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Alhambra Decree

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Title: Alhambra Decree  
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Subject: History of the Jews in Spain, Spanish and Portuguese Jews, Ferdinand II of Aragon, Spanish Inquisition, Tisha B'Av
Collection: 1492 in Religion, 1492 in Spain, 15Th-Century Laws in Christianity, Alhambra (Spain), Anti-Islam, Anti-Judaism, Castile, Christianity and Law in the 15Th Century, Decrees, Expulsions of Jews, Ferdinand II of Aragon, Granada, History of Aragon, History of Catholicism in Spain, History of Granada, History of the Conversos, Isabella I of Castile, Islam in Spain, Jewish Political Status, Jewish Spanish History, Judaism-Related Controversies, Opposition to Islam in Spain, Religion and Violence, Religious Persecution, Sephardi Jews Topics, Spanish Inquisition, Tisha B'Av
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Alhambra Decree

The Alhambra Decree (also known as the Edict of Expulsion) was an edict issued on 31 March 1492, by the joint Catholic Monarchs of Spain (Isabella I of Castile and Ferdinand II of Aragon) ordering the expulsion of Jews from the Kingdoms of Castile and Aragon and its territories and possessions by 31 July, of that year.[1]

The edict was formally revoked on 16 December 1968,[2] following the Second Vatican Council.

In 2014, the government of Spain passed a law allowing dual citizenship to Jewish descendants who apply, in order to "compensate for shameful events in the country’s past."[3] Thus, Sephardic Jews who are descendants of those Jews expelled from Spain due to the Alhambra Decree, and can prove it, can "become Spaniards without leaving home or giving up their present nationality."[4][5]


  • Background 1
    • European context 1.1
    • Ferdinand and Isabella 1.2
  • Decree 2
    • Dispersal 2.1
    • Conversions 2.2
  • Modern Spanish policy 3
  • See also 4
  • References 5
  • External links 6


Beginning in the 8th century, Muslims had conquered and settled most of the Iberian Peninsula. Jews, who had lived in these regions since Roman times, were considered "People of the Book" and given special status and often thrived.[6] The tolerance of the Muslim Moorish rulers of al-Andalus attracted Jewish immigration, and Jewish enclaves in Muslim Iberian cities flourished as places of learning and commerce. Progressively, however, living conditions for Jews in al-Andalus became harsher, especially after the fall of the Umayyad Caliphate.[6]

The Reconquista, the gradual reconquest of Muslim Iberia by the Christian kingdoms, was driven by a powerful religious motivation: to reclaim Iberia for Christendom following the Umayyad conquest of Hispania centuries before. By the 14th century, most of the Iberian Peninsula (present-day Spain and Portugal) had been conquered by the Christian kingdoms of Castile, Aragon, León, Galicia, Navarre, and Portugal.

Overt hostility against Jews became more pronounced, finding expression in brutal episodes of violence and oppression. Thousands of Jews sought to escape these attacks by converting to Christianity; they were commonly called conversos, New Christians, or marranos. At first these conversions seemed an effective solution to the cultural conflict: many converso families met with social and commercial success. But eventually their success made these new Catholics unpopular with some of the clergy of the Church and royal hierarchies.

These suspicions on the part of Christians were only heightened by the fact that some of the coerced conversions were undoubtedly insincere. Some, but not all, conversos had understandably chosen to salvage their social and commercial prestige by the only option open to them – baptism and embrace of Christianity – while privately adhering to their Jewish practice and faith. These secret practitioners are commonly referred to as crypto-Jews or marranos.

The existence of crypto-Jews was a provocation for secular and ecclesiastical leaders who were already hostile toward Spain's Jewry. The uncertainty over the sincerity of Jewish converts added fuel to the fire of antisemitism in 15th century Spain.

