Jews in Medieval Europe

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Golden Haggadah cleaning, from 1320

During the Middle Ages, most Jews lived in Christian Europe. Over time the Jews spread into central and western Europe, especially Spain. After the Norman conquests, they reached England Some immigrated eastward into Asia. Babylon became an important Jewish center. Yemen was actually a Jewish kingdom for much of the 5th and 6th centuries. Small communities reached India and China. Their migration around the world help set up trade and communications links between isolated and far flung places.

Paul Halsall of Fordham University wrote: “Medieval Jewish communities were self-governing entities, generally allowed by secular rulers to govern themselves according to Jewish law, within certain limits which varied over time and between kingdoms. Their autonomy vis a vis other communities was in principle absolute; Jewish political theory did not allow one community authority over another. When it came to decisions about taxation or disputes between members of the community, this autonomy was valued greatly. The drawbacks of autonomy became more obvious, however, in times of crisis, when the advantages of collective action on a larger scale became obvious. [Source:]

Jews were massacred or expelled as part the crusades movement. When Jerusalem was taken in 1099, the banner of Christ was raised above the Temple Mount and Jews were driven into synagogues and burnt. Corpses were reported to be knee-high and bood flowed down the Valley of Kidorn. William of Tyre wrote, "I roused horror in all who looked upon [it]. Muslims and Jews that survived were captured and sold into slavery. During 87 years of Crusader rule Jerusalem Judaism was banned.

In the 9th century the Khazars, a Turkic tribe in Russia, converted en masse to Judaism. The Khazar Khan Turk Bulan underwent a ritual circumcision. Some say the conversion was as much of political move by the Khazars — to distance themselves from the Christian Byzantines and Muslim Arabs — as a religious one. Some attribute the Khazar’s conversion to the influence of the people that became known as Mountain Jews of the Caucasus. There were many Jewish aristocrats, merchants and advisors from the Caucasus in the Khazar court before the Khazars converted.

It has been argued that the Middle Ages for Jews continued into the 18th century because persecution and isolation kept them from enjoying the fruits of the Renaissance and the enlightenment.

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Creation of Judaism

20120504-Torah open ii.jpg The evolution from Hebraism (a religion based only on the scriptures of the Old Testament) to Judaism (with rabbis and religion doctrine interpreted by these rabbis) was a slow transformation that began in the destruction of the Second Temple (A.D. 70) and the compilation of the “Mishnah” (Judaism’s first major canonical document following the Bible) in the A.D. second century. During this time Judaism absorbed new ideas and faced new problems, many resulting from war and dislocation.

Alexandria was a center of Jewish intellectual life as well as Greek, Roman and Christian intellectual thought. Jewish scholars such as Philo of Alexandria were deeply influenced by Greek philosophy, which helped them find a vocabulary and ideas to address some of the more abstract concepts of their religion especially when it came to God. By contrast scholars that stayed close to their roots in Palestine stayed truer to the Bible and conceptualized God in more human and anthropomorphic terms. The evolution of these two methods of approaching Judaism led to articulation of the more mysterious aspects of Judaism and a codification of its laws. The creation of Judaism was the work of rabbis who reconstructed the religion of the Jews by interpreting the Torah in a world without a Temple based on oral traditions, families and synagogues. The record of these rabbis formed the basis for the Mishnah and the Talmud.

In the Middle Ages there were many Jewish sects. In some cases each had its own Talmud. In time the the Babylonian Talmud predominated over the others. These were later organized into codes of which the code of Maimonides (1135-1204) and Joseph Caro (1488-1575), known as “Shulchan Aruch”, became the most important.

Jews in the Early Christian and Late Roman Era (A.D. 325-590)

Events: 330 — Jerusalem becomes part of Constantine's Byzantine Empire.
380/391 — Christianity becomes THE religion of Roman Empire.
401 — Christianity takes root in Gaza thanks to Bishop Porphyry.
410 — Rome sacked by Visigoths.

