A Brief Introduction To Our History

Rabbi Moses ben Nahman, of Gerona,
his soul is at peace. Hazak.
(Be Strong !)

Benjamin H. Nahman
Los Angeles

A Brief Introduction To Our History

I do not think that anyone can properly go into any subject, let alone that of one's historical roots without laying a foundation of the events that would help in understanding and getting a feel for the period in which they happened.

We Nahmans, proceeding from the oft told oral history handed down through the generations from father to son, were the recipients of that history from our father Haim Joseph Nahman. That we were skeptical is an understatement but he was adamant and urged us to further inquiry. This is a humble compiling of what I have learned.

The history of our people, the Sephardim, was told to us in bits and pieces. No books were read to us about that history but the pride in our heritage was imparted. Now there are books we can read.

Who Are The Sephardim?

There are a number of studies and more are continuing. Much of the history was lost due to the confiscation and/or burning of the literary works of the Jews of Spain before, during and after their expulsion from their homeland in 1492. Some documents are being uncovered on an ongoing basis at Cathedral archives in Spain.(1) In 1988, for instance, two volumes of the history of the Jews of Gerona were printed with documentation from the archives of the Cathedral of Gerona, in Catalonia, the birthplace of our famous ancestor Rabbi Moses ben Nahman, know as Ramban, Nahmanides, El Gerondi, or by his Catalan name Bonastrug Da Porta. The inquiry continues in Gerona by Catalan historians and the cleric Jaime de Casanova.

When Did The Jews Arrive In Spain?

How deep was the connection with the history and the development of our former homeland from which stems our being called Sephardim? Sepharad is the Hebrew word for the Iberian peninsula that encompasses Spain and Portugal. For a long time it was believed that the Jews came to Spain with or after the Moorish invasion in 700 . and such did occur as Jews from North African communities settled in southern and central Spain after 700 . adding to the existing Jewish community already living there. It has now been established that Jews lived in Spain long before the Visigoth (Germanic) tribes invaded in 412 . Many historians go back to the time of the Roman conquest and decipherable tombstone markers set the date as the 1st Century at a minimum. Legend goes back to the Phoenician and even to the temple times of King Solomon. We came to Spain not as invaders, nor conquerors. We did not attempt to impose our religion or our will on others. We lived peacefully with those who would permit it. We opposed those who would not whether they were the Visigoths, the Moors or the French. Suffice to say that the Sephardim had as much claim as any other inhabitants to being Spaniards albeit of Hebraic persuasion.

Spain, along with many other countries, has had a history of invasions. Being a peninsula, its territory was vulnerable from all sides. To its eastern shores on the Mediterranean came, among others, the Greeks, Phoenicians and Romans. From the north and west came the Celts, Visigoths and others, all of whom founded cities and left colonies there. It took the Roman invasion (218 bce) to occupy all of Spain. Rome was a colonizing empire which also absorbed and Romanized its colonies utilizing local rulers. Rome gave Spain its Latin alphabet and its Romance language base. There are two main regional Romance languages: Castillian, Catalan. The non-Romance language is Basque which is an old Iberian (Celtic) based language. Portuguese is the Romance language of Portugal.

In Iberia (Spain and Portugal) human fossil remains date to 200,000 bce. Stone age paintings still exist (25,000 to 10,000 bce). Around 4000 bce evidence of agriculture and animal husbandry. 2500 bce mining and metallurgy (copper, bronze, gold and silver). This civilization (around 2000 bce) had a written language (as yet undeciphered) and Iberians plied the seas of the Mediterranean and the west coast of Africa engaging in fishing and trading.

The Phoenicians (Lebanon area) attracted by the metal making, coastal fishing and agriculture invaded in 1100 bce and set up coastal cities (i.e., Cadiz, Malaga, etc.) followed by the Greeks (1000 bce), the Carthaginians (600 bce) and the Romans in 200 bce.

In as much as up to 10% of Roman citizens were Jewish this undoubtedly added to the Jewish population of Spain. Roman and Greek writings recount that they found the Iberian cities well developed in the arts, music and dance upon their invasion and colonization. Emperor Caracalla (212 ce) granted citizenship to all people born in Roman provinces.

Christianity started to gain adherents among the Hispano-Romans. The Iberian-born Roman ruler Theodosius I (379-395 ce) was converted to Christianity and declared it the only acceptable religion to be tolerated.

The Visigoths (Germanic tribes) crossed the Alps, sacked Rome, crossed the Pyrenees (in 409 ce) and soon were well entrenched in Northern Spain, making a deal with the Romans. Thus Visigoth rule took over Iberia. The Visigoths began to spread their Arian Christian religion (2) which brought them into conflict with the Hispano-Roman Christians.

Desiring to unify their Spanish empire, King Recaredo (586-601 ) converted to Roman Catholicism proclaiming it the official and only religion. Hence, convert or lose citizenship which had been enjoyed by Hispano-Romans, regardless of religion, Pagan, Jewish or Christian. In 710 there was a struggle over succession to the crown. A duke was made king over the heir apparent, the loser went to North Africa to enlist Moslem support for his "rightful" succession. The Moors responded with an invasion thru Gibraltar and swept up the peninsula. With only 20,000 men they defeated the Visigoths. The Moors were greeted by the common populace, they freed the serfs from royal oppression and stayed. Now Spain had three religions: Moslem, Christian and Jewish. The Moors recognized Moses, Jesus and Mohammed as prophets. The Jews smarting under (now Catholic) Visigoth oppression greeted the Moors in Southern and Central Spain. With the break up of the Visigoth empire, the Christian Kings (Asturias, Castile, Basque, Catalonia, Leon, Aragon) established their control and independence. With the Moorish defeat at Poitiers, France in 732 the reconquest started. Spain was divided into South-central and Southern, under Moorish caliphs, and Catholic kingdoms in the North and North-Central.

Except for the period of Almohade (Shiites) rule (1146-1212) of parts of Moorish Spain, Moors, Christians and Jews lived in somewhat equal status. The Almohades, religious fanatics were invited into Spain by the Caliphs to help stem the reconquest by the Christian kings. The Almohades instituted their own inquisition of Jews, Christians and Moslems who were "heretics" according to Almohade religious fanaticism.

The fate of those of the Jewish faith varied under the Christian monarchs. Some of these monarchs resisted the dictates of the church for their own reasons: financial, need of the expertise of, utilization of the talents of their Jewish subjects, or friendship, and so forth. These were more tolerant. On the other hand, many used the Inquisition to further enrich their treasuries by oppressive taxation and confiscation, and for religious zeal. These rulers promulgated laws which relegated those Spaniards of the Jewish faith to second class citizenship or worse. Moslems under Christian rule were also persecuted and expelled.

Among the tolerant Christian Monarchs were Alphonso VI (1030-1109), Ferdinand III (1199-1252), Jaime I (1208-1276), Alfonso VIII (1166-1214), Alfonso X (1221-1284), Pedro I (1334-1369). Meanwhile the Papal order of 1250 declared: "They [the Jews] should not associate with Christians, live under the same roof with them or use the same baths nor attend social or religious events [weddings, Bar Mitzvahs, or circumcisions]. Also prohibited is Jewish employment of Christians in their households." The ban indicates that close relations between Jews and Christians existed prior to then. Don Enriquez in his overthrow of King Pedro I brought in the "Knight Crusaders" (French, German, English) who introduced their "expertise". They were already known throughout Europe for pillage, arson, and massacre. Now the Inquisition accelerated culminating in laws, confiscations and the Massacre of 1391 .