European context

Expulsions of Jews in Europe from 1100 to 1600

From the 13th to the 16th centuries many European countries expelled the Jews from their territory on at least 15 occasions. Spain was preceded by England, France and some German states, among many others, and succeeded by at least five more expulsions.[7][8]

Ferdinand and Isabella

The hostility toward Jews was brought to a climax by the "Catholic Monarchs" Ferdinand and Isabella, whose marriage in 1469 formed a personal union of the crowns of Aragon and Castile, with coordinated policies between their distinct kingdoms.

Ferdinand and Isabella were disturbed at reports that some Jewish converts to Christianity were insincere in their conversion, continued to practice Judaism in secret (see Crypto-Judaism), and were trying to draw other conversos back into the Jewish fold. In 1478, Ferdinand and Isabella made formal application to Rome for a tribunal of the Inquisition in Castile to investigate these and other suspicions. In 1487, King Ferdinand established the Spanish Inquisition in Aragon.[9] It is not known how many had not truly converted, had lapsed from their new Christianity, or were attempting to persuade others to revert.

The independent Islamic Emirate of Granada had been a tributary state to Castile since 1238. In 1491, in preparation for an imminent transition to Castilian territory, the Treaty of Granada was signed by Emir Muhammad XII and the Queen of Castile, protecting the religious freedoms of the Muslims there. In 1492, Ferdinand and Isabella completed the Catholic Reconquista of the Iberian Peninsula from Islamic al-Andalus by victory in the Battle of Granada.


A signed copy of the Edict of Expulsion

The king and queen issued the Alhambra Decree less than three months after the surrender of Granada. This was primarily a decision of Isabella, not her husband Fernando. That her confessor had just changed from the tolerant Hernando de Talavera to the very intolerant Francisco Jiménez de Cisneros suggests that Cisneros may well have had a role in Isabel's decision.[10] In it, Jews were accused of trying "to subvert their holy Catholic faith and trying to draw faithful Christians away from their beliefs." These measures were not new in Europe.[11]

Some Jews were only given four months and ordered to convert to Christianity or leave the country. Under the edict, Jews were promised royal "protection and security" for the effective three-month window before the deadline. They were permitted to take their belongings with them – except " or silver or minted money or other things prohibited by the laws of our kingdoms...".[1]

The punishment for any Jew who did not convert or leave by the deadline was summary execution.[1] The punishment for a non-Jew who sheltered or hid Jews was the confiscation of all belongings and hereditary privileges.


The Spanish Jews who chose to leave Spain dispersed throughout the region of North Africa known as the Maghreb. In those regions, they often intermingled with the already existing Mizrahi (Arab Jewish) communities, becoming the ancestors of the Moroccan, Algerian, Tunisian and Libyan Jewish communities.

Many Spanish Jews also fled to the Ottoman Empire, where they were given refuge. Sultan Bayezid II of the Ottoman Empire, learning about the expulsion of Jews from Spain, dispatched the Ottoman Navy to bring the Jews safely to Ottoman lands, mainly to the cities of Thessaloniki (currently in Greece) and İzmir (currently in Turkey).[12] Many of these Jews also settled in other parts of the Balkans ruled by the Ottomans such as the areas that are now Bulgaria, Serbia and Bosnia. Some Jewish refugees also settled in the Ottoman Empire's Arab territories, intermingling with the existing Arabized Jewish communities of Cairo, Baghdad, Jerusalem, Aleppo and Damascus. Some even traveled beyond the Ottoman Empire, settling among the Bukharan Jews of Central Asia and the Cochin Jews of the Malabar region of southern India.

Scholars disagree about how many Jews left Spain as a result of the decree; the numbers vary between 130,000 and 800,000. Many (likely more than half) went to Portugal, where they eluded persecution for only a few years. The Jewish community in Portugal (perhaps then some 10% of that country's population)[13] were then declared Christians by Royal decree unless they left.

