I talk about the Inquisition a lot. Sometimes people ask if the Spanish Inquisition started in 1391 or 1492, well it was incited in 1391 and the expulsion of the remaining Jews was in 1492, after the Forced Conversions of a century before.
Still, there were forced conversions to Catholicism & public executions of Marranos (Jews) and Moriscos (Arabs) in Portugal, Mexico, and the rest of South America into the 1800’s under the authority of the Roman Catholic Church. In fact, the Spanish Inquisition was never officially called off until just before the 1992 Olympics and World’s Fair, in Barcelona and Seville, placing Spain under the world’s microscope.

The Spanish Inquisition by Rabbi Yosef Eisen.
Excerpted from “MIRACULOUS JOURNEY” Rabbi Yosef Eisen. From a complete history of the Jewish people from Creation to the present. Published by: Targum Press, Inc.

In the middle of the twelfth century, fanatical Almohad Muslims overran Southern Spain, causing a massive Jewish exodus to the Christian North. At first, the Christians proved to be as tolerant to Jews as were the Muslim rulers of the Golden Age. However, in the thirteenth century matters began teyo deteriorate. By the mid-1200s, the Christians had nearly completed the reconquista, with only Granada and its environs in Southern Spain remaining in Muslim hands. As a result, the Christians felt that the Jews were not as important to their cause as previously.
In the 1300s, the situation worsened drastically. The Black Death struck Spain, and rumors of Jewish responsibility spread through the country. In response to the disaster, both Christian religious consciousness and open anti-Semitism increased. Spaniards also increasingly resented Jewish financial success. In addition, there was a power struggle between two contestants for the Spanish throne, and the Jews backed the losing side. By 1391, the atmosphere was so tense that even a tiny spark could have set off a major conflagration. Tragically, that is what happened.
Ferrand Martinez, a vicious, Jew-hating priest, traveled throughout the country, calling on Christians to attack the Jews. Although the Pope and the king tried to restrain him, Martinez’s popularity only increased. In June 1391, riots broke out in Seville, rapidly spreading through the country. In Valencia, a pogrom began when Christian youths entered the Jewish quarter to taunt Jews. During the ensuing scuffle, a Christian child was accidentally killed, bringing the entire Christian population in a frenzied rage into the Jewish streets. By the time the riots died down ― a full two months later ― 50,000 Jews were dead, and numerous, ancient communities were completely destroyed. It was a blow from which Spanish Jewry would never recover.

Mass Conversion
During the riots, Jews were offered the option of conversion to Christianity or death. Sadly, for the first time in Jewish history, large numbers of Jews converted, both under immediate coercion and in fear of future pressure. In 1411, a priest, Vincente Ferrer, later to become St. Vincent, embarked on a major mission to secure even more Jewish converts. He traversed all of Spain, preaching in synagogues, holding a Torah scroll in one hand and a cross in the other, while a howling mob stood outside. His glib style and facile theological arguments attracted thousands of converts in each place. Estimates put the number of Jews who converted during these two great waves, 1391 and 1412, as high as 400,000.
There are several reasons why Spanish Jews became Christians in such large numbers. First, many Jews did not want to give up their comfortable lifestyles and prestigious positions in Spanish society. Second, the Jews felt that because Spain, the last bastion of the Jewish world, had turned so inhospitable, there was no hope for the future of the Jewish people. Shattering the illusion “it can’t happen here” simply crushed the Spanish Jews. Third, there was the widespread feeling that insincere conversion to Christianity was not such a bad thing, and that the Jews would revert to Jewish practice as soon as the pressure was off. Alas, the Jews did not realize that after conversion there would be no turning back.
A shocking phenomenon occurred in Spain ― the conversion to Christianity of prominent Torah scholars. The most infamous of these was the rabbi of Burgos, Solomon HaLevi, who became Pablo de Santa Maria. Rising to the position of bishop in the Catholic Church, he persecuted Jews with fiery zeal. Playing a major role in enacting decrees that degraded unconverted Jews, such as forcing them to wear coarse sackcloth upon which was sewn a red badge of shame, Santa Maria also forbade Jewish men to trim their beards…

