4000 YEARS OF JEWISH HISTORY From 'A History of the Jews'
By Paul Johnson (Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 1987)
Writing this epic history covering 4,000 years Paul Johnson starts with a Prologue
explaining why he, a Christian, decided to write this epic. His Epilogue is what
he found out
Why have I written a history of the Jews? There are four reasons. The first is sheer
curiosity. When I was working on my History of Christianity, I became aware for the
first time in my life of the magnitude of the debt Christianity owes to Judaism.
It was not, as I had been taught to suppose, that the New Testament replaced the
Old; rather, that Christianity gave a fresh interpretation to an ancient form of
monotheism, gradually evolving into a different religion but carrying with it much
of the moral and dogmatic theology, the liturgy, the institutions and the fundamental
concepts of its forebear. I thereupon determined, should opportunity occur, to write
about the people who had given birth to my faith, to explore their history back to
its origins and forward to the present day, and to make up my own mind about their
role and significance. The world tended to see the Jews as a race which had ruled
itself in antiquity and set down its records in the Bible; had then gone underground
for many centuries; had emerged at last only to be slaughtered by the Nazis; and,
finally, had created a state of its own, controversial and beleaguered. But these
were merely salient episodes. I wanted to link them together, to find and study the
missing portions, assemble them into a whole, and make sense of it.
My second reason was the excitement I found in the sheer span of Jewish history.
From the time of Abraham up to the present covers the best part of four millennia.
That is more than three-quarters of the entire history of civilized humanity. I am
a historian who believes in long continuities and delights in tracing them. The Jews
created a separate and specific identity earlier than almost any other people which
still survives. They have maintained it, amid appalling adversities, right up to
the present. Whence came this extraordinary endurance? What was the particular strength
of the all-consuming idea which made the Jews different and kept them homogeneous?
Did its continuing power lie in its essential immutability, or its capacity adapt,
or both? These are sinewy themes with which to grapple.
My third reason was that Jewish history covers not only vast tracts of time but huge
areas. The Jews have penetrated many societies and left their mark on all of them.
Writing a history of the Jews is almost like writing a history of the world, but
from a highly peculiar angle vision. It is world history seen from the viewpoint
of a learned and intelligent victim. So the effort to grasp history as it appeared
to Jews produces illuminating insights. Dietrich Bonhoeffer noticed this same effect
when he was in a Nazi prison. 'We have learned', he wrote in 1942, 'to see the great
events of world history from below, from the perspective of those who are excluded,
under suspicion, ill-treated powerless, oppressed and scorned, in short those who
suffer.' He found it, he said, 'an experience of incomparable value'. The historian
finds a similar merit in telling the story of the Jews: it adds to history the new
and revealing dimension of the underdog.
Finally the book gave me the chance to reconsider objectively, in light of a study
covering nearly 4,000 years, the most intractable of human questions: what are we
on earth for? Is history merely a series of events whose sum is meaningless? Is there
no fundamental moral difference between the history of the human race and the history,
say of ants? Or is there a providential plan of which we are, however humbly, the
agents? No people has ever insisted more firmly than the Jews that history has a
purpose and humanity a destiny. At a very early stage in their collective existence
they believed they had detected a divine scheme for the human race, of which their
own society was to be a pilot. They worked out their role in immense detail. They
clung to it with heroic persistence in the face of savage suffering. Many of them
believe it still. Others transmuted it into Promethean endeavours to raise our condition
by purely human means. The Jewish vision became the prototype for many similar grand
designs for humanity, both divine and man-made. The Jews, therefore, stand right
at the centre of the perennial attempt to give human life the dignity of a purpose.
Does their own history suggest that such attempts are worth making? Or does it reveal
their essential futility? The account that follows, the result of my own inquiry,
will I hope help its readers to answer these questions for themselves.
In his Antiquities of the Jews, Josephus describes Abraham as 'a man of great sagacity'
who had 'higher notions of virtue than others of his time'. He therefore determined
to change completely the views which all then had about God'. One way of summing
up 4,000 years of Jewish history is to ask ourselves what would have happened to
the human race if Abraham had not been a man of great sagacity, or if he had stayed
in Ur and kept his higher notions to himself, and no specific Jewish people had come
into being. Certainly the world without the Jews would have been a radically different
place. Humanity might eventually have stumbled upon all the Jewish insights. But
we cannot be sure. All the great conceptual discoveries of the intellect seem obvious
and inescapable once they have been revealed, but it requires a special genius to
formulate them for the first time. The Jews had this gift. To them we owe the idea
of equality before the law, both divine and human; of the sanctity of life and the
dignity of the human person; of the individual conscience and so of personal redemption;
of the collective conscience and so of social responsibility; of peace as an abstract
ideal and love as the foundation of justice, and many other items which constitute
the basic moral furniture of the human mind. Without the Jews it might have been
a much emptier place.
Above all, the Jews taught us how to rationalize the unknown. The result was monotheism
and the three great religions which profess it. It is almost beyond our capacity
to imagine how the world would have fared if they had never emerged. Nor did the
intellectual penetration of the unknown stop at the idea of one God. Indeed monotheism
itself can be seen as a milestone on the road which leads people to dispense with
God altogether. The Jews first rationalized the pantheon of idols into one Supreme
Being; then began the process of rationalizing Him out of existence. In the ultimate
perspective of history, Abraham and Moses may come to seem less important than Spinoza.
For the Jewish impact on humanity has been protean. In antiquity they were the great
innovators in religion and morals. In the Dark Ages and early medieval Europe they
were still an advanced people transmitting scarce knowledge and technology. Gradually
they were pushed from the van and fell behind until, by the end of the eighteenth
century, they were seen as a bedraggled and obscurantist rearguard in the march of
civilized humanity. But then came an astonishing second burst of creativity. Breaking
out of their ghettos, they once more transformed human thinking, this time in the
secular sphere. Much of the mental furniture of the modern world too is of Jewish
fabrication. The Jews were not just innovators. They were also exemplars and epitomizers
of the human condition. They seemed to present all the inescapable dilemmas of man
in a heightened and clarified form. They were the quintessential 'strangers and sojourners'.
