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					CHAPTER 29

The Jews in Christian Spain

By the fourteenth century, political instability in Spain led to attacks on the Jewish population in various communities. As a result, thousands of Jews converted to Christianity. In 1412 the Spanish rulers instituted the Castilian laws which segregated Jews from their neighbours. The next year a disputation was held at Tortosa concerning the doctrine of the Messiah. Pressure was applied on the Jewish population to convert, and those who joined the Church found life much easier. However, by the fifteenth century antiJewish attitudes became a major problem. Initially contempt was directed at these Jewish converts (conversos), particularly at new Christians who were suspected of practising Judaism in secret. Determined to root out such practices, Ferdinand and Isabella established the Inquisition. By the late 1480s inquisitors used torture to extract confessions. In considering these events, you should ask yourself why the Inquisition was so intent on identifying those new Christians who continued to express loyalty to their ancestral faith. What drove the inquisitors to such lengths? You should also consider the reaction of the Jewish community to such apostasy. Although such individuals were regarded with contempt by the Jewish establishment, official Jewish policy was lenient. Jewish converts to Christianity were viewed as Jews, and in accordance with the view of Rashi and Rabbi Gershom of Mainz, they could be reinstated without punishment or embarrassment. Why was such a lenient attitude taken? Today, Jews who embrace Christ, such as Messianic Jews, are universally regarded with contempt. Why did a different attitude prevail in the Middle Ages? One of the striking features of the Christian onslaught against the Marranos as well as practising Jews was the conviction that Jews, regardless of their religious beliefs, possess impurity of the blood. In the Spanish mind, there was no way by which individuals could free themselves from the taint of Jewish blood. Tragically, similar convictions fuelled hatred of Jews in modern times. Like the Spanish in the early modern period, the Nazis were convinced of the racial inferiority of the Jewish nation. For Hitler, European civilization was threatened by the presence of Jews. In reflecting on the Spanish Christian attack on Jews during this period, you should ask yourself to what extent the legacy of Christian anti-Semitism paved the way for the Nazi onslaught against the Jews.

• Go to Google. Click on images. Look at illustrations connected with the Inquisition. • Stay in Google. Look for information about the Inquisition as well as Jewish life in medieval Spain. You might try 190205 • Imagine you are a Jewish converso living in Spain. Write a letter to a Jewish relative, explaining your decision to embrace the Christian faith.


• Ask your students to write a short play about the Inquisition. They should portray the use of torture in exacting a confession from a suspected Marrano. • Tell your students to imagine that they are inquisitors. They should write a testimonial explaining the reasons why their actions as inquisitors are religiously justified. • Go to Google and look up information about the Disputation of Tortosa. Hand out background material to you class. Ask the students to write a brief summary of the arguments put forward by the Christian side, as well as the defence put forward by the Jews.

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