Jews In Iberia


Jews In Iberia

While doing some research about Valencia (As you may recall, I’ve shared some stories of our recent trip to Spain over the last few weeks), after our stop there, I was surprised to find a separate notation in Wikipedia about the Jews. Valencia was founded in the Roman period circa 138 BC. The first invaders were Germanic people including Visigoths, who after adopting Christianity, started to persecute Jews.

The Moors (Berbers and Arabs) followed, and adopted Islam at about 714 AD. Only in 1171 AD, were Christians able to seize control of the city again. Meanwhile, Jews lived in Valencia during the early Muslim rule, and continued to live there during the Christian time. Many of them were artisans such as silversmiths, shoemakers, blacksmiths, locksmiths, etc., and a few were rabbinic scholars. The Jews took up about 7 percent of the population. During the “Black Death” in Europe (including in Spain), from 1348 to 1351, Jews were blamed for poisoning common wells in towns. They were tortured and burned. In 1391, the Jewish Quarters of Valencia were destroyed. Jews experienced a similar fate in Barcelona. One hundred years later, in 1492, Spanish rulers issued the Alhambra Decree; as a result of which a majority of the Jews in Spain (around 300,000) converted to Catholicism, and between 40,000 – 80,000, who continued to practice Judaism, were forced into exile. One of the destinations was Portugal where Jews lived for over two thousand years, and where some occupied prominent places in political and economic life. In 1497, When Vasco de Gama undertook the voyage to discover India, he used tables and astrolabe created by Abraham Zacuto, an astronomer, astrologer, mathematician, rabbi and historian, who served as Royal Astronomer to King John II of Portugal. The treasurer of King Alfonso V of Portugal was another Jew – Isaak Abrabanel. All of this ended with the establishment of the Portuguese Inquisition in 1536. In Lisbon, I bought a book titled “The 500 Hidden Secrets of Lisbon”. There I found a chapter titled, “The 5 most interesting places of Jewish Heritage”. Terreiro De Paco is mentioned there, where “in the 16th century this place was the scene of horrific ceremonies aimed against Jews.” There is not much left which can tell the rich history the Jews left on the Iberian Peninsula. After the expulsion, a vast majority of Jews eventually emigrated to Thessaloniki, Istanbul, France, Morocco, Brazil, Amsterdam and some other countries. Some of the Jews after living in Brazil, decided to continue their journey, and in 1654 twenty-three families arrived in New Amsterdam, which we all know as New York. This coincided with the development and the growth of the New World. Meanwhile, after being powerful empires, Spain and Portugal’s economies declined.

In 2014, the descendants of Sephardic (Sefared is Spain in Hebrew), Jews who were exiled in 1492 were offered Spanish citizenship. Similar laws were enacted in Portugal in 2015. Since then, 130,000 Jews applied for their Spanish citizenship. There are many surprises for those who want to find their roots and take DNA tests, since thousands of Jews converted or intermarried.

P.S. I wrote this story on November 3 during our cruise. I did not plan it, but it is posted on Friday, December 27, which is the sixth day of the Jewish holiday Hanukkah, honoring events and miracles, that happened over two thousand years ago. Hanukkah which is celebrated by Jews and their friends all over the world, is called the Holiday of Light. Let this light fill your life as well.

These are a few images of the human sculptures I encountered and photographed during our trip. Though those four people pretend to be someone else, you would never guess who carries Jewish DNA.

Enjoy and Share with a Friend.

Manny Signature