But are we not all such on this planet, of which we each possess a mere leasehold
of threescore and ten? The Jews were the emblem of homeless and vulnerable humanity.
But is not the whole earth no more than a temporary transit-camp? The Jews were fierce
idealists striving for perfection, and at the same time fragile men and women yearning
forflesh-pots and safety. They wanted to obey God's impossible law and they wanted
to stay alive too. Therein lay the dilemma of, the Jewish commonwealths in antiquity,
trying to combine the moral excellence of a theocracy with the practical demands
of a state capable of defending itself. The dilemma has been recreated in our own
time in the shape of Israel, founded to realize a humanitarian ideal discovering
in practice that it must be ruthless simply to survive in a hostile world. But is
not this a recurrent problem which affects all human societies? We all want to build
Jerusalem. We all drift back; towards the Cities of the Plain. It seems to be the
role of the Jews to focus and dramatize these common experiences of mankind, and
to turn their particular fate into a universal moral. But if the Jews have this role,
who wrote it for them?
Historians should beware of seeking providential patterns in events. They are all
too easily found, for we are credulous creatures born to believe, and equipped with
powerful imaginations which readily produce and rearrange data to suit any transcendental
scheme. Yet excessive scepticism can produce as serious a distortion as credulity.
The historian should take into account all forms of evidence, including those which
are or appear to be metaphysical. If the earliest Jews were able to survey, with
us, the history of their progeny, they would find nothing surprising in it. They
always knew that Jewish society was appointed to be a pilot-project for the entire
human race. That Jewish dilemmas, dramas and catastrophes should be exemplary, larger
than life, would seem only natural to them. That Jews should over the millennia
attract such unparalleled, indeed inexplicable, hatred would be regrettable but only
to be expected. Above all, that the Jews should still survive, when all those other
ancient people were transmuted or vanished into the oubliettes of history, was wholly
predictable. How could it be otherwise? Providence decreed it and the Jews obeyed.
The historian may say: there is no such thing as providence. Possibly not. But human
confidence in such an historical dynamic, if it is strong and tenacious enough, is
a force in itself, which pushes on the hinge of events and moves them. The Jews believed
they were a special people with such unanimity and passion, and over so long a span,
that they became one. They did indeed have a role because they wrote it for themselves.
Therein, perhaps, lies the key to their story.
by Nathan Ausubel, pp112-3, Crown Publishers 1979)
After Constantine the Great (ruled 306 - 37) had made Christianity the state religion
of the Byzantine Empire, its spread elsewhere in Europe was inevitable. Thereupon
the systematic and savage persecution of the Jews fanned out in every direction on
the Continent, but this time with unimpeachable sanction of the Gospels and under
the direction of the Church. Not withstanding that in his Edict of Toleration which
he had issued in Milan in 313c.e. Constantine had magnanimously included the sufferance
of Jews, he did not grant them civil equality with either Christians or pagans. His
stated reason for their exclusion from the rest of society was that they were "a
nefarious and perverse sect." And only two years later, he promulgated a series of
repressive edicts, including one that forbade Jews to seek converts and another banning
their intermarriage with Christians.
All this enmity and hyper emotionalism expressed against the Jews - whatever the
precipitating socio-economic and political considerations that lurked behind them-were
fed by a underdercurrent of religious fanaticism. Who can deny that, whatever the
cumulative hostility that had been built up against the Jews during pagan Hellenistic
times, it received a new and startling factor even more powerful than the lies and
fairytales invented by the Greek, Roman, and Egyptian provocateurs from the early
Christian writings and decrees of the Church.
The religious basis for anti-Semitism in Christendom was derived from the accusation,
as it appears in the Gospels and it was unquestioningly accepted by all Christians,
that the Jews where to blame for the crucifixion of Jesus. The epithet "Christ Killer"
became a synonym for "Jew" and subsequently was bandied about with unthinking ease
through the ages by countless Christians, including popes, theologians, philosophers
and poets. The Gospels, although presumably written by the Disciples, who were born
and raised as devout Jews, are nevertheless, full of overt hostility toward the Jews.
What devout Christian has not been inflamed in his deepest feelings on reading in
an uncritical state of mind about the clamor the [Jewish] mob raised before Pontius
Pilot the Roman procurator, for the life of Jesus. "Let him be crucified," they are
alleged to have cried. Then, as if to crown its own infamy and make it appear the
more unspeakable the Gospel writer puts these incredible words into the mouth of
the shouting mob: "His blood be on us, and on our children." (Matthew 27:25.)
It was principally on this particular passage that the religious anti-Semites of
history pounced, nailing it down as the source of supreme sanction for the unremitting
persecution of the Jewish people. They argued that the Jews had out of their own
mouths condemned themselves with these words voluntarily accepting their blood-guilt
as "Christ-killers" bringing it down on the heads of their children and their children's
children for all eternity. Some modern Christian students of the Gospels, reading
this passage critically, have come to the conclusion that it is nothing but an editorial
comment that was patently inserted into the dialogue pf the trial-scene in the Passion-drama
of Jesus in order to make the cynicism and the diabolical meanness of the Jewish
"mob" appear the more revolting. Certainly, it passes all credibility to believe
that the Jews, in screaming their hatred for Jesus before the Roman procurator-the
man who was both their oppressor and their relentless enemy-would gleefully accept
the mark of Cain for themselves and all their descendents so readily and with such
relish! John Chrysostom (d. 407), who was later sainted by the Church took the lead
in harassing the large Hellenized Jewish community in Antioch, Syria. He roundly
abused the Jews saying they were possessed by demons and that their synagogues were
serving as rendezvous for devils. During the Feast of Purim in 405, he incited a
Christian mob to attack the Jews in their quarter of the city. Taking holy fire from
him, Bishop Cyril of Alexandria shortly thereafter led another devout rabble against
the Jews of that metropolis. The synagogues were torn down virtually stone from stone
in a holy frenzy and Jewish homes were pillaged leaving many dead and wounded behind.
The several hundred thousand Jews of Alexandria were driven out, most of them never
to return, from the city where their forefathers had settled in the time of Alexander
of Macedonia, more than seven hundred years before.
