distinct badges to indicate that they were Jewish;
6) Were barred from adapting Christian names;
7) Were forbidden to carry arms and sell weapons.

Despite his aversion for the Jews, Henry could not dispense with their services. He employed wealthy Jews—Samuel Abravanel and others—as financial councilors and tax collectors. He also did not prevent them from holding religious disputations or deny them the right to conduct their own court proceedings.

Massacre of 1391

Under the rule of John I (1379-1390), things grew even worse for the Jewish community of Spain. Jewish courts were forbidden from calling for capital punishment, Jews were forced to change prayers deemed offensive to the Church, and people were forbidden to convert to Judaism on pain of becoming property of the State. Anti-Semitic violence also increased during this period, and Jews were often beaten or even killed in the streets. A revolt broke out in Seville after the death of King John I in 1390, leading to a period of disorder which greatly affected the Jewish Communities of Spain in the coming years. On Ash Wednesday 1391, Ferrand Martinez, the Archdeacon of Ecija, urged Christians to kill or baptize the Jews of Spain. On June 6, the mob attacked the Juderia in Seville from all sides and murdered 4,000 Jews; the rest submitted to baptism as the only means of escaping death. The riots then spread across the countryside destroying many synagogues and murdering thousands of Jews in the streets. During the months-long riots, the Cordova Juderia was burned down and over 5,000 Jews ruthlessly murdered regardless of age or sex. Again, more Jews converted as the only way to escape death.

Soon after, a series of laws were passed to reduce the Jews to poverty and further humiliate them. Under these laws, the Jews were ordered to:

1) Live by themselves in enclosed Juderias;
2) Banned from practicing medicine, surgery, or chemistry;
3) Banned from selling commodities such as bread, wine, flour, meat, etc.;
4) Banned from engaging in handicrafts or trades of any kind;
5) Forbidden to hire Christian servants, farm hands, lamplighters, or gravediggers;
6) Banned from eating drinking, bathing, holding intimate conversation with, visiting, or giving presents to Christians;
7) Banned from holding public offices or acting as money-brokers or agents;
8) Christian women, married or unmarried, were forbidden to enter the Juderia either by day or by night;
9) Allowed no self-jurisdiction whatever, nor might they, without royal permission, levy taxes for communal purposes;
10) Forbidden to assume the title of “Don”;
11) Forbidden to carry arms;
12) Forbidden to trim beard or hair;
13) Jewesses were required to wear plain, long garments of coarse material reaching to the feet, and Jews were forbidden to wear garments made of fine material;
14) On pain of loss of property and even of slavery, Jews were forbidden to leave the country, and any grandee or knight who protected or sheltered a fugitive Jew was punished with a fine of 150,000 maravedís for the first offense.

These laws were strictly enforced, and calculated to compel the Jews to embrace Christianity.

Though these laws were targeted against the Jews, with them suffered the entire kingdom of Spain. Commerce and industry were at a standstill, the soil was left uncultivated, and the finances disturbed. In Aragon entire communities—as those of Barcelona, Lerida, and Valencia—were destroyed, and many had lost more than half of their members and were reduced to poverty.

After the persecutions of 1391, many Jews converted, and still thousands more continued to practice Judaism in secret (these people were known as Marranos). On account of their talent and wealth, and through intermarriage with noble families, the converts and Marranos gained considerable influence and filled important government offices. To restore commerce and industry, Queen Maria, consort of Alfonso V and temporary regent, endeavored to draw Jews to the country by offering them rights and privileges while making emigration difficult by imposing higher taxes.

Inquisition & Expulsion
By the mid-15th century, hatred toward the Neo-Christians exceeded that toward the professed Jews. Later, in 1413, at the behest of Pope Benedict XIII, King Ferdinand I of Aragon called for another religious disputation similar to that held two centuries earlier. Yet, unlike the disputation in which Nachmanides successfully defended the Jews of Spain, the Disputation of Tortosa was structured in such a way that it always granted the final word to the Church. The King also was not as favorable to the Jews, and the representatives of the Jewish community less eloquent and convincing as Nachmanides had been. Jews were subsequently forcibly converted and rabbinic texts were confiscated and burned.

