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Medieval Sourcebook:
Synod of Castilian Jews, 1432


The fifteenth century is often seen as the period of decline for Spanish Jews. The century essentially begin with the pogroms which swept the various kingdoms of the Iberian peninsula in 1391, when huge numbers of  Jews converted to Christianity. Further conversions followed in the early fifteenth century. The century ended, of course, with the persecution of the converted Jews (conversos) by the Spanish Inquisition and the expulsion of Jews from Spain in 1492. The fifteenth century may have been a century of crisis for Spanish Jews, but it is important to keep in mind that the Jews did not forsee the expulsion, and that the middle decades of the century were a period of reconstruction and recovery.

This is the background of the assemby of the Jews of the kingdom of Castile (the largest of the Spanish kingdoms) at Valladolid in 1432. The Jewish delegates had been summoned to Valladolid by Don Abraham Benveniste, the Rab de la Corte or chief rabbi of Castile; Don Abraham was as much a political as a religious leader. The following are the takkanot or ordinances which the delegates made. The takkanot were composed in Spanish, written in Hebrew characters.


The first few lines are missing in the manuscript, but they must have read approximately as indicated:

(At the command of the King, the Rabbi of the Court, Don Abraham, invited the communities) to send trusted men from their Communities who would keep the paths of righteousness and with whom he could take "sweet counsel." And the Communities did as he commanded and some of them sent letters to the said Rabbi confirming and accepting everything which he would command and ordain, and some sent trusted representatives to represent them. The princes of the people were gathered together, the people of the God of Abraham, in the Court of our lord, the King, in the city of Valladolid. And in the last ten, days of the month of lyyar of this, the above mentioned year 5192, in the said city of Valladolid, we, the undersigned, were present in the great synagogue which is in the Jewish Quarter of the Community of Valladolid, when there gathered in the presence of the honored prince, Don Abraham, the Rabbi of the Court of our lord, the King, various scholars who came from various communities, worthy men clothed with authority, certified by credentials from the different communities of the domain of our lord, the King, which they presented before us, the undersigned. And there were present also some worthy men who go to the Court of our lord, the King. They held meetings among themselves in regard to a Takkanah which they decided was to deal with certain definite subjects and other matters, which are for the service of the Creator, the glory of the holy Torah, the service of the King, and the success and welfare of the Communities. This ordinance was agreed upon unanimously without anyone dissenting and it was completed on the first day of Sivan of the abovementioned year, 5192. The text of the Takkanah follows immediately on our signatures.

In witness whereof we have signed our names to it:

Isaac Ha-Kohen b. Joseph Ha-Kohen b. Crispini
Baruch b. Abraham ibn Sahl.

In previous times there were ordained in the holy communities of the dominion of our lord the King, general Takkanot and regulations which were to be observed by all the Communities and those who were at their head, so that they might establish Takkanot and choose proper paths in which all the people of the Communities might walk, thus was the Torah established on its proper foundation and every Community was settled in quiet. For some time past, however, for various reasons no general Takkanah has been enacted by means of which the Communities might be led, as a result of which much harm has befallen the communities and there has come about disorder in their management. Therefore have we, the aforementioned delegates by virtue of the authority given by our lord, the King to the worthy Rabbi, Don Abraham, and by virtue of the authority given us by our Sages to attend to the arrangements of our own Communities and by the authority given us by the Communities, we have established this ordinance and agreement which we have divided into five chapters as will be explained, the following being the text:

I.

"This is the gate of the Lord, the righteous shall enter into it" (Ps. 118.20).  

[The Talmud Torah Fund]

The first of our decisions and the beginning of our Takkanot has for its object the maintenance of the students of our Torah. For it is upon the Torah that the world is founded, as the Sages say. "On three things the world stands, on the Torah, on Divine Service, and on kindly acts" (Avot 1:5). Whereas we saw that the hands of the students of the Torah have slackened in most places, and that they obtain their livelihood only with extreme pain, and that for this reason the pupils are becoming constantly fewer, and even the children of the primary school are idle in many places, because their parents cannot afford to pay the salary of those who might teach them the Torah, and the Torah would almost have been forgotten in Israel because of these reasons, and in order to "bring back the crown to its ancient glory" (Yoma 69a) and that there may be found scholars in Israel and that the students may increase in the Communities; therefore do we ordain that each of the Communities of the whole kingdom of Castile shall be obliged to establish and provide a Voluntary Fund for Talmud Torah in the following manner. For every head of big cattle which is slaughtered as kasher among them and for them, they should pay for Talmud Torah five maravedis; for every calf or heifer which weighs one hundred pounds, which are equivalent to twenty-five arreldes, they should pay for Talmud Torah two maravedis; and for each head of small cattle a wether, a sheep, a he-goat or a she-goat, they should pay one maravedi. For each small goat or sheep, weighing less than four arreldes they should pay for Talmud Torah one coronado. If it weigh four arreldes or more, they should pay five pence. For each jug of wine which is sold at retail -- (if more than five jars are sold at one time, it may be considered wholesale), -- they should pay to the Talmud Torah three pence per jar. If over five jars are sold whether to individual Jews or to Jewish muleteers and traders they should pay to the said Talmud Torah two dinars. But of the wine which is sold to Christians they should pay half a penny for each jar, to the Talmud Torah. Whoever makes a wedding shall pay ten maravedis within the wedding week. For a circumcision they shall pay to the Talmud Torah ten maravedis as soon as the child reaches the stage when he is not to be considered any longer a nefel [*]. If one of either sex dies above the age of ten years, his or her heirs shall give to the Talmud Torah the dress which was worn above the under-shirt, or ten maravedis as the heirs may choose. Whoever gives more than the above amount deserves a blessing. The tax is to be paid in the coins current or in use at the time of payment. The above-mentioned payments of the bridegroom or of one celebrating a circumcision or in the case of death [are] not to be collected from such as derive their maintenance from charity or such as are fit to receive charity in the opinion of the treasurers who be appointed over these taxes.