The Nahmans

The Nahmans came from Gerona in the (Catholic) kingdom of Catalonia, north of its capitol of Barcelona. Gerona was occupied by the Moors for only 40 years. The Nahman name can be traced back to Babylonia (Iraq- Iran area) where a long list of rabbis by that name are found in Jewish history dating back (as far as we have noted) to Jacob Ben Nahman (320 bce) and Isaac Ben Nahman (356 bce). Rabbi Nahman was born in Gerona (Rabbi Moses Ben Nahman (RAMBAN), Nahmanides, Catalan name - Bonastrug Da Porta (1194-1270 ce). He and his wife had three boys (Joseph, Solomon and Isaac) and daughters (names not noted). One of the daughters married the next chief rabbi of Gerona, Rabbi Gerson ben Salomon. Rabbi Nahman's cousin Jonah ben Abraham Gerondi (1180-1263) was a noted Talmudist (Jewish law) and writer on ethical matters. Rabbi Nahman's brother Benveniste da Porta was the Bayle of Barcelona. Their maternal grandfather was the famous Rabbi Isaac ben Reuben of Barcelona.

To understand further the period, we must mention that before, during and after Rabbi Nahman's time there were two main trends in Judaism. The great Rabbi Moses ben Maimon (Maimonides, Rambam) (1135-1204) is considered by all as a giant who modernized Jewish thought. He reconciled theology with the "new" knowledge of the sciences. His was a demystifying force. He opposed the literal interpretation of scripture which was straight-jacketing knowledge, inquiry and understanding. His writings were in the most simple language so that the masses could understand, without the need of "interpretation" by the hierarchy who were the final arbiters of religious disputes. Maimon was greatly influenced by Aristotle's philosophy. Simply put his writings espoused a more "rational and philosophical" approach as against the more orthodox "faith and tradition" mentality that "all that is worth knowing can be found in the scriptures." Rabbi Nahman (while praising and honoring R. Maimon) was essentially a faith and tradition adherent. Rabbi Nahman opposed the Rabbinical zealots who urged the Catholic Church to burn the "heretical" Maimonides' work. Rabbi Nahman wrote a treatise against the book burning and against the postmortem "herem" (excommunication) of Maimonides proposed by the Rabbinical zealots. The books were burned. The Church then proceeded to burn all Talmuds (Holy Books) a few years later.

Rabbi Nahman was a founder in Gerona of a school for the study of Cabala, searching for mystical messages and meaning in the scripture. Rabbi Nahman was a well respected leader of his community and of Jews everywhere. He became the Chief Rabbi of the whole province of Catalonia. Rabbi Nahman was appointed Bayle (leader of Gerona's Jewish Community) by King Jaime I the King of Catalonia, Aragon and Sicily. The Jewish communities were under the direct supervision of the monarchy. The community administered its own laws and was exempt from local or clerical (Christian) interference. It was answerable thru its Bayle directly to the King on all matters. Under the Reign of Jaime I, the Jews of Catalonia prospered and their communities grew. Rabbi Nahman was a physician(this earned him his living(3) and he was the King's personal physician. He was a poet and a prolific writer. Fifty books or works of Rabbi Nahman are still studied at all Hebrew universities. His son Joseph became a landowner and an advisor to the King of Castile in Valladolid. It is from this son that we believe our present family descends in as much as the name Joseph (and not Isaac or Solomon) is the name passed on from generation to generation to the present day.

In 1263 the church asked that Rabbi Nahman debate the Dominican Monk Pablo Christiani, a converted Jew. The topic was "The Messiah's Coming prophesied by the Bible has been fulfilled by the birth of Jesus." Rabbi Nahman refused but when Jaime I gave his personal guarantee that Rabbi Nahman would have freedom to debate, without consequence, Rabbi Nahman agreed. When the debate ended, (which took place in Gerona and then Barcelona), the King awarded him 300 Solidos (money). The Bishop of Gerona asked Rabbi Nahman to write an account of his points of view on the debate which unfortunately Rabbi Nahman did.

In 1265, prodded to do so by the Bishop of Gerona, Pope Clement IV sent an order that Rabbi Nahman be tried for heresy. King Jaime I tried to get the church to agree to a two year exile but the bishop insisted that Rabbi Nahman be brought before the court of the Inquisition. Warned by King Jaime I that he could not protect him, Rabbi Nahman left quickly for Palestine where he continued to write and teach.

Arriving in Palestine he found that there was no Jewish Community except for 2 cloth dyers who would assemble a "minyan" to hold Sabbath prayers in their house. Rabbi Nahman immediately initiated the building of a Synagogue. Funds and Torah Scrolls were sent for from the community of Catalonia. This Synagogue was destroyed in 1560 by the Turkish invasion of Jerusalem.

He also formed a Yeshiva (school for religious studies) in Acre. He stayed in Palestine waiting for a change that would permit his return to Spain. He was never able to return to Spain or see his family. He died in Palestine in 1270.

From Jerusalem Rabbi Nahman wrote in Catalan (his native language) this letter to his family: "I left my family. I had to abandon my home. There [in Gerona] with my dear sons and daughters, my beautiful grandchildren who were educated at my knees, I left also my life. My heart and my eyes will be with them forever." His seal was found near Acre a few years ago. He is reputed to be buried at the foot of Mt. Carmel. We know of no Rabbis among the Nahmans after Moses Ben Nahman.

On The Question Of "Debates"

It was a time honored mechanism for scholars, Jewish and otherwise, to engage in debates on matters of religion, philosophy  and opponents were free to speak and of course each would  try to prove the correctness of their beliefs and win adherents to their point of view. These debates were of a voluntary nature, and all the participants were expected to act with decorum and all the courtesies were extended to the participants.

The onset of the reconquest of Spain from the Moors found the Catholic church giving that endeavor a "crusading" aspect. While the reconquest had its national goal of reunification of Spain into one state, the church was determined not only to eject the " infidel" Moors but to impose their religion, as the only one for all of Spain.

Proselytizing, (trying to convert) became in their hands not a debate or contest for men's minds but a weapon by which to force their conversion. The church made it mandatory for Jews to attend sermons where the clergy would preach. They often used Jewish converts to deliver the sermons. It also became the practice to invade Synagogs to use for these forced sermons. When these sermons did not produce the desired result, they forced the representatives of the Jewish religion (Rabbis) to enter into "debates" with clerics of the Inquisition. What kind of a "debate" could there be, if in defending their religious faith, they then could be charged with "heresy". It was a no-win situation, yet, they were not allowed to refuse to debate.

At the Nahman-Christiani debate in 1263 at least the presence of King Jaime I (tho a Catholic monarch), did not allow a prejudgment and Rabbi Nahman was permitted to speak freely. Further, while the King was unable to convince the clergy and they appealed to the Pope for a trial, the King tried to mitigate the punishment by proposing a 2 year exile.

This was not the case in Tortosa, the reconquest was in full swing, and in 1412/1413 for an arduous 20 months (60 sessions) a "debate" was ordered in which the renegade Geronimo "de Santa Fe" ("of the Holy Faith", formerly Joshua Larki, converted Jew) was the cleric representing the church. Four Rabbis defended the Jewish religion. Pope Benedict XII himself decided to assist Geronimo in his attack. At the very first session, the Pope announced that " this debate is not to be one among equals, but is being held to prove the truth of Christianity". Further, the renegade Geronimo proclaimed that the "Rabbis were heretics even to Judaism for which they would be prosecuted by the Inquisition." Under these conditions what the Rabbis said, or were allowed to say was to no avail. The campaign of forced conversions and baptisms was accelerated and the Pope ordered the removal from the Talmud of all the scripture to which Geronimo objected.

The time for "debating" was over. Now came the torture rack, "to encourage confession." Now came the sword, "to liberate the soul." Now too came burning alive at the stake, "to purify the soul." Expulsion was in the wind, and it was not long in coming. All that was awaited was the completion of task #1, the victory of the reconquest.