The nobles of Spain later found that they had only increased their difficulties by urging the conversion of the Jews, who remained as devout in their new faith as they had been in the old, and gradually began to monopolize many of the offices of state, especially those connected with tax-farming. In 1465, a “concordia” was imposed upon Henry IV of Castile, reviving all the former anti-Jewish regulations. (So threatening did the prospects of the Jews become that in 1473 they offered to buy Gibraltar from the king; the offer was refused.) As soon as the Catholic monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella ascended their thrones (1479 and 1474, respectively), steps were taken to segregate the Jews both from the “conversos” and from their fellow countrymen. Though both monarchs were surrounded by Neo-Christians, such as Pedro de Caballeria and Luis de Santangel, and though Ferdinand was the grandson of a Jew, he showed the greatest intolerance to Jews, whether converted or otherwise.

Anti-Semitism in Spain peaked during the rule of Ferdinand and Isabella as they instituted the Spanish Inquisition, a Church sponsored investigation of anyone suspected of being a crypto-Jew (Marrano). On November 1, 1478, Pope Sixtus IV published the bull Exigit Sinceras Devotionis Affectus, through which the Inquisition was established in the Kingdom of Castile. During this period, thousands of Marranos (Jews who had converted to Christianity but still practiced Judaism in secret) were interrogated and executed. At first, the activity of the Inquisition was limited to the dioceses of Seville and Cordoba, where Alonso de Hojeda had detected the center of Marrano activity. From there, the Inquisition grew rapidly in the Kingdom of Castile. By 1492, tribunals existed in eight Castilian cities: Ávila, Córdoba, Jaén, Medina del Campo, Segovia, Sigüenza, Toledo and Valladolid. The first auto de fe (reading of a decree against someone found to be a heretic, followed by a prayer session and public procession) was celebrated in Seville on February 6, 1481 — six people were burned alive.

Despite the horrors of the Inquisition, the cities of Aragón continued resisting, and even saw periods of revolt, such as in Teruel from 1484 to 1485. However, the murder of inquisidor Pedro Arbués in Zaragoza on September 15, 1485, caused public opinion to turn against the Marranos in favor of the Inquisition. The Inquisition was extremely active between 1480 and 1530, during which time about 2,000 Jews were executed. Many Spanish Jews immigrated to Portugal (from where they were expelled in 14, established flourishing communities in many cities of Europe, North Africa, and the Ottoman Empire.

Approximately 40,000 Jews converted to Christianity to escape death and expulsion. These conversos were the principal concern of the Inquisition; continuing to practice Judaism put them at risk of denunciation and trial. (During the 18th century the number of conversos accused by the Inquisition decreased significantly. Manuel Santiago Vivar, who was tried in Cordob in 1818, was the last person tried for being a crypto-Jew.)

Expulsion of 1492

Finally, Ferdinand and Isabella issued the Alhambra Decree in 1492, which officially called for all Jews, regardless of age, to leave the kingdom by the last day of July (one day before Tisha B’Av). It is estimated that more than 235,000 Jews lived in Spain before the inquisition. Of these, approximately 165,000 immigrated to neighboring co, Egypt, France, and the Americas), 50,000 converted to Christianity, and 20,000 died en route to a new location.

Some claim that Don Isaac Abravanel, who had previously ransomed 480 Jewish Moriscos of Malaga from the Catholic monarchs by a payment of 20,000 doubloons, offered Ferdinand and Isabella 600,000 crowns for. In 1497, however, Portugal also expelled its Jews. King Manuel of Portugal agreed to marry the daughter of Spain’s monarchs. One of the conditions for the marriage was the expulsion of Portugal’s Jewish community. In actuality, only eight Jews were exiled from Portugal and the rest converted, under duress, to Christianity. The Alhambra Decree was overturned in 1968.

