The Expulsion of the Jews of Spain

Graham Noble examines the origins and traces the consequences of the notorious Edict of 1492.

A discussion of anti-Semitism in the Middle Ages inevitably raises spectres from Europe’s more recent past. Can we ever talk of Jewish ghettos, forced expulsions and badges of identification without remembering the terrible use to which they were put in the twentieth century? My intention here is to examine one event from the late medieval period, the expulsion of the Jews of Spain in 1492, and to look at its origins, its scale and its impact. Cruel and prejudicial though it was, should this occurrence be regarded as an early step along, what has been called, a ‘twisted road to Auschwitz’?  

The Edict of Expulsion

We order all Jews and Jewesses of whatever age they may be, who live, reside, and exist in our said kingdoms and lordships … that by the end of the month of July next of the present year, they depart from all of these our said realms.

These were the words from 1492 of the monarchs of Spain, Ferdinand and Isabella, announcing the beginning of a new policy aimed at the complete destruction of Spanish Judaism. The terms of the edict were unbending: Jews in Aragon and Castile were given four months to accept Christian baptism or leave the country. Those who chose exile were allowed to sell their possessions, once outstanding debts had been cleared, but could not take with them either silver or gold. It set in train a sorry exodus of so-called Sephardic (or Spanish) Jews, who were commonly robbed, cheated and despised as they made their long journeys towards sanctuary. 

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