Persecution and Killing of Jews: 325 — Christian First Ecumenical Council, at Nicea (Asia Minor), changes the date of Easter from Passover and forbids Jews from owning Christian slaves or converting pagans to Judaism.
339 — Constantine forbids intermarriage with Jews and the circumcision of heathen or Christian slaves, declaring death as the punishment.
415 — St. Cyril, the Bishop of Alexandria, champions violence against the city's Jews and incites the Greeks to kill or expel them. Some Jews return within a few years, but many return only after the Muslims conquer Egypt.
425 — Jewish office of Nasi/Prince abolished by Rome.
439 — Theodosis enacts a code prohibiting Jews from holding important positions involving money. He also reenacts a law forbidding the building of new synagogues.
587 — Recared of Spain adopts Catholicism, banning Jews from slave ownership, intermarriage and holding positions of authority. Recared also declares that children of mixed marriages be raised Christian.
590 — Pope Gregory the Great formulates the official Papal policy towards Jews, objecting to forced baptism and tolerating them according to the previous council's regulations.

Theology: 359 — Hillel creates a new calendar based on the lunar year to replace the dispersed Sanhedrin, which previously announced the festivals. [Source — Fordham University,] 368 — Jerusalem Talmud compiled.
370-425 — Hillel founds Beit Hillel, a school emphasizing tolerance and patience. Hillel, a descendant of King David, is one of the first scholars to devise rules to interpret the Torah.
426 — Babylonian Talmud compiled.

Welcoming News for Jews: 500 — After conquering Italy in 493, Ostrogoth king Theodoric issues an edict safeguarding the Jews and ensuring their right to determine civil disputes and freedom of worship.
519 — After Ravenna residents burnt down local synagogues, Ostrogoth ruler Theodoric orders the Italian town to rebuild the synagogues at their own expense.

Jews in Medieval Europe

Most Jews in Medieval Europe lived in segregated ghettos in the fortified towns. They spoke local languages although they often wrote it using Hebrew letters and made their living like most Christians as craftsmen. Because making money from interest was viewed as a sin by most Christians many Jews were also employed as moneychangers, pawnbrokers and moneylenders. Jews were not restricted from charging high interest by church rules against usury. Moneylenders sometimes charged interest rates as high as 40 percent a year.

Jews were protected the same laws as Christians and Pope Innocent III ruled "no one shall disturb them by beating them with clubs" or exhuming their bodies from Jewish cemeteries. Occasionally, however, Jews were expelled from towns by greedy lords so their goods were seized. As a consequence the Jewish moneylenders often charged high interest rates to cover the risks of simply being a Jew. ["Life in a Medieval City" by Joseph and Frances Gies, Harper Perennial]

Many Jews also also doctors. Medieval medicine was essentially Greek medicine introduced by way of Arabs texts through Spain. Since more Jews understood Arabic than Christians, they were believed to more knowledgeable about medicine. [Ibid]

Services in synagogues were more casual than the services in the Christian churches. People wandered in and out, children ran around. Their were fines for striking other worshippers during a service. Jews were required to attend services during the Sabbath and many came everyday to read scriptures and light wax candles. [Ibid]

The Jews were welcomed by feudal lords because of the knowledge of trade and science. They rose to high positions and established themselves as doctors, bankers and merchants in the Court of Charlemagne and began settling France and the Rhineland in the 8th century, and among the Moors in Spain.

Christians and Jews in Medieval Europe

Marror artichoke from the Sarajevo Haggadah

According to the Worldmark Encyclopedia of Religious Practices — The establishment of Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire by Constantine (ruled 306–37) marked a turning point in the life of Western Jewry. Christians had an ambivalent attitude toward Jews. On the one hand, Jews were the people from whose midst Jesus and the first apostles of the church came, and they were the living custodians of the Old Testament, which contained the prophecies of the advent of Jesus as the Messiah. On the other hand, Jews were despised for rejecting Jesus. [Source — Paul Mendes-Flohr Worldmark Encyclopedia of Religious Practices, 2000s,]

Despite the resulting history of antagonism, which often occasioned discrimination and persecution, there was also a rich cultural exchange. Early Christians adopted many Jewish beliefs and practices. The Gregorian chants of the Orthodox Church, for instance, are said to bear traces of the music of the Temple, and the structure of the Christian liturgy and many of its prayers are derived from Judaism, as is the practice of baptism. Medieval Jewish scholars took Greek philosophy, a knowledge of which they had acquired under the tutelage of Islamic sages, to Christian Europe. In turn, Christianity exercised an influence on popular Jewish religious practices, music, folklore, and thought, especially mysticism.

