Expulsion and Readmission

Medieval European Jewry repeatedly faced banishment for both economic and religious reasons.

Print this page Print this page

The end of Jewish residence in Northern France occurred during the reign of Philip IV (1285-1314).  After 1289, the Jews were expelled from Anjou, Maine, Gascony, and Nevers.  Most of these Jews moved to Paris, where, even though they were subjected to restrictions, they were welcomed by the king.  In 1306, Philip changed his mind and ordered the Jews to leave his realm.  With no other choice, the Jews fled northeast to Flanders, east to Provence, or southwest to the Iberian peninsula.

Nine years later, King Louis X readmitted the Jews to France subject to certain conditions: the Jews had to purchase their readmission; they were not allowed to lend money (although pawnbroking was permissible); and they were forced to wear badges identifying them as Jews.  But by 1321, Charles IV was unhappy with the revenue he received from the Jewish communities, and they were expelled once again. 

Over the next 73 years, the Jews slowly moved back to southern France and re-established their businesses, until they were expelled for good by Charles VI in 1394.

Spain: the Most Famous European Expulsion

The most famous Jewish expulsion occurred in Spain in 1492.  Spanish Jewry dates back to the late days of the Roman Empire.  The community experienced an intellectual and cultural flourishing under Muslim rule. With the Christian reconquista (reconquest) of Spain, the Sephardim found themselves subject to the same animosity and pressures as their Ashkenazic brethren.

The decline of the Sephardim began in the middle of the 14th century.  Higher taxes, a closer Church-state alliance, and popular anti-Jewish sentiment all contributed to this decline.  The turning point came in 1391 when riots broke out in Seville.  The violence quickly spread throughout Castile and Aragon, where the Jews endured over a year of attacks.  Some Jews were forcibly converted; others felt that conversion was their only option.  These Jews, known as conversos, were shunned by Jews and not fully accepted by Christians.  In the 1440s, Spanish authorities realized that some of these conversos were returning to their Jewish heritage.  To solve this problem, the Inquisition was authorized to find and deal with these backsliding Christians.

The conversos remained a problem in 1469, when Isabel, the sister of King Henry IV of Castile, married Ferdinand, the son of John II of Aragon.  By 1479 they ruled Castile and Aragon together.  Ferdinand and Isabel felt it was their duty to strengthen the standing of the Church in Spain, so they used the Inquisition to find conversos who secretly practiced Judaism.  When the Inquisition did not produce the desired results, an edict of expulsion was issued.  On March 31, 1492, the Jews of Spain were given four months to sell their property and leave the country.  The reason given for this expulsion was simple: all prior attempts to stop Christians from returning to their Jewish roots had failed.  Expulsion was the only way to guarantee that the Jews would have no influence on Christians in Spain.

Did you like this article?  MyJewishLearning is a not-for-profit organization.

Please consider making a donation today.

Joshua Levy is a doctoral candidate in the department of Hebrew and Judaic Studies at New York University, studying medieval Jewish history. His dissertation, "Sefer Milhamot Hashem, Chapter Eleven: The Earliest Jewish Critique of the New Testament," is an examination of medieval Jewish criticisms of the Gospel of Matthew.