The Alhambra Decree

On 31 July 1492 the Alhambra Decree, which targeted the Jewish population for expulsion or death, went into effect in Spain. Jews were given three choices: they could convert to Catholicism, or surrender their goods and leave the country, or be executed horribly if they tried to remain in their homes and retain their religion. Tens of thousands of Jews perished as a result of this decree.

The Treaty of Granada had been signed less than a year earlier, on 25 Novemeber 1491, ending the war between Boabdil, the sultan of Granada, and the Spanish monarchs, Ferdinand and Isabella.

One of the terms of the treaty was that Spain grant the Muslim and Jewish population in Granada the freedom to practice their religion. Unfortunately, the Catholic monarchs, doubtlessly feeling they were justified by their great  Christian faith, quickly found rationales to attack the non-Christian majority of the newly acquired territory. There was an apparent inability to see the irony in the fact their belief in the divinity of a Jewish Rabbi was being used as an excuse to persecute Muslims and Jews.

There cannot be enough said about the heinousness of the results of the Alhambra Decree.

Many Jewish people died from the hazards of life as refugees, and many were murdered by covetous neighbors for their processions. Sometimes the Jewish evictees were  disemboweled by thieves because it was rumored that they were swallowing gold and gems in an attempt to take their wealth out of Spain. The Jews who tried to leave Spain aboard ships were all too often thrown overboard to drown by greedy captains who wanted to confiscate the escapees’ belongings.

Another egregious thing rising from the Alhambra Decree was the strengthening of Isabella and Ferdinand’s brainchild, the Spanish Inquisition. Several thousand Jewish families decided to “convert” to Catholicism rather than risk their lives and the lives of their children in flight. However, the Church suspected that many of these “conversos” were secretly still Jewish.

Fundamentalist Catholics (which included Isabella) thought there should be no other religion in Spain but the ‘correct’ one, and they were determined to root out those who were secretly non-Catholic in their hearts. Thus Crypto-Jews and suspected Crytpo-Jews both within and without the converso population were hunted down, tortured, and put to death.

To this day, there are still those who try to excuse the actions of the Spanish Inquisition:

“a Catholic placed sometimes in situations depressingly familiar to Catholics of today. The clergy of Castile were riddled with Jewish “converts”, some genuine and very holy, but many others enriching themselves and working against the Church from within … the prisoners of the Spanish Inquisition would hardly qualify as prisoners of conscience — they were not tried for refusing to become Catholics but rather for pretending to be Catholics in order to infiltrate Christian society. Most were reconciled with the Church — though they were warned that a second lapse into Judaism would be fatal — and some were exiled. Execution was reserved for serious relapses and horrible crimes — such as the ritual murder of a three year old boy in one of the most infamous and convoluted cases the Inquisition was called upon to try. The queen’s decision to finally exile the Jews from Spain caused and still causes even greater outrage among her detractors. To this day, the Sephardic Jews continue to protest against all moves on the part of Rome to proceed in her canonization. Whether her action was justified is still open to debate.”

Actually, any debate about the justification of attempted ethnocide is pointless. It either elides the facts, is terribly ignorant of the facts, or argues that the magic wand of ‘historical context’ makes culpability for crimes against humanity disappear. For example, in the previous paragraph, the blood libel that the Jews sacrificed a Christian toddler for Passover is taken at face value, instead of the hysterical antisemitic propaganda it was.  Additionally, the fact some Jewish converts tried to secretly maintain the religion of their forefathers in private becomes a fictitious assertion that conversos were working against the Church from within to enrich themselves.

Moreover, spare me any bullshit about how the expulsion wasn’t so very bad in context;  it will either reveal your ignorance, your antisemitism, or both, and it will work my last nerve. Some things are moral absolutes, and all forms of genocide are unconditionally bad. If you think otherwise, you are wrong.

Nor was the Expulsion the beginning of the Spanish pogrom against the Jews. In the decades leading up to the Alhambra Decree, Jews and suspected Jews:

“would be seized, thrust into inquisitional dungeons, interrogated (occasionally under torture), and sentenced to a variety punishments, ranging from terms of penitential service to imprisonment or to “relaxation,” that is, death. Thus, even in its earliest phase, between 1479 and 1481, in a ferocious reign of terror, nearly four hundred individuals were burned at the stake for heresy in the city of Seville alone. Throughout Castilian Andalusia, some two thousand persons were burned alive, seventeen thousand others were “reconciled,” that is, spared the death penalty but subjected to such punishments as imprisonment, confiscation of property, and debarment from all employment, public and private, Their wives and children faced destitution.”

Isabella and Ferdinand also turned their unwelcome attention to the Islamic populace. They began a policy of forcible conversions to Christianity that infuriated the Muslim community of Granada into a revolt in 1500. Ferdinand and Isabella then used this revolt as an excuse to void the Treaty of Granada in its entirety and institute a pogrom against the Moors. Like the Jews before them, the Muslims were ordered to become Catholic, emigrate, or be killed. Again, there are still people who justify this ethnic cleansing because 1) it was no big deal; they converted to Christianity easy-peasy  or 2) (as everyone knows) Muslims are the dangerous Other and of course you have to get rid of them if you want peace.

After another hundred or so years of persecution, Muslims and Jews were all but eradicated from Spanish soil. Spain became a uniformly Christian country, and remains majoritively Catholic today. Muslims, largely due to recent immigration from Morocco and North Africa, are slightly more than 3% of the population, and less than 1% of Spaniards are Jewish.

The Alhambra Degree marked the beginning of the end for the once-thriving Jewish and Islamic populations in Spain.

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