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On this day in Spanish History

Source: Haaertz - Sun 31st Mar 2013
On this day in Spanish History

On This day in history - March 31, 1492 - the monarchs of Spain, King Ferdinand II of Aragon and Queen Isabella of Castile, signed the Alhambra Decree, which gave the Jews who had remained inSpain just 4 months either to convert to Christianity, or to go into exile.

The expulsion of the Jews was made possible by the "reconquest" of most of Iberia from the Muslim Moors by the Catholic monarchs. But it was really the culmination of a century of severe persecution of Jews, which included murderous riots across much of Iberia that resulted in massive conversions and also voluntary emigration of tens of thousands of Jews.

Spain was far from the first country in Europe to rid itself of its Jews: By 1492, Britain, France, parts of Germany, Naples, Lithuania, Hungary, Austria, among others, had already done the same.

For Ferdinand and Isabella, the expulsion was a response to reports that Jews who had nominally converted to Catholicism were secretly continuing to practice their original faith, and even attempting to lure others to do the same. For this reason Ferdinand requested permission from the pope in 1478 to establish a commission of inquisition to investigate such charges.

Granada was the last outpost of Moorish rule in the Iberian peninsula. With its fall in January 1492, a large number of Muslims and Jews came under the domain of the king and queen. (A similar expulsion of Muslims took place a decade later, in 1502.)

Although a year earlier, Isabella had signed a treaty guaranteeing the Jews and Muslims of the Emirate of Granada religious freedom, by 1492, she had changed her mind.

The Alhambra Decree – named for the Moorish-era palace in Granada that was surrendered by Boabdil to Ferdinand and Isabella in January 1492 – was the legal expression of that reversal of policy.

Permission to take their possessions

The decree outlines the historical developments that required the monarchy to take such a drastic step as expulsion, whose purpose is to make it impossible for Jews to continue causing Christians to "Judaize." Unfortunately, the monarchs wrote, it had become clear that ordering Jews to live in separate quarters from their Christian neighbors had been insufficient to stop the former from trying "to subvert their holy Catholic faith and trying to draw faithful Christians away from their beliefs."

Furthermore, although the inquisition had found many cases of Jews who had continued to practice their faith, it had not been able to bring the religion to a demise in Spain and as such took steps to expel those who chose to continue their faith.

The decree explained how they would offer the Jews 4 months' of protection to finish their business and leave Spain. It also explained how the departing Jews be permitted to "export their goods and estates out of these our said kingdoms and lordships by sea or land" – so long "as they do not export gold or silver or coined money."

Jewswho had not left Spain by July 31 - chosen as the day before teh Jewish religious day of Tisha B'Av - faced a death penalty without trial. Similarly, Christians who helped them avoid departure would be punished by confiscation of all their property and loss of hereditary privileges.

The estimatd number of Jews who fled Spain asa result of the decree ranges from 150,000 to 800,000 - the majority assumed to have gone to Portugal (at least initially), with the remainder going to Northern Africa and to other parts of the Ottoman Empire, principally Greece and Turkey.

It is estimated that 50,000 to 70,000 of Spain's Jews chose the option of converting. One recent genetic study of Spanish men suggests that as many as 20% of them have direct patrilineal descent from Sephardic Jews.

Although the Spanish Constitution of 1869 established religious freedom in the country, it was only on December 16, 1968, that the Alhambra Decree was officially revoked. Today, there are estimated 50,000 Jews living in Spain.

Just last November the Spanish Government agreed to award Citizenship to any Sephardic Jew who could prove lineage to the Jews who were expelled from Spain in 1492.

Recommended Reading

Haaretz : On This Day In Jewish History

Comment on this Story

Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition....
Robster - Sun, 31st Mar 2013

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