Modern Community (1869-Present)
After hundreds of years abroad, Jews were finally permitted to return to Spain after the abolition of the Inquisition in 1834 and the creation of a new constitutional monarchy that allowed for the practice of faiths other than Catholicism in 1868, though the edict of expulsion was not repealed until 1968. (From 1868 until 1968, Jews were allowed to live in Spain as individuals, but not to practice Judaism as a community.) The Spanish Moroccan War of 1859-60 also brought many Jews to southern Spain who were fleeing Morocco. Small numbers of Jews started to arrive in Spain in the 19th century, and synagogues were eventually opened in Madrid and Barcelona. Slowly things began to improve and Spanish historians even started to take an interest in the history of Spain’s Jewish population and in the Sephardic language of Ladino (Judeo-Spanish). The government of Miguel Primo de Rivera (1923-1930) even granted the right of Spanish citizenship to Sephardim who applied before December 31, 1931.

In 1917, the Jews of Madrid numbers around 1,000 people. Most were German, Austrian-Hungarian and Turkish citizens who fled to Spain at the beginning of World War I. They inaugurated their first synagogue in a small apartment. The world economic crisis of 1929 brought additional Jews to the country.

During this period, Jews slowly began to return to Spain and take part in national affairs. During the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), many Jews from all over Europe and America volunteered to fight in support of the Spanish Second Republic. Despite the easing of tensions between the Spanish government and the Jews, synagogues in Spain remained closed.

The Holocaust

During World War II, Franco-led Spain aided the Jews by permitting 25,600 Jews to use the country as an escape route from the European theater of war, provided they “passed through leaving no trace.” Paradoxically, though Spain later cultivated relations with Arab countries, it also assisted Moroccan and Egyptian Jews who survived pogroms.

Furthermore, Spanish diplomats such as Ángel Sanz Briz and Giorgio Perlasca protected some 4,000 Jews in France and the Balkans. In 1944, Spain accepted 2,750 Jewish refugees from Hungary. Later, as the Franco regime evolved, synagogues were opened and the communities were permitted to hold services discreetly.

Contemporary Period

Today, there are approximately 12,000 Jews living in Spain, mainly of North African-Sephardic descent. The Jewish community is led by the central governing body of the Federación de Comunidades Judías de España (FCJE). Like other religious communities in Spain, FCJE has established agreements with the Spanish government, regulating the status of Jewish clergy, places of worship, teaching, marriages, holidays, tax benefits and heritage conservation. Jewish day schools have also been established in Barcelona, Madrid, and Málaga. In the 1970s, there was also an influx of Argentinian Jews, mainly Ashkenazim, escaping from the military Junta. Spain also grows kosher olives which they export to Jews around the world.

The Spanish Jewish community is one of the few Jewish communities in Western Europe that is growing in both numbers and activities. The Spanish government has made an increased effort to increase the awareness of the role that the Jews once played in Spanish life and to combat anti-Semitism.

Despite interest in Jewish culture, Jews are still not completely safe from anti-Semitism. Many Spanish-Jewish leaders note that the presence of the “new anti-Semitism” is growing. This new form uses anti-Zionism as a disguise for anti-Semitism. A 2007 survey by the Anti-Defamation League revealed that Spain had the highest percentage of anti-Semitic views out of five European countries polled: Austria, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain and Switzerland. Spain also has an estimated 70 neo-Nazi and anti-Semitic groups with nearly 10,000 members, according The Movement Against Intolerance. Additionally, in 2008, Spain’s constitutional court ruled that imprisonment for Holocaust denial is unconstitutional since it violates freedom of expression. Until this ruling, Spain’s criminal code had provided for one to two years in jail for anyone who disseminated theories or teachings that denied or justified genocide or other crimes against humanity. The new ruling makes only the justification of genocide punishable by prison. Jewish community leaders worry that the court’s decision will strengthen the activities of neo-Nazi groups.

The Jewish community is centered in Madrid with around 12,000 Jews. Barcelona also has a sizeable Jewish community of 5,000 members. In addition, Jewish congregations, including a handful of Conservative and Reform communities, can be found in cities such as Valencia, Malaga, and Marbella as well as the Spanish North African enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla. In 2007, a modern Orthodox synagogue was established in the city of Alicante on the Costa Blanca, where about 1,000 Jews reside. There are also Jewish day schools in Madrid, Barcelona and Melilla.