The American non-Jewish historian, Herbert J. Muller has correctly observed: "The
martyrdom that Christians suffered in their early history was negligible compared
with the martyrdom they later inflicted on the Jews . . . The [Christian] victims
of the Roman Empire were a few thousand in number . . . Israel cannot number or name
its million of martyrs. ..."
How many people were tortured to death during the Spanish Inquisition?
Project Aladdin was a multi-faceted cultural initiative launched in March 2009 under
the patronage of UNESCO, with the aim of countering Holocaust denial and all forms
of racism and intolerance, while promoting intercultural dialogue, particularly among
Muslims and Jews
The historical interaction of Judaism and Islam started in the seventh century with
the origin and spread of Islam in the Arabian peninsula. Judaism and Islam share
a common origin in the Middle East through Abraham, and there are many shared aspects
between the two religions in their fundamental religious outlook, structure, jurisprudence
At the heart of the two faiths is a monotheistic vision which resists any compromise
on the idea of the transcendence and unity of God who is envisaged as just and merciful
and who has revealed a way of life in accordance with these values for the benefit
of human society.
Islam and Judaism do not have clergy who by virtue of sacrament are separate from
the rest of the community. Religious authority is essentially a function of individual
mastery of the religious sources to be able to guide the community in accordance
with their teachings.
Muslims regard Jews and Christians as "People of the Book". In the Dar al-Islam -
the territories ruled by Muslims - they always enjoyed more protection than heathens.
For centuries across the Muslim world, Jews and Christians were subject to the rules
of the dhimma statutes: in exchange for payment of extra taxes, they were granted
There are different opinions among scholars regarding the character and origin of
the Jewish communities that the Prophet Mohammed encountered in Arabia. Clearly,
they shared enough of the message of the Prophet Mohammed for the latter to assume
that the Jews of Medina would eagerly rally around him. Their failure to do so led
to the ensuing discord, arguments and hostility between them.
The restrictive conditions which ensured the Jews' inferior status were codified
in the Pact of Umar. But despite their dhimmi status, the Jews were free to practice
their religion and were better off under the Muslim rule than under the Byzantine
Medieval Islamic civilization developed into its most productive period between the
years 900 and 1200, and Jewish civilization in the Islamic world followed suit. The
fact that, with the spread of Islam, Arabic became the language of the Middle East,
North Africa and Spain, including the Jews of those countries, facilitated cultural
cross-influences. For several centuries, most Jewish writing in those regions, both
secular and religious, was in Arabic, written in Hebrew letters.
Beginning with rabbis like Saadya Gaon in Iraq, and continuing especially in Muslim
Spain, Jewish thinkers followed in Muslim footsteps and applied the same kind of
loving study and exploration to the Hebrew language that Muslim scholars were doing
to Arabic, the language of the Quran. They developed the study of Hebrew grammar,
which was something new in Jewish thinking. Over time, they worked out the understanding
of Hebrew grammar that is in use today.
During this period, some of the greatest works of Jewish philosophy, grammar, law,
philology, and lexicography were written, in parallel with great advances in these
fields in the Islamic world. Jewish poetry in Hebrew found a renaissance during
this period as well, and its meters, styles, and contents parallel those of its Muslim
Arabic counterpart. In Spain, Jewish civilization flourished along with the flowering
of the Islamic and secular sciences and culture throughout the region, known in Arabic
The relatively open society of al-Andalus was reversed and then ended by the coming
of North African armies to help defend against the Spanish Christians, who were pushing
the Muslims southward from their strongholds in the north. Jews were highly restricted
under the Islamist Berber regimes and eventually began moving northward to newly
conquered Christian areas where, for the time being, they were treated better.
The reversal of Jewish good fortune in Spain was mirrored in other parts of the Islamic
world, where by the thirteenth century the open and humanistic qualities of Islamic
society began to give way to a more feudalistic mentality of rigidity and control.
Many Jewish communities were forced into ghettos and in places Jewish and Christian
communities were destroyed. As the Islamic world declined, so too did the Jewish
communities within it, and Jewish intellectual, cultural, and religious creativity
generally tended to shift toward the Jewish communities of Europe. But as a rule,
the Jewish communities that remained in the Muslim world were generally protected
in keeping with the Pact of Umar and as long as they accepted their second class
status, lived peacefully and cooperatively with their Muslim neighbors.
Nowhere was this more true than in the Ottoman Empire. When in 1492 the king of Spain,
Ferdinand, issued an edict to expel from Spain all remaining Jews who did not convert
to Christianity, the Ottoman Sultan Bayazid II offered refuge to the Jews. For centuries,
Jews lived in relative calm under Ottoman rulers, and an increasing number of European
Jews sought refuge in their territories. According to Bernard Lewis, "the Jews were
not just permitted to settle in the Ottoman lands, but were encouraged, assisted
and sometimes even compelled".
The newly-arrived Jews made important contributions to scientific and technical progress
of the Ottoman Empire. One of the most significant innovations that Jews brought
to the Ottoman Empire was the printing press. In 1493, only one year after their
expulsion from Spain, David & Samuel ibn Nahmias established the first Hebrew printing
press in Istanbul. Jewish literature flourished in the relatively tolerant atmosphere
of Ottoman Empire.
Living conditions for Jews in several Muslim countries began to deteriorate in the
nineteenth century with the decline of Ottoman power and the rise of nationalist
fervor and religious radicalism as a reaction to the growing influence of European
colonial powers. Anti-Semitic stereotypes first appeared in the Muslim world during
In the twentieth century, the collapse of imperial rule and the rise of modern nationalism
led to the clash between the Jewish aspiration for self determination in what the
Jews regarded as their ancestral homeland and the struggle for national self-determination
on the part of the regional and local Arab populations. This territorial conflict
has degenerated in recent times to increasingly assume the character of a religious
While not seeking to go into the causes and effects, rights and wrongs of the political
conflict in the Middle East, the increasing religious characterization of a territorial
struggle has come from various quarters, presenting the conflict as a clash of civilizations
between the Muslim world and Western society. Extremists portrayed the others as
devoid of moral character and without religious legitimacy, with Israel and the Jews
portrayed as a hostile "bridgehead" into the Arab world in particular and the Muslim
world in general.
