Monday, November 4, 2013

Sephardic Jewish History in Cordoba

After the Mezquita, but before the torture museum, we decided to wander the streets of Cordoba. We headed to the Jewish Quarter.

We stumbled upon a statue of Maimonides, a Sephardic Jew from Cordoba, who was quite the scholar. He was a rabbi, physician and scholar.

He was born in Cordoba in 1135, but his family was exiled from Cordoba when he was 13. The Almohads conquered Cordoba and the laws which had previously protected the Jews changed. They were forced to choose conversion, exile or death. His family chose to leave Cordoba and they went to other cities in Spain and eventually Morocco. He eventually left Morocco as well and traveled throughout Africa and the Middle East.

As we learned in the Sephardic Jew Museum, the forced conversion was not usually successful. People were suspicious of Jewish people who converted. They were also forced to wear clothing that identified them as Jewish converts.

His writings are still very important parts of traditional Jewish law and ethics.

Here is his statue. I am touching his foot because it was clear that everyone else had also touched his foot.

The city was so white and yet so hot.
We accidentally stumbled upon the Casa de Sefarad, a Sephardic history and culture museum. We got there fairly late, but they were still open. We were the only people visiting, so the girl at the front guest gave us an introductory tour. She was extremely nice and gave us a very in-depth explanation of each room we'd visit and a background history of Jews in Spain. She spoke English perfectly with a British accent.

One thing about the museum that was great was that they genuinely wanted people to come and learn about the history. Even though we got there late in the afternoon, she made it clear that they would not kick us out and they wanted us to stay and read everything we could in the museum, which was so nice of them.

She explained that the museum was really to teach Spanish people about the history of the Jews in Spain, since it is relatively unknown there. A lot of the museum centered around the Inquisition.

As someone with Jewish relatives and ancestors, this museum was heartbreaking and fascinating at the same time. I took pictures of all the signs and information, which I will relay to you here.

During the Inquisition, the Jews were expelled to various places around the Mediterranean. Jews who converted to Christianity were accepted early on in the Inquisition, since it was originally used to identify heretics within Christianity, but it eventually spread and all Jews were expelled from Spain. Jews who converted were eventually arrested, tortured and eventually killed if they did not leave Spain. They were called 'marranos,' which means 'pig.' It was used as a derogatory term for converted Jews who secretly maintained their identity and beliefs. In the anti-Jewish text, "Sentinel against the Jews," the author Friar Francisco Torrejoncillos states, "They say the Spaniards came up with the word 'marranos,' which in Spanish means 'pig,' and because they infamously call new Jewish converts to Christianity 'marranos,' and it is proper that they should be given this name because between the marranos, when one of them grunts and complains, all the other pigs follow his grunts since all of them follow his complaints. And since all Jews are like this, since all of them follow the complaints of one, they were given the title 'marranos.'"


This specific museum focused on the Inquisition in Spain (obviously, since we were in Spain) but was clear that it also expanded into France, Italy, Germany, Hungary, Bohemia and elsewhere.

Preceding the Inquisition, they had the first "Statute of Purity of Blood" in Toledo in 1449, which stated that no converts of Jewish blood could hold public office. It demanded that the person running for office prove that he had absolutely no Jewish blood (and later Muslim blood), no matter how far back into their ancestry, so they would no be considered "infected." Eventually, they moved the Purity of Blood statute to religious orders, administrative staffs, residence halls, the military and other groups. It didn't matter if you only had one Jewish ancestor very far back in your lineage. One was enough. According to the "Sentinel against the Jews, "Even those with an ancestor twenty degrees removed can still be a judaizers."

This increased suspicion, accusations and blackmail. In Seville, there was a group called "los linajudos" which was dedicated exclusively to blackmailing converts by digging up their lineage.

Joseph Perez described the situation by saying, "The Purity of Blood statutes functioned as a weapon in the hands of the old Christians, a much more fearsome weapon because it was not necessary to provide proof to discredit a postulant: a simple insinuation was enough."

The Purity of Blood statute was not abolished until May 16, 1865.

From now on, I will be using the word "inquisition" a lot because there isn't really an alternative word for it.

Once the Jews were seen as suspicious, violence quickly escalated. The first pogroms, or murders, happened in the 1300's. The Jewish Quarters in Cordoba, Seville, Carmona, Baeza, Barcelona, and other cities were attacked. The Cordoba Jewish quarter was destroyed in 1392 and many of the Jews in the city were killed. The survivors fled or converted to Christianity.