The Conservative congregation in Madrid, Beit El, conducts weekly Shabbat services in a small hall in an apartment building. Beit El is one of five Conservative synagogues in Spain. These congregations are popular because many of Spain’s more recent immigrants follow the Ashkenazi tradition and do not observe the Sephardi traditions of the main Orthodox community. There is also an independent Reform congregation in Madrid but a large number of Jews remain unaffiliated.

In 1995, the Spanish government created the "Route of the Sephardim," a network of historical tours aimed to help reclaim the country's Jewish history while also generating tourism. The Route has grown to include 21 cities throughout the country.

In the small community that still exists in Toledo, a museum dedicated to the Sephardic Jewish community is now housed in the ancient Sinagoga del Transito. The synagogue itself has been restored to original beauty, which consisted of richly decorated columns in Arabic style with an exquisitely coffered pinewood ceiling and a large women's balcony, was founded in 1357 with the help of Jewish financier Samuel Levi. Following the expulsion in 1492, the synagogue was used as a hospital, a priory, and even as a military barracks. In March 2013, the Spanish town of Ribadavia will host a Passover Seder - the town's first since the explusion of Jews in 1492 - in order to "breathe new life into its old Jewish quarter." Ribadavia used to have a sizable Jewish population before the Inquisition, and in 1997, Judith Cohen, a scholar of Sephardic Jewry, wrote that Ribadavia had two Jewish households remaining, neither of them Sephardic. The seder is being organized by the municipality’s tourism department in partnership with the Center for Medieval Studies, a Ribadavia-based association that researches the history of Iberian Jews prior to their expulsion during the Spanish Inquisition that began in 1492.

The Spanish Parliament approved a measure on June 11, 2015, aimed at restoring citizenship to descendants of Sephardic Jewish individuals who were expelled during the Inquisition. The law allows relatives of individuals who were expelled to apply for dual citizenship within a three-year window. In order to prove citizenship however, Sephardic Jewish applicants will be tested in basic Spanish speech, be questioned about the history of Spain, and will have to demonstrate a connection to modern Spain. This law is similar to the law passed previously in Portugal, allowing relatives of expelled Sephardic Jews the right of return. Three months later, in October 2015, Spain granted restored citizenship to 4,302 descendants of Sephardi Jews expelled from Spain during the Inquisition. These people are now fully naturalized citizens of Spain, and most of them currently reside in Morocco, Turkey, or Venezuela.

This noble plan to reconnect Sephardic Jews with their Spanish roots inspired Israel Foreign Ministry Advisor Ashley Perry to launch the Knesset Caucus for the Reconnection with the Descendants of Spanish and Portuguese Jewish communities in October 2015.

On November 19, 2015, a Holocaust memorial in Oviedo, Spain was vandalized by unknown criminals. A plaque on the memorial, reading “Never again will the barbaric acts of the Nazis be repeated,” was ripped from its place and stolen. The Jewish community appealed to their local government to restore the memorial to its original condition.

Spain-Israel Relations

Even with the gradual ease of tensions between the Spanish government and the Jews of Spain, Francoist Spain chose not to establish diplomatic relations with the new state of Israel. Israel, in turn, opposed the admission of Spain into the United Nations as a friend of Nazi Germany. Despite not engaging in diplomatic relations with Israel, Spain maintained a consulate in Jerusalem and traded freely with Israel. After years of negotiations, the Spanish government of Felipe González established relations with Israel in 1986. Today, Spain tries to serve as a bridge between Israel and the Arabs as reflected by hosting the Madrid Peace Conference of 1991.

Casa Sefarad-Israel (The Israel-Spain House) was established in Madrid by the Spanish Foreign Affairs and Cooperation Ministry in June 2007. The cultural and educational center hopes to foster greater understanding of Jewish history and culture. It is completely financed by the Spanish government, and also promotes Sephardi culture as an integral and vibrant part of Spanish culture and aims to strengthen bonds between Spanish and Israeli societies.

