From Golden to Grim: Jewish Life in Muslim Spain

The complex political situation in Muslim Spain impacted Jewish social and cultural life there.

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Once again, Muslim rulers began enforcing the old sumptuary laws  [regulating Jewish dress and life style] and this time with a new rigor. Jews were obliged to wear badges or distinctively colored turbans. Jewish courtiers, physicians, and commu­nal officials faced new vocational restrictions. Jewish families were ex­posed to new refinements of social isolation. Jewish merchants were held responsible for bad harvests or food shortages, and often endured a gaunt­let of insults and petty humiliations in street and marketplace. By the latter 1100s, any lingering hope for Jewish revival in once‑genial Andalusia seemed all but foreclosed. The departure of Jews northward, once tenta­tive and temporary, now gained momentum, swelling irretrievably from a rivulet to a stream.

This article is reprinted, with permission, from Farewell Espana: The World of the Sephardim Remembered, published by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.

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Howard Sachar

Howard M. Sachar is the author of numerous books, including A History of Israel, A History of the Jews in America, Farewell Espana, Israel and Europe, and A History of Jews in the Modern World. He is also the editor of the 39-volume The Rise of Israel: A Documentary History. He serves as Professor of Modern History at George Washington University.