* A child ceases to be a Nefel when it has demonstrated by living thirty days that it is likely to live and that it has had full embryonic development. See Sabbath 135b

We ordain that each community shall be obliged to assemble by announcement according to their custom, ten days before the expiration of the terms of the farmers of the wine and meat tax. And they shall not disband until they have let out the tax for the Talmud Torah Fund or they shall appoint a trustee or trustees into whose hands they may bring the money so that the trustee or trustees may hold it in trust until the tax is farmed out. Each Community shall be obliged every year to choose two treasurers over. the said Talmud Torah Fund, so that through their hands there may be accomplished whatever the Rabbi of the Court may ordain or command in regard to it.

In those places where there is no tax on meat and wine we ordain that within thirty days after the day when this ordinance is shown to them, they shall assemble by announcement as has been mentioned and establish an ordinance in regard to the Talmud Torah in accordance with what has been set forth above.

Moreover do we ordain that in those places where there are less than ten families, there shall be established the said Talmud Torah Fund as in all the other communities in the manner described. That amount they shall be obliged to deliver each year so long as this ordinance is in force to the treasurers of the Community to whom they pay ordinary taxes and they shall take a receipt for the amount which they have given.

In those places where there are ten families or more, although they pay taxes to another community, they shall be obliged to name among themselves a treasurer in whose hands they shall entrust the Talmud Torah Fund and they shall keep the money until the Rabbi of the Court shall give orders as to how it should be used so that the said Talmud Torah Fund may be in general use throughout the Communities of the Kingdom of Castile.

And we ordain that neither a community nor any individual shall be authorized to use the funds of the Talmud Torah, even a single maravedi of it, for any need that may arise whether public or private, either as a loan or in any other way, but that all the money should rather be in cash ready to be used for the purpose which the Rabbi of the Court shall order.

But in those places where there are Rabbis teaching the Torah appointed over the Community they may give and pay to the said Rabbi or to the pupil their maintenance from the said Talmud Torah Fund. And if there is any money left of the Talmud Torah Fund after the above mentioned amounts have been paid, they shall be kept for use as the Rabbi of the Court will ordain as has been said.

Moreover we ordain that if the Rabbi of the Court see fit he may ordain that such communities as have a Rabbi shall pay him his salary in a different manner and should not use for that purpose the funds of the Talmud Torah. They shall then pay the salary of the Rabbi from the taxes on meat and wine or from the income of the Hakdesh [*], or rents from houses and the like if they have any.


  * This term which in the Talmud denotes Temple property was used in the Middle Ages of funds left for charitable purposes. As used in this ordinance the term seems to refer only to endowed funds.
 

PRIMARY SCHOOL TEACHERS

Every community of fifteen families shall maintain a proper teacher for the children of primary school age who shall instruct them in Scripture. They shall allow him a reasonable salary according to his needs. The fathers of the children shall pay the teacher each according to their means, and if the amount paid by the fathers is insufficient for the maintenance of the teacher, the community shall be obliged to pay the remainder necessary for his livelihood.
 

RABBIS

A community having forty families or more shall be obliged to endeavor so far as possible, to maintain among themselves a Rabbi who will teach them Halakot and Aggadot. The community must maintain him reasonably. His salary shall be paid from the income of the tax on meat and wine and the income from the Hakdesh, if there is any, or from the Talmud Torah Fund, so that he should not have to beg his livelihood from any of the leaders of the Community, so that he may reprove them and guide them in all things which pertain to the service of the Creator, blessed be He. If the community and the Rabbi can come to no agreement as to the amount of the salary they shall be obliged to give him the income of the Talmud Torah of the locality and then to increase the amount as may be ordered by the Rabbi of the Court.
* The most important function of the Rabbi is that of teaching. It is evident from section II that the judges were other men and that only in certain cases was the Rabbi called upon to act with them.
 

TALMUDIC ACADEMY

Moreover we ordain that each Rabbi shall maintain a Talmudical academy where those desirous of learning may study the Halaka. He shall lecture at such hours as the Rabbis are wont to lecture.
 

NUMBER OF PUPILS PER TEACHER
Whereas according to the Talmudic law no teacher is permitted to teach more than twenty-five pupils [*] unless he have an assistant, therefore we ordain that no teacher shall teach Scriptures to more than twenty-five children, but that if he have an assistant he may teach forty in accordance with the laws of the Talmud. A community having fifty children shall be obliged to maintain two teachers; the same law applied to any number above forty.
 * Cf. Baba Batra 21. This ordinance follows the view of Maimonides (Yad, Laws of Talmud Torah 2.5.) and of R. Jonah who is quoted in Nimmuke Joseph, ad loc. that the numbers permitted in the Talmud to individual teachers and to assistants were maximum numbers; Tosafot ad loc. and Asheri differ from this opinion and hold that one teacher may be used for any number of pupils less than forty, an assistant was required if the number exceed forty but was less than fifty, and two teachers were required for fifty or more.
 