The truth, however, is that what we are witnessing is not a clash of civilizations
as much as a clash within civilizations. It is a clash between those elements of
a religious culture whose sense of historic injury and humiliation leads to alienation
and conflict within their own societies as well as to those outside their religious
culture; and those who seek to constructively engage other societies as part of world
culture and a positive interaction with modernity.
This "clash within civilizations" means that enlightened voices on both sides of
the divide have a responsibility to work together not only to be greater than the
sum of their different parts but also to provide the essential alternative testimony
- i.e. that of interreligious and intercultural cooperation and mutual respect. In
particular, Muslim and Jewish leaders have a duty to their communities and faith
traditions to counteract the destructive exploitation of their religious civilizations
and to draw their inspiration from those past examples of the glory of cooperation
and collaboration among the children of Abraham - Muslims, Christians and Jews -
for the benefit of all.
Shmuel Trigano (November 2010) (Institute for Global Jewish Affairs)
Fellow of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and Professor of Sociology at the
University of Paris-Nanterre
Between 1920 and 1970, 900,000 Jews were expelled from Arab and other Muslim countries.
The 1940s were a turning point in this tragedy; of those expelled, 600,000 settled
in the new state of Israel, and 300,000 in France and the United States. Today, they
and their descendents form the majority of the French Jewish community and a large
part of Israel's population.
In the countries that expelled Jews, a combination of six legal, economic, and political
measures aimed at isolating Jews in society was instituted: denationalization; legal
discrimination; isolation and sequestration; economic despoilment; socioeconomic
discrimination; and pogroms or similar acts.
It is the custom to say that Zionism was responsible for this development. However,
the region's anti-Semitism would have developed even without the rise of the state
of Israel because of Arab-Islamic nationalism, which resulted in xenophobia.
The fact that these events have been obscured has served in the campaign to delegitimize
Israel, and therefore to a large extent, the same population that suffered this oppression.
The fate of Palestinian refugees, their proclaimed innocence, and the injustice they
endured form the main thrust of this delegitimization. The Jewish refugees have suffered
more than the Palestinian refugees and undergone greater spoliations. However, they
became citizens of the countries of refuge, especially Israel and France, while Palestinians
were ostracized from the Arab nations.
Arabs sometimes claim that, as "Semites," they cannot possibly be anti-Semitic.
This, however, is a semantic distortion that ignores the reality of Arab discrimination
and hostility toward Jews. Arabs, like any other people, can indeed be anti-Semitic.
The term "anti-Semite" was coined in Germany in 1879 by Wilhelm Marr to refer to
the anti-Jewish manifestations of the period and to give Jew-hatred a more scientific
sounding name.(1) "Anti-Semitism" has been accepted and understood to mean hatred
of the Jewish people.
While Jewish communities in Arab and Islamic countries fared better overall than
those in Christian lands in Europe, Jews were no strangers to persecution and humiliation
among the Arabs and Muslim. As Princeton University historian Bernard Lewis has written:
"The Golden Age of equal rights was a myth, and belief in it was a result, more than
a cause, of Jewish sympathy for Islam."(2)
Muhammad, the founder of Islam, traveled to Medina in 622 A.D. to attract followers
to his new faith. When the Jews of Medina refused to convert and rejected Muhammad,
two of the major Jewish tribes were expelled; in 627, Muhammad's followers killed
between 600 and 900 of the men, and divided the surviving Jewish women and children
The Muslim attitude toward Jews is reflected in various verses throughout the Koran,
the holy book of the Islamic faith. "They [the Children of Israel] were consigned
to humiliation and wretchedness. They brought the wrath of God upon themselves, and
this because they used to deny God's signs and kill His Prophets unjustly and because
they disobeyed and were transgressors" (Sura 2:61). According to the Koran, the Jews
try to introduce corruption (5:64), have always been disobedient (5:78), and are
enemies of Allah, the Prophet and the angels (2:97 98).
Still, as "People of the Book," Jews (and Christians) are protected under Islamic
law. The traditional concept of the "dhimma" ("writ of protection") was extended
by Muslim conquerors to Christians and Jews in exchange for their subordination to
the Muslims. Peoples subjected to Muslim rule usually had a choice between death
and conversion, but Jews and Christians, who adhered to the Scriptures, were allowed
as dhimmis (protected persons) to practice their faith. This "protection" did little,
however, to ensure that Jews and Christians were treated well by the Muslims. On
the contrary, an integral aspect of the dhimma was that, being an infidel, he had
to openly acknowledge the superiority of the true believer--the Muslim.
In the early years of the Islamic conquest, the "tribute" (or jizya), paid as a yearly
poll tax, symbolized the subordination of the dhimmi. Later, the inferior status
of Jews and Christians was reinforced through a series of regulations that governed
the behavior of the dhimmi. Dhimmis, on pain of death, were forbidden to mock or
criticize the Koran, Islam or Muhammad, to proselytize among Muslims or to touch
a Muslim woman (though a Muslim man could take a non Muslim as a wife).
Dhimmis were excluded from public office and armed service, and were forbidden to
bear arms. They were not allowed to ride horses or camels, to build synagogues or
churches taller than mosques, to construct houses higher than those of Muslims or
to drink wine in public. They were not allowed to pray or mourn in loud voices-as
that might offend the Muslims. The dhimmi had to show public deference toward Muslims-always
yielding them the center of the road. The dhimmi was not allowed to give evidence
in court against a Muslim, and his oath was unacceptable in an Islamic court. To
defend himself, the dhimmi would have to purchase Muslim witnesses at great expense.
This left the dhimmi with little legal recourse when harmed by a Muslim.(4)
Dhimmis were also forced to wear distinctive clothing. In the ninth century, for
example, Baghdad's Caliph al-Mutawakkil designated a yellow badge for Jews, setting
a precedent that would be followed centuries later in Nazi Germany.(5)
At various times, Jews in Muslim lands were able to live in relative peace and thrive
culturally and economically. The position of the Jews was never secure, however,
and changes in the political or social climate would often lead to persecution, violence
and death. Jews were generally viewed with contempt by their Muslim neighbors; peaceful
coexistence between the two groups involved the subordination and degradation of
When Jews were perceived as having achieved too comfortable a position in Islamic
society, anti-Semitism would surface, often with devastating results: On December
30, 1066, Joseph HaNagid, the Jewish vizier of Granada, Spain, was crucified by an
Arab mob that proceeded to raze the Jewish quarter of the city and slaughter its
5,000 inhabitants. The riot was incited by Muslim preachers who had angrily objected
to what they saw as inordinate Jewish political power.
