|Jewish History Sourcebook:
The Expulsion from Spain, 1492 CE
In the spring of 1492, shortly after the Moors were driven out of Granada, Ferdinand
and Isabella of Spain expelled all the Jews from their lands and thus, by a stroke of the
pen, put an end to the largest and most distinguished Jewish settlement in Europe. The
expulsion of this intelligent, cultured, and industrious class was prompted only in part
by the greed of the king and the intensified nationalism of the people who had just
brought the crusade against the Muslim Moors to a glorious close. The real motive was the
religious zeal of the Church, the Queen, and the masses. The official reason given for
driving out the Jews was that they encouraged the Marranos to persist in their Jewishness
and thus would not allow them to become good Christians.
The following account gives a detailed and accurate picture of the expulsion and its
immediate consequences for Spanish Jewry. It was written in Hebrew by an Italian Jew in
April or May, 1495.
And in the year 5252 , in the days of King Ferdinand, the Lord visited the
remnant of his people a second time [the first Spanish visitation was in 1391], and exiled
them. After the King had captured the city of Granada from the Moors, and it had
surrendered to him on the 7th [2d] of January of the year just mentioned, he ordered the
expulsion of all the Jews in all parts of his kingdom-in the kingdoms of Castile,
Catalonia, Aragon, Galicia, Majorca, Minorca, the Basque provinces, the islands of
Sardinia and Sicily, and the kingdom of Valencia. Even before that the Queen had expelled
them from the kingdom of Andalusia 
The King gave them three months' time in which to leave. It ,vas announced in public in
every city on the first of May, which happened to be the 19th day of the Omer, and
the term ended on the day before the 9th of Ab. [The forty-nine days between the second of
Passover and Shabuot are called Omer days. The actual decree of expulsion
was signed March 31 and announced the first of May, the 19th day of the Omer. The
Jews were to leave during in May, June, and July and be out of the country by August I,
the 8th of Ab.]
About their number there is no agreement, but, after many inquiries, I found that the
most generally accepted estimate is 50,000 families, or, as others say, 53,000- [This
would be about 250,000 persons. Other estimates run from 100,000 to 800,000.] They had
houses, fields, vineyards, and cattle, and most of them were artisans. At that time there
existed many [Talmudic] academies in Spain, and at the head of the greatest of them were
Rabbi Isaac Aboab in Guadalajara [probably the greatest Spanish rabbi of his day], Rabbi
Isaac Veçudó in Leon, and Rabbi Jacob Habib in Salamanca [later author of a famous
collection of the non-legal parts of the Talmud, the En Yaakob]. In the last named
city there was a great expert in mathematics, and whenever there was any doubt on
mathematical questions in the Christian academy of that city they referred them to him.
His name was Abraham Zacuto. [This famous astronomer encouraged the expedition of Vasco da
Gama.] . . .
In the course of the three months' respite granted them they endeavoured to effect an
arrangement permitting them to stay on in the country, and they felt confident of success.
Their representatives were the rabbi, Don Abraham Seneor, the leader of the Spanish
congregations, who was attended by a retinue on thirty mules, and Rabbi Meïr Melamed, who
was secretary to the King, and Don Isaac Abravanel [1437-1508], who had fled to Castile
from the King of Portugal, and then occupied an equally prominent position at the Spanish
royal court. He, too, was later expelled, went to Naples, and was highly esteemed by the
King of Naples. The aforementioned great rabbi, Rabbi Isaac of Leon, used to call this Don
Abraham Seneor: "Soné Or" ["Hater of Light," a Hebrew pun on Seneor], because he was a heretic, and the end proved that he was right, as he was converted to
Christianity at the age of eighty, he and all his family, and Rabbi Meïr Melamed with him
. [Seneor and his son-in-law, Meïr, were converted June 15, 1492; Ferdinand and Isabella
were among the sponsors.] Don Abraham had arranged the nuptials between the King and the
Queen. The Queen was the heiress to the throne, and the King one of the Spanish nobility.
On account of this, Don Abraham was appointed leader of the Jews, but not with their
The agreement permitting them to remain in the country on the payment of a large sum of
money was almost completed when it was frustrated by the interference of a prior who was
called the Prior of Santa Cruz. [Legend relates that Torquemada, Prior of the convent of
Santa Cruz, thundered, with crucifix aloft, to the King and Queen: "Judas Iscariot
sold his master for thirty pieces of silver. Your Highness would sell him anew for thirty
thousand. Here he is, take him, and barter him away."] Then the Queen gave an answer
to the representatives of the Jews, similar to the saying of King Solomon [ProverbS 2 1:
1]: "The king's heart is in the hand of the Lord, as the rivers of water. God turneth
it withersoever He will." She said furthermore: "Do you believe that this comes
upon you from us? The Lord hath put this thing into the heart of the king." [Isabella
says it is God's will that the Jews be expelled.]
Then they saw that there was evil determined against them by the King, and they gave up
the hope of remaining. But the time had become short, and they had to hasten their exodus
from Spain. They sold their houses, their landed estates, and their cattle for very small
prices, to save themselves. The King did not allow them to carry silver and gold out of
his country, so that they were compelled to exchange their silver and gold for merchandise
of cloths and skins and other things- [Ever since 1480 Jews and Gentiles were forbidden to
export precious metal, the source of a nation's wealth.]