Tens of thousands of Jews died while trying to reach safety. In the last days before the expulsion, rumors spread throughout Spain that many Jews had swallowed gold and diamonds they hoped to take with them. As a result, many Jews were knifed to death and had their stomachs cut open by brigands looking for treasure. In another example, Jews who tried escaping via the sea were often charged exorbitant sums by Spanish ship captains, and were then sometimes tossed overboard in the middle of the sea.[14][15]


Other Spanish Jews (estimates range between 50,000 and 70,000) chose to avoid expulsion by conversion to Christianity. However, their conversion did not protect them from ecclesiastical hostility after the Spanish Inquisition came into full effect; persecution and expulsion were common. Many of these "New Christians" were eventually forced to either leave the countries or intermarry with the local populace by the dual Inquisitions of Portugal and Spain. Many settled in North Africa, Latin America [16] or elsewhere in Europe, most notably the Netherlands (see Sephardic Jews in the Netherlands).

A Y chromosome DNA test conducted by the University of Leicester and the Pompeu Fabra University has indicated that around 20% of Spaniards today have direct patrilineal descent from Sephardic Jews and Phoenicians. The conclusions stemming from the results [17][18][19][20][21] has been questioned by the authors themselves [22][23][24][25] and by Stephen Oppenheimer since the genetic markers used to identify Sephardic ancestry could also have been brought to Spain by other Mediterranean populations such as Phoenicians, Arabs or earlier Neolithic population movements.[26]

Modern Spanish policy

The Spanish government has actively pursued a policy of reconciliation with the descendants of its expelled Jews. In 1992, in a ceremony marking the 500th anniversary of the Edict of Expulsion, King Juan Carlos (wearing a skullcap) prayed alongside Israeli president Chaim Herzog and members of the Jewish community in the Beth Yaacov Synagogue. The King said: 'Sefarad (the Hebrew name for Spain) is no longer nostalgia, but a place where Jews should not be told to feel as if at home [a customary greeting to guests in Spain], because Hispano-Jews are at home in Spain. What matters ... is the desire to analyse and project the past in regards to our future.'[27]

From November 2012 Sephardic Jews have had the right to automatic Spanish nationality without the requirement of residence in Spain. Prior to November 2012, Sephardic Jews already had the right to obtain Spanish citizenship after a reduced residency period of two years (versus ten years for foreigners). While their citizenship is being processed, Sephardic Jews are entitled to the consular protection of the Kingdom of Spain.[28] This makes Spain the only nation besides Israel that currently grants automatic citizenship to the descendants of Jews expelled during the European medieval evictions. Today the number of Jews in Spain is around 18,000, out of a population of about 47,000,000, i.e. 0.039%.

There has been no discussion of financial compensation, or restoration of property.