Similarly, in 1465, Arab mobs in Fez slaughtered thousands of Jews, leaving only
11 alive, after a Jewish deputy vizier treated a Muslim woman in "an offensive manner."
The killings touched off a wave of similar massacres throughout Morocco.(6)
Other mass murders of Jews in Arab lands occurred in Morocco in the 8th century,
where whole communities were wiped out by Muslim ruler Idris I; North Africa in the
12th century, where the Almohads either forcibly converted or decimated several communities;
Libya in 1785, where Ali Burzi Pasha murdered hundreds of Jews; Algiers, where Jews
were massacred in 1805, 1815 and 1830 and Marrakesh, Morocco, where more than 300
Jews were murdered between 1864 and 1880.(7)
Decrees ordering the destruction of synagogues were enacted in Egypt and Syria (1014,
1293-4, 1301-2), Iraq (854-859, 1344) and Yemen (1676). Despite the Koran's prohibition,
Jews were forced to convert to Islam or face death in Yemen (1165 and 1678), Morocco
(1275, 1465 and 1790-92) and Baghdad (1333 and 1344).(8)
As distinguished Orientalist G.E. von Grunebaum has written:
It would not be difficult to put together the names of a very sizeable number of
Jewish subjects or citizens of the Islamic area who have attained to high rank, to
power, to great financial influence, to significant and recognized intellectual attainment;
and the same could be done for Christians. But it would again not be difficult to
compile a lengthy list of persecutions, arbitrary confiscations, attempted forced
conversions, or pogroms.(9)
The situation of Jews in Arab lands reached a low point in the 19th century. Jews
in most of North Africa (including Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Morocco) were
forced to live in ghettos. In Morocco, which contained the largest Jewish community
in the Islamic Diaspora, Jews were made to walk barefoot or wear shoes of straw when
outside the ghetto. Even Muslim children participated in the degradation of Jews,
by throwing stones at them or harassing them in other ways. The frequency of anti-Jewish
violence increased, and many Jews were executed on charges of apostasy. Ritual murder
accusations against the Jews became commonplace in the Ottoman Empire.(10)
By the twentieth century, the status of the dhimmi in Muslim lands had not significantly
improved. H.E.W. Young, British Vice Consul in Mosul, wrote in 1909:
The attitude of the Muslims toward the Christians and the Jews is that of a master
towards slaves, whom he treats with a certain lordly tolerance so long as they keep
their place. Any sign of pretension to equality is promptly repressed.(11)
The danger for Jews became even greater as a showdown approached in the UN over partition
in 1947. The Syrian delegate, Faris el-Khouri, warned:
"Unless the Palestine problem is settled, we shall have difficulty in protecting
and safeguarding the Jews in the Arab world."(12)
More than a thousand Jews were killed in anti-Jewish rioting during the 1940's in
Iraq, Libya, Egypt, Syria and Yemen.(13) This helped trigger the mass exodus of Jews
from Arab countries.
See also (from My Jewish Learning, 23 September, 2011)
"Marrano" is a pejorative name meaning "swine," given to secret Jews by suspicious
Christians during the Spanish Inquisition. I have used it in the book reluctantly—only
because it is a historical term with which most people are familiar and because it
symbolizes the demeaned status and fear suffered by Jews who were forced to convert
during that terrible time.
Why does this ugly term have so much resonance for so many people? Why does a book
such as mine, which deals primarily with the experiences of Jews in Spain during
the past fifty years, keep inspiring conversation and debate about the mysterious
Marranos? What is it about the Marrano experience that provokes such intense fascination?
The drama of the Marranos' dogged determination to cling to their way of life, holding
fast to their beliefs and practicing their laws and traditions when being found out
meant torture and death, symbolizes, for many, the importance of a connection to
one's ancestral roots and the miraculous survival of the spirit, even in the most
hostile of environments.
One of the many stories recounted in this book compares Judaism to the scraggly cactus,
which, unlike other beautifully flowering but more fragile plants, not only survives
in an arid climate under a burning sun, but thrives. Marranos are the human counterparts
to that cactus.
Speaking with people throughout the U. S. and Canada about Spain, the Jews, and the
Holocaust, it is the history of the Marranos that seems to have the most powerful
impact—stirring the imagination, rousing the curiosity, and touching the hearts
of nearly all who learn about them. I should not be surprised. After all, the Marranos'
influence on my own life was profound: finding out about them inspired me to search
for my lost Jewish heritage.
Seldom before has the pull towards one's own people, the need to belong, the stubborn
resistance to assimilation, and the challenge to prevent the blurring of identity
emerged with more urgency than now. Today, when frustration over centuries-old suppressed
ethnic and religious differences is erupting all around us with atrocities such as
the world has not witnessed since the Holocaust, the Marranos' stubborn but contained
commitment to their spiritual heritage stands as a shining example of fortitude
under fire. But the burden of secrecy inherited from their martyred ancestors by
present-day crypto-Jews living in Majorca, Portugal, and South and Central America,
as well as in our own American Southwest, passed on from generation to generation
through five fear-ridden centuries, is graphic evidence of the enormous price they
are still paying. May their tragic legacy help us to create a world in which all
people can safely and openly affirm their true identities.
New Christians (Jews who converted to Christianity) began to leave Spain after
the forced conversions in 1391. This reached a climax when the Jews were expelled
in 1492 followed by the forced Portuguese conversion of 1497. Pressure to leave
was increased by the activities of the Inquisition introduced in Spain in 1481 and
Portugal in 1536.
To stem emigration decrees that were passed forbidding New Christians
from emigration, other than to South America, led to traders going to other countries
and not returning sometimes by pretending to go on pilgrimage. Once safe their object
was to practice Judaism openly. While not all those emigrating were secret Jews
the Spanish and Portuguese administration had difficulty distinguishing those who
were secret Jews.
