Spanish Jews once constituted one of the largest and most prosperous Jewish communities in the world. Spain was the unquestioned leader of world Jewry: scientific and philological study of the Hebrew Bible began, Hebrew was used for the first time for secular poetry, and for the only time between Biblical times and the origins of the modern state of Israel, a Jew (Samuel ha-Nagid) commanded a Jewish army. This period came to an end with the anti-Jewish riots of 1392 and the expulsion of 1492. The majority of Jews in Spain (between 200,000 and 250,000) converted to Catholicism and those remaining (between 40,000 and 100,000) were forced into exile.
An estimated 13,000 to 50,000 Jews live in Spain today, concentrated in the provinces of Malaga, Madrid and Barcelona as well as having a historic presence in the autonomous cities of Ceuta and Melilla. A significant portion of these are Spanish-speaking Jews who returned to Spain after centuries of exile in northern Morocco during and after the Spanish protectorate. Ashkenazi Jews, primarily from Latin America but also of European origin are also present in Spain.
As with many countries nowadays, religion in Spain is a somewhat controversial topic. With a growing mix of multi-culturalism it is clear to see that Spain is moving away from the Roman Catholic base of recent centuries and instead merging into a more secularist society with religion becoming less and less important as years go by; A large contrast to the Reconquista and other various wars that were fought solely in the name of religion. Yet in a survey of July 2009, it became clear that 73% of the population do still consider themselves Roman Catholic, whilst the second largest domination is that of no religion at 22%; whilst 2% defining themselves as other faith, primarily that of Islam.
The history of Spain as regards religion is lively to say the least. During the Roman Empire, mainland Spain was first considered Christian, yet by the seventh century, the invasion by an Arab army led to Islamic rule, but of a more understanding nature, with Christian and Jewish subjects still allowed a role of power, and indeed Muslim rule before 1055 is considered amongst the easiest for Jews within history as their way of life flourished. On the borders, Christian rule dominated, its importance being seen in the foundation of the pilgrimage Centre of Santiago de Compostela.
The gradual regaining of Spain by Christian forces is an important stage during this country’s vibrant history, as it allowed the reassertion of European rule over this Iberian land. This was further encouraged by the work of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella who worked to unite Spain under Catholicism, and in years to come this was transferred abroad upon the conquest of the new world by Christopher Columbus. It is significant to note however that Spanish rulers asserted their right to independence from Rome as well as Papal influence without the permission of the state.
In contemporary Spain, religion is clearly becoming less and less important. Of those who in a recent survey described themselves as religious, 58% went to on to state that they hardly ever go to church, whilst now only 15% attend services once or more times a week. For many young people, teachings such as that regarding contraception are of little importance and often ignored. Furthermore, one can see the waning influence of the church in Spain through the decreasing importance of groups such as Opus Dei. This primarily Spanish group grew in influence particularly during the Franco era because of the emphasis on tradition and church, as many leading members occupied key positions within the government, however the waning importance of the Church has led to diminished importance for this group as it has now simply become one of many similar groups competing for attention in society without its governmental influence. However, politically the church is seen to be losing its neutrality in modern day Spain, as more often that not it is linked with the Partido Popular, demonstrating its more conservative background, with the ultimate consequence of alienating worshippers.
The terms “Marrano” and “Converso” were applied in Spain and Portugal to the descendants of baptized Jews (those forced to convert) suspected of secret adherence to Judaism. Converso, from the Latin conversus, literally means to be converted. Various origins for the term “Marrano” have been suggested, which include the Hebrew marit ayin ("the appearance of the eye"), referring to the fact that the Marranos were ostensibly Christian but actually Jews; mohoram attah ("you are excommunicated"); the Aramaic-Hebrew Mar Anus ("forced convert"); the Hebrew mumar ("apostate") with the Spanish ending ano; the Arabic mura'in ("hypocrite"); and the second word of the ecclesiastical imprecation anathema maranatha. Although romanticized and regarded by later Jewry as a badge of honor, the term was not as widely used, especially in official circles, as is often believed. In Latin America, as a rule, it is not found in official documents, and there is little evidence of its unofficial use in most places. It is not clear if the "Old Christians" only, or the secretly practicing Jews also called themselves "Marrano."
“Marranos” started appearing with the first riots in the Juderias of Spain. Many were forced to convert to Christianity to save their lives. The laws in 14th and 15th century Spain became increasingly oppressive toward practicing Jews, and conversion was provided as an alternative to death. Large numbers of middle class Jews outwardly adopting Christianity to avoid the laws, while secretly practicing Judaism "New Christians" is a term applied specifically to three groups of Jewish converts to Christianity and their descendants in the Iberian Peninsula. The first group converted in the wake of the massacres in Spain in 1391 and the proselytizing fervor of the subsequent decades. The second, also in Spain, were baptized following the decree of Ferdinand and Isabella in 1492 expelling all Jews who refused to accept Christianity. The third group, in Portugal, was converted by force and royal fiat in 1497. Like the word Conversos, but unlike Marranos, the term New Christian carried no intrinsic pejorative connotation, but with the increasing power of the Inquisition and the growth of the concept of "limpieza de sangre," cleansing the blood, the name signaled the disabilities inevitably heaped on those who bore it.
The New Christians who continued secretly to observe the precepts of Judaism after their conversion were not regarded as voluntary apostates. The basis of this decision was the attributed to Maimonides that a person that has transgressed under duress and could not escape, he is exempted from punishment." In accordance with this ruling, other rabbis ruled that those New Christians who remained in their countries because they were unable to escape and flee, if they conducted themselves in accordance with the precepts of Judaism, even if only privately, were full Jews.
New Christians began to leave Spain in the wake of the mass conversions of 1391, and Portugal after the forced conversions in 1497. The tide of emigration ebbed and flowed, but heightened during the Inquisition in Spain in 1481, and Portugal in 1536 and after 1630. The local authorities tried to slow the continuing exodus but Marranos kept leaving clandestinely, or secured permission to take business trips abroad from which they never returned.
The Spanish occupation by the Moors began in 711 AD when an African army, under their leader Tariq ibn-Ziyad, crossed the Strait of Gibraltar from northern Africa and invaded the Iberian Peninsula ‘Andalus' (Spain under the Visigoths). They stayed for around 700 years, leaving a definite imprint on the country, particularly Andalucía in southern Spain. The Moors came from north Africa, a mixture of Arab and Berbers (the latter from the mountains of Morocco - tribes with their own language that few Arabs would understand). The name "Moors" comes from the name Mauretania, which at the time referred to the part of North Africa roughly now represented by Algeria and Morocco. This was a huge change for Spain - a new language, religion, culture and a new name, for the part of the country under Moorish control was known as Al Andalus.
The Moors had a vicious way of dealing with enemies and made sure that people knew about it. As a result there was little resistance at first and they took over Toledo, the capital, within a year. Within a few years, they controlled most of Spain. Although the Moors may appear to have conquered most of Spain with relative ease, they by no means had an easy time of it over the years.
The Moors built splendid palaces, with much evidence remaining today, and their capital was Cordoba, considered to have been the most civilized city in Europe around the 10th century. The mosque at Cordoba became the second most important Muslim place of worship after Mecca, with a roof supported by 800 pillars of alternating red and white stone. The Moors developed agriculture, and in particular, irrigation, by channeling water to where it was needed- many of these systems are still in use today. They also introduced citrus fruits, figs, pomegranates, sugar cane, cotton, silk and rice.
The one region they did not conquer was Asturias and eventually the descendants of those early undefeated fighters rallied support and pushed the Moors back over the centuries to eventually became known as the reconquest, recapturing Toledo in 1085. There was a lot of infighting among the Christian kingdoms, until the marriage of Isabel (heir to Castilla, which included most of Spain) and Fernando (heir to Aragon, which included Catalonia and Valencia). Castilla had been named after the number of castles that had been built for defense against the Moors. This union of the kingdoms by marriage strengthened the resolve against the Moors, who then controlling an area of Andalucía. At the same time, the Spanish Inquisition was developing to identify those who pretended to be Christians. A final push over a period of about 10 years defeated the Moors, who eventually relinquished Granada without a fight in 1492, not that long after the completion of the magnificent Alhambra. The lack fighting left much of Moorish Granada intact, with much remaining today.
Large numbers of Moors became Christians (and were known as Moriscos), and settled south of the Sierra Nevada and Granada, the area now known as the Alpujarras giving it that different flavorit possess till now.