Monday, March 19, 2007
DivisionsHistorically, Sephardim are those Jews associated with the Iberian peninsula.The most prominent sub-group consists of the descendants of the Jews expelled from Spain in 1492, who settled in various parts of the Ottoman Empire, in particular Salonica and Istanbul, and whose traditional language is Ladino. Another branch settled in Northern Morocco, and spoke a variant of Judaeo-Spanish known as Haketia. A third sub-group, known as Spanish and Portuguese Jews, consists of Jews whose families remained in Spain and Portugal as ostensible Christians, and later reverted to Judaism in Italy, the Netherlands, England or the New World, particularly Mexico, the Caribbean, and South America. A variety of non-Ashkenazi Jewish groups are regarded as "Sephardim" for religious purposes, and are so identified in modern Israel, including Jews of Arabic or Persian backgrounds. The justification for this is that most of these communities (with some exceptions such as the Yemenites) use the same religious ritual as the Sephardim proper and, like them, base their religious law on the Shulchan Aruch without the glosses of Moses Isserles.This nomenclature is often perceived as unsatisfactory, and a variety of other terms have been coined. For example, Jews of Arabic-speaking backgrounds are sometimes referred to as Musta'arabim or "Arab Jews", though for political reasons this last description is disputed. A term in common use for all Jewish communities historically associated with Africa and Asia and not of Spanish descent is Mizrahi Jews, which in Hebrew means "Orientals". This is sometimes found confusing because it appears to include the Moroccans, whereas in Arabic the equivalent term (Mashriqiyyun) specifically denotes the inhabitants of the Near East as opposed to those of North Africa (Maghrabiyyun). In current use, Mizrahi Jews is a convenient way to refer collectively to a wide range of Jewish communities, most of which are as unrelated to each other as they are to either the Sephardi (in the narrower sense) or Ashkenazi communities. They include in particular the communities living in, or coming from, Southern Arabia (Yemen), North Africa, Mesopotamia (Iraq), Syria, Persia (Iran) and India. DistributionPrior to 1492, substantial Jewish populations existed in most Spanish provinces. Among the more prominent were in Toledo, Córdoba, and Granada. Smaller towns such as Ocaña, Guadalajara, Bentrago, and Almazan were founded or inhabited principally by Jews. Castile, Aranda, Ávila, Calahorra, Cuellar, Herrera, Medina, Segovia, Soria, and Villalon were home to large Jewish communities. Aragon and Catalonia had substantial Jewish communities in the famous Calls of Girona, Barcelona, Tarragona, Valencia and Palma de Mallorca.Following the 1492 expulsion from Spain, and the subsequent expulsions in Portugal (1497), these Jews, the nascent Sephardim, settled mainly in Morocco, the Ottoman Empire (modern-day Turkey, Greece, Southwest Asia, North Africa and the Balkans), southern France, Italy, Spanish North America, (Southwest United States and Mexico), Spanish South America and Portuguese Brazil, as well as the Netherlands (whence a number of families continued on to the former Dutch possessions of Curaçao, Suriname and Aruba), England, Germany, Denmark, Austria and Hungary.As a result of the Jewish exodus from Arab lands, many of the Sephardim from the Middle East relocated to either Israel or France, where they form a significant portion of the Jewish communities today. Other significant communities also exist in New York City and Montreal, Canada. LanguageThe traditional language of the majority of Sephardim is Judæo-Spanish, also called Ladino. It is a Romance language derived mainly from Old Castilian (Spanish), with borrowings from Sephardi Hebrew.Judæo-Spanish has been conserved by the crypto-Jewish marranos of Portugal and Brazil and is still spoken by many of them. It is also spoken by very few mainly elderly Sephardim still remaining in Turkey and amongst the Sephardi immigrants of Israel.Judæo-Portuguese has also been used by Sephardim — especially among the Spanish and Portuguese Jews of Western Europe. The pidgin forms of Portuguese spoken among slaves and their Sephardic owners were an influence in the development of Papiamento and the Creole languages of Suriname.Other Romance languages with Jewish forms, spoken historically by Sephardim, include Judæo-Aragonese, and Catalanic (Judæo-Catalan).Other languages associated with Sephardic Jews are mostly extinct, i.e., formerly spoken by some Sephardic communities in Italy. Low German, formerly used as the vernacular by Sephardim around Hamburg and Altona in Northern Germany, is also no longer in use as a specifically Jewish vernacular. HistoryMain articles: History of the Jews in Spain and History of the Jews in Portugal Early historyThe precise origins of the Sephardim are unclear. There is fragmentary and inconclusive evidence of a Jewish presence on the Iberian Peninsula dating from pre-Roman times. More substantial references date from the period of Roman occupation.Evidence which suggests Jewish connections with the Iberian Peninsula includes:References in the books of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, I Kings, and Jonah to the country of Tarshish, which is thought by many to have been located in southern Spain. A signet ring found at Cadiz, dating from the 8th-7th century B.C.E.. The inscription on the ring, generally accepted as Phoenician, has been interpreted