Emigrating Marranos could go to four different kinds of countries:
Muslim lands, Protestant territories as they came into being, Catholic countries
outside the jurisdiction of Spain and Portugal, and Catholic countries within the
Catholic countries outside the jurisdiction of Spain and PortugalTop
New *Christians began to leave *Spain in the wake of the mass conversions of 1391
and *Portugal after the forced conversions in 1497. The tide of emigration ebbed
and flowed, but was always stimulated by the advent of new disasters, such as the
introduction of the *Inquisition into Spain in 1481 and Portugal in 1536, and the
recrudescence of intensive persecution of the Marranos, as in Portugal after 1630.
To stem this continuing exodus, as early as the last decade of the 15th century the
authorities in both countries issued decrees prohibiting the emigration of New Christians,
and these were frequently renewed. Even the so-called irrevocable permission to emigrate
which the New Christians purchased from Philip III in 1601, during the union of Spain
and Portugal, was short-lived, being rescinded in 1610. However, these decrees were
frequently evaded: Marranos regularly left the Peninsula clandestinely, or secured
permission to take business trips abroad from which they never returned. There are
even cases of their leaving for the ostensible purpose of making a pilgrimage to
Rome. Once the authorities became aware of such stratagems they tried to intercept
Marranos as they moved through Europe to places where they could practice Judaism
openly, and men like Jean de la Foix in Lombardy acquired notoriety for his inhuman
treatment of those who fell into his hands. There were even instances where the highest
authorities in the Peninsula closed their eyes to New Christian emigration, particularly
when it involved their settling in Latin *America, where their skills and enterprise
were desperately needed. Furtively and openly, in trickles and in torrents, thousands
of New Christians left the Iberian Peninsula during the nearly three and a half centuries
of the Inquisition's power.
Not all the New Christians leaving the Peninsula were secret Jews. Many were devout
Catholics and had no intention of changing their faith; others were religiously ambivalent
or even apathetic. Some of these may have shared the general insecurity of all New
Christians in the Peninsula; some may have feared implication in inquisitional proceedings
because of the activities of their relatives or friends; some may have wished to
hide their Jewish origins in foreign lands; and others may simply have been attracted
by new challenges and opportunities. It was people like these who evoked apologies
for Judaism such as Samuel *Usque's classic Consolaçam às tribulaçoens de Israel
(1553; Consolation for the Tribulations of Israel, 1965), intended to persuade them
to return to their ancestral religion. At the same time, considerable numbers of
the New Christians were Marranos, or secret Jews, and were passionately dedicated
to Judaism. This was particularly true of the Portuguese New Christians. By the 16th
century the term "Portuguese" was already synonymous with the word "Jew" in much
of Europe, Asia, and Latin America. During the Inquisition's extended sway over the
Peninsula, the emigrating Marranos could plan to travel to four different kinds of
countries: Muslim lands, Protestant territories as they came into being, Catholic
countries outside the jurisdiction of Spain and Portugal, and Catholic countries
within the peninsular orbit.
These were the most natural places of refuge for Marranos seeking to live openly
as Jews, for they were the archenemies of the Christians and Spain and Portugal were
particularly hated. *Morocco had already become a haven of refuge for both Jews and
Conversos at the end of the 14th century, but many more Jews and Marranos were attracted
to the Ottoman *Empire at the end of the 15th century and during the 16th. Sultan
Bayazid *II (Bajazet II; 1481–1512) mocked King Ferdinand for impoverishing Spain
and enriching the Ottoman Empire through his expulsion of the Jews. In the 16th century
numerous cities in the Ottoman Empire had Jewish settlements, among them *Cairo,
*Jerusalem, *Safed, *Damascus, *Constantinople with some 50,000 Jews, and *Salonika
where the population of the Marranos exceeded that of the other Jews and the non-Jews
Next to the Muslim countries the Protestant lands offered the best prospects, for
here too the Catholics were detested, and the Inquisition was a hated institution
because it was no more tolerant of Protestant heretics than Judaizers. In places
like *England and *Hamburg and other German cities, Marranos began their existence
as titular Catholics and secret Jews before the Reformation. They continued in this
double life long after those areas had broken with Rome, for the Protestant authorities
were not eager to grant official acknowledgment to the presence of Jews in their
midst. In Hamburg, destined to become one of the wealthiest and most productive Marrano
centers, the settlement of Jews was not officially authorized until 1612 and Jewish
public worship not until 1650. In England, where Jews had been expelled in 1290,
the Marranos who settled originally in *London and *Bristol were never officially
acknowledged as Jews. Spokesmen for the Marranos, both Christians and Jews, including
Manasseh Ben *Israel, failed in their efforts to secure the formal recognition of
Jewish resettlement. Rather than being officially granted, the resettlement was "connived
at": the question was simply ignored and Marranos were allowed to live undisturbed
as Jews. Actually this connivance, or de facto resettlement through official silence,
proved salutary for the Jews, since the failure to grant official permission for
their presence made it impossible to impose particular disabilities on them. From
the middle of the 17th century at least, the Marranos were treated like all other
nonconformist citizens. In 1664 the crown granted Jews an official charter of protection,
thus further facilitating the development of the Marrano community. The ex-Marranos
and their descendants continued to be the dominant element in British Jewry until
the 19th century.
In *Amsterdam the Marranos did not arrive until around 1590, some 11 years after
the Union of Utrecht (1579) and the birth of the United Provinces of the Netherlands
as a Protestant state. Here too they had to wait until 1615 before Jewish settlement
was officially authorized, but the Marranos in Amsterdam differed from those in other
Protestant countries in that they openly practiced Judaism almost from the moment
of their arrival. Thanks to the Marranos, Amsterdam became one of the greatest Jewish
centers in the world in the 17th century; it had some of the finest academies and
produced some of the greatest Jewish thinkers. Amsterdam was also a haven for oppressed
Jews from other places, including France in 1615 and Eastern Europe after the *Chmielnicki
massacres (from 1648). Erstwhile Marranos from Holland were among the first settlers
in Surinam and Curaçao, where a substantial Sephardi community came into being after
1650. Other former Marranos were also found in Barbados and in other parts of the
West Indies, including Martinique and the Leeward Islands.