Jews in the Mediterranean in the Middle Ages

The were large Jewish communities in southern Spain, southern Italy and Sicily around Venice, Verona, Naples and Syracuse and southern France in Provence. The Jew sin southern Italy are believed to be the ancestors of the earliest Jewish settlers in northern and eastern Europe.

Jews played a vital role in trade in the Mediterranean. By the end of the A.D. 4th century they dominated commerce in many towns and were even important political and community leaders. The Jews in Italy seem to have been fairly well assimilated and spoke largely Latin and Greek. Indications of their wealth include land records of large, luxurious villas owned by Jews, elaborate ritual baths and catacombs with artwork painted in gold.

The Black Death of 1348 was blamed on the Jews. Looking for scapegoats, Europeans massacred Jews, suspected of poisoning the water. In Geneva Jews were tortured until they confessed to poisoning wells. When news of this spread around Europe Jews were forced to into house were they either starved to death or had their houses set on fire. Across Germany the Flagellants slaughtered thousands of Jews.

Charlemagne: Capitulary for the Jews, 814


Charlemagne: Capitulary for the Jews, 814 reads: 1) Let no Jew presume to take in pledge or for any debt any of the goods of the Church in gold, silver, or other form, from any Christian. But if he presume to do so, which God forbid, let all his goods be seized and let his right hand be cut off. [Source: J. P. Migne, ed., Patrologiae Cursus Completus, (Paris, 1862), Vol. XCVII, pp. 369-370, reprinted in Roy C. Cave & Herbert H. Coulson, A Source Book for Medieval Economic History, (Milwaukee: The Bruce Publishing Co., 1936; reprint ed., New York: Biblo & Tannen, 1965), pp. 172-173,]

2) Let no Jew presume to take any Christian in pledge for any Jew or Christian, nor let him do anything worse; but if he presume to do so, let him make reparation according to his law, and at the same time he shall lose both pledge and debt.
3) Let no Jew presume to have a money-changer's table in his house, nor shall he presume to sell wine, grain, or other commodities there. But if it be discovered that he has done so all his goods shall be taken away from him, and he shall be imprisoned until he is brought into our presence.

“4) Concerning the oath of the Jews against the Christians. Place sorrel twice around his body from head to feet; he ought to stand when he takes his oath, and he should have in his right hand the five books of Moses according to his law, and if he cannot have them in Hebrew he shall have them in Latin. "May the God who gave the law to Moses on Mount Sinai help me, and may the leprosy of Naamon the Syrian come upon me as it came upon him, and may the earth swallow me as it swallowed Dathan and Abiron, I have not committed evil against you in this cause."

Spanish Jews

Although estimates vary, historians believe at least 200,000 Jews lived in Spain before the 1492 expulsion. Before that date they were pushed to convert to Catholicism. Many refused to convert or leave and were burned at the stake. Jews made rich contributions to science, music and literature before they were driven out from the old Jewish quarters in medieval Spanish cities such as Toledo and Seville where they lived among Christians and Muslims. [Source: Daniel Silva, AFP, September 2, 2014]

The Jews of Spain and Portugal are called Sephardim or Sephardic Jews. They and their descendants, most of whom, in the wake of expulsion in 1492, settled in the Ottoman Empire and in North Africa; in the early seventeenth century small groups of descendants of Jews who had remained on the Iberian Peninsula and accepted Christianity settled in the Netherlands, where they reaffirmed their ancestral religion