Some Facts About The Sephardim In Brief

In Spain it is estimated that there were 800,000 Jews including "conversos" (converts to Christianity) before the expulsion. They represented one sixth to one seventh of the population of Spain as a whole. As cruel as the expulsion was for the Jews, it was a disaster for Spain which flourished under the input of the combination of the culture, science, and enlightenment brought to Spain by the Moors. The Jews were the catalyst. With their knowledge of Arabic, Latin, Greek and the Spanish dialects, the Jews served as a means for transmission of those cultures to Spain as a whole, expanding and enriching their nation's knowledge.

Jews were farmers, vineyarders, silver and gold smiths, mathematicians, astronomers, printers, cartographers (map makers), physicians, financiers, traders (with contacts throughout the Mediterranean "Mare Sephardicum") and in all the professions. The languages of the Jews were the Iberian tongues, Spanish, Catalan, etc. and they employed Hebrew and Arabic along with Greek and Latin in their writings. For Spain, the tenth century to the early fourteenth century were indeed the golden age. The arts, finances, trade, sciences, architecture, medicine, botany, pharmacology, astronomy, cartography, poetry, etc. flourished. Greco-Arab science and literature was absorbed as was Babylonian, Latin and others. These enriched the knowledge of the day and laid the groundwork for a view of the world other than the strict limitations of "all that is worth knowing is contained in the scriptures." Europe was still in the "dark ages" which dominated Europe in that era.

The reconquest of Spain from the Moors was mounted from the northern provinces under the Christian kings around 1131 and they reconquered all Spain by 1490. The official inquisition with its court was created in 1215 and its purpose was manyfold i.e., "Defense of the Faith", conversion both thru proselytizing as well as forced conversion (or death), taxation (including non-Christians) to support the church, confiscation of properties and wealth, etc. The ferocity of the Inquisition rose in direct proportion to the success of the reconquest and its speed accelerated as the cities fell to it. The citizenry of Christian Spain was heavily taxed to finance the reconquest and this taxation heavily fell on the Jewish communities.

Large scale looting, killing, burning at the stake, confiscation, etc., at first were spontaneous (?) but became more and more organized under the sanction, urging and then mandate of the clergy in an organized and ever mounting drive leading to expulsion. The year 1391 (among many others) stands out as infamous with whole cities being made "Judenrien" (to use the Nazi term) - "Free of Jews." Gerona was one of these cities (1391). Valladolid (1412), Toledo (1467), Seville (1481) were sites of major inquisitional abuses culminating in the expulsion of all Jews who would not convert from all of the Province of Andalusia in 1480. In the 8 years (1481-1489) in Seville alone, 700 were burned alive, 5000 tortured and punished. One could go on and on but suffice to say that Spain lost the flower of its citizenry as a result of that policy. Disastrous as it was to its victims, Jews, Moors and Converts, the Inquisition was a disaster for Spain as a nation and greatly contributed to its early decline.

An Abbreviated List of Jewish Illumineries Of That Period

Yitsjak -( 4)Ambassador of Charlemagne (768-814).

Yehuda -(5) Ambassador of King Charles (The Bald) (843-847).

Abu Chaprut (915-970) Visor to Califs (Moorish Potentates), Physician to Califs, Pharmacologist, Financier and Diplomat.

Shemuel Hanaguid: (933-1056) Linguist, Poet, Author, Secretary to Visor of Granada, Visor to King Habus (Granada), General of the Army of King Babis (Habus' son).

Rabbi Shelomo Yitsjaki: (1040-1105) The famous Talmudist known as RASHI.(6)

Moshe Ben Ezra (1055-1140) Poet, Liturgist, Elegist.

Abraham Ben Ezra (1092-?) Encyclopedist, philosopher, poet, astronomer, mathematician.

Yitsak Alfasi (1013-1103) Noted Talmudist

Benjamin Tudela: (11??-1175) Geographer, travelled extensively in Europe, Middle East, Balkans, etc. Wrote of his travels and observations. A source book for historians, widely translated.

Abraham Ben Levi Ibn David (Ibn Daud): (1110-1180) Historian, Jewish and Greek Philosopher, Physician, astronomer, poet. Versed in New Testament and Koran. Preceded Maimonides in Aristotlean approach to religion arguing that philosophy was not anti-faith.

Ibn Gabirol (1040-1110) Prolific poet, Litanist, Philosopher.

Yosef Ibn Ferrusel (10??-1108) Physician, and Minister to Alfonso VI. Ferrusel was known as Cidellus.

Todres Abulafia (1247-1295) Prolific Poet (over 1000 poems in 3 volumes), Anthologist

Yaakov Ben Anatoli: (1194-1285) Translator. Translated Aristotle and Averroes from Arabic to Hebrew. Official translator for Emperor Frederico II (Naples) to translate into Italian.

Yosef Ben Kimji: (1105-1170) Grammaticist (Hebrew), Lexographer noted for systematizing and modernizing written Hebrew.

Yaakov Ibn Tibbon: (1230-1312) Mathematician, Physician, Astronomer, Inventor of Astronomical Instruments (New Quadrant, etc.)

Samuel Abulafia: (1320-1361) Financier, Community leader, Philanthropist (helped finance El Transito Synagogue, now Museum in Toledo), Treasurer and advisor to King Pedro of Castile, Diplomat. Tortured and killed by King Pedro; wealth confiscated.

Yitsak Abrabanel: (1437-1498) Minister of Finance under Alfonso V, King of Portugal. Also Finance Minister under King Ferdinand. Exiled 1492. Prolific writer on philosophical and religious matters.

Yehuda Abrabanel: (1460-1535) Famous Medical Physician and Philosopher. Exiled 1492.

Abraham Zacuto: (14??-1522) Mathematician, astronomer and cartographer., Professor at University of Salamanca. Reputed to have drawn maps for Columbus' journey. Exiled in 1492, he went to Portugal to advise the Court on astronomy. Advisor to King Juan II, and his successor King Manuel. Advised court on proposed Vasco de Gama Expedition. In 1497 Portugal expelled Jews, Zacuto went to Turkey.

Menash Ben Israel: (1604-1657) Philosopher, Editor

Some of the Notable Converts of Choice (7)

In Religion:

Bishop Pablo de Santa Maria (Castile) (1350-1435), formerly Salamon Halevi, Chief Rabbi of Burgos until 1390, wrote anti-Jewish Laws of Valladolid, 1412.

Diego Lainez: Friend of St. Ignatius of Loyola. He was Second in Command of the Company of Jesus.

Thomas de Torquemada (1420-1498) Grand Inquisitor who condemned 8,800 Jews to be burned alive, 96,504 to be tortured to (or otherwise put to) death.

Diego De Deza, Inquisitor General.

Joshua Larki aka Geronimo De Santa Fe (1412): Proselitizer, Inquisitor.

Pablo Christiani (see debate Nahman-Christiani).

Hernando del Talavera, Archbishop of Granada

In Literature XV Century:

Santa Maria y Cartagena, Caballeria, Santa Fe, Fernando de la Torre, Juan de Baena, Alfonso de Zamora, Francisco Lopez de Villalobos

(According to some historians Cervantes descended from a Converso family).

In Finance:

Diego Arias Davila (Castile) (1350-1435), Luis de Santangel and Gabriel Sanchez (Aragon). Santangel was the principal financier for Ferdinand and Isabel.

Abraham Senior, Chief Rabbi of Segovia, considerably financed Ferdinand & Isabel's reconquest campaign, later converted.

In Science:

Moses Sefardi became Pedro de Huesca: Astronomer, Mathematician, named Physician to King Henry I of England.

Converts who became Saints

Santa Teresa of Avila

Saint John of God

Conversos (or descendants) In the Sixteenth Century

Ausias March, Poet of Valencia.

Juan Luis Vives, Philosopher, Grammerian, Lexicographer (whose entire family was burned alive later by Inquisitors).

Hernando de Pulgar, Chronicler.