The Catholic lands outside the control of Spain and Portugal did not offer so secure
a haven as the Ottoman Empire or the Protestant countries, but they had the advantage
of being outside the orbit of the peninsular Inquisitions. At the same time these
areas were not without their inherent dangers, in the form of envy or rooted prejudice
on the part of the local population, pressures from the Spanish and Portuguese Inquisitions
upon the local authorities, and even the possibility of persecution galvanized by
local initiative, and, in the case of the Papal States, an indigenous Inquisition.
As a result, the existence of many of these Marrano communities, even if unclouded
and prosperous for a time, was seldom free from molestations.
In the Papal States the Marranos' presence was noticeable in places like *Rome and
even more so the seaport of *Ancona, where they thrived under benevolent popes like
Clement VII (1523–34), Paul III (1534–49), and Julius III (1550–55). They even received
a guarantee that if accused of apostasy they would be subject only to papal authority.
But Paul IV (1555–59), the voice of the Counter-Reformation, dealt them an irreparable
blow when he withdrew all protection previously given the Marranos and initiated
a fierce persecution against them. As a result of the anti-Marrano campaign, 25 Judaizers
were burned alive in the spring of 1556; 26 others were condemned to the galleys,
and 30 more who had been arrested were liberated only after they had paid a substantial
bribe. Thanks to the intervention of the Marrano patroness, Gracia Mendes *Nasi,
the sultan at Constantinople secured the release of all Marranos who were his subjects.
Plans were laid to boycott Ancona and transfer all the Marranos' former business
to neighboring *Pesaro, in the friendlier territory of the duke of Urbino, but the
project failed, and the duke even expelled the Marranos from his territory. A document
of 1550 indicates that there were some Marranos among the Spanish and Portuguese
merchants in Florence who traded on a large scale with Spain and her colonies. In
*Ferrara, under the house of Este, the Marranos formed a large and thriving community
by the middle of the 16th century, one of the most notable in their entire Diaspora.
The dukes protected them until 1581, when Duke Alfonso II, bowing to ecclesiastical
pressure, allowed many of them to be arrested. Three were eventually sentto Rome
to be burned at the stake in February 1583. Marranos settled in *Venice in the 15th
and early 16th centuries but were subjected to decrees of expulsion in 1497 and again
in 1550. Thereafter the city policy began to change. Venice not only welcomed Marranos
but kept the Inquisition at bay. Theologians like Paolo Sarpi even claimed that the
Judaizers were outside the jurisdiction of the Inquisition because they had been
baptized by force. Equally fortunate was the situation in the grand duchy of *Tuscany.
In an attempt to woo the Marranos to Pisa and *Leghorn, Ferdinand II issued a charter
in 1593 granting them protection against harassment in matters of faith. As it was
in decline at the time, Pisa did not attract many Marranos, but Leghorn did: the
community there thrived and by the end of the 18th century its population approached
5,000. Emmanuel Philbert granted a special privilege to induce Jews to settle in
the duchy of Savoy, intending mainly to settle Marranos from Spain and Portugal in
Nice in order to develop the city into a central trading port with the East. The
privilege enraged Philip II of Spain, who considered the whole plan as seriously
damaging Spain's interests in the Mediterranean as well as an incitement to Marranos
to return to Judaism. The joint pressure of Spain and the Holy See led to the rescinding
of the privilege and on Nov. 22, 1573 the duke ordered a group of Marranos who had
returned to Judaism to leave his territory within six months. This decree was probably
not put into effect until 1581 when Charles Emmanuel I ordered the expulsion of all
Portuguese Jews from the duchy.
In *France the Marranos had to maintain some semblance of Catholicism for more than
two centuries, but they were seldom molested in their secret practice of Judaism.
Though they were called "New Christians" or "Portuguese merchants," their Jewishness
was an open secret. In the large settlements they lived in their own quarters, had
their own burial grounds, developed their own schools and communal institutions,
and even trained their own rabbis after first importing them from abroad. In the
course of time they gradually reduced their Catholic practices and eventually abandoned
Church marriage and even baptism. In 1730 they were officially recognized as Jews.
Their more formal communities were situated at *Bordeaux and *Bayonne and there were
numerous lesser settlements in such places as *Toulouse, *Lyons, Montpellier, La
*Rochelle, *Nantes, and *Rouen. Bayonne was the center of a cluster of communities,
including *Biarritz, *Bidache, *Peyrehorade, and *Saint-Jean-de-Luz. In this last
town the Marranos had the misfortune of being expelled in 1619, and then, after a
partial return, seeing the town captured by the Spaniards in 1636.
But in the far-flung Spanish and Portuguese possessions, in the Aragonese territories
of *Sicily, *Sardinia and *Naples, in *Hapsburg territories like Flanders, or the
colonial territories in the Far East or in the Americas, the situation of the Marranos
was always precarious. There they lived continually under the shadow of the Inquisition;
even where a tribunal of the Holy Office was not in operation, there were episcopal
Inquisitions and occasional inquisitional "visitors" sent from the home countries
to galvanize the search for heretics. Sicily and Sardinia, with Inquisitions introduced
in 1487 and 1493 respectively, were practically free of Judaizers by the middle of
the 16th century. There was opposition to introducing the Spanish Inquisition into
Naples, but the papal Inquisition took over and managed to destroy most of the Marrano
community by the middle of the 17th century. The situation of the Marranos was no
less precarious in *Antwerp, where they began to arrive early in the 16th century,
frequently to begin a trek across Europe to the Ottoman Empire. In 1526 New Christians'
stay in the city was restricted to a 30-day period and though settlement was fully
authorized 11 years later, Judaizing was strictly prohibited. With the decline of
Antwerp, the center of Marrano life in the Low Countries shifted to Amsterdam.
In their colonies the Portuguese set up an Inquisition at *Goa and the Spaniards
established one in the *Philippines. Episcopal Inquisitions were always present in
Latin America: *Brazil never had a formal tribunal, but tribunals were established
in the Spanish colonies at Lima (*Peru, 1570), Mexico City (1571), and Cartagena
(1610). Latin America in particular attracted considerable numbers of New Christians.
The advantage of these territories was that they offered the New Christians a familiar
culture and the possibility of direct even if infrequent contact with the mother
countries. For New Christians wishing to live fully as Catholics, the distances from
the Peninsula and the sparseness of the population of most of the territories aided
in the obliteration of the record of their Jewish origins. On the other hand, these
factors also facilitated the Marranos' practice of Judaism.
Religious considerations were important in determining the direction of the flight
of many of the Marranos, but they were not the only ones. Of great and sometimes
decisive importance were the economic and social opportunities available in the various
lands open to them at the time of their escape. These opportunities often made it
more desirable for Marranos to continue living as secret Jews in Catholic lands (even
those under Spanish and Portuguese domination) than to seek a refuge where they could
practice Judaism openly. Conversely, in each of the territories where the Marranos
– or for that matter all New Christians – appeared, they were allowed to enter and
remain because they served definite economic, social, and political ends. In almost
every one of their new homes they quickly rose to prominence in international and
domestic trade, and banking and finance. They helped to establish great national
banks and were prominent on the stock exchanges. They played an important role in
large trading companies, such as the Dutch East Indies and West Indies Companies,
and even in the rival company established at Portugal to help oust the Dutch from
Brazil. As well as insurance companies, they established manufacturing plants for
soap, drugs, and other items, and made signal contributions in minting, handicrafts,
armaments, and shipbuilding. In the area of international trade they assumed virtual
dominance and controlled, frequently to the point of monopoly, the traffic in such
commodities as coral, sugar, tobacco, and precious stones. The Marranos' common background
and culture, their presence in the leading commercial centers, and often their ties
of kinship, enabled them to establish an efficient and closely knit international
trading organization. Great banking and trading families, like that founded by Francisco
Mendes at Lisbon, had branches throughout Europe. The Marranos' international connections
served to stimulate communications between nations and their separate competitive
development. In this way the activities of the New Christians fostered the stability
of their countries of settlement and facilitated their transition from a medieval
to a modern economy. The Marranos also attained prominence in the professional life
of the lands of their dispersion. From their midst came great diplomats like João
Miguez, the duke of Naxos (Joseph *Nasi), and his mother-in-law, Gracia Mendes Nasi
(Beatriz de Luna), who also distinguished herself as a great philanthropist and patron
of the Jewish arts, as well as the equally colorful Diego Texeira de Sampaio (Abraham
Senior *Texeira). The Marranos produced scientists like Immanuel Bocarro Frances,
distinguished physicians like Amatus *Lusitanus (Juan Rodrigo), Elijah Montalto (Felipo
Rodrigues), and Antonio Ribeiro Sanchez, and a host of other distinguished names
in secular literature, theater, and music.
Reciprocally, many of the states and nations in their Diaspora gave the Marranos
an opportunity to develop their own institutions and culture. The printing press
became a foremost instrument in the development of this culture. Ferrara's press,
which published the famous translation of the Bible into Spanish and Samuel Usque's
Consolaçam as tribulaçoens de Israel in Portuguese in addition to liturgical and
other works, was the center of Marrano culture in the middle of the 16th century.
By the end of the 16th century, Venice had the leading press and in the next century
it was situated in Amsterdam. Other cities, too, like Leghorn, Hamburg, and London,
had important presses, and printing in numerous smaller places helped to spread further
Jewish culture. Especially noteworthy is the extensive literature published by these
presses. Including prayerbooks and sermons, books of precepts and customs, translations
into Spanish and Portuguese of classics in Jewish philosophy and thought, apologetical
works and polemics, and also novels, poetry, and plays, it was particularly directed
toward the Marranos who had left the Iberian peninsula and sought to find themselves
in Judaism, although still assailed by doubts.
Marrano writers of note are far too numerous to mention them all. Among the more
important ones were such men as the apologists Immanuel *Aboab, Saul Levi *Morteira,
Lorenzo *Escudero (Abraham Ger or Abraham Israel Peregrino), Isaac *Cardozo, Isaac
Orobio de *Castro, and David *Nieto; poets like David Abenatar *Melo, Daniel Lopez
*Laguna, Solomon Usque, João (Moses) Pinto *Delgado, and Daniel Levi (Miguel) de
*Barrios; playwrights like Antonio Enriquez *Gomez and Antonio Jose da *Silva; and
versatile writers like the prolific Joseph Penso de la *Vega, writer of plays, short
stories, and one of the earliest and most comprehensive treatises on the stock exchange.
Many Marranos also attained fame outside the Jewish fold. The aristocracy of many
societies in Europe and the Americas was enriched by these people and their descendants.
Frequently, like Benjamin *Disraeli, they attained the highest diplomatic, military,
and administrative positions. Like their Jewish counterparts, they also made a name
for themselves in the business and cultural world.
An authentic Marrano community was discovered by Samuel *Schwartz in Portugal in
1917; and from time to time there emerge individuals or even groups whose faith is
not Jewish who have retained some of the practices and customs of the Marranos, at
times even without awareness of their Jewish ancestry.
Roth, Marranos, 195–375; Roth, Italy; M.A. Cohen (translator), in: S. Usque, Consolation
for the Tribulations of Israel (1965), 3ff.; idem, in: The Jewish Experience in Latin
America (1971); idem, in: AJHSQ, 55 (1966), 277–318, 451–520; H. Kellenbenz, Sephardim
an der unteren Elbe (1958); H.C. Lea, The Inquisition in the Spanish Dependencies
(1908), esp. bibl.; H.J. Zimmels, Die Marranen in der rabbinischen Literatur (1932);
Rosanes, Togarmah, 4–6 (1934–45 = Korot ha-Yehudim be-Arẓot ha-Kedem); S. Ullmann,
Histoire des Juifs en Belgique, 2 vols. (1932–34); J.S. da Silva Rosa, Geschiedenis
der portugeesche Joden te Amsterdam (1925); S. Assaf, in: Zion, 5 (1932); I.S. Revah,
in: REJ, 118 (1959/60), 30–77; see also works by J.T. Medina in bibliography to *Inquisition.