According to the Worldmark Encyclopedia of Religious Practices: The Christian Reconquista (Reconquest) of Spain in the twelfth century led to the expulsion of the Jews at the end of the fifteenth century. Jews were allowed to remain in Spain only on the condition that they convert to Catholicism. Among the converts, however, were those who secretly maintained allegiance to their ancestral faith and who, as a consequence, later became subject to the Inquisition. Most of those who refused to convert sought refuge in Muslim countries, their descendants becoming known as Sephardic Jews, from the Hebrew name for Spain. Beginning in the late sixteenth century there was a steady stream of Jews from Spain and Portugal, popularly known as Marranos, who settled in the Netherlands, where they returned to Judaism. Members of this community founded the first Jewish settlements in the New World. [Source: Paul Mendes-Flohr Worldmark Encyclopedia of Religious Practices, 2000s,]

Jews in Early Medieval Europe (A.D. 600-1000)

Events: 638 — Islamic conquest of Jerusalem.
691 — First account of Jews in England. 712 — Jews help Muslim invaders capture Spain, ending Visogoth rule and beginning a 150 year period of relative peace, in which Jews were free to study and practice religion as they wished.

Persecution and Killing of Jews:
610 — Visigothic ruler Sesbut prohibits Judaism after several anti-Jewish edicts are ignored. Exiled Jews return to Byzantine Spain under Sesbut's successor, Swintilla.
638 — Although Chintilla decrees that only Catholics are permitted to live in Visogoth Spain, many Jews continue to live there.
682 — Visigoth King Erwig continues oppression of Jews, making it illegal to practice any Jewish rites and pressing for the conversion or emigration of the remaining Jews.
722 — In the wake of a narrow military defeat over Muslim forces, Leo III of Constantinople decided his nation's weakness lay in its heterogenious population, and began the forcible conversion of the Jews, as well as the "New Christians." Most converted under Leo III clandestinely continued their Jewish practices.

Jews in Later Medieval Europe (A.D. 1000-1300)

14th century Spanish haggadah reading

Persecution: 1078 — Pope Gregory VII prohibited Jews from holding offices in Christendom.
1215 — The Church's Fourth Lateran Council decrees that Jews be differentiated from others by their type of clothing to avoid intercourse between Jews and Christians. Jews are sometimes required to wear a badge; sometimes a pointed hat.
1227-1274 — Christian theologian, who called for the slavery of all Jews, Saint Thomas Aquinas.
1267 — In a special session, the Vienna city council forced Jews to wear the Pileum cornutum, a cone-shaped headress prevelent in many medieval woodcuts illustrating Jews. This form of distinctive dress was an additon to badge Jews were forced to wear. 1242 — Burning of the Talmud in Paris.
1254 — French King Louis IX expelled the Jews from France, ending the Tosaphists period. Most Jews went to Germany and further east. 1278 — The Edict of Pope Nicholas III requires compulsory attendance of Jews at conversion sermons.

Persecution, Killing and Expulsion of Jews in England: 1066 — In the wake of the Norman conquest of England, Jews left Normandy and settled in London and later in York, Norwich, Oxford, Bristol and Lincoln.
1144 — Jews in Norwich, England, are accused of murdering a Christian child in what is believed to be the first ritual murder charge. The blood libel, as well as others in England that follow in the 12th century, incites anti-Jewish violence.
March 16, 1190 — Jews attacked, over 150 die after a six day standoff in York, England.
1222 — Deacon Robert of Reading, England, was burned for converting to Judaism, setting a precedent for the burning of "heretics".
1229 — King Henry III of England forced Jews to pay half the value of their property in taxes.
1255 — Seeing himself as the "master of the Jews," King Henry II of England transferred his rights to the Jews to his brother, Richard, for 5,000 marks.
1253 — King Henry III of England ordered Jewish worship in synagogue to be held quietly so that Christians passing by do not have to hear it. e also ordered that Jews may not employ Christian nurses or maids, nor may any Jew prevent another from converting to Christianity. 1275 — King Edward of England banned usury and unsuccessfully encouraged Jews in agriculture, crafts and local trades. He also forced Jews over the age of seven to wear an indentifying badge.
1282 — The Archbishop of Canterbury, John Pectin, ordered all London synagogues to closed and prohibited Jewish physicians from practicing on Christians.
1290/1291 — Expulsion of Jews from England.
1290 — Bowing political pressure, English King Edward I expels the Jews from England. They were only allowed to take what they could carry and most went to France, paying for thier passage only to be robbed and cast overboard by the ship captains.