PRAYERS

Whereas prayer is a most important part of the service of the Lord and we have learned by tradition that the verse " to serve him with all your heart" (Deut. 11.13) refers to prayers (Ta'anit 2a); and our Sages said furthermore, one's prayer is only heard when it is recited in the Synagogue (Berakot 6a); and that prayer with the community is the more acceptable (Comp. Berakot 8a); moreover it is impossible to recite the Kaddish or Kedushah except in the presence of ten people (Shulkan Aruk, Orah Hayyim 55.1), so that R. Gamaliel freed his slave in order to complete the necessary quorum of ten although he who frees his servant transgresses a positive commandment (Gittin 38b); and whereas there are places where although there are ten adult males, yet they do not gather in order to pray publicly; therefore do we ordain that any community having ten families or more shall establish a place for prayers. They shall either buy or hire a house for that purpose so that they may not interrupt the prayers even for a single day. And we ordain that in those places which have twenty families or less a fine shall be imposed on anyone who fails to come to public prayers in the morning or evening unless he is prevented by some valid reason.

Moreover we ordain that they should take heed in the synagogue that no one lift his hand against his neighbor and that each son of Israel beware lest his heart be exalted to smite and to insult his neighbor. Therefore we ordain that if any Jew strike his neighbor in the Synagogue or in a place fixed for prayer, whether he strike him in the face or hit him with his fist, or catch him by the hair of his head or of his beard, or draw a weapon in the Synagogue wounding his neighbor in the hand or in any other part of the body, he shall pay for each time he assaulted him, two hundred maravedis, one half of which shall be given to the Talmud Torah Fund and the other half shall be distributed among the poor as charity, or in such a way as the judges shall designate. If he wounded his neighbor with a knife, a stone, or any other implement. that can cause death, he shall pay in each instance three hundred maravedis, which shall be distributed in the manner described. These punishments are to be understood to be only the penalties for the profanation of the Synagogue.  

 

II. THE ELECTION OF JUDGES AND OTHER OFFICERS

[Selection of Judges]

Whereas the number of scholars has become small, and those who are fit to act as judges have become few, so that there are only a few Communities in the kingdom which have a court of three who are fit to act as judges in these times in accordance with Talmudic law; and whereas our forefathers were constrained because of this to go beyond the law of the Talmud in their ordinances concerning the election of judges [*], and since unless there are authorized judges in each city to try claims and complaints and to punish transgressors, there will be chaos so that neither men nor women will be safe, for the world depends on three things: on justice, on truth, and on peace (Avot 1:18), and where there is no true Torah, there is no peace; therefore have we ordained and agreed that in each community they shall choose judges to decide their cases as has been said and the members of the community shall accept them as judges. But they shall choose the most fit and the most worthy that can be found in the locality for the Torah often warns us in regard to this matter therefore do we ordain that any community which at present has no judges shall be obliged to assemble in the usual meeting place according to the customary announcement, within ten days from the day when this Takkanah is read. In those places where there are judges, they shall be obliged to gather within ten days before the completion of the term of the incumbent judges, and elect new judges for the coming year. They shall follow this rule every year so long as this ordinance shall be in force. An anathema shall be pronounced binding all those who are choosing the judges to consider only what will be pleasing to "Him who dwelleth in Heaven...." The electors shall choose those who are most worthy and fit in the community for this office and the same refers to all other officers, such as investigators and treasurers and those who look into the public needs and any other officers which the Community will choose. As soon as the herem has been pronounced they shall begin to discuss the matter and if they agree so much the better. If they do not agree they shall deliberate for the following three days and no one shall leave the meeting except for the purpose of eating or drinking or some other essential matter. If they do not agree within three days they shall remain for eight days, day and night, in that place, none of them leaving it except to eat or drink or for some necessary reason as described. If they cannot come to any agreement within the said time they shall notify the Rabbi of the Court who shall select judges, and the community and their judges shall be obliged to carry out the order of the Rabbi of the Court. This procedure shall be followed in the election of judges or of any other officials; and such official shall hold his position for the whole year.
 * Any arrangement for the popular election of judges was of necessity non-Talmudic. In Palestine the authorization to act as judge had to come either from the Patriarch or the Synhedrion; in Babylonia, it usually was given by the Resh Galuta (the Exilarch) although the academies seem also to have claimed the right to confer this power.

We further ordain that no officer may appoint any judge or any other officer without the consent of the community, or the majority thereof, and that the proposed officer must be mentioned by name (before the electorate). Any election held in any other way than that prescribed is hereby declared void.
 

DUTIES AND POWERS OF JUDGES

We further ordain that whoever is appointed in each community shall have the power as long as this Takkanah is in effect, to judge any dispute, contentions or quarrels which may arise between man and man, according to Talmudic law. They shall have the power of imposing fines and punishment with the consent of the Rabbi and three of the most worthy of the "Best Men" of the city. They shall however keep in mind the privilege granted by our lord, the King, to the said Rabbi of the Court, Don Abraham. Moreover anyone who feels himself too severely dealt with may appeal to the said Rabbi for redress.  