Bartolmeo de las Casas, Defender of the American Indians and historian of the Indies.

Fernando de Rojas, Celebrated author "La Celestina", First Renaissance literary work.

Mateo Aleman, Novelist

Luis de Leon, Humanist and Poet

Francisco de Vitoria, Jurist

Conversos Marry into Nobility

King Ferdinand's grandmother.

Zaportas married into Royal house of Aragon.

Sanchez married the Cavallerias.

Others: Santangel, Clementes, Villanovas, Coseons Espes, Enriquez, Lagunas, Cardozas, etc. King Philip II who signed anti-semitic laws in 1556 (Descendent of conversos).

"Up to 300,000 conversos remained in Spain at the time of the expulsion. They constituted the educated urban bourgeoisie. The richer families married with the Spanish (Christian) aristocracy and transmitted their blood line to the royal family itself" (Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1988).

Non-Jewish Institutions Fall to the Inquisition

The "illumanists", an order formed by Sister Isabel de la Cruz and consisting mostly of conversos were eliminated in 1520. The "Erasmans" followers of the humanist Erasmus who had powerful supporters in the court of Charles I were annihilated or forced to flee Spain by 1530-1540.

The Columbus Voyage

To touch briefly on the Columbus voyage which took place at the very moment that Jews were being herded to ports of debarkation for expulsion. Spanish historians come down on both sides of the question as to whether Cristobal Colon (Colombus)(8) was a crypto-Jew (Marrano or Converso). Leaving that question aside, it is well documented that Jews played a great role in the voyage to the "New World". To name some of them:

Luis Santangel: helped finance the voyage in great part.

Isaac Abravanel: helped finance the voyage in great part.

Abraham Zacuto: Cartographer and Teacher of Columbus

Josef Vecinho: made the nautical instruments used.

Gabriel Sanchez: Crown treasurer, who personally helped finance expedition.

Master Bernal: Ship's Surgeon on voyage.

Rodrigo de Triana, Ship's Physician.

Luis de Torres: Chief interpreter on voyage.

Seamen: Marco, Rodrigo Sanchez, Brothers de La Calle.

It is also a historical fact that many of the ordinary seamen were recruited (?) from the prisons of Spain where victims of the Inquisition languished.

The Inquisition Fact or Fiction

There has been a tendency in the literature to describe the inquisition in mitigating if not in apologetic terms. Some of the writers attempt to portray that period as a campaign for "national identification", a struggle to unify a fragmented geopolitical area into a nation. This apologia fails to differentiate between " National" aspirations and the reality of events.

While the reconquest of Spain and its reunification into one entity was a worthy goal, that this new nation found it necessary to use the goal of "nationhood" to impose its religion on a minority has no more merit than the original invasion that gave rise to the need for a "National Liberation" movement.

In other words the usurping of power by an invading and occupying force tries to impose upon the inhabitants its structures, governmental, legal, cultural, religious, etc. Can a movement whose aim it is to expel the invader and establish its hegemony over the liberated land then impose its power, legal, governmental, religious, etc. without regard for all of the inhabitants? If the change of power merely expresses the strength to do so then there is no moral question involved. It is, merely, "might makes right." In that case all the invaders of Spain were "right".

In the case of Spain (700-1492), the Moors invaded a country already in the hands of the Visigoths, the current occupying power. Neither being "invited in" nor that they ousted a prior occupier alters the fact that the Moors were invaders. Now came the need to reconquer Spain from the invader which lasted over a span of 700 years.

In the areas not invaded or only briefly held by the Moors, (Navarre, Castile, Catalonia, Aragon, Galicia, and Asturias) the various small Christian kingdoms fought among themselves in a struggle for power, territory or wealth. While the position of the Catholic church was to impose itself as the only religion, it was not in a position yet to impose on the independent kingdoms its will. These various rulers for their own reasons felt that they needed the support of all the population if they were to succeed in unifying non-occupied Spain into one nation capable of the task of expelling the invader.

In this unifying role (and royal self interest) they utilized the expertise of their Spanish subjects without regard to their religion. Given the fact that the Jews were multilingual (Spanish, Latin, Hebrew, Arabic, etc.) they were of great use to the kings as emissaries to the Califs as well as for their value as translators, medical practitioners, financiers, treasurers, tax collectors and in the commercial life of the day. The Jews had contact with their co-religionists throughout the Mediterranean and were therefore of extreme value in the expansion of trade between the kingdoms and the outside world.

In the mid 700's Charlemagne like his father before him (Catalonia being under the rule of French kings) utilized the Jews of northern (French) and southern (Spanish) Catalonia to carry out these tasks and rewarded them with all the rights enjoyed by his most favored subjects. His nephew Carlos (the Bald) had as one of his special advisors Judah Hebreo (Judacot). The Catalonian royal house under the Count Berenguers united by marriage to Aragon royalty and then united with the Castile/Leon kingdom. Together, (and on occasion with the Crusaders of Europe) by 1248, they had forced the Moors back so that only the Moslem Kingdom of Granada was in Moorish hands. It fell in 1490. This campaign of national reconquest brought under Spanish rule a large population of Moslems, non-Spaniards (if they could be called that after being in Spain for over 700 years.) They numbered some 30% of the population. In addition to the Moslems, the Spanish Jews composed one sixth to one seventh of the population of Spain in 1490.

Now for the first time in the history of the Iberian peninsula there were two sovereign nations Spain and Portugal. Each was a united nation as never before and each had armies second to none in the Mediterranean area. When the Romans, the Visigoths or the Moors, (to name the last three) invaded Spain, they did not expel the previous inhabitants. In the case of Rome, it even extended citizenship to all the inhabitants. Invaders they were, and they exploited all inhabitants for their own enrichment, as all invaders and colonizers do.

With the rise to power of the Catholic church in Spain a new criteria was added for citizenship. This new aspect surfaced first under the invading Visigoth King Recaredo 586/601 . when he converted to Roman Catholicism and proclaimed it to be the only acceptable religion for all Spain. This new criteria was continued and expanded by Christian Spain in its campaign of reconquest after the Moorish invasion and occupation. Thus in no case was the reason "national", the common denominator, used by both invader and invaded, was Roman Catholicism. This was true not only in Spain but throughout Europe and later expanded into the "New World", the Americas, and the near and Far East, however, let us dwell on Spain for the moment.

When there was a need, the Catholic kingdoms utilized the expertise of the Jews 700/1100 ., and of both the Moors and the Jews, 1100/1490 . Tho the church invoked and instigated harsh measures, confiscations, forced conversions and massacres in those years, where the various Kings opposed them, the church used the ex-officio incitation of the Catholic populace to carry out their work. This was especially true during the various plagues, and "holy" holidays such as Resurrection day, Passover, and any other event that came to hand which could be used for that purpose.

In 1490, with the reconquest successfully completed, the Catholic church thru Ferdinand and Isabella and especially Isabella, whose Father Confessor was the Grand Inquisitor Torquemada, the time had come. Jews (and later Moors) were ordered expelled in 1492. Well, now the problem was over! The nation now consisted of only Catholic Spaniards! Ah, but now, the matter of the religious "purity" of the nation's citizens came into question. Sound familiar?

The Inquisition was now aimed at all "new Christians", or their descendants, and the terror continued if not accelerated. Nor did it stop with these new victims, but was followed by the hunt for "heretics" among the Catholic Orders. The Erasmians, Humanists, and others whose ideas did not conform to the current dogma, came under the Inquisitorial attack. What was "national" about that, let alone "liberation"?