Killing of Jews: 1171 — In the town of Blois, southwest of Paris, Jews are falsely accused of committing ritual murder ( (killing of a Christian child) and blood libel. The adult Jews of the city are arrested and most are executed after refusing to convert. Thirty-one or 32 of the Jews are killed. The Jewish children are forcibly baptized.
1285 — Blood libel in Munich, Germany results in the death of 68 Jews. An additional 180 Jews are burned alive at the synagogue.
1287 — A mob in Oberwesel, Germany kills 40 Jewish men, women and children after a ritual murder accusation.

Theology and Culture: 1040 — Birth of Rashi.
1131 — Birth of Rambam.
1267 — Ramban (Nachmanides) arrives
1286 — Moses de Leon of Spain completes a commentary of the Torah. The Zohar remains a central text of Jewish mysticism.

Welcoming News for Jews: 1095 — Henry IV of Germany, who granted Jews favorable conditions whenever possible, issued a charter to the Jews and a decree against forced baptism.
1210 — Group of 300 French and English rabbis make aliyah and settle in Israel.

Jews During Crusades (A.D. 1095-1258)

Jews accused of poisoning wells during the Great Plague

The Crusades were military operations by Christian countries to capture the Holy Land. The armies of the first Crusade attacked Jewish communities on their way to Palestine, especially in Germany. When the Crusaders captured Jerusalem they slaughtered and enslaved thousands of Jews as well as Muslims. Following the example of the Romans earlier, they banned Jews from the city. [Source: BBC]

According to the BBC: In Britain, the Jewish population increased, benefiting from the protection of Henry I. The bad times return The 1100s were a seriously bad period. Jews were driven from southern Spain by a Berber invasion. Serious anti-Jewish incidents began to occur in Europe: in France Jews were accused of ritually murdering a child in England Jews were murdered while trying to give gifts to the King at Richard I’s coronation 150 Jews were massacred in York in 1215 the Catholic Church ordered Jews to live in segregated areas (ghettos) and to wear distinctive clothes.

Events : 614 — Persian General Romizanes captures Jerusalem and allows Jews to run the city. At this time, aproximately 150,000 Jews are living in 43 settlements in Eretz-Israel.
638 — Islamic conquest of Jerusalem.
1099 — Crusaders (European Christians) capture Jerusalem .
1171 — Saladin (1138-1193) overthrows Fatimid dynasty in Egypt.
1187 — Saladin recaptures Jerusalem from Crusaders.
1291 — Expulsion of Christian Crusaders from Syria.

May 3, 1096 — Count Emico of Leiningen, on his way to join a Crusade, attacked the synagogue at Speyers and killed all the defenders. 1191 — French King Phillip starts the Third Crusade, cancels debts to Jews, drives many Jews out of France, confiscates their property.
1215 — Fourth Lateran Council expands anti-Jewish decrees in Europe, forces Jews to wear the Yellow Patch, the "Badge of Shame.
1222 — Stephen Langton, Archbishop of Canterbury and a prime mover of the Lateran Council, forbids Jews from building new synagogues, owning slaves or mixing with Christians.
1239 — Pope Gregory IX orders the kings of France, England, Spain and Portugal to confiscate Hebrew books, Following this edict, the Talmud is condemned and burned in France and Rome.

Killing of Jews:
1096 — Participants in the First Crusade massacre Jews in several Central European cities, beginning centuries of pogroms linked to the Crusades.
1096 — More than 5,000 Jews were murdered in Germany in several different attacks.
May 27, 1096 — 1,200 Jews commit suicide in Mayence to escape Count Emico, who tried to forcibly convert them.
1099 — Crusaders (European Christians) capture Jerusalem and massacre tens of thousands of the city's Jews. 1143 — 150 Jews killed in Ham, France.