QUALIFICATION OF JUDGES 
We further ordain that the judges of the community must not be related to each other. . . . (See Sanhedrin 11:1)
 

RULES OF PROCEDURE 
We further ordain that the judges shall fix a place for trying cases three days in the week, and that they shall observe the rules concerning judges, that they shall compel the defendant to come before them and do justice to the plaintiff. The litigants shall be obliged to come on the summons of the judges; and should either fail to appear he shall pay to the Charity Fund for the first offense a gold piece, for the second offense three gold pieces, and for the third offense ten gold pieces, beside such punishment as the judges may inflict on him.
 

CASES WHERE JUDGES ARE LITIGANTS 
We further ordain that if any Jew or Jewess have a complaint against any judge or any judge has a case against any member of the community, that judge shall be obliged to appear with his opposing litigant before one of the judges, his colleagues. If there is no other judge in the Community, the Community shall be obliged to provide for them one or more judges within three days to try the case. All the parties shall be obliged to carry out the orders of the judge or judges. The same procedure shall be followed if the judges are relatives of one of the litigants or friends or enemies to one of them in the sense of Talmudic law. No judge shall be permitted to try any case in which he, personally, or one of his relatives is involved unless the litigant has accepted him in the prescribed manner (Sanhedrin 3:2).
 

JUDGES TO HAVE NO JURISDICTION OVER TAX-LISTS

We further ordain that no judge shall be empowered to interfere by means of his judicial authority in the matter of the tax-lists or in the distribution of the taxes, but he may try cases arising among the members of the community in regard to taxes.  

SPECIAL JUDGES 
We ordain that if a Community feel that they do not want to entrust the differences arising among them to their judges, and there are differences among them requiring the attention of another judge, and they petition the Rabbi of the Court to send them judges, declaring that to be the desire of the majority, counting both by persons and by wealth, and if it appear to the Rabbi to be an emergency which if not met will result in harm to the community, he shall choose a God-fearing man, for the time for which the Community request him, and the Community shall be obliged to accept his decisions. But if the majority of the community do not make such a petition to the Rabbi of the Court, he shall not send any judge against the will of the Community.
 

APPEALS 
Regarding appeals, every judge shall be obliged to grant an appeal to the Rabbi of the Court within reasonable time to the party demanding it. The appellant shall give guarantees that he will cover the expenses incurred and shall take an oath that he makes the appeal because he feels himself misjudged, and not merely to delay the execution of justice.
 

WRITTEN BRIEFS 
Since if one of the litigants were permitted to write down his grievance and bring them to Court, he would probably write more than is necessary, perhaps even indulging in insults, which would result in more expenses and disputes, and whereas those who instruct others to plead in certain ways are included under the rule that he who teaches another what to plead injures the Community and he who teaches them to plead falsely is a sinner [*], therefore have we decreed that no litigant shall submit written briefs to the Court without having received permission from the local judge. Even in cases in which a brief is permitted it must be in keeping with propriety, without injurious words or insults against any and must be signed by one, the person who drew it up, and the one presenting the brief shall state under oath that it is the signature of the person who drew it up and that no one else drew it up for him. Any brief presented in any other way will not be accepted by the judge. We further ordain that no one shall give a litigant any arguments or causes to plead, unless he is given permission in writing by the Court to do so. Whoever will without permission of the Court, help a litigant who is not a relative of his, with arguments, shall lose his stipend from the Talmud Torah Fund if he is a scholar; and if the pleadings suggested were false, he shall be proclaimed an evil counsellor. If he is a man who does not receive any stipend he shall be fined as much as appear just to the Court and to the Rabbi.
 * Compare Abot 1.8. See especially commentary of Maimonides, and also Ketubot 52b, 86a.
 

TAKING TESTIMONY AGAINST JUDGES 
Every communal scribe shall be obliged to record and take the evidence which anyone may give against the dayyan [judge] or against anyone else who is not involved in the suit which is pending before the dayyan (?) between the day when the suit is brought and the third day following including the whole of the latter, and if the defendant is not willing to make a reply within the given time, the suit is to be decided in favor of the plaintiff as not contested and he should write in the record that the defendant was not willing to to make any reply, and hence he shall be obliged to summon the dayyan or the party against whom he the said evidence has been given, and he shall have another witness with him on each of the said three days. If the scribe disregard the foregoing he shall pay as a fine twenty ?maravedis for each time he disregards it.
 

BODILY APPREHENSION. 
We ordain that no judge shall order a Jew or Jewess to be seized bodily, except by order in writing signed by himself and witnesses; and that when the crime for which the person is apprehended is not defamation or a capital crime, the reason shall be stated in the writ.
 

SERVING A WRIT 
We further ordain that if anyone obtains a writ from the Rabbi of the Court and does not present it to the opposing party within fifty days in the presence of witnesses, or place it in front of his door in the presence of one of the adult members of the family or in the Synagogue at the morning prayers in the presence of these who are praying he shall no longer be permitted to serve it or make any use of it, and it shall cease to have any value.