On November 19 2014 members of Spain's Parliament voted 319-2 in favor of a measure demanding that the government of Spain officially recognizes the Palestinian state. This vote follows votes in British Parliament and the Irish Senate, as well as a pledge from the government of Sweden. Like all of these previous votes in other European countries in 2014, this vote is largely symbolic and in reality carries no weight or merit. The vote was simply taken as a symbolic measure to encourage the peace process and spur negotiations forward. The text of the bill clarifies that the only possibility for peace is the existence of two independent states coexisting next to each other.

In light of these recent votes to recognize a Palestinian state, EU Foreign Policy Chief Federica Mogherini expressed doubts as to whether the movement to unilaterally recognize Palestine is beneficial to the peace process. Mogherini explained that "The recognition of the state and even the negotiations are not a goal in itself, the goal in itself is having a Palestinian state in place and having Israel living next to it." She encouraged European countries to become actively involved and push for a jump start to the peace process, instead of simply recognizing the state of Palestine. Mogherini said that the correct steps to finding resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict might involve Egypt, Jordan, and other Arab countries forming a regional initiative and putting their differences aside at the negotiation table. She warned her counterparts in the European Union about getting "trapped in the false illusion of us needing to take one side" and stated that the European Union "could not make a worse mistake" than pledging to recognize Palestine without a solid peace process in place. (Bloomberg, November 26 2014)

The Spanish Armed Forces awarded Israeli firm Israel Military Industries (IMI) a contract worth $22.5 million Euro to supply the Spanish military with 5.56mm rifle cartriges. It was announced in October 2015 that Spain would be purchasing 5.56mm Razor Core rounds from Israel, which were developed in 2014. These 5.56mm Razor Core bullets are highly desirable because they can be used in both short and long barrel weapons.

A Spanish judge issued arrest warrants for Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu as well as six other current and former Israeli officials during November 2015. The original case against Israel's leaders, in which Spanish victims of the Gaza Flotilla Incident sued Israeli authorities, was dismissed in 2010 by a Spanish judge who ruled that Spain did not have the authority to file lawsuits regarding international incidents. In 2015 however, Spanish Judge Jose De La Mata exploited a legal loophole, allowing him to re-open the case if one of the defendants were to set foot in Spain.

Hasdei Ibn Shaprut (915 - 975)

Ḥisdai ibn Shaprut, born c. 915 IN Jean, Spain and died c. 975 in Córdoba.
Born into a wealthy family from Jaen, he was a physician, translator, and political figure who helped inaugurate the golden age of Hebrew letters in Moorish Spain and was a powerful statesman in a number of major diplomatic negotiations. He was fluent in Hebrew, Arabic and Latin which helped launch his phenomenal career. He was a patron of Jewish learning, supporting poets and Talmud scholars alike. He, more than anyone, laid the foundation for the post biblical Hebrew revival that took place in Cordoba. He kept alive national Jewish consciousness and reoriented Jewish scholarship from Babylonia, where it had declined, to Spain, where it flourished for several more centuries.

Shmuel ha-Nagid (990 - 105)

Samuel HaNagid was born Samuel Idn Naghrilla was born 990 in Merida and deid at 1050 in Granada. Member of the genetically distinct ethnic group in Southern Spain known as the Andalusian people, he was thoroughly educated by his father and was a Talmudic scholar, statesman, poet, soldier, philologist, and generally one of the most influential people in Muslim Spain. He began his Talmudic life as a student of one of the most respected Rabbis at the time, Rabbi Enoch, and was fluent in Hebrew, Arabic, and Latin. His talent and mastery of Arabic and Hebrew calligraphy catapulted him into the life in the Royal Court. He had become close to the vizier Abu al-Kasim ibn al-Arif, and as a result, he was appointed as vizier of Granada making Samuel the highest-ranking Jew in Muslim Spain

Solomon Ibn Gabirol (1021 – 1069)

Ibn Gabirol, in full Solomon ben Yehuda Ibn born 1022 in Malaga, caliphate of Córdoba and died 1058 in the kingdom of Valencia. He was one of the outstanding figures of the Hebrew school of religious and secular poetry and considered an important Neoplatonic philosophy. He published over a hundred poems, as well as works of biblical exegesis, philosophy, ethics and satire. He is well known in the history of philosophy for the doctrine that all things, including soul and intellect.

