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

Sílvia Planas and Manuel Forcano
  • Review
By – October 25, 2011
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.
Ran­dall Belin­fante has served as the Librar­i­an of the Amer­i­can Sephar­di Fed­er­a­tion for more than 13 years. He has tak­en a tiny col­lec­tion of 200 books and built an assem­blage of over 10,000 items. Mr. Belin­fante holds degrees in var­i­ous aspects of Jew­ish stud­ies, and dur­ing his tenure at ASF, he has inves­ti­gat­ed a vari­ety of top­ics, pre­sent­ing papers on such diverse top­ics as the Mizrahi Jews dri­ven from their homes in Islam­ic coun­tries and the cryp­to-Jew­ish Mash­hadis of Iran. He has also writ­ten many book reviews on books of Sephar­di / Mizrahi interest.

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