With all of Spain united, purified and sanctified, what now? Catalonia and the Basque country lost their independence and even their languages were outlawed (Basque being the only real Iberian language, pre-Romanization, and therefore the only "national" one). So much for the contention that in Spain the inquisition was used due to the desire and need to establish the "Nation". To further debunk that claim, no one was disputing the need for national sovereignty, certainly even less so the Spaniards of the Jewish faith who had fled the Almohade invasion. These Spanish Jews were given refuge in the north where their co-religionists in the Catholic kingdoms used their high positions to help them flee the oppressive, fanatical Almohades. Taking refuge in the north, principally Catalonia, they lent their efforts and finances to the Reconquest.

Now let us proceed from 1492. Having just consolidated Iberia, both Spain and later Portugal, embarked on their expeditions, "discovered" the new world, and (as the Roman Empire had done to Spain), imposed their language, customs and administration on the conquered territories. Hispanizing wherever they went, this was a new type of colonization. In Spanish history no invading power had imposed its religion on Spain. These invading colonizers were now "Crusaders". As a religious rather than a secular state, the aim now was to mask pure imperial greed with the "holy" task of forcibly converting the natives to " the faith".

Practice Makes Perfect

What the church had learned in its Reconquest phase it now applied with a vengeance to the "new world", first to the natives, but quickly also to the settlers from Spain, many of whom were "new Christians." If the Inquisition was for Spain, as the apologists would have us believe, a necessary part of the struggle to unify and establish a National Spanish State,(even if one would accept that proposition), why did not the Inquisition expire with the formation of that state or shortly thereafter? The fact is that the Inquisition was part and parcel of the campaign to spread the power of Roman Catholicism everywhere possible.

In The Beginning

In the early days of the founding of the Christian religion, the followers of Christ were asked to "spread the good news of the coming of the Messiah." This was to usher in "the Brotherhood of Man, under the Fatherhood of God." With the growth and advance of Christianity, a more humane element entered into the relations of man to man. The spread of the Christian religion met the strength of the Roman Empire and despite the brutal attempts at suppression, it persevered and spread. In 64 . a fire all but destroyed Rome. Emperor Nero used this event to kill "vast multitudes" (Encyclopaedia Britannica) of Christians as scapegoats, much as Christians killed the Jews of Spain in the massacre of 1391 . when they blamed the Jews for the `Black Plague' that swept Europe. With the conversion of Britain in 312 . and his being declared Emperor in 324 and establishing Christianity in Constantinople, in 330 ., Emperor Constantine had successfully wedded church to Empire. This institutionalizing of the Catholic religion now put it in position to impose rather than win adherents to its ranks.

Spain and the Inquisition

"Spain has been treated as a pariah by European nations and others whose own histories are no better....The Inquisition was not a 'Spanish' institution conceived by the 'Spanish' church." "Pope Gregory IX founded the Courts of the Inquisition to hunt down 'Christian heretics' in Southern France two centuries before it was used against the Jews of Spain." (9}

Nor was the "Parche" (distinctive clothing, colors or colored insignia) used to identify non-Christians, a "Spanish" invention. It and all the trappings of the Inquisition were part and parcel of the then European disease of Anti-semitism and an organic part of Medieval Catholic orthodoxy.

While we deal here with the aspects of its use against the Jews of Spain, it must be remembered that it was used against Christian "heretics" and converts before and after the expulsion of the Jews.

All those who possess the "only truth", all orthodoxies are bound to become "Inquisitors" and hunt down their own "heretics."

While 1492 is the date of the "final" expulsion from Spain, it should be remembered that the inquisition extended over a long period from its "official" promulgation at the Council of Lateran (1215) nor was it used only in Spain. The periodic pogroms that followed it (especially 1391) were preceded by the "First Crusade" (1069-1099) with forced conversions of Jews in Rouen and Metz, France (1171); in Blois, France 31 Jews including women and children were burned at the stake (1190); total extermination of Jews in Champagne, Fr. (1190).

Nor did it end in 1492, it took on a "new look" and was extended into a hunt within the ranks of Jews who converted and their descendants, "Conversos", "Marranos", "Nuevo (new) Christianos." To note some of them: in Lisbon (1506) 2000-4000 killed. From 1497 to 1791 (when the inquisitorial court was abolished in Portugal) more that 40,000 were put on trial, 29,000 reaffirmed their baptism, 600 were burned in effigy (having fled); 1200 burned at the stake. In England, Portuguese exiles who escaped the 1492-1497 Inquisition were exiled a second time by England's edict in 1609. This was not the first instance of anti-semitism in Britain. After the invasion of William the Conqueror in the 12th century, Jews from France came to England. Under Steven I (1135-1159) French ruler of the British Isles,. the Pogroms started: Burning of the Jewish ghetto in Oxford (1141). Under Richard the "Lion" Hearted (born in "Leon", Spain) the burning of the London Ghetto in 1189 resulted in forced baptisms and many deaths. Then followed the cities of Norwich, Stanford, and York among others. At York (1190) the Knights of the Crusades committed the worst 2 day massacre Then in 1218, the York Jewish Quarter was sacked. This spread to 25 other cities from 1234 to 1253. In 1263-1265 all records of debts owed to Jews were destroyed. Jewish areas in London and 7 other cities were looted with violence upon their inhabitants. Crusaders under Simone de Monfort expelled the Jews from Leicester. Except for isolated cases, Britain was "Juden-Rien" (free of Jews) from 1290 to 1651. In 1651 under Cromwell, Holland-English rivalry reversed the expulsion edict and Jews resettled in England.

An Attempt At Rewriting History.

There has been a many pronged attempt at offering an apologia for the inquisition and rewriting its history, if not completely ignoring its existence. For an outrageous example I would recommend the entry in the Encyclopaedia Britannica under Inquisition.

Inquisition: "On admission or conviction of penalties ranging from simple prayer, fasting, to confiscation of property...even life imprisonment....[For non confessors] turned over to secular arm, which alone could impose death penalty....the first Grand Inquisitor...Torquemada...number of burnings ...exaggerated...probably about 2000." These are the harshest words in the one and one half column entry. There is no mention of any other, of the many inquisitors except Torquemada.

As for the one and a half columns, lest one think that the reason is `space limitation', on the same page we find this entry on Insects. Insects: "A brief treatment ...for full treatment, see Macropedia." This "brief treatment" consists of three columns.

Now as for Torquemada. Nissim Elnecave (see bibliography) states. "Contemporary authors, basing themselves on documents of the period, estimate that Torquemada condemned 8,800 'heretics' to be burned alive and 96,504 to be tortured or otherwise put to death," (other than burning).

The Encyclopaedia only listed Torquemada (1420/1498) who was made Grand Inquisitor in 1482. He held the post for only 16 years out of the period of the Inquisition 1215/1791. Nor is mention made of the "unofficial" killing and pillages, etc. as a result of the establishment of the inquisition (1215) and Pope Gregory IX in 1233 called for "more vigorous action", and that Pope Sixtus IV in 1478 "authorized torture" in order to carry out that task.

Just one example (partial listing): In the year 1348 the `black plague' hit Spain. The Jews were blamed.

1348-Terragona: 300 massacred.

1368-Toledo: 8000 massacred; Population 40,000.

1391-Valencia: 230 massacred; July 9th.

1391-Balleric Isles: 300+ massacred; (Mallorca, Minorca). July 10th.

1391-Barcelona: 400+ massacred; Aug 5th.

1391-Gerona: almost all massacred; Aug 10th.

1391-Lerida: 25 massacred.

1391-Cordoba: almost all massacred.

1391-Seville: almost all massacred.

1391-Madrid: major part massacred.

1391-Toledo: 1200 massacred.

The record must be set straight. The Inquisition must not be allowed to be swept under the rug. Elsewhere I deal somewhat with its non-Spanish application.(Note that the Encyclopaedia only mentioned Spain). The Church was guilty of attempted genocide no less than that of the Holocaust of Hitler Germany. It had nothing to do with "Nationhood".

Trials by Inquisitors Instituted in the New World

Argentina: By late 1600's 25% of the population were Jewish (including Marranos) but they ceased to be so designated by the government.

Brazil: tens of thousands of Jews and converts arrived after conquest by Portugal in 1500. Santo Tomas Island was used for Inquisition deportees (and criminals) from Portugal. In 1542 Pope Paul III created an inquisitorial court to combat "heresy." In 1557, hundreds were returned to Portugal to be tried and were sentenced to life imprisonment or burning. By 1648 the number rose to 25,000 of whom more than 1500 were burned alive. The inquisition was ended in 1773.

Peru: Peru was founded as a possession in 1560 by Pizzaro after the conquest of the Incan Nation. The Inquisition was off to a slow start due to the small number of Marranos in Peru. From 1595-1605, 52 people were brought before the Inquisitional Court. Of these, 15 were sentenced to be burned alive. For 15 to 20 years thereafter, the inquisition rested. The colony grew as "new (Jewish) Christians" from Portugal arrived. In 1634, 65 were brought before the Inquisitors. Sixty three were found guilty, 11 of them were burned alive and 2 in effigy. After 3 cases of false accusations, and the execution of wealthy socially prominent personages between 1720 and 1745, the uproar forced changes in the courts of the Inquisitors and its demise.

Mexico: here as in many other Latin-American countries the Inquisitors operated in a much more fanatic way. Even Hernando-Alonso (who was an active participant in founding Mexico City) fell to the Inquisition as a heretic and was burned alive in 1528. Along with him, Morales was also burned alive. As in Spain, one of the chief inquisitors used by the church was Vincente de Santa Maria (1525) himself a descendent of Jewish heritage. In 1596 the famous Carvajal family of 6 were burned alive. Pogroms and auto-de-fes took place in 1642, 1646, 1647, 1648 and especially April 11th, 1649. It must be emphasized that all this took place against converts (or their descendants) who may or may not have been secretly practicing their "old religion." Denouncement or suspicion was enough. (10)

The Nahmans, Spain to America

Sicily: The Kingdom of Catalonia-Aragon annexed Sicily as well as Sardinia in 1282. They remained under Spanish control until 1648. We do not know much, as yet, about the Nahmans between 1270 (Rabbi Nahman's death) and approximately 1850 when our great grandfather Haim Nahman came to Salonica from Sicily. The community of Jews of Valladolid and Gerona were virtually wiped out in the 1391 massacres, therefore one can assume that sometime between 1270 and before 1391 the Nahmans left Spain and were established in or around the Sardinian, Naples, Sicily area. It is known that in 1312 Frederico II changed the laws and permitted Jews to escape the confines of the ghetto in Palermo, Sicily and the Jewish communities grew.

In 1450 Alfonso V broadened the rights of Jews allowing schools, synagogues, living outside ghettos and prohibited Christians from proselytizing Jews with forced attendance. Large numbers of refugees from Spain and Provence, France settled in Sicily only to be followed by the 1492 order of expulsion. Later the Jews of Naples which came under Spanish rule (1503) were included in the expulsion order.

An exception was made for 200 wealthy families who agreed to pay an annual fee of 300 gold Ducats to the Crown. By 1520 this grew to 600 families. In 1541 Carlos V ordered total expulsion. Where does that leave the Nahmans? We don't know. While our Great-Grandpa Haim came to Salonica from Sicily, we don't know from what city in Sicily, nor how they escaped the expulsion order in prior years. Further, the oral history passed down tells us that the Nahmans owned "an island" where they felled the trees and made charcoal which they then shipped (in their own ships) and sold to markets, one of which was Salonica. It may well be that the "island" was one of the many small sparsely inhabited isles of the Sicilian coast, while the family may have lived on Sicily proper. To conjecture further, it is documented that Joseph Nahman of Valladolid (1270), son of Rabbi Nahman was a wealthy landowner and adviser to the King of Castile, perhaps with his influence and funds he or his descendants were able to establish the family in Sicily and/or smaller islands and remain free of harassment, being part of the 200 families exempted from expulsion. Perhaps some day one of our descendants will fill in the gaps by further research if they are so inclined.

Our Gerona History Updated

Gerona 700 ce: The church eager to acquire the land of some of the Jewish farmers who lived outside old Gerona sold twenty four houses to the Jews and they moved into the Kahal or Jewish Call within the old Iberian-Roman walled city of Gerona. They numbered some 300 people and they built their community around their Synagogue, public market, public baths in the Roman style, and ritual slaughterhouses and shops. The Jews built the first public market which became the commercial center for Gerona and surrounding area.

A group of Catalans (historians, a priest, writers, a chemist, and not so amateur archaeologists) are researching the history of Gerona's former Jewish community. Among those aiding in restoration is a priest Jaime De Casanova. His writings and studies are bringing to light old records, maps, and descriptions of Gerona from 700 . to the present. As a source of historical material the writer and researcher Luis Marcos has been invaluable. He is the author of the book The Jews and Us, the Us being the Catalans.

How Rabbi Nahman's House was Discovered and Rebuilt

Senor Tarres and his French born wife Pia purchased the house at Number 5 on San Lourenc Street together with a friend says Senor Tarres"when I was a child I used to play through the remnants of these ruined houses and peering through a hole in a wall I discovered what was later to turn out to be the garden and center of Nahmanides . When we started to clear out the foundation with its centuries of dirt, stone, and debris of former houses on that site, we suddenly ran into huge archways composed of stone and blocked off." San Lourenc is a stone stepped narrow street running downward between Doctor De Prat and Forca Street.(11) There are many entrances into the Nahman Center. "From old maps and descriptions in town and church records, we were able to determine that the house on the corner was the site of Rabbi Nahman's house."

Discovery followed excavation and further excavation followed discovery. Two levels down have been excavated and there is concrete evidence that at least one or possible two more levels are yet to be uncovered. Using stone and artifacts uncovered by excavating, Rabbi Nahman's house is rebuilt around a patio. It contains, in addition to living quarters, a Yeshiva or school, and one level down from the street there has been found a Mikvah or ritual bath. A slaughtering stone for Kosher slaughtering of animals has been excavated in the other building of the complex erroneously named "Issac The Blind" House. To the rear of the house is a garden with two wells encased by a wall which has high windows. It was from one of these windows that an old sealed off street was discovered still unopened. At one end of the garden there is a sealed archway which if opened would lead in the direction of Forca Street. "We knew" continued Senor Tarres "when we saw the buried arches in the cellar or below ground of our original diggings that we had uncovered something of great importance. Not only for us, not only for Gerona, not only for the Jews but for Catalonia, for Spain and for history."

Unsupported by funds or city/government assistance, he dug, he spent, and he became more enthused as his historian friends told him "the history of the Jews is the history of Catalonia and all Spain, and Spain's history is the history of the Jews." They added "the history of Nahmanides is one of the important parts of the history of the Jewish community of Gerona from before 700 . to 1492 the year of their expulsion." It was at this point in his account of the history of his excavations that he turned to Sam Nahman and emotionally said "do you realize that you and your sisters are the first Nahmans to come back to Gerona since 1492? Esta es su casa." "This is your house", he said in the traditional Spanish greeting used when visiting a Spaniard's home. In this case Senor Tarres and his gracious wife Pia meant it doubly, as a traditional offering of hospitality and a deeper meaning since it was Nahmans coming to a Nahman house for the first time since the expulsion.

In 1987 the City of Gerona enlightened to the importance both historically and for tourism, purchased the property from Senor Tarres. It is now a historical monument. A main street of Gerona bears the Catalan name of Rabbi Nahman "Bonastrug da Porta". Isaac Nahman's house (his youngest son) is a block away from Rabbi Nahman's and has been owned for the past 300 years by the present occupants family. Their name curiously enough is Porta. This house has two floors below ground excavated by Senor Porta (12)and a half buried arch indicates another level still lies buried awaiting excavation. We await with great interest further archaeological and historical data from Gerona.

Some Personal Notes

Grandpa Joseph and Grandma Jentile had six boys: Haim, Samuel, Albert, Jack, David, and Ralph and one girl Vida (Life).

Our father Haim Joseph Nahman (1887-1982) was the oldest. Papa spoke and read English, Spanish, Italian, French, Greek, Turkish, and Hebrew. He was an avid reader and free thinker. When his father's business faltered, his father attempted to enroll him for higher education at the Alianza Frances School (a free school set up in Salonica by Baron Hirsch). His father was told "What? A Nahman coming to a free school? Your family can afford to pay." Alas, Grandpa Joseph couldn't and Papa was apprenticed as a maker of shoes to his uncle. His apprenticeship over, he opened his own shop at thirteen years of age. His brother Sam was killed in the Turkish Army and Haim and younger brother Albert left in 1911 for the United States.(13) He married Jentil (Jenny) Soulam, opened a quick lunch restaurant on Wall Street amassing enough money to bring his whole family to America. Six in all, and all at once. His brother Albert disappeared in the United States soon after arriving. Grieving the death of his brother Sam, he named his first son Samuel instead of Joseph. His second son was named after Jenny's father Benjamin. Delicia (Sara) was named after Jenny's mother.

On the maternal side of Haim Joseph Nahman, are the Ben-Natans. This is also an old Sephardic name with many notable ones however we never knew too much about them. Haim married our mother - Jenny Soulam (1897-1981). One Soulam that we find is Sara Soulam noted poetess in Venice, Italy in the 1800's. We do not know if Italy is where that side of the family comes from. The Soulams in Salonica were singers and musicians. Jenny's mother's side were Arditti's; The Arditti name goes back to (bce). Babylonian times. Moise Soulam, Jenny's brother, was a printer, writer and editor. He was editor and co-owner of the last Sephardic U.S. Weekly, a satirical newspaper called "La Vara" (The rod or the stick) which was printed using Hebrew characters to be read in Ladino (the normal manner in which Ladino is written). The children of Haim Joseph Nahman and Jentil (Soulam) Nahman were Perla (Eda), Delicia (Sara), Samuel (aka Manny), Benjamin, and Esterina (Esther). Both the Arditti and Soulam names are to be found in the Catalonian archives.

Our Ladino Language

Ladino (Judeo/Spanish) is the language common to most Sephardics whose roots hark back to Spain. It was and is used in Sephardic communities wherever they exist. It is written in both Hebrew characters and phonetically using the Roman alphabet. What is Ladino? Again let us set the historical background. In Spain, in Roman-Iberian times, the Jews spoke the local languages and Hebrew. With the Moorish invasion, and influx of North African and Middle East Jews to Spain, Arabic became along with Hebrew, the languages in use, with Latin and Greek used in scholarly works. In Christian Spain (Catalonia, Aragon, Castile, Navarre etc.) Spanish or the provincial languages, Basque, Catalan were in use, along with Latin for official writings. For example:

700/1490 . In Moorish Occupied Spain: Arabic was the language in use by all the inhabitants. Jewish translators were constantly at work translating Jewish works from Arabic into Hebrew.

700/1000 . In Christian Spain: In areas not conquered or only shortly held by the Moors, Spanish and the regional languages were in common use by all the inhabitants while Latin was in religious and official use. Here also Jewish works were being translated from Arabic to Hebrew.

1000/1490 The reconquest: As the Christian reconquest advanced into Moorish Spain, Spanish, and (toward the end) under Ferdinand & Isabella, "Castillian" Spanish became the language of all including the Mozarabes (Hispano-Romans who did not convert to Islam), the Mullwallads (those who did convert) the Jews and the Moors who now came under Christian rule.

That Spanish and not (yet) Ladino was the language of the Jews is shown by the writing in Spanish in Constantinople in 1564 tho that community had no contact with Spain. Later in 1688 Amsterdam, the Sephardics were writing in Castillian because that community did have contact with Spain. Therefore, even 200 years after the expulsion, descendants were writing and speaking Spanish not Ladino.

So, what is Ladino ? It is Spanish of its epoch, 700/1600 . cut off from the normal developmental changes that take place over time. A new factor now entered. The language was influenced by the coming together of those from different regions (Portugal, Catalonia, southern France, Italy, and the islands of Spain and Italy etc.). These Sephardim were now centered in the Middle East,(Turkey, Greece Syria) the Balkans, (Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, etc.) and North Africa, Egypt, Morocco, etc.) as well as Palestine, Lebanon etc. these communities maintained contact with each other. The Spanish language they brought with them then began in 1600/1900, to be influenced by the countries in which they now lived. Thus, in addition to Hebrew, Portuguese, French, Turkish, and Greek, etc. words were incorporated into Ladino. However, the base of Ladino in its majority is old Spanish, tho many words, pronunciation and grammar may no longer be in use in modern Spanish due to its progression over the centuries to its present form.

A humorous example: A few years ago my friend Bob Lopez and I were in the Anthropological Museum in Mexico City. We were looking at a letter from Hernando Cortez to the crown telling of his " new world" discoveries. It was untranslatable, full of words with X, EIS, Eix and many words unknown to us. One word caught my eye and I then read the letter to him using my Ladino to decipher it. Example: Document- deixamos. Modern-dejamos. Ladino- deshamos. Thus, when I used Ladino pronunciation,(i.e. eix= esh), ignoring spelling or grammar, I could read and translate that letter.


Old Spanish    ModernSpanish      Ladino     English
Aldikera       Bolsillo           Aldikera   Pocket 
Amatar         Pagar              Amatar     Turn off (lights)
Ajuntar        Unir               Adzuntar   Collect, gather
Furaco         Hoyo               Burako     Hole
Atabafar       Asfixiar           Atabafar   Asphyxiate

Hebrew/Ladino         Spanish              English 
Mazal                 Suerte               Luck 
Batal                 Haragan              Idle 
Jajam                 Rabino,Sabio         Rabbi 
Sedaka                Limosna              Charity 

Ladino/Italian       Spanish                English 
Adzhenoio            Rodilla                Knee 
Kualunke             Cualquiera             Whomever 
Lavoro               Trabajo                Work 
Achetar              Acceptar               Accept 
Pishar               Urinar                 Urinate 

Ladino/Portugese     Spanish                English 
Avagar               Despacio               Slowly 
Preto                Negro                  Black 
Piron                Tenedor                Fork 

Ladino/Turkish       Spanish                English 
Buyurun              Bienvenido             Welcome 
Charshi              Mercado                Market
Mashala (14)         Que Bien               Congratulations 
Furcha               Cepillo                Brush 
Chukal               Bacinilla              Bedpan


To clear up a matter which has led to many discussions with those who say that Jewish lineage cannot be traced because Jews used only first names, hence, no lineage. This does not happen to correspond with the facts. Documentation shows that the Sephardim had family names and this dates back to bce. It is a fact that some names underwent a change under the impact of the persecution before and during the inquisition. Thus we find some Iberofied names, Castro, Franco, Esfuerzas, Cardoza etc. and those taken from the names of cities Toledo, Toledano, Catalano, Leon etc. The taking of the names of their trade as family names was not a practice among the Sephardics. Names now common among the Sephardics are the same names we find in the history of the Spanish Jews 700/1492 both in our literature as well as in the archives and documents both of the inquisition as well as royal records.

As late as Oct 1989 in an article of an interview with the director of the Jewish Genealogical Society of Los Angeles appearing in the L.A. Times, the director states: "Jewish" Genealogy is hard to trace because until 200 years ago Jews did not use family names. He may be referring to Ashkenazics but then why say "Jews did not" ABSOLUTE NONSENSE..

What's in a Name?

SEPHARDIM: While Sepharad means Spain in Hebrew, the term Sephardim encompasses all of the Jewish people who follow the Sephardic rites. Only a small percentage of Sephardics are descendants of those who lived in Spain. While Spanish Jews refer to themselves as Sephardim we also refer to ourselves as Spanish Jews. Greek, Italian, Moroccan, Yemenite, etc., Sephardics have lived in their respective countries (some dating back to B.C.) usually speaking the language (or a dialect of the language) of their country and their customs and culture in the main are native to those countries. The one exception among all Jews are those pertaining to our religious practice, (with some differences.)

After 1492 as the Spanish Jews were dispersed to many lands, the local Jews of those countries where they went were attracted to the highly cultured and upbeat lifestyle of the Spanish Jews and sometimes adopted it as their own (including in some cases Ladino).

ASHKENAZIM: With the Roman Empire in the Saar and Rhine valleys there arose a Romanized Jewish language. Thereafter with the Germanic invasion and its influence this language became the base of the Yiddish language. Still later, migrations (mostly forced) took these Germanic speaking Jews to the Baltics, Balkans, Poland, and Russia, etc. These Ashkenazim (Hebrew for Germanic) developed somewhat different religious customs, rites and rules as well as a different pronunciation of Hebrew. (15)

PROBLEMS OF TERMINOLOGY: The only language that is common to all Jews is Hebrew and it is the only one that can be properly called the "Jewish" language.

The practice of referring to "Yiddish" as "Jewish" is I feel as wrong as if "Ladino" speakers were to refer to Ladino as "Jewish". Both "Yid"-dish and "Jud"-esmo(16) translate into English as "Jewish". Further complicating and compounding this is the habit (to Sephardim offensive) of referring to Ashkenazic food, language, music, culture, etc. as "Jewish" instead of Yiddish.

MAMELOSH'N: (Mother tongue). Each of the Sephardic peoples have their own mother tongue, food, culture, etc. and do not refer to it as "Jewish" though these are as eminently Jewish as any. There must develop some sensitivity when referring to those things, that are specifically Ashkenazic, in a manner that does not divide and offend their non-Ashkenazic brethren. That sensitivity includes refraining from the use of such terms as:

"What? You don't speak Jewish?" (Yiddish)

"You don't look Jewish." (Skin color and features)

"Jewish cooking, baking, music, stories, etc." (East European in origin)


Nathan Ausaubel: The Treasury of Jewish Folklore

Grossinger: The Art of Jewish Cooking

Jewish Foods: Gefilte Fish, Latkes, Bagels, Lox, etc.

Jewish Music, Names, Songs, etc.

In contrast to this, we say:

The Sephardic Cookbook (Sephardic Temple, L.A.)

Sephardic Food, Music, Romances (Spanish songs), "Turkeria" (baking), One Thousand and One stories (Arabian Nights), etc.

There is much that unites us, especially our struggle down through the ages to maintain our customs, beliefs, and identity and to prevent (against all odds) our extermination.

We are a diverse amalgamation of different cultures. We cannot permit ourselves to fall into the habit of looking down on other peoples (Jewish or non-Jewish) nor to do unto others what was done to us. The Golden Years of our Spanish-Jewish-Moorish diversity enriched our Spanish-Jewish heritage and Jewish History as a whole.

The "Oriental" Jews

Of late many writers have begun to refer to Sephardics as Oriental Jews. While not taking issue with "Oriental" when applied to Far Eastern Jews, I do find it odd when it is being applied to all Sephardim who range from Spain, France, Morocco, etc. (which are west of Europe) or to those from the Balkans, North Africa, or the Middle East. Why the need for a new divisive term? Why are Jews from Poland or Russia "European" and Sephardim now "Oriental"? Correctly speaking, we Sephardics are Middle Eastern as all Jews were and are in origin. New divisions are not needed nor welcomed.

Where else did the Sephardim Go?

Where else did the Sephardim go besides the new world? England, Holland, and Germany, Jerusalem and the coast of North Africa, the Balkans: Albania, Yugoslavia, Italy, Bulgaria, Rumania, Greece, Turkey, the Islands of the Aegean, Rhodes, Cyprus, to name the principle ones.

World Population Statistics

An estimated 14 million Jews now exist. Three and a half million (25%) are Sephardic.

The largest Sephardic community is in Israel where a total of 3.8 million Jews live, of these over 2.05 million are Sephardic (54%). In the U.S. and France, Sephardim represent 200,000 and 400,000 respectively.

We aren't a majority - we aren't more important nor less. We are proud of our history. It is worth knowing. As history and because part of who we are is who our forebearers were. As Papa used to say "you should know about our history so you can tell it to your children." THANKS, Papa.


1.-Much of the existing documentation is in a deteriorating or unreadable condition.

2.-The Visigoths applied the same forms already in use among their own tribes. Followers of Arius (thus Aryan Christians,) they believed that "Jesus, the son was not equal to God, the father." They were considered heretical by the Roman Catholic hierarchy. Since the Hebrew faith emphasizes One God, the Visigoths and Jews had a common theological meeting ground, in spite of differences.

3.-In Sephardic religious practice Rabbis all had a trade by which they earned their living.Their teaching, (rabbi means teacher,)was part of their faith and not a means of earning a living.

4, 5, 6.- I include these three of the many hundreds of French Sephardics from the Provence (French Catalonia) which would be another history in itself.

7.- Many historians question whether these individuals had a "choice", considering the alternative.

8.- Spanish documents do not contain this spelling.

9.- Sephardic Spain, by Victor Laredo (1978)Editorial Mensaje (in English)

10.-The activity of the inquisition was so enormous that in the general archives of Mexico, there are 1500 catalogues plus thousands of individual documents (not studied or catalogued.)These documents would bring to light the extent of those of Jewish background, (conversos) in the social strata ( high society.) Countless documents have been deliberately destroyed to hide this fact. Access to the existing files is not permitted even to this day. (cf.Elnecave,Nissim)

11.-This street, filled with rubble had been walled in .Senor Tarres obtained city permission to dig out the debris and it is now open at both ends permitting foot traffic access to the Nahmanides center that also is believed to have housed the second synagog of Gerona.

12.-Senor Porta says "I have no proof of my possible connection to the Nahmans, so I claim none.My family has owned this house for over 300 years, to my knowledge." Senor Porta, it turned out,( when my brother Sammy interviewed, and videotaped his house) served in the same "Mac- Pap" batallion, as a medic, in which Sammy served in the fight against fascism in Spain (1936-1939)as a machine gunner.

13.-Jews were accepted and drafted into the army after Turkey became a Republic.However, there was mistreatment and discrimination even though this was not as a matter of official policy. Sam (our fathers brothers) died under unexplained circumstance. This embittered our father Haim and he took his brother Albert, of draft age and they left Turkey.

14.-Praise be to Allah (God)

15.-For the record: The State of Israel returned to the Sephardic pronunciation of Hebrew, thus undoing the Ashkenazi revision, as was spoken by them in eastern Europe.

16.-Nissim Elnacave (see Bibliography) uses the terms "Ladino" and "Judesmo" interchangeably. I do not, Yiddish is, as aware Ashkenazis say "mother tongue." (mamaloshin) That is correct, (in my opinion), there are many "Judeo- mother tongues. None should be called Jewish. The only Jewish language is Hebrew.

Elnecave, N. (1981) Los Hijos de Ibero-Franconia. [The Sons of Iberia/France]. Buenos Aires: Editorial La "Luz".

Encyclopaedia Britannica (1988). Spain (Vol.28). Chicago: Encyclopaedia Britannica.

Romano, D. (1988). Per a una historia de la Girona Jueva (Vols. 1-2). [A History of the Jews of Girona] Girona: Ajuntamente de Girona.

Laredo, V. (1978) Sephardic Spain. New York: Editorial Mensaje.

Revised: August 31, 1991

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