Medieval Jewish History, 632 to 1650

Jews living under Islamic and Christian rule.

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However, the Golden Age began to crumble in 976 when Andalusia became engulfed in political stability over the question of succession; this disorder lead to Christian attempts to reconquer Spain. Tensions erupted in Grenada, where Samuel ibn Nagrela (993-1055/6) was a Jewish vizier to the court. A Hebrew poet and biblical commentator, he lead Grenada’s armies while wearing robes adorned with inscriptions from the Koran. Muslim leaders accused Jews like Nagrela of breaking the Pact of Omar by seizing excessive power. In 1066, Jewish prominence in many petty kingdoms was squashed and thousands of Jews were slaughtered in Grenada.

By 1248 the Christian reconquest of Spain was successful, and Spanish Jews were subject to new authorities, secular and sacred. From the 11th century on, Jews no longer resided in any given territory in Europe/Christendom by inherent right. Rather their residency hinged on a charter granted by a ruler that put the whole Jewish community under his special protection. In medieval Christian Europe, Jews lived in France and the German lands, Spain and Italy until 1300, when a series of expulsions forced a migration eastward so that by 1500 a majority of European Jews resided in central and eastern regions, primarily Poland. Meanwhile the church, organized into councils at the local, regional, nation, and Lateran (all of Latin Christendom) levels, also counted Jews as part of their agenda. Medieval Lateran decisions reflect the touchstone issues of medieval Jewish Christian relations, including conversion and the Crusades.


medieval jewish historyConversion was a central issue in Spain, where the combination of secular and sacred anti-Judaism resulted in decades of forced mass conversions, the most famous example being “The Great Conversion” of 1391 in which 100,000 Spanish Jews converted, 100,000 were murdered and 100,000 hid or fled to Muslim lands. These forced conversions created a large class of conversos, or converts to Christianity. A segment of the converso community still secretly practiced Judaism; these secret Judaizers were known as marranos (lit. pigs) or crypto-Jews.

This large community of new Christians proved inassimilable--whether they chose to practice Judaism or to embrace Christianity. Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand brought the Inquisition, a method of inquiry run by the church to discover and punish heretics, to Spain to deal with this population in 1481.

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