Judah Halevi (1086 - 1145)

Judah ha-Levi, Hebrew in full Yehuda Ben Shemuel ha-Levi, born 1075 in Tudela (Kingdom of Pamplona), died July 1141 in Egypt. Judah Halevi’s secular and religious poems were considered as the foremost examples of Hebrew poetry. His Songs of Zion, giving expression to the poets yearning for the land of Israel, are still used in synagogues during the Ninth of Av service to introduce a note of consolation after the recital of the dirges on this day of mourning for the destruction of the Temple and for other calamities of the Jewish past. Obedient to the call of the Holy Land, Halevi, at the age of 60, resolved to leave Spain in order to settle in the country of his dreams. Legend has it that he did arrive in the Holy Land only to be murdered there, but recent research has established that, in fact, on his way he stayed in Egypt, where he died.

Abraham Ibn Ezra (1089 - 1164)

Abraham ben Meir ibn Ezra, born 1092 in Tudela, Emirate of Saragossa and died 1167 in Calahorra, Spain. He was one of the most distinguished Jewish biblical commentators and philosophers of the Middle Ages. A poet, grammarian, traveler, Neoplatonic philosopher, and astronomer, he is best known as a biblical exegete whose commentaries contributed to the Golden Age of Spanish Judaism. For all his familiarity with secular knowledge, he maintained piety and the spirit of G‑d. throughout his religious poems, prayers and writings. Ibn Ezra, in his departure from orthodox biblical interpretation is sometimes held to be a precursor of the great 17th-century philosopher Spinoza. His commentary on the Pentateuch is sometimes ranked with the classic 11th-century commentaries by Rashi on the Talmud.

Benjamin of Tudela (1154 – 1172)

As a young man, he lived in Muslim Spain. Not much is known about his early life. He was on friendly terms with the eminent poet and philosopher Judah ha-Levi, and he travelled to North Africa and possibly to Egypt. Primarily known as a scholar and poet up to that point, in about 1140 Ibn Ezra began a lifelong series of wanderings throughout Europe, in the course of which he produced distinguished works of biblical exegesis and disseminated biblical lore.

His biblical commentaries include expositions of the Book of Job, the Book of Daniel, Psalms, and, most importantly, a work produced in his elder years, a commentary on the Pentateuch, the five books of Moses. Although his exegeses are basically philological, he inserted enough philosophical remarks to reveal himself to be a Neoplatonic pantheist. At the same time, he believed that God gave form to uncreated, eternal matter, a concept somewhat at odds with his Neoplatonic emanationism doctrine. Ibn Ezra, in his departure from orthodox biblical interpretation (although he extolled such orthodoxy), is sometimes held to be a precursor of the great 17th-century philosopher Spinoza. His commentary on the Pentateuch is sometimes ranked with the classic 11th-century commentaries by Rashi on the Talmud, the rabbinic compendium of law, lore, and commentary.

Maimonides (1138- 1204)

Maimonides was born Moses ben Maimon, also known as the Rambam, was among the greatest Jewish scholars of all time. Born on the eve of Passover in 1135 in Cordoba and died 1204 in Egypt, he was a member of a prominent rabbinical family. In his family tree figured King David and Rabbi Yehudah HaNassi, who had compiled the Mishnah. His primary teacher was his father, Rabbi Maimon ben Joseph, a Jewish judge, who taught him not only the Talmud, but also the fundamentals of mathematics, astronomy and philosophy. Maimonides made enduring contributions as a philosopher, legal codifier, physician, political adviser and local legal authority. Throughout his life, Maimonides deftly navigated parallel yet disparate worlds, serving both the Jewish and broader communities.