Welcoming News for Jews:
1100 — Germans, including German Jews, migrate to Poland. It is seen as “the land of opportunity.”
1115 — After reconquering Toledo, Spain from the Muslims, Alphonso I invited all Jews to return.
1124 — Records of a Jewish gate in Kiev attest to the presence of a Jewish community there.
1160-1173 — Benjamin of Toledo, The Itinerary of Benjamin of Toledo.
1187 — Saladin recaptures Jerusalem from Crusaders grants Jews permission to re-enter.
1190 — Approximately 2,500 Jews live in England, enjoying more rights than Jews on the continent.
1211 — A group of 300 rabbis from France and England settle in Palestine (Eretz Yisrael), beginning what might be interpreted as Zionist aliyah.
1204 — First synagogue built in Vienna, a city where Jews enjoyed more freedom than in other areas of Austria.

Jews in Europe in the A.D. 1300s

scene from the Sarajevo Haggadah produced in Spain around 1350

Events: 1300-1517 — Italian Renaissance.

Persecution: 1321 — Henry II of Castile forces Jews to wear yellow badges.
1385-1386 — German Emperor Wenceslaus arrests Jews living in the Swabian League, a group of free cities in S. Germany, and confiscates their books. Later, he expelled the Jews of Strassburg after a community debate.
1386 — Emperor Wenceslaus expelles the Jews from Strassbourg and confiscate their property. 1389 — Pope Boniface continues the policy of Clement VI, forbidding the Christians to harm Jews, destroy their cemeteries or forcibly baptize them.

Expulsions: 1306-1294 — Expulsions of Jews from France.
1306 — Philip IV orders all Jews expelled from France, with their property to be sold at public auction. Some 125,000 Jews are forced to leave.
1322 — Charles IV of France expels all French Jews without the one year period he had promised them.

Killing of Jews: 1321 — Similar to accusations made during the Black Plague, Jews were accused of encouraging lepers to poison Christian wells in France. An estimated five thousand Jews were killed before the king, Philip the Tall, admitted the Jews were innocent.
September 30, 1338 — The Deggendorf Massacre. Residents of Deggendorf, Germany, burned the homes of and massacred the town's approximately 50 Jews.
1348-1349 — Much of Europe blames the Black Plague on the Jews and tortured to confess that they poisoned the wells. Despite the pleas of innocence of Pope Clement VI, the accusations resulted in the destruction of over 60 large and 150 small Jewish communities.
1348 — Basel burns 600 Jews at the stake and forcibly baptizes 140 children, expelling the city's other Jews. The city's Christian residents convert the synagogue into a church and destroy the Jewish cemetery.
July 6, 1348 — Pope Clement VI clarifies that the Jews are not behind the Black Death, tells Christians not to blame Jews for the disease sweeping Europe. Pope Clement VI issues an edict repudiating the libel against Jews, saying that they too were suffering from the Plague. 1360 — King Pedro of Portugal arrests and tortures to death Samuel Ben Meir Abulafia. No charges were ever given and the King confiscated Abulafia's lands and great wealth.
1389 — After a priest was hit with some sand from a few small Jewish boys playing in the street, he insisted that the Jewish community was plotting against him and began a virulent campaign against the city's Jews, resulting in the massacre of thousands and the destruction of the city's synagogue and Jewish cemetery. King Wenceslaus refused to condemn the act, insisting that the responsibility lay with the Jews for going outside during the Holy Week.
1391 — Ferrand Martinez, archdeacon of Ecija, begins a campaign against Spanish Jewry, killing over 10,000 and destroying the Jewish quarter in Barcelona. The campaign quickly spreads throughout Spain, except for Granada, and destroys Jewish communities in Valencia and Palma De Majorca.

Welcoming News for Jews: 1333 — Casimir the Great takes power in Poland and brings with him a sympathetic attitude toward the Jews, who benefit as a result.
1391 — King Pedro I orders Spain not to harm the remaining Jews and decrees that synagogues not be converted into churches.
1392 — King Pedro I announces his compliance with the Bull of Pope Boniface IX, protecting Jews from baptism. He extends this edict to Spanish Jewish refugees.