 

  III. DEFAMATIONS

[Prohibition and penalties for suits in non-Jewish courts and for informing]

No Jew or Jewess shall bring his or her neighbor whether a Jew or Jewess before any judge, ecclesiastic or secular who is not of our faith, although such a judge should decide in accordance with the law of Israel unless it be a matter of payment of. taxes or imposts or coinage or other rights of our lord, the King, or of our lady, the Queen, or the money or rights of the Church or of a lord or lady of a place. Whoever transgresses this law is to be declared anathema and excommunicated, and no one shall have any dealings with him; he shall not be buried among Jews, his bread shall be like the bread of a Samaritan, his wine shall be considered like that of libations to idols. For each transgression he shall pay 1000 maravedis to the Jew who suffered by the defamation or to whomever the Rabbi of the Court will order that it should be paid. But if any Jew refuses to come to a Jewish Court after being summoned three times, the Rabbi and the judges of the Community may give the plaintiff permission to apply for redress to the Gentile Courts.
 
Any Jew or Jewess defaming another Jew or Jewess in such a way that harm may result to the Jew or Jewess, even though no Gentile is present, shall be fined for each time he or she used defamatory language, 100 maravedis, (half to be paid to charity and half to whomever the judges designate), and shall be imprisoned for ten days. If any harm result from the defamation, the guilty one shall be compelled to pay in addition to the above, all the damages that have been suffered because of the defamation If the defamatory speech was made in the presence of Gentiles the punishment is imprisonment for twenty days and a fine of 200 maravedis. If any harm result in this case the defamer shall be compelled in addition to undergoing the? said punishments, to make recompense for all damage suffered through the defamation and he shall be excommunicated for ten days. If any bodily harm results to the defamed because of the words of the defamer, the offender shall receive corporal punishment to the extent ordered by the Rabbi.
 
If any Jew or Jewess is alleged to have caused the apprehension of another or the seizure of his property by some Gentile man or woman, but the matter is not substantiated by witnesses being merely supported by the weight of circumstantial evidence, the judge shall have the duty with the counsel of the Rabbi, to order the defamer apprehended and punished bodily in accordance with what seems proper to the scholars so far as they may (legally).
 
If the alleged defamation is confirmed by one witnesses as well as incriminating circumstances, or if he confesses to it, there shall be branded on his brow the word Malshin.
 
If the crime is proven through the testimony of two witnesses, the defamed shall receive for the first offense one hundred lashes, and be driven from the city in accordance with the decision of the Rabbi and the judges and the leaders of the city above-mentioned. If he is guilty of a third offense, as established by the testimony of two Proper witnesses, the Rabbi of the Court may in accordance with Jewish law, order his death through the judiciary of our lord, the King.
 
If he cannot be put to death, or branded on the brow, or flogged in the above-mentioned manner, they shall denounce him in every place as an informer and a defamer so that all Jews may keep aloof from him. He shall be declared in all Israel as the "Man of Belial, the man of blood", no one shall permit him to marry his daughter nor shall he be accepted in the Congregation of Israel for any religious matter so long as he resists the execution of justice as here ordained.
 
This punishment shall not apply to one who gives information to our lord, the King, for his benefit even though that bring harm on some Jew. Such a one is not to be called either a defamer or an informer since it is the duty of all Jews to look after the service of the King.
 
If however the informer of the King makes false accusations against another Jew, he is to be punished severely because he lied to the King, and he is a false witness and a defamer. For this reason every possible punishment should be inflicted upon him.
 

APPEAL TO JEWISH COURTS FOR SAFETY

If any Jew or Jewess demands from any judge or judges of the Communities that he set a truce between him and any other Jew or Jewess, one or many, the judge or judges shall be obliged to compel the person or persons to grant the truce in order to put a temporary end to the quarrels. Each party shall be expected to keep the agreement and whoever breaks it shall be liable for suit according to the laws of the kingdom with the advice of the Rabbi. If the judge or judges refuse to interfere in the matter, the petitioner shall have the right to proceed before the Gentile courts.
 

FORCED BETROTHALS OR MARRIAGES

No one shall have the right to use a writing from our lord, the King, or our lady, the Queen, or any other lord or lady, or any other person, whether by persuasion or intimidation, to compel a Jewess to accept a Jew, or to compel a Jew to accept a Jewess, in betrothal or marriage. Whoever transgresses this ordinance shall be declared anathema and excommunicate, his bread the bread of Samaritans, and his wine the wine of libations, he shall not be buried among Jews, and he shall pay a fine of five thousand maravedis according to the order of the Rabbi of the Court. Whereas it happens at times that some enter the houses of Jews perforce with the help of Gentiles and compel daughters of Israel to accept money or valuables as Kiddushin [betrothal], or they force a ring on a woman's finger, and there thus arise cases of doubtful marriage, and whereas all of this represents a laxity in the matter of marriage, and there has always been an ordinance among the Castilian communities in regard to this, therefore do we ordain that no marriage shall be performed except in the presence of ten adult Israelites one of them being a relative of the bride. If the father or the brother of the bride is in the neighborhood they must be present to give their consent. The minister of the Congregation must recite the benedictions of the marriage. Whoever will transgress this law, shall be declared anathema and excommunicate and incapacitated to act as witness. He shall receive one hundred lashes and pay a fine of ten thousand maravedi as the Rabbi of the Court will order. No one is permitted to act as a witness to a marriage that is not performed in accordance with the above mentioned ordinance, even though the bride has become engaged to the man with the consent of her father. If anyone knowing the intentions of the bridegroom acts as witness in violation of this ordinance, and his guilt be made certain, he shall be punished in the same way as the bridegroom himself.
 