Jews continued to convert to Christianity, but were still considered to be suspicious, especially when epidemics were spreading and the Jews were blamed.

The Jewish converts to Christianity who secretly continued practicing Judaism made sure that they were seen in church and celebrated the Christian holidays publicly.

Even though they secretly practiced Judaism, their traditions were greatly changed. They forgot a lot of the exact dates and changed circumcision to a symbolic ceremony, since circumcision was proof that the person was Jewish. As a result, many became indifferent to religion.

In 1474 in Cordoba, a woman who was a Jewish convert accidentally threw dirty water out as a religious procession passed, which caused a new wave of killings, this time of converts. People sacked and burned houses, robbed families of everything they owned and killed them.

The Spanish Inquisition was created in Castille in 1478, signed by the pope at the time. It was supposed to be run by the pope, but in reality the governments of each city/country ended up running the inquisition.

Only 2 years after the inquisition began, in 1480, the king decided that all the Jews needed to live in separate neighborhoods, which they were only allowed to leave for work. They were also forced to wear certain colors to identify them as Jews. The first "auto de fé," or public punishment of a heretic, was in Seville in 1480, where 6 people were burned for being Jewish.

The first auto de fé in Cordoba happened in 1483. One woman was burned alive for being a Judaizer (and living with the churches treasurer). Until the end of the Inquisition in Cordoba, 5565 people were charged, 95% were charged with being Jewish, which was the second largest number in the Inquisition. On December 12th, 1564, 107 people were burned alive in one night.

In 1492, the second Inquisition Tribunal was created in Cordoba. Pedro Martinez de Barrio and Anton Ruiz de Morales were appointed inquisitors. They headed the most active and cruel tribunals in the history of the inquisition.

What the accused were forced to wear.
These are various documents from the Inquisition.

The museum also talked about important women who had great effects on math, science and other scholarly works. Some are dressed in Muslim clothing because, during Islamic rule, Jews were required to wear Muslim clothing, though they were considered 'people of the book' and allowed to practice their religion relatively freely.
This is Lubna, who was one of the great math scholars of the time.
Wallada the Omayyad played a leading role in public life in Cordoba. She was an artist and poet and had a great literary salon in the city. She was considered very provocatative and was known to walk around the city with her poems written on her clothes. She died during the siege of the city by the Almoravids in the 11th century.

Fatima Bint al-Mutanna was considered to a profound thinking in Sufi tradition. Judges and wise men would listen to her pronouncements.

There was also Hafsa al Rakuniyya, who was a 12th century poet from Granada. She was also a teacher and tutor and had an extensive knowledge of medicine. She interacted with a lot of powerful people at the time.

The last one was the wife of Dunas Ben Labrat, whose poem is considered to be the oldest preserved poetry written by a woman in Medieval spain. Her poem is here to the left.
This is the Hamsa, which is Arabic for "five." It is pre-Islamic and is a popular talisman against evil and misfortune in both Muslim tradition and Jewish culture, particularly Sephardic Jewish culture. In Islamic culture it's the "Hand of Fatima" and in Jewish tradition it is the "Hand of Miriam."

The synagogue was right outside of the museum. We were lucky to be there the next day, which was the first day it had been open in several weeks.

One thing that was surprising was that the synagogue survived the Inquisition, because it was plastered over and then rediscovered after the Inquisition ended. It was the only synagogue to survive the Inquisition in Andalusia and one of only 3 in Spain.

The synagogue was built in 1315 by architects who were influenced by the Nazari Kingdom in Granada. The size makes historians believe it was a private or family synagogue. It's considered the 'purest' of the surviving synagogues in Spain, because the original architecture remains intact.

After it was no longer a synagogue, it served as a hospital, a church and the location of a guild of shoemakers.

There is a patio, a hall and a prayer room.

It is decorated with 4, 6 and 8 point stars, plants and Hebrew epigraph.

The eastern wall, which I think is this wall, is for guarding and keeping the Torah.

Parts of the writings on the wall have been deciphered. For the most part, they are verses such as, "I will worship thy holy temple, and praise thy name; for loving kindness and for thy truth..."

You can definitely see the influence from Granada (see previous Alhambra blog.)

The prayer room has not been totally deciphered.

It was really interesting to learn the history of the Jews in Cordoba. It wasn't something that I expected to learn about, but I am really glad that we accidentally stumbled upon that museum!

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