See also


  1. ^ a b c Decree-translation
  2. ^ 1492 Ban on Jews Is Voided by Spain – The New York Times, 17 Dec 1968
  3. ^ "Sephardic Jews eager to apply for Spanish citizenship", Washington Post, Feb. 17, 2014
  4. ^ "1492 and all that", The Economist, Feb. 22, 2014
  5. ^
  6. ^ a b and were often butchered under Muslim rule but certainly lived under oppressive second class citizen conditions. The Ornament of the World by María Rosa Menocal, Accessed, 12 June 2006.
  7. ^ Anti-Semitism. Jerusalem: Keter Books. 1974.  
  8. ^ "Map of Jewish expulsions and resettlement areas in Europe". Florida Center for Instructional Technology, College of Education, University of South Florida. A Teacher's Guide to the Holocaust. Retrieved 24 December 2012. 
  9. ^ Elliott J. H. "Imperial Spain 1469-1716", St. Martin's Press, 1964.
  10. ^ Daniel Eisenberg, "Cisneros y la quema de los manuscritos granadinos", Journal of Hispanic Philology, 16, 1992, pp. 107-124,*/ retrieved 2014-08-18
  11. ^ Edward I of England#Finances, Parliament and the Persecution of Jews
  12. ^ Jewish virtual
  13. ^ Kayserling, Meyer. "História dos Judeus em Portugal". Editora Pioneira, São Paulo, 1971
  14. ^
  15. ^  
  16. ^ "Recife (Pernambuco)". Retrieved 2012-08-01. 
  17. ^ Flores, Carlos; Maca-Meyer, Nicole; González, Ana M; Oefner, Peter J; Shen, Peidong; Pérez, Jose A; Rojas, Antonio; Larruga, Jose M; Underhill, Peter A (2004). "Reduced genetic structure of the Iberian peninsula revealed by Y-chromosome analysis: implications for population demography". European Journal of Human Genetics 12 (10): 855–863.  
  18. ^ "Mitochondrial DNA affinities at the Atlantic fringe of Europe". Am. J. Phys. Anthropol. 120 (4): 391–404. April 2003.  
  19. ^ "ingentaconnect Y chromosomal haplogroup J as a signature of the post-neolithic c". 2004-10-01. Retrieved 2012-08-01. 
  20. ^ "Toward resolution of the debate regarding purported crypto-Jews in a Spanish-American population Evidence from the Y chromosome". Ann. Hum. Biol. 33 (1): 100–11. 2006.  
  21. ^ "AJHG - Identifying Genetic Traces of Historical Expansions: Phoenician Footprints in the Mediterranean". Retrieved 2012-08-01. 
  22. ^ "Despite alternative possible sources for lineages ascribed a Sephardic Jewish origin", [5]
  23. ^ "La cifra de los sefardíes puede estar sobreestimada, ya que en estos genes hay mucha diversidad y quizá absorbieron otros genes de Oriente Medio" ("The Sephardic result may be overestimated, since there is much diversity in those genes and maybe absorbed other genes from the Middle East"). ¿Pone en duda Calafell la validez de los tests de ancestros? "Están bien para los americanos, nosotros ya sabemos de dónde venimos" (Puts Calafell in doubt the validity of ancestry tests? "They can be good for the Americans, we already know from where we come from)." [6]
  24. ^ "We think it might be an over estimate." "The genetic makeup of Sephardic Jews is probably common to other Middle Eastern populations, such as the Phoenicians, that also settled the Iberian Peninsula," Calafell says. "In our study, that would have all fallen under the Jewish label." [7]
  25. ^ "El doctor Calafell matiza que (...) los marcadores genéticos usados para distinguir a la población con ancestros sefardíes pueden producir distorsiones". "ese 20% de españoles que el estudio señala como descendientes de sefardíes podrían haber heredado ese rasgo de movimiento más antiguos, como el de los fenicios o, incluso, primeros pobladores neolíticos hace miles de años." "Dr. Calafell clarifies that (...) the genetic markers used to distinguish the population with Sephardim ancestry may produce distortions. The 25% of Spaniards that are identified as having Sephardim ancestry in the study could have inherited that same marker from older movements like the Phoenicians, or even the first Neolithic settlers thousands of years ago" [8]
  26. ^ "Spanish Inquisition left genetic legacy in Iberia - life - 04 December 2008". New Scientist. Retrieved 2012-08-01. 
  27. ^ The King celebrates the "meeting with Spanish Jews" in the Madrid synagogue, 1 April 1992 (Spanish) Original: 'Sefarad no es ya una nostalgia, sino un hogar en el que no debe decirse que los judíos se sientan como en su propia casa, porque los hispano-judíos están en su propia casa ( ... ) Lo que importa no es la contabilidad de nuestros errores o aciertos, sino la voluntad de proyectar y analizar el pasado en función de nuestro futuro".
  28. ^

External links

  • Alhambra Decree – English translation
  • The Edict of Expulsion of the Jews - alternate translation from the Castilian
  • Alhambra Decree: 521 Years Later, a blog post on the Law Library of Congress's In Custodia Legis
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