by a few scholars to be "paleo-hebraic.” An amphora dating from at least the first century C.E. found in Ibiza, which bears imprints of two Hebrew characters. It is thought that substantial Jewish immigration probably occurred during the period of Roman occupation of Hispania. The province came under Roman control with the fall of Carthage after the Second Punic War (218-202 B.C.E.). Exactly how soon after this time Jews made their way onto the scene in this context is a matter of speculation. It is within the realm of possibility that they went there under the Romans as free men to take advantage of its rich resources.However, the spread of Jews into Europe is most commonly associated with the Diaspora which ensued from the Roman conquest of Judea, emigration from the land of Israel, into the greater Roman Mediterranean area antedated the destruction of Jerusalem at the hands of the Romans under Titus. Any Jews already in Hispania at this time would have been joined by those who had been enslaved by the Romans under Vespasian and Titus, and dispersed to the extreme west during the period of the Jewish Wars, and especially after the defeat of Judea in 70 C.E. One account placed the number carried off to Hispania at 80,000. Subsequent immigrations came into the area along both the northern African and southern European sides of the Mediterranean.Among the earliest records which may refer specifically to Jews in the Iberian peninsula during the Roman period is Paul's Letter to the Romans. Many have taken Paul's intention to go to Hispania to minister the gospel (15.24, 28) to indicate the presence of Jewish communities there, as has Herod's banishment to Hispania by Caesar in 39 C.E. (Flavius Josephus, Wars of the Jews, 2.9.6). (Although the place of banishment is identified in Josephus's Antiquities of the Jews as Gaul – specifically Lyon (18.7.2) – this discrepancy has been "resolved" by "postulating Lugdunum Convenarium, a town in Gaul on the Hispanic frontier" as the actual site.From a slightly later period, Midrash Rabbah, Leviticus 29.2 makes reference to the return of the Diaspora from Hispania by 165 C.E. Perhaps the most substantial of early references are the several decrees of the Council of Elvira, convened in the early fourth century, which address proper Christian behavior with regard to the Jews of Hispania.As citizens of the Roman Empire, the Jews of Hispania engaged in a variety of occupations, including agriculture. Until the adoption of Christianity, Jews had close relations with non-Jewish populations, and played an active role in the social and economic life of the province. The edicts of the Synod of Elvira, although early (and perhaps precedent-setting) examples of Church-inspired anti-Semitism, provide evidence of Jews who were integrated enough into the greater community to cause alarm among some: of the Council's 80 canonic decisions, all which pertain to Jews served to maintain a separation between the two communities. It seems that by this time the presence of Jews was of greater concern to Catholic authorities than the presence of pagans; Canon 16, which prohibited marriage with Jews, was worded more strongly than canon 15, which prohibited marriage with pagans. Canon 78 threatens those who commit adultery with Jews with ostracism. Canons 48 and 50 forbade the blessing of Christian crops by Jews and the sharing of meals with Jews, respectively.Yet in comparison to Jewish life in Byzantium and Italy, life for the early Jews in Hispania and the rest of western Europe was relatively tolerable. This is due in large measure to the difficulty which the Church had in establishing itself in its western frontier. In the west, Germanic tribes such as the Suevi, the Vandals, and especially the Visigoths had more or less disrupted the political and ecclesiastical systems of the Roman empire, and for a number of centuries the Jews enjoyed a degree of peace which their brethren to the east did not.Barbarian invasions brought most of the Iberian Peninsula under Visigothic rule by the early fifth century. Other than in their contempt for Catholics, who reminded them of the Romans, the Visigoths did not generally take much of an interest in the religious creeds within their kingdom. It wasn't until 506, when Alaric II (484-507) published his Brevarium Alaricianum (wherein he adopted the laws of the ousted Romans), that a Visigothic king concerned himself with the Jews.The tides began to turn following the conversion of the Visigothic royal family under Recared from Arianism to Catholicism in 587. In their desire to consolidate the realm under the new religion, the Visigoths adopted an aggressive policy concerning the Jews. As the king and the church acted in a single interest, the situation for the Jews deteriorated. Under successive Visigothic kings, as well as under ecclesiastical authority, numerous orders of expulsion, forced conversion, isolation, enslavement, execution, and other punitive proclamations were made.The Jews of Hispania had been utterly embittered and alienated by Catholic rule by the time of the Muslim invasion. To them, the Moors were perceived as, and indeed were, a liberating force. Wherever they went, the Muslims were greeted by Jews eager to aid them in administering the country. In many conquered towns the garrison was left in the hands of the Jews before the Muslims proceeded further north. Thus were initiated the two centuries of Muslim rule in the Iberian peninsula which became known as the "Golden Age" of Sephardi Jewry.