Jews in Europe in the A.D. 1400s

Events: 1445 — Gutenberg prints Europe's first book with movable type.
1453 — Fall of Constantinople (Istanbul) to Ottoman Muslims.
1453 — Ottomans begin rule from Constantinople.
1463 — Pope Nicholas V authorized the establishment of the Inquisition to investigate heresy among the Marranos.
1480 — Inquisition established in Spain.

Persecution: 1415 — Benedict XIII bans the study of the Talmud in any form, institutes forced Christian sermons and tries to restrict Jewish life completely.
1420 — All Jews are expelled from Lyons, including the refugees from Paris who were expelled 20 years earlier. Jews now only remain in Provence (until 1500) and in the possessions of the Holy See.
1422 — Pope Martin V issues a bull reminding Christians that Christianity was derived from Judaism and warns the Friars not to incite against the Jews. The Bull was withdrawn the following year, alleging that the Jews of Rome attained the Bull by fraud.
1454 — Casimir IV of Poland revokes the Jewish charter, at the insistence of Bishop Zbignev. The Bishop had correctly predicted Casimir's defeat by the Teutonic Knights backed by the Pope, and succeeded in convincing the King that it was due to the Jews.
1494 — Polish King Jan Olbracht's orders Jews to leave to leave Crakow for Kazimierz after they are blamed for a large fire that destroyed part of the city.

Events in Spain: 1479-15 — Isabella's severe anti-Jewish learnings influence Ferdinand and lead to the final expulsion of the Jews from Spain.
1492 — End of Muslim states in Spain.
1492 — Christian expulsion of Muslim Moors from Spain.
1492 — The Alhambra Decree ordered the expulsion of the Jews from Castile and Aragon, Spain. The edict was not formally revoked until December 16, 1968.
1492 — Columbus sets sail.
1492 — Christian expulsion of Jews from Spain, sending over 200,000 Jews fleeing: 137,000 Jews forced to leave Sicily.
1496 — Manuel of Portugal expels Jews from Portugal.

Theology and Culture: 1437-1509 — Philosopher, financier and scholar, Don Isaac Abarbanel intercedes many times on behalf of his fellow Jews, including trying to stop Ferdinand from expelling them. This time he was foiled by Torquemada and he followed them into exile. His commentaries cover the major and minor Prophets. Consistent with his belief that the Messiah would come in his lifetime, he also wrote three messianic texts called Migdal Yeshu'ot (Tower of Salvation).
1452-1515 — Astronomer and historian, Abraham Zacuto creates tables used by Columbus. After the explusion of 1492, Zacuto went to Portugal where he developed the metal Astrolab used by Vasco Da Gama. In 1498 he was forced to flee or convert. He left and reached Tunis where he wrote a history of the Jews from creation until the sixteenth century.
1486 — First prayer book published in Soncino, Italy.
1488 — The first complete edition of the Hebrew Bible is printed in Soncino, Italy.

Welcoming News for Jews:
1420 — Pope Martin V favorably reinstates old privileges of the Jews and orders that no child under the age of 12 can be forcibly baptized without parental consent.
1447 — Following a fire in Posen where the original charter (written by Casimir the Great) granted the Jews "privileges," Casimir IV renews all their rights and makes his charter one of the most liberal in Europe. This charter lasted less than a decade before it was revoked.

Image Sources: Wikimedia, Commons, Schnorr von Carolsfeld Bible in Bildern, 1860

Text Sources: Internet Jewish History Sourcebook “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); “ Encyclopedia of the World’s Religions” edited by R.C. Zaehner (Barnes & Noble Books, 1959); “Old Testament Life and Literature” by Gerald A. Larue, New International Version (NIV) of The Bible,; Wikipedia, Live Science, Archaeology magazine, National Geographic, BBC, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, Times of London, The New Yorker, Reuters, AP, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, and various books and other publications.

Last updated March 2024

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