INTIMIDATION OF JUDGES

No Jew or Jewess shall be permitted to bring a Gentile man or woman in order to threaten or intimidate a judge, an investigator or any other officer of the Jewish comm unity. If a Gentile man or woman threatens a Jewish community on behalf of any Jew or Jewess, who deny that the Gentile came at their request, it shall be the duty of the Jew or Jewess to see to it that the Gentile abandon his, threat in such a way that no harm may befall any individual or the Community. If he refuses to obey and prevent the Gentile from carrying out his threat and draws any advantage from the said threat or intimidation on the part of the Gentile, it shall be looked upon as if proven by two witnesses that he brought the Gentile to help him. If the Community or any member of it has to undertake any expenditure because of the threat, the judges acting on the advice of the Rabbi, may take of the property of the transgressor and give it to whomever they please. If the Gentiles are influential persons and prevent the execution of justice against the transgressor, the judges of the locality shall be obliged to bring the matter to the attention of the Rabbi of the Court so that he may see that justice is done. If, however, the person on whose account the Gentile interfered requests the Gentile to desist, he shall be liable to no punishment.  

THE SALE OF WINE

Any Jew or Jewess who makes wine of Gentiles in such manner that it may be used for Jewish custom shall pay all the taxes, duties and imposts that are laid on the wine of any Jew. Moreover no Jew may give the Gentile any information which will lead him to bring any pressure whether by threat or intimidation on the Jew. Whoever transgresses this ordinance is to be considered as defamer and a malshin, and he shall be subject to all the rules which the Community may make in regard to the preparation of the wine of Gentiles.

Every community of ten families or more shall establish a tavern where kasher wine may be obtained both for, themselves and for travellers. As for those communities which already have ordinances providing for men to be in charge of the wine sale, they should follow their ordinances. As for those which do not have such ordinances we ordain that within eight days after this Takkanah is read to them, they shall call a meeting by announcement in the place of prayer, and they shall make provision for one or more men to be in charge of the wine sale and the manner in which the office shall be connected. If they cannot agree within three days, they shall appoint one man from the class of wine sellers and another for the class of wine buyers. These shall declare under oath that they will loyally see to it that the wine is sold in accordance with the custom of the place and at the price at which it is sold to Christians adding to that the amount paid in taxes for the Talmud Torah Fund. If they see that the Jewish wine involves greater expenditures that the Christian wine, they shall allow in just that measure the price of the Jewish wine to be raised. They shall declare under oath that they will carry out their duties, with no personal interest and that if there will be need of a third party to decide between them they will take one and act according to his decision. This regulation they shall observe each year during the duration of this Takkanah.

No person of the children of Israel shall have the right to avail himself of any letter of grace or privilege or other order whether written or oral of our lord, the King, or our lady, the Queen, of any other lord or lady, to have himself appointed Rabbi or to obtain any agreement or emolument from any of the communities, or to be appointed Clerk, or Shohet or minister or teacher or messenger of the Court; or to obtain any other office in the gift of the communities, without the consent of the communities or the community which the office is to be held. Nor may he win the agreement of the communities or the appointment through threats or intimidation by Gentiles or any one Gentile. Whoever transgresses this ordinance shall be declared anathema and excommunicated.

This rule shall not apply to our worthy Rabbi, Don Abraham, because it is the desire of the communities that he should be the highest judge and he accepted the position at the instance of the Rabbis and at the call of the Communities. Whoever is at present in possession of such a letter of grace, shall present it to the Rabbi of the Court for examination within the next six months so that those of them which can be executed should be carried out. During these six months if he desires to carry out the functions of his office by the authority of the letter of the King he may do so. His salary shall be determined by the said Rabbi of the Court.

Whereas there are some who appoint officials like the Clerk and the Shohet without the consent of the Communities, we ordain that no one so appointed shall have the right to execute the duties of his office without the permission of the Community or the majority of it.

No Jew may engage a Christian servant permanently in his home whether with pay or without pay. For serious scandals have arisen as a result of this practice and in ancient times there was an ordinance against it.
 

 

IV. TAXES AND SERVICE

[Taxation and exemptions]

 No Jew or Jewess shall obtain any letter from the King, or Queen or any lord or lady or any other influential person by which he or she may be freed paving the taxes which the Communities may impose. Neither shall anyone try to gain any confirmation of such privilege nor shall anyone request anyone who does not belong to our faith, to obtain such a privilege for him or her whether by persuasion or intimidation. Neither shall one avail oneself of such an offer on the part of anyone, nor may such an offer be accepted by anyone, whether an individual or a community. in general no one shall take advantage of any letter obtained in the above manner to free himself from taxes, imposts, loans or any other demands which our lord, the King, may make on the Communities.

In the case of taxes levied upon separate classes or groups of Jews, the same rules are to apply as in the case of ordinary taxes, unless the individual under consideration was exempted at the time of the levying of the tax. If any community farms out its taxes, the tax-farmer cannot free anyone from payment of taxes who was not exempt at the time of the farming of the tax.