The Converts’ Dilemma
After the fury of the pogroms and anti-Jewish decrees abated, many converts desired to return to Judaism. Alas, this was not possible according to Christian law. The Pope ruled that only those Jews who were dragged to the baptismal font vehemently protesting their opposition were permitted to rejoin the Jewish faith. Anyone who converted under threat of harm, and surely those who accepted baptism in anticipation of threats, were considered by the Church to be full-fledged Christians. Reversion to Jewish practice was considered heresy, which was punishable by death. These conversos lived in limbo, despised by both Jews and Christians. Jews looked down on them for forsaking Judaism, and Christians saw them as insincere, which many were.
Even while outwardly professing Christian belief, many conversos retained Jewish laws, privately mocking the Christian religion. However, Jewish religious observance gradually faded. For example, it was impossible for conversos to circumcise their sons; if the heretical act were discovered, it would lead to death. Similarly, since these Jews were unable to provide their children with a Torah education, their children grew up with just a smattering of Jewish knowledge.
By 1492, the third generation conversos were overwhelmingly Christian, with lingering traces of Judaism. Faithful Jews attempted to bring the conversos back to Torah observance, but the Jews’ efforts were stymied by the Church’s ruling that anyone causing a Christian to leave the fold would incur the death penalty. Nevertheless, many conversos did not sever all links to Judaism, and observed some mitzvot, despite the dangers involved. Often, the Inquisition caught them, and they died in sanctification of G-d’s Name, saying “Shema Yisrael.”
Many halachic responsa were written regarding the Jewish status of the conversos, an issue that became pertinent when a number of them managed to leave Spain and join Jewish communities elsewhere. Eventually, those who remained behind assimilated into the Spanish people and became full-fledged gentiles. However, even today there are people in both Spain and South America who light candles in a hidden room on Friday night, ascribing it to an ancient family custom.
Among the Jews, these converts and their descendants were known by the name of Anusim, the forced ones, for many of them had adopted Christianity under duress. The general Spanish population was less charitable, using the pejorative term Marranos to describe them. In the words of a prominent historian: “The word Marrano is an old Spanish term dating back to the early Middle Ages and meaning swine. The word expresses succinctly and unmistakably all the depth of hatred and contempt which the ordinary Spaniard felt for the insincere neophytes by whom he was now surrounded.” As on so many occasions throughout Jewish history, assimilation proved not to be the answer to the Jews’ problems.

Resentment Toward the Conversos
In 1449, in Toledo, riots broke out against converso tax collectors, which soon spread to other cities. Laws were promulgated barring conversos from all prominent positions, despite the fact that such a ban was contrary to Christian teachings prohibiting discrimination against any adherent of the faith.
At that point, Spaniards were divided into two groups: Old Christians, who were untainted with Jewish blood, and New Christians, which included conversos and anyone with converso lineage. Spaniards began priding themselves on their “limpiezza de sangre,” or pure gentile blood, as opposed to the “mala sangre,” the bad blood of the conversos. Proof of pure ancestry was required of one aspiring to any prestigious post. Anti-Semitism then took a new historical twist ― changing from a religious hatred to a racial one. Thus, this new hatred prepared the ground for the secular racism of modern anti-Semitism.
Spain’s various provinces were riven by lawlessness and ethnic tensions that threatened to tear the country apart. In 1469, Ferdinand of Aragon (who had converso ancestry) married Isabella of Castille, uniting the two most powerful Spanish regions under one royal family… Despite Ferdinand’s power and lineage, anti-converso feelings remained at a fever pitch, with the people demanding a resolution of the issue.
[An Inquisition court was set up to ferret out insincere converts.] Once the court was set up, a 30-day grace period was granted in which voluntary confessions of wrongdoing received light sentences, such as small fines. However, a confessor had to agree to spy on his friends and relatives, and if he did not produce evidence, he would be under suspicion as a heretic and could receive the death penalty. Naturally, this system encouraged great corruption, for people fabricated false evidence against others either out of fear, jealousy, and hatred, or to receive a reward…
The Inquisition publicized signs of heretical behavior for faithful Christians to watch for and report, including changing linens on Friday, buying vegetables before Pesach, blessing children without making the sign of the cross, fasting on Yom Kippur, and refraining from work on the Sabbath. Interestingly enough, Jews who never converted to Christianity were not under the jurisdiction of the Inquisition, and could practice their religion freely and openly. It was only conversos who were considered heretics for forsaking the Christian creed and practicing Judaism.