Abraham ben Meir Ibn Ezra (1089–1167)

Abraham ben Meir Ibn Ezra was a famous scientist, philosopher, astronomer, and biblical commentator. Born in 1089, Ibn Ezra was a friend of Judah HaLevi. Tradition maintains that Ibn Ezra married Judah HaLevi’s daughter. After three of his children died and one son converted to Islam, Ibn Ezra became a wanderer. It was during his self-chosen exile that he wrote his brilliant works. Ibn Ezra was a poet, astrologist, scientist, and Hebrew grammarian. All the Hebrew grammar books to that time had been written in Arabic including Sadia Gaon’s famous work (Saadia Gaon lived in Babylonia from 882-942 CE under Muslim rule). When he discovered that the Jews of Italy didn't understand Hebrew grammar, he wrote an excellent book in Hebrew which became a best-seller. It elucidated for Jews living in Christian Europe Hayyuj's tri- letter root theory. Ibn Ezra also introduced the decimal system to Jews living in the Christian world. In his travels, ibn Ezra met Rabbenu Tam (the grandson of Rashi) in France, and they apparently discussed Halacha and Torah.

Nachmanides (1194–1270)

Moses ben Nahman, commonly known as Nachmanides, and also referred to by the acronym Ramban and by the contemporary nickname Bonastruc ça Porta, was a Spanish Talmudist, Kabbalist and biblical commentator known, after the initial letters of his name, as Ramban (Rabbi Moshe ben Nahman). Born in Gerona, Spain (1194-1270), where he lived for most of his life. An outstanding Talmudist, his work in this field still enjoys the highest esteem among students of the Talmud. As a halachic authority, he exercised a great influence on the Codes of Jewish law, especially through the Responsa of his most distinguished disciple, Solomon Ibn Adret.

Judah HaLevi (1075 – 1141)

Conventional wisdom suggests that Judah ben Shmuel Halevi was born in Toledo, Spain in 1075. He often referred to himself as coming from Christian territory. Toledo was conquered by Alfonso VI from the Muslims in Halevi's childhood (1086). As a youth, he seems to have gone to Granada, the main center of Jewish literary and intellectual life at the time, where he found a mentor in Moses Iban Ezra. He authored The Kuzari, a philosophical novel based on the story of the king of Khazaria, a kingdom located between the Black Sea and Caspian Sea. During the 8th century the king of Khazaria, undecided whether he should affiliate with the Christians or Muslims, had great scholars argue before him the merits of the world's religions, and as a result of this debate converted to Judaism as eventually did a goodly portion of his country; the history of Khazaria ended in 11th century when it was destroyed by a Byzantine/Russian coalition.) Basing himself on this reportedly true story, Judah HaLevi imaginatively recreated the debate before the king in his novel, which continues to be popular to this day.

Moses ibn Ezra (approx. 1055 to 1060; died after 1138)

Rabbi Moses ben Jacob ibn Ezra, known as Ha-Sallaḥ was a Jewish, Spanish philosopher, linguist, and poet. He was born in Granada about 1055 – 1060 and died after 1138. Ibn Ezra was Jewish by religion but is also considered to have had great influence in the Arabic literary world. He is considered one of Spain's greatest poets and was thought to be ahead of his time in terms of his theories on the nature of poetry. One of the more revolutionary aspects of Ibn Ezra's poetry that has been debated is his definition of poetry as metaphor and how his poetry illuminates Aristotle's early ideas. The impact of Ibn Ezra's philosophical works was minor compared to his impact on poetry, but they address his concept of the relationship between God and man.

Isaac ben Baruch Albalia (1035–1094)

Isaac ben Baruch Albalia was an Andalusian Jewish mathematician, astronomer, astrologer, and Talmudist. Most of the information about the life of Isaac ben Baruch Albalia is provided by Abraham ibn Daud in his Sefer ha-Qabbalah or the Book of Tradition. Isaac ben Baruch Albalia came from an old aristocratic family of Cordoba. He was a great Talmudist teacher, astronomer, mathematician and Nasni of the Jews of the Taifa of Seville. Born in Cordoba (1035-1094), he was a close friend of Samuel HaNagid of Granada. A well-known astronomer and talmudist, he was invited to Seville in 1069 by King Al-Mutamid to be the court astronomer and leader of the Seville Jewish community. He was primarily responsible for the improved status of his brethren. He wrote a major work on the mysteries of intercalating the calendar. His son, Baruch Ben Isaac Albalia left Seville to study in Lucena with Rabbi Isaac Alfasi. Upon his master's death, the young Albalia returned to Cordoba to become head of its yeshiva. He was an intimate with Moses Iban Ezra and Judah HaLevi. One of his most famous disciples was his nephew, Abraham Ibn Daud.


