His­to­ry of a Tragedy: The Expul­sion of the Jews from Spain

Joseph Pérez; Lysa Hochroth, trans.; Helen Nad­er, intro.
  • Review
By – November 14, 2011

Pérez, of the Uni­ver­si­ty of Bor­deaux, dis­cuss­es the his­to­ry of Span­ish Jew­ry and its sta­tus at the time of the expul­sion in 1492. He presents the­o­ries on the Span­ish mon­archs’ moti­va­tions, includ­ing those of Joseph Baer, Hen­ry Kamen, and Leon Poli­akov. Pérez deems Ameri­co Castro’s cel­e­brat­ed con­cept of a Jew­ish Gold­en Age” under Chris­t­ian rule a myth. 

Aver­ro­ism, plague, civ­il war, and vio­lent con­ver­sion cam­paigns weak­ened the cor­po­rate autonomous Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ties. By 1492 Jews were no longer cru­cial to Spain. Pérez claims that only about 50,000 chose exile over con­ver­sion and denies that the expul­sion caused the kingdom’s decline. 

The author stress­es his­tor­i­cal con­text. The Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ty became a threat to the full assim­i­la­tion of con­verts. Attempts to seg­re­gate Jews and edu­cate con­verts failed. 

Jews had already been expelled from oth­er Euro­pean states in even more inhu­mane cir­cum­stances.” Accord­ing to Pérez, Spain even­tu­al­ly adopt­ed the con­tem­po­rary poli­cies that the reli­gion of a state was deter­mined by that of its ruler, that reli­gion could not be dif­fer­ent from nationality. 

This work is a schol­ar­ly view of a sub­ject that con­tin­ues to fas­ci­nate. Small type and a cramped style are minus­es. It should be not­ed that Pérez is murky on the fate of Span­ish Jews who fled to Portugal.

Lib­by K. White is direc­tor of the Joseph Mey­er­hoff Library of Bal­ti­more Hebrew Uni­ver­si­ty in Bal­ti­more, MD and gen­er­al edi­tor of the Asso­ci­a­tion of Jew­ish Libraries Newsletter.

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