One hundred and twenty thousand of them went to Portugal, according to a compact which
a prominent man, Don Vidal bar Benveniste del Cavalleria, had made with the King of
Portugal, and they paid one ducat for every soul, and the fourth part of all the
merchandise they had carried thither; and he allowed them to stay in his country six
months. This King acted much worse toward them than the King of Spain, and after the six
months had elapsed he made slaves of all those that remained in his country, and banished
seven hundred children to a remote island to settle it, and all of them died. Some say
that there were double as many. Upon them the Scriptural word was fulfilled [Deuteronomy
28:32]: "Thy sons and thy daughters shall be given unto another people, etc"
[all Spanish Jews, who were still in Portugal in 1493, were enslaved by King John
(1481-1495). The children were sent to the isle of St. Thomas, off the coast of Africa.]
He also ordered the congregation of Lisbon, his capital, not to raise their voice in their
prayers, that the Lord might not hear their complaining about the violence that was done
Many of the exiled Spaniards went to Mohammedan countries, to Fez, Tlemçen, and the
Berber provinces, under the King of Tunis. [These North African lands are across the
Mediterranean from Spain.] On account of their large numbers the Moors did not allow them
into their cities, and many of them died in the fields from hunger, thirst, and lack of
everything. The lions and bears, which are numerous in this country, killed some of them
while they lay starving outside of the cities. A Jew in the kingdom of Tlemçen, named
Abraham, the viceroy who ruled the kingdom, made part of them come to this kingdom, and he
spent a large amount of money to help them. The Jews of Northern Africa were very
charitable toward them. A part of those who went to Northern Africa, as they found no rest
and no place that would receive them, returned to Spain, and became converts, and through
them the prophecy of Jeremiah was fulfilled [Lamentations 1:13]: "He hath spread a
net for my feet, he hath turned me back." For, originally, they had all fled for the
sake of the unity of God; only a very few had become converts throughout all the
boundaries of Spain; they did not spare their fortunes; yea, parents escaped without
having regard to their children.
When the edict of expulsion became known in the other countries, vessels came from
Genoa to the Spanish harbors to carry away the Jews. The crews of these vessels, too,
acted maliciously and meanly toward the Jews, robbed them, and delivered some of them to
the famous pirate of that time who was called the Corsair of Genoa. To those who escaped
and arrived at Genoa the people of the city showed themselves merciless, and oppressed and
robbed them, and the cruelty of their wicked hearts went so far that they took the infants
from the mothers' breasts.
Many ships with Jews, especially from Sicily, went to the city of Naples on the coast.
The King of this country was friendly to the Jews, received them all, and was merciful
towards them, and he helped them with money. The Jews that were at Naples supplied them
with food as much as they could, and sent around to the other parts of Italy to collect
money to sustain them. The Marranos in this city lent them money on pledges without
interest; even the. Dominican Brotherhood acted mercifully toward them. [The Dominican
monks were normally bitterly opposed to Jews.] On account of their very large number, all
this was not enough. Some of them died by famine, others sold their children to Christians
to sustain their life. Finally, a plague broke out among them, spread to Naples, and very
many of them died, so that the living wearied of burying the dead.
Part of the exiled Spaniards went over sea to Turkey. Some of them were thrown into the
sea and drowned, but those who arrived, there the King of Turkey received kindly, as they
were artisans. He lent them money and settled many of them on an island, and gave them
fields and estates. [The Turks needed smiths and makers of munitions for the war against
A few of the exiles were dispersed in the countries of Italy, in the city of Ferrara,
in the [papal] countries of Romagna, the March, and Patrimonium, and in Rome. . . .
He who said unto His world, Enough, may He also say Enough unto our sufferings, and may
He look down upon our impotence. May He turn again, and have compassion upon us, and
hasten out salvation. Thus may it be Thy will!
REFERENCES TO TEXTBOOKS
Elbogen, pp. 80-86; Roth, pp. 218-232; Sachar, pp. 204-220.
READINGS FOR ADVANCED STUDENTS
Graetz, IV, pp. 334-356; Graetz-Rhine, IV, pp. 207-244; Margolis and Mary, pp. 440-476.
Abbott, G. F., Israel in Europe, pp. 141-166.
Milman, H. H., The History of the Jews, II, Book xxvi.
Prescott, W. H., History of the Reign of Ferdinand and Isabella the Catholic, 11,
Part I, Chap. xvii: "Expulsion of the Jews from Spain." An interesting.
ADDITIONAL SOURCE MATERIALS IN ENGLISH
Halper, B., Post-Biblical Hebrew Literature, "The Advantages of a Republic
over a Monarchy," 11, pp. 221-224. A brief discussion on political science by Isaac
Lindo, E. H., The History of the Jews of Spain and Portugal, pp. 277-280
contains the decree of expulsion. Comments on the expulsion by Isaac Abravanel, financial
adviser to Isabella, may be found on p, 284. Another contemporary account occurs on p.
Marx, A., "The Expulsion of the Jews from Spain," JQR, 0. S., XX (1908),
pp. 24off.; JQR, N. S., 11 (1911-1912), pp. 257-258. This is the complete account
of which source No. 11 is an extract.
Jacob Marcus, The Jew in the Medieval World: A Sourcebook, 315-1791, (New York:
JPS, 1938), 51-55
Later printings of this text (e.g. by Atheneum, 1969, 1972, 1978) do not indicate that
the copyright was renewed)
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© Paul Halsall, July1998