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Bibliographic exhibition


Estudios históricos, políticos y literarios sobre los judíos de España

The historiography of Jews in Medieval Spain has a long history and has led to many solid outcomes. It was and continues to be a broad field that is open to research as well as controversy and, in some cases, obvious exaggerations and even falsehoods.

In the 19th century, some historians who were driven by a general interest began to study the so-called socio-religious minorities that lived in Al-Ándalus and Christian Spain; for this reason, their works were the first books on the matter and a long time would pass before others exceeded them as syntheses. It is worth noting José Amador de los Ríos’s great book Historia social, política y religiosa de los judíos de España y Portugal, published in 1848 and subsequently republished as a significantly extended edition in 1875, and Francisco Fernández y González’s book Instituciones jurídicas del pueblo de Israel en la Península Ibérica (1881). There is still merit in reading these books, even to understand, through the ideological approaches and literary style of said authors, the emergence of some opinions on these matters that are still relevant today, even if we currently consider them to be insufficient or even wrong.

In 1880-1882, Marcelino Menéndez Pelayo published his book Historia de los heterodoxos españoles in which he developed a concept of the history of Spain that was characteristic of the historical tradition of the country, based on the assessment of its religious singularities. From then until the 1950’s, the debate on “being from Spain” would be one of its core themes and, logically, the consideration of mutual relationships between Christians, Muslims and Jews, with their respective faiths and cultures, varied according to each author’s point of view. Américo Castro’s book La realidad histórica de España (1948), should be included with the ideological extremes of Menéndez Pelayo, as well as in the same intellectual world preferably provided in literary texts. Perhaps this book became the epigone of an entire period rather than the first step towards a new understanding of the history of Spain, such that it can be compared to the brilliant books of some other renowned intellectuals, such as Salvador de Madariaga.

Meanwhile, professional historiography, initiated by Amador de los Ríos, led to new and important outcomes thanks to the work of researchers who had been working on it since the early decades of the 20th century. I will try to mention some leading groups and figures below.

In the historiography of Medieval Jews and Hispanic Judaism, disciplines have converged that do not normally interact in other fields: social, political and economic history, the history of religion, the history of art, the history of literature, the history of science, linguistics in its different areas. This is certainly an advantage, but it also makes understanding all aspects of the topic more complex. Researchers come from a range of fields and different backgrounds.

Die Juden im christlichen Spanien

On one hand, this includes historians, nearly all of whom are Jews, who are specialists in the history of Sefarad and have not lost sight of its place in the general history of Judaism and its followers. Some are from European countries and among them it is worth noting the figures of Jean Régné and his research on the Crown of Aragon and especially Fritz or Yitzak Baer, who studied and published thousands of documents in 1929 and 1936, prior to developing his great work Historia de los judíos en la España cristiana (1945), whose translation into Spanish and annotated edition by José Luis Lacave is an essential book for medievalists (1981). Moreover, Baer was the first of many historians whose main representatives are currently in Israel or the United States and to whom a significant amount of research and editing is due, where Haim Beinart’s fundamental work is highlighted. Also, in Israel: Ron Barkai, Yom Tov Assis (Crown of Aragon. Navarra), Benjamin Gampel (Navarra), Alisa M. Ginio, Moisés Orfali Levi, etc. Other researchers have different origins, such as François Soyer (about Portugal), Maurice Kriegel and Joseph Pérez in France, John Edwards and Eleazar Gutwirth in England; Benzion Netanyahu, Stephen Haliczer, Norman Roth, David Nierenberg in the United States, as well as Robert I. Burns and Mark D. Meyerson more recently in the course of their research in Valencia, and Elka Klein in Barcelona, without forgetting Abraham Neuman’s older synthesis or Robert Singerman’s useful bibliographic compilations.

In Spain, studies on medieval and Sephardic Jews were further promoted with the creation of the Instituto Arias Montano, of the Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas (Spanish National Research Council), which publishes the magazine Sefarad which has enjoyed great prestige since 1941 in these historical and philosophical matters. Great researchers have worked there including Fernando Díaz Esteban, Francisco Cantera Burgos and his followers (Pilar León Tello, José Luis Lacave Riaño, Elena Romero, Carlos Carrete Parrondo, Yolanda Moreno Koch), Iacob M. Hassán, Carlos del Valle Rodríguez (Iberia Judaica, since 2009), Javier Castaño González, etc., while other research hubs have formed, such as in Barcelona, around José María Millás Vallicrosa, Jaime Riera Sans and especially David Romano and his followers, or in Granada, (Miscelánea de Estudios Árabes y Hebraicos magazine, David Gonzalo Maeso, Ángel Sáenz-Badillos).

A good number of Spanish medievalists, on the other hand, have shown an interest in the social, political and economic history of Jews, often in the course of research on broader thematic work but with a temporal scope that is often shorter, which has been the case since the times of Fidel Fita. Emphasis is placed on the name of Luis Suárez Fernández, another author of sound syntheses and who has been followed along this course by some of his followers, Julio Valdeón, Emilio Mitre, Fernando Suárez, Rica Amrán, Miguel Ángel Ladero; and Miguel Ángel Ladero, in turn, has been followed by his own followers (Enrique Cantera Montenegro, María del Pilar Rábade Obradó, Isabel Montes Romero-Camacho and especially Javier Castaño, who later completed his studies as a Hebraist and historian of Hispanic Judaism).

Increasingly more historians interested in these matters have slowly emerged, both with an interest in Castile, for example, José María Monsalvo, Francisco Ruiz Gómez, Guadalupe Ramos de Castro, María A. Bel Bravo, etc., and with an interest in other areas of medieval Spain: for Aragon, Ángel Alcalá, Asunción Blasco Martínez (follower of David Romano), Encarnación Marín Padilla, Miguel Ángel Motis Dolader; for Catalonia, in addition to David Romano and others already mentioned, Carme Batlle, Prim Bertran, collaborators on the Catalonia hebraica collection, or Rafael Conde and Delgado de Molina with an interest in the expulsion in 1492; for Valencia, the important studies of José Hinojosa Montalvo, expanding the approach that Leopoldo Piles Ros started some time ago or, on a smaller scope, José Ramón Magdalena Nom de Déu and J. Doñate Sebastià; for Mallorca, Antonio Pons; for Navarra, the research of Juan Carrasco and collaborators, and that of Béatrice Leroy; for Portugal, María José Pimenta Ferro Tavares, etc.

Los judíos de Cantabria en la baja edad media

It is also important to mention the nurtured contribution of other historians who have eventually gained an interest in these matters from a local or regional perspective, for example, the great work of Luis Rubio García and the contributions of Juan Torres Fontes about Murcia, María G. de Antonio Rubio (Galicia), J. Ortiz Real (Cantabria), M. F. García Casar (Salamanca, Zamora), J. Rodríguez Fernández (León), C. Merchán (Valladolid), S. de Tapia (Ávila), G. Viñuales and M. Romero (Guadalajara, Cuenca), etc., in addition to the abundant work of local scholars, which includes noteworthy contributions, and the work of certain institutions promoting inter-faith dialogue. Moreover, this that does not take into account the increasing number of conferences and meetings of different types and scopes that, since the final decades of the 20th century, bring together specialists from different backgrounds and contribute to the exchange of knowledge and ideas and sometimes to the creation of new, broader and more comprehensive criteria for giving explanations.

The most important aspect of these multidisciplinary and multi-ideological approaches is that the very interests of the scientific search for knowledge prevail. There may exist disruptive elements and I must mention one of them: the excessive use of the image of “coexistence between three cultures” in the peninsular Middle Ages, which has become an interpretative myth of a peculiar Hispanic medieval time. There was no lack of effort to find balanced criteria, by means of differentiating the concepts of religion and culture -three religions, two cultures: the Andalusian culture and the Hispano-European culture-, while also accepting that simply overlapping the transfer of techniques and institutions with those of social coexistence is not possible, and using more specific terms to understand this coexistence: coexistence and tolerance, rather than complete cohabitation, assimilation, acculturation. Thus, the reasons preventing the end of a specific otherness and with it, the end of marginality, as well as the reasons preventing their consolidation into a single society, have been better analyzed.

On the other hand, the historical reality of the Hispanic Middle Ages put three points of view into contact, and we must not reduce our study to what Christian society had with respect to Jews or Muslims. Instead, in this case we must also understand the views of the Jews towards Islam, including the possibilities of religious conversion, and their views towards Christians, in addition to their view of society. In the Hispanic-Christian perspective, Jews were considered differently, and almost always as a cliché, according to the scope of the activity that we refer to or the information sources that we use. The image is positive with regard to the philosophical scientific and cultural contribution, but it is full of negative elements when we consider literary and iconographic sources.

Moreover, the connection between such images and the specific social reality of each era is not usually immediate. Therefore, it is important to address matters regarding tolerance or intolerance both from the perspective of the history of ideas, beliefs and mentalities, and from the perspective of social, economic and political history. Until the end of the presence of the Jews in Spain, it is possible to see how the positive and negative elements of coexistence and violence are mixed together. However, there was an anti-Jewish undertone that varied over time until it led to the crises of the final century of the Middle Ages, from 1348 and 1391, when there was an increase in controversies and doctrinal allegations, -such as the known Fortalitium Fidei of Alonso de Espina-, and in acts of violence against Jews with the aim of converting them.

Today we are much better prepared than before to reflect and provide better answers about the history of Hispanic Jews. We have the results obtained from considerable research activity, growing since the middle of the last century, which allows matters to be addressed in terms that are much more specific and understood, with a much greater capacity for rationalization and objectification than before. This is due to the fact that there is more information about who those Jews were, how they lived and worked, the general social contexts that they moved in, where they lived and even how many there were and, especially, the temporal evolution of their situation, which has been profiled in a much better way.

The exhibition herein presented by Bibliotheca Sefarad is a good indication of what has been stated in preceding paragraphs. Although it is limited to publications up to 1992, it includes fundamental contributions from the leading authors that I have mentioned, and many other works that are the result of local quality works, with a notable balance between general and miscellaneous works, and other works referring to ancient kingdoms, regional areas and many cities and even smaller populations from those centuries, as well as, of course, those referring to different periods and moments, among which include the milestone of 1492, the year of the great misfortune.

Miguel Ángel Ladero Quesada

From the Spanish Royal Academy of History