Spanish Jews are one of the most important parts of the nation’s past.
This fascinating culture has deep roots in Spain. Throughout the years, they’ve been an integral part of society, decision-making, and politics in the country.
Jewish Quarters provide an insight into the life and times of the Jewish people. In visiting these, you’ll be able to learn about the role that Jews have played here, as well as the trials and tribulations they have faced along the way.
Are you ready to explore the world of Judaism in Spain?
Read on to learn about this dynamic people, and discover how you can experience Jewish Spain firsthand.
Jewish Spain: The History of the Jewish People Throughout the Country
Jews in Spain have a colorful past.
It is characterized by the incredible difficulties faced by the people, and their ability to overcome even the most horrifying of obstacles.
Early History of Jews in Spain
The history of Spain is intricately linked to the history of the Jewish people.
Spain has long been a home to the Sephardic Jews. The word “Sephardic” itself is derivative of the Hebrew word “Sepharad”, indicative of the Iberian Peninsula and the country of Spain.
Sephardic Jews got their name when they migrated to Spain around the 6th-century BC. After that, they endured a period of persecution in the 6th-Century AD by the Visigoths.
This was followed by a period of peace and harmony under Arabic rule. During this time the Jews began to flourish. The three monotheistic religions worked and lived together, prospering in the absence of strife.
However, this changed when the rule shifted from Moorish to Catholic.
The Spanish Inquisition
Hatred for Jews began to spread during the Reconquista of the 1200s, when Christians gained control over Spain and Portugal.
This increased after the spread of the Black Death in the mid-1300s. The Spanish Christians blamed the Jews for the spread of the plague, and society quickly turned against them.
This culminated in 1478, when King Ferdinand and Queen Elizabeth began to conduct the Spanish Inquisition. This was a church-sanctioned institution which was formed in order to find and exile heretics, or anyone who held non-Christian beliefs.
It resulted in the murder, exile, and forced conversion of thousands of Jews.
Modern Judaism in Spain
Ironically, the Inquisition served not to purge Spain of its impurities but to undermine free thought and weaken the economic system.
The Jews fled to north Africa and western Europe during the Inquisition, helping to establish good educational institutions and stable political networks in their countries of choice.
Spain was largely without Jews until the 19th century, when a few synagogues opened up in major cities. However, the major influx did not occur until World War II.
Diplomats working under Francisco Franco allowed Jews escaping the Holocaust in Europe to arrive unhindered in Spain.
This led to the Jewish Spain we see today.
Jewish Spain: The Jewish Influence on Spanish Life Today
Today, Spain has a relatively modest Jewish population. The Jewish quarters are filled with shops, tourists and bustling activity.
In 2015, the Spanish government issued a repatriation bill which would allow the descendants of Jews who had been expelled during the 1400s to return to the country.
While this is not unheard of (Germany did the same thing after the Holocaust), the difficulty of Jewish repatriation in Spain lies in proving your heritage and Spanish connection — after all, a lot can be lost in 6 centuries.
Jewish Spain: How to See the History in Action
Spain’s many Jewish Quarters are a popular destination for visitors.
The Jewish Quarter is a typical part of any large Spanish city, as the Jews generally had their own section for living, working, and praying in whichever city they occupied.
These places emphasize the history of the people in Spain by displaying art, architecture, and artifacts in the houses they themselves lived in.
Visit these famous Jewish quarters to get a taste of it all:
- Barcelona: The Barcelona Jewish Quarter is one of the most popular tours of Spain. It includes the oldest synagogue in the whole country, as well as the old women’s bath (mikvah). Here, you’ll see classic Jewish art and stunning architecture.
- Toledo: The Toledo Jewish Quarter is a quaint place brimming with history. Here, you can visit a historic 16th-century Jewish home and learn about the people in a Sephardic museum.
- Seville: The Seville Jewish Quarter is a neighborhood of quiet courtyards nestled between pavilion gardens and shady cafes. Visit the main Plaza de Las Mercedarias to see a splendid church and other attractions.
Jewish Spain: Understand the History, Appreciate the Beauty
When you take a trip to Spain, it’s imperative you delve into the Jewish history there.
If only for a day, take the time to walk down the streets of a Jewish quarter. Look around and get a feel for the walls, forming a city all its own around the quarter.
Jewish Spain provides an unparalleled look into the past, present, and future of both the country and its people.