A History of Jewish Catalonia: The Life and Death of Jewish Communities in Medieval Catalonia

Ambit Serveis Editorials  2010

This beautifully illustrated work describes in great detail the history and culture of the Jews who lived in the north-eastern Spanish province of Catalonia in the centuries that preceded the expulsion of 1492. In contrast to their co-religionists in Andalusia, these Jews experienced a much shorter period of Moslem occupation and were impacted to a much greater extent by Christian rulers. Nevertheless, they too produced their share of luminaries.

This book comprises two volumes under a single title. The first volume explores the life and culture of the Jews of Catalonia. The author describes the districts (or calls) in which the Jews lived, and the administrative bodies (or aljamas) that directed their lives. The second describes the lives and influence of some of the major personalities from the Catalonian Jewish community. These include Rabbi Israel ben Abraham (who is better known as Isaac the Blind, and who is considered by many to be “the father of the Kabbalah”); Rabbi Jonah ben Abraham Gerundi (who authored the work Gates of Repentance); and Rabbi Solomon ben Adret (who was Chief Rabbi of Barcelona and a leader who promoted the theoretical “antiecstatic” form of Kabbalah). Most notable among these dignitaries was Nahmanides, the Ramban. Nahamanides not only played a critical role in the famous disputation of Tortosa in 1414 (defending Jewish thought against the arguments of Christian conversos), but he also led the fight against the aristocratic and pro- Maimonidean Princes (nessiim) who dominated the aljamas of the time.

Although this is not an academic text (there are no notes, but there is a short bibliography) the text and illustrations do provide a pleasing introduction to Jewish Catalonia.

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