Punishments & Tortures
If the Inquisitors could not obtain a confession from a suspected heretic, they employed torture to extract one. Interestingly, as gruesome as these tortures were, they were designed not to spill blood, a practice forbidden under Christian law. In the rope torture, for example, the victim’s hands were tied behind him, and the rope was connected to a pulley. Weights were attached to the victim’s legs, and he was raised to the ceiling. When he was suddenly lowered, his arms and legs were painfully dislocated…
The penalties imposed by the Inquisition included monetary fines, confiscation of all property, public humiliation, and flogging. Most severe of all punishments were the death sentences. Since the Church did not spill blood, but only saved souls, the victims were handed over to the secular authorities for execution. Bloodless deaths were preferred, such as strangling and burning alive.
Periodically, an auto-de fe (act of faith) was held, in which all the victims of an area were punished together. These became great public spectacles, taking on a holiday atmosphere, as people brought their families to watch the proceedings and jeer the victims. Condemned people wore yellow sanbenitos, cloaks with red crosses and the letter X painted on them. Those given the death penalty wore tunics with paintings of flames and devils…

The Decree of Expulsion
On March 31, 1492, Ferdinand and Isabella signed the Edict of Expulsion in the Alhambra Palace in Granada, giving Jews until the end of July to leave the country. Justification for the decree was that the “Jews are instructing them [conversos] in the ceremonies and observances of their religion, seeking to circumcise them and their children, giving them prayer books, supplying them with matzah on Passover, and kosher meat throughout the year.”
Legend has it that Rabbi Don Isaac Abarbanel offered his entire enormous fortune to the Catholic kings if they would rescind the decree. Ferdinand, who loved money above all else, was about to accept the proposal. Suddenly, Tomas de Torquemada burst into the room, waving a golden crucifix. He angrily threw it on the ground, screaming, “The Jews sold Yeshu (Jesus) for money, and you want to sell him again!” The pious Catholic Isabella told the Jews that the deal was off.
A Catholic priest, Andres Bernaldez, vividly describes the Jews’ departure:

“Within the terms fixed by the edict of expulsion, the Jews sold and disposed of their property for a mere nothing. They went about asking Christians to buy and found no buyers. Fine houses and estates were sold for trifles; a house was exchanged for a mule, and a vineyard given for a little cloth or linen.
“The rich Jews paid the expenses of the departure of the poor, practicing toward each other the greatest charity, so that they would not become converts… Christians along the way persuaded them to be baptized, but those who converted were very few. The rabbis encouraged them and made the people sing and play instruments to enliven them and keep up their spirits.”
Historians estimate that anywhere from 100,000 to 300,000 Jews departed. The last Jews left Spain on Thursday, August 2, 1492, Tishah B’Av. Christopher Columbus (who may have been a descendant of conversos- See: Sails of Hope by Simon Weisenthal) was supposed to leave for America that day, but could not because the harbor was full of fleeing Jews. Undaunted, he departed the next day, eventually discovering a continent that would prove hospitable for Jews in the future. Clearly, even when striking the Jewish people, G-d lays the foundation for future salvation.

End of the Road
Finding a new home was not easy, and many Jews died from the rigors of the journey. Some ships were overloaded and sank; others caught fire on the high seas. Unscrupulous captains threw Jews overboard or robbed them of all their possessions. Jews were sold to pirates as slaves or dropped on uninhabited islands off the coast of Africa to attempt to survive…
Many Jews went to Portugal, adjacent to Spain with a similar climate and culture. However, this was only a temporary haven, for in 1497 Portugal embarked on a program of forced conversion. Later, the Inquisition came to Portugal as well, and the Jews either left the country or converted…

On March 31, 1992, 500 years to the day after the Edict of Expulsion was signed, King Juan Carlos of Spain stood in the main synagogue of Madrid, wearing a skullcap, flanked by his wife, Queen Sofia, and the president of Israel, Chaim Herzog. What he said is very revealing:
“May hate and intolerance never again cause desolation and exile. Let us be capable of building a prosperous and peaceful Spain based on concord and mutual respect. What is important is not an accounting of our errors or successes, but the willingness to think about and analyze the past in terms of our future, and the willingness to work together to pursue a noble goal.”
In other words, the king did not apologize for the Expulsion, for to do so would be unfaithful to Spanish history, which views uniting the country under Roman Cartholic rule a most noble endeavor. However, the Expulsion decree was legally rescinded, and Jews may now live freely in Spain.


2 thoughts on “The Spanish Inquisition ended in 1992

  1. WOW. that’s crazy. I didn’t realize that he never apologized and that the inquisition was only officially rescinded 17 years ago. Good thing the Olympics were in Sevilla or it might never have happened at all!!!

    1. Hi Rebecca, well it was two things that summer, the Barcelona Olympics and Sevilla’s World EXPO. But the Jewish community does respect that at least King Juan Carlos I had the guts to admit that the Inquisition was horrendous for Spain.

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