By Jonathan S. Ray
Honorary point out for the 2014 Medieval and Early smooth Jewish heritage part publication award awarded by means of the organization for Jewish Studies
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Extra resources for After Expulsion: 1492 and the Making of Sephardic Jewry
As a politically neutral and easily controlled minority, Jews were given opportunities to act as diplomats and translators for Christian lords. They also benefited from Christian military and economic successes. Jewish merchants traded in captured Muslim slaves, and they followed Catalan maritime expansion into the Mediterranean. As the Christian dominions expanded, Jews became increasingly involved in loaning money to settlers and great barons alike. Though most Jews continued to eke out a meager living as artisans and petty traders, wealthy and influential Jewish families could be found in nearly every major town from Lisbon to Barcelona.
Indeed, although the lordship of Iberian monarchs was relatively benevolent, especially by medieval European standards, it could also be capricious, and thus required nearly constant attention from Jewish courtiers and