If any community makes an agreement with one to reduce his taxes because of intimidation or fear or because of an exemption-decree, the agreement is null and void, and if any attempt to avoid payment after the Rabbi decides that it shall be made, the person involved is to be declared anathema and excommunicate.

Any written documents in regard to this matter must be shown to the Rabbi of the Court within six months so that he may act on them as he sees fit.

Whereas Don Meir Alguades, of sainted memory, was for many years a defender of his people, it is proper to show appreciation of his services, and not to appear ungrateful and whereas in the ordinances which were passed both before and after the said R. Meir became the chief judge, he and his descendants were granted exemption from. all the taxes which the Community might have to pay, and whereas that privilege is still in force, and further whereas, his widow, Donna Bathsheba, is a virtuous woman and has lived so as to honor his memory, and aside from that, the wife of a scholar is even after his death to be accorded some of the privileges due a scholar (Avodah Zara 39a) and whereas his daughter, Donna Luna, the widow of the worthy Don Meir Alfachar, is a virtuous woman; therefore we ordain that neither of these widows shall be compelled to pay taxes by any community or by any individual in the Community, nor shall they be compelled to give any pledge for such payments; the aforementioned Rabbi of the Court Don Abraham, will decide what their status is to be.

If any Community feels itself aggrieved in the matter of the division of the taxes, that community shall send a mission to the Rabbi of the Court, who will take counsel in regard to the matters, with two other Rabbis of his choice and if he finds that the grievances as demonstrated by the mission are just, he shall see that they are redressed.
 

RIGHT OF REDRESS FOR INDIVIDUALS 
Whereas certain communities have made very rigid ordinances providing that all the expenses and taxes of the Community should be distributed among all the in habitants and that everyone without exception should be obliged to pay and no one is permitted to enjoy his right to be free from taxes and as the tax-assessors often cause serious and evident wrongs, therefore we ordain that henceforth no such ordinance shall. be made; and in regard to those already made, we ordain that a general meeting be held of all the members of the Community in accordance with the custom, so that they may release the herem (repeal the ordinance) and be free to make such ordinance in regard to exemption from taxes as the Rabbi of the city may suggest, or if here should not be any in that city, according to the suggestion of the Rabbi of the nearest city.

No Community shall henceforth have the right to forbid any individual to make known such grievances as he may have against it. If the Community and the individual come to an agreement to lay their differences before a judge of the city or of the neighborhood, the matter shall so be settled. If, however, they cannot agree on a judge of the city or the neighborhood, the matter shall be referred to the Rabbi of the Court. The said Rabbi shall settle the differences and may remove the tax-assessor and order another appointed in his place who will see to it that the agreements are observed. But since great harm may result to the communities if all those feeling themselves aggrieved should withhold their payments of taxes, therefore it is ordained that each man must pay his share in accordance with the tax assessment, but that if the judge finds that one has a just grievance he shall order the restitution of the surplus or it may be used in the payment of other taxes than those assessed against him in the first list.

Any Jew or Jewess, claiming exemption from taxes because of the alleged privileges granted to the communities of Valderas and Badajoz, or because of an alleged privilege granted in regard to the Jews of Astorga by the Church and Bishop of that city, any Jew or Jewess claiming exemption from taxes because of these privileges, whether they be inhabitants of those communities or not, shall be obliged to present proof of their privileges to the Rabbi of the Court or his agent; otherwise the privilege shall be considered void and they shall be considered liable to pay in the same fashion as any other of the people. But those who have made agreements with the Communities because at the time their privileges were in doubt, shall pay in accordance with the agreements so long as they are in force.
 

WIDOWS AND ORPHANS

.Any widow, or male or female orphan who is not married, and possesses less than four hundred maravedi shall be exempt from payment of taxes. If any of them have more than the said amount, only the surplus over that sum shall be taxed. The same rule shall apply to the lame and the crippled.
 

TAXES ON MEAT AND WINE

Every community shall henceforth establish the custom of imposing taxes on meat and wine. Every community is authorized to make such ordinances in accordance with their custom and fix definite rates. If they do not agree on the imposts within thirty days from the day of their meeting, they shall send representatives to the Rabbi of the Court, who will ordain how the Community shall act in regard to the taxes, and they, must act in accordance with his orders. In places where no tax on wine has yet been established, they shall not be obliged to impose one if the majority of the people, counting both by numbers and by wealth, are opposed to it.
 

TAX EVADERS 
A stringent herem of ten maledictions shall be pronounced in all the communities on the Sabbath between Rosh Ha-Shanah and Yom Kippur of each year, at the morning prayer, in the presence of all those who are praying, while the Torah is in the Ark, against any Jew who will attempt to evade the payment of taxes, or who will help others to evade taxes which they are legally obliged to pay.
 

ANNOUNCEMENT OF COMMUNITY MEETINGS 
In many Communities there are officers like investigators and community leaders who publish the announcements in such an astute manner that the public meeting is only sparsely attended, only those being invited whom they choose, and they ordain whatever they please to ordain. As a result of this practice many scandals have arisen, and moreover this is contrary to the law of the Talmud which provides that an ordinance is not binding unless accepted by the whole or the majority of a community. We, therefore ordain that any ordinance passed in the aforesaid manner shall be void. If it be an ordinance levying taxes there must be present a majority of the tax-payers of the past three tax lists, nearest the time of the ordinance, as well as a majority by wealth of those who would pay the proposed tax. But whereas the Communities have the custom of making their ordinances by public announcement and it will be difficult for them to wait until the whole or the larger part of the Community gather, and as at times matters require an immediate solution and permit of no delay, therefore we ordain: 1. That in regard to such things as can cause no harm to the community if action on them is delayed till the Sabbath, no ordinance may be made except in the manner mentioned above. And in all places where public prayers are held, they shall announce publicly when the Torah is in the ark, to as many as are gathered into the Synagogue or Synagogues, that a gathering will be held in such and such a place and such and such ordinances will be discussed, so that each man may take it to his heart and think of the proposed meeting and guard his rights, or waive them freely. Those who are absent from the meeting will then learn what was said, and they must accept whatever is ordained by those present even if they were not a majority. 2. If it is a matter which cannot be delayed till the following Sabbath, but can wait till the next Monday or Thursday, they shall make announcement in the abovementioned manner on one of those days, and if notice of the proposed meeting was brought to those present on those days, all that is ordained at the meeting shall be valid although no announcement was made on the Sabbath. 3. If it is an urgent matter that cannot wait for the following Monday or Thursday, they shall announce the meeting at the regular morning or evening service. 4. If it is so urgent a matter that it cannot be delayed until announcement is made at the services, the Clerk of the Community shall go the houses of the majority of the members of the Community and of the taxpayers and inform them that the said meeting must take place. They shall wait with the discussion until everyone in the Community shall have had time to arrive at the place of the meeting. They may then discuss that it is wanted to ordain and whatever they ordain is valid. Some Communities have an ordinance providing that no act is valid unless passed by the majority of the Community; they shall act in accordance with their custom. But those communities which have elected officers to look after the welfare of the Communities shall act in accordance with this Takkanah.

No one shall be permitted to pronounce any herem until the subject has been deliberated upon and discussed so that one may be certain that the matter is being done with the consent of the whole or a majority of the Community.

 

V. REGARDING CLOTHING

[Clothing restrictions]

No woman except those unmarried or a bride in the first year of her marriage shall wear costly dresses of gold-cloth, or olive colored material or fine linen or silk, or of fine wool. Neither shall they wear on their dresses trimmings of velvet or brocade or olive-colored cloth. Nor shall they wear a golden brooch nor one of pearls, nor a string of pearls on the forehead, nor dresses with trails on the ground more than one third of a vara in measure, nor fringed Moorish garments, nor coats with high collars, nor cloth of a high reddish color, nor a skirt of bermeia thread, except as for the skirt and stockings, nor shall they make wide sleeves on the Moorish garments of more than two palms in width, but they may wear silver brooches and silver belts provided that there is not more than four ounces of silver on any of them.

No son of Israel of the age of fifteen or more shall wear any cloak of gold-thread, olive colored material or silk or any cloak trimmed with gold or olive-colored material or silk, nor a cloak with rich trimmings nor with trimmings of olive colored or gold cloth.

This prohibition does not include the clothes worn at a time of festivity or at the reception of a lord or a lady, nor at balls or similar social occasions.
 
Because of the diversity of custom among the Communities in regard to the wearing apparel, we find it impracticable to make a general ordinance which shall provide for all the details that ought to be included, and we therefore ordain that each Community shall make such ordinances on the subject so long as this Ordinance endures, as will keep before their minds that we are in Dispersion because of our sins, and if they desire to establish more rigorous rules than this they have the power to do so.
 

DINNERS AND FESTIVITIES 
Whereas at the time of betrothals and weddings and the birth of a child and other seasons of rejoicing, many spend lavish sums, we agree that every community shall make such ordinances on this subject as are compatible with its needs and position. Therefore we ordain that from the day when this Takkanah will be read in any Community having no ordinance dealing with this matter, a meeting shall be held within thirty days to adopt ordinances on this subject in the spirit described in this Ordinance.
 

CONCLUSION
We agree that this Takkanah shall be established over all the Holy Communities of our lord, the King, and over each one of them just as it has been drawn the first day of Sivan of this year and for the coming ten years. All of the communities shall act in accordance with it. Every one of these communities shall similarly act in accordance with it from the day on which it is read to them and announced until the end of the said ten successive years. No man shall raise objections to it either in whole or in part. Whoever transgresses or causes another to transgress or raises any objection so as to annul it as a whole or in part shall be declared anathema and excommunicate in accordance with our judgement since this ordinance was established by the authority given the worthy Rabbi Don Abraham.


Source.

Source: Louis Finkelstein, Jewish Self-Government in the Middle Ages, (New York: Jewish Theological Seminary of America, 1924), pp. 349-75.

Note: numbers have been added to the sub-headings for ease of reference. Also, a few extra subheadings not found in Finkelstein's edition have been added; they are surrounded by [].)

© Scanned and annotated by Elka Klein .


This text is part of the Internet Medieval Source Book. The Sourcebook is a collection of public domain and copy-permitted texts related to medieval and Byzantine history.

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Paul Halsall, September 1999
halsall@fordham.edu