Jew­ish Spain: A Mediter­ranean Memory

Tabea Alexa Linhard
  • Review
By – January 1, 2014

In this study, Tabea Lin­hard explores the prac­ti­cal appli­ca­tions of the term Jew­ish Spain.” Start­ing from the premise that Spain was nev­er actu­al­ly Jew­ish (though parts of the Iber­ian Penin­su­la might have been), she asserts that the con­tra­dic­to­ry forces of phi­lo-Sephardism” and anti-Semi­tism” col­lide in the process of con­jur­ing up what the con­tem­po­rary pop­u­la­tion describe as mem­o­ry” of Jew­ish Spain. 

The nos­tal­gic view of phi­lo-Sephardism looks to a dis­tant past of con­viven­cia in which Jews, Mus­lims, and Chris­tians lived togeth­er in peace pri­or to the Chris­t­ian con­quest of the Iber­ian Penin­su­la. The Jews of this dis­tant time are typ­i­cal­ly described as yearn­ing for Sepharad” and as speak­ing their own melod­ic” form of Span­ish, which has come down to us as Ladi­no. In fact, this yearn­ing did not actu­al­ly emerge until long after the con­viven­cia—after the Jews had been expelled from Spain in 1492. How could the Jews of the con­viven­cia express nos­tal­gia for a land from which they had not yet been expelled? Then too, as Lin­hard makes clear, the Span­ish’ that only Jews spoke attained its melod­ic qual­i­ty only after the Sephardic Jews had been exiled” from the land in which it originated. 

A sim­i­lar­ly inac­cu­rate lauda­to­ry mem­o­ry can be found in describ­ing the man­ner in which a num­ber of Jews bear­ing Span­ish pass­ports were saved dur­ing the Holo­caust, an idea which has giv­en rise to the belief that Spain so loved its Jews that the admin­is­tra­tion was will­ing to fight to pro­tect them from the Nazis. The real­i­ty, how­ev­er, sug­gests that the Span­ish peo­ple actu­al­ly main­tained a very dif­fer­ent atti­tude toward the Jews, in which the 1492 expul­sion, the Span­ish Civ­il War, and the Holo­caust, though in no way com­pa­ra­ble and cer­tain­ly not inter­change­able, appear to be joined in a per­se­cu­to­ry landscape.’ ” 

Lin­hard argues that mem­o­ry” in Spain is mul­ti­di­rec­tion­al, and that while the cur­rent pop­u­la­tion may pre­serve a cer­tain nos­tal­gia regard­ing the Jews of the past, that same pop­u­la­tion has one of the high­est lev­els of anti-Semi­tism in Europe.” She con­cludes, in fact, that the ambiva­lence sur­round­ing Jew­ish Spain” might derive from the rea­son­ing that Jews in Spain are accept­able as long as their pres­ence is far away in time (before 1492) or far away in place, locked in a sil­ver screen that bears no rela­tion to Spain’s real­i­ties.” A prob­ing inves­ti­ga­tion into the nature of mem­o­ry,” this book pro­vides an alter­na­tive approach to the Jew­ish-Span­ish rela­tion­ship in the twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry and as such is an impor­tant resource for aca­d­e­m­ic libraries and inter­est­ed individuals.

Relat­ed content:

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.

Discussion Questions