On August 3, 1492, just three days after the deadline given to Spain’s large and vibrant Jewish community to convert to Christianity or leave the country forever, three ships - the Niña, Pinta, and Santa Maria - set sail from the port in Palos de la Frontera West. They were heading for the rich spice markets in Asia. We all know where they wound up. Much has been written about the supposed "concealed" Jewish identity of Christopher Columbus, leader of the voyage. But while the theory is plausible, it cannot be proved, and is based on rather strained circumstantial evidence.Yet one person on the voyage had unarguably been a Jew, though he converted shortly before setting out to the deep blue sea. Luis de Torres was apparently born Yosef ben HaLevi HaIvri. He was the voyage’s interpreter. Columbus hired de Torres, who spoke Portuguese, Hebrew, Arabic, and Aramaic, believing that he could converse with the Jews they would find in the court of the Chinese emperor and with the merchants in the markets of the Orient.

The Seneor Family

The Seneor family, from the 1460s, were the largest group engaged in tax farming for the Crown of Castile. The Seneor family was also involved in politics, defending the interests of artisans in the cities of central Castile. He was related to Andrés Cabrera (the steward of King Henry IV of Castile), Andrés Cabrera's wife, Beatriz de Bobadilla (lady of the Queen Isabella of Castile) and Alonso Quintanilla, Count of Accounts, to whom the Infante (crown prince) Alfonso had entrusted the establishment of a mint in Medina del Campo (a city enriched by the fairs). In 1488 Seneor became treasurer of the Holy Brotherhood (founded in 1476 and counting Quintanilla among its members).


“The Jerusalem of Spain”. The size and the splendor of Jewish Toledo–the biggest Jewish community in Christian Spain–gave it this name.

Jews probably established themselves there at some time during the 4th to 6th centuries. However, Jewish presence in Toledo was inconsiderable at this time, and the first sources referring to the Jewish quarter of Toledo are from the 12th century. The community of Toledo grew to be one of the largest on the Iberian Peninsula, and at the height of its prosperity in the 12th-14th centuries the Jews probably formed up to one third of the city’s population.

A major European center of cultural, social and political activity during the 12th-13th centuries, Toledo was home to the renowned School of Translators. Their translations of Greek, Hebrew and Arabic texts into Latin made it possible for the rest of Europe to learn of cultural and scientific advances made by the Jews and Muslims, and also to rediscover the teachings of the classical Greeks.


While Segovia was originally settled by the Celts, and boasts one of the richest collections of Romanesque architecture in Europe, by far its most striking monument was built by the Romans, who conquered the city in the year 80 B.C.E. Standing at the entrance to the city for 2000 years, the 166-arch aqueduct was made of blocks of stone held together by a masterful balance of forces using no mortar. It was declared a national Historical-Artistic Monument in 1884.
The presence of Jews in Segovia dates back to the 11th century. They engaged primarily in commerce, tanning and textile manufacture, and the community was prosperous. Between the 13th and 15th centuries Segovia was also the birthplace or residence of many Jewish scholars. Ironically, two of Segovia’s most prominent Jews held such important positions in the 15th century that it may be said that they influenced not only Spanish history, but the history of the world as well. Abraham Senior, advisor to the Queen, was instrumental in arranging the marriage between young Isabella of Castile and Ferdinand of Aragon, which resulted in the unification of the two kingdoms. The other prominent Jew, Itshak Abarvanel, held a position equivalent to that of minister of the treasury and economic advisor to the kingdom.
It was in the Alcazar of Segovia that Isabella and Ferdinand first met, and it was also there that Christopher Columbus (himself said to be descended from conversos) visited the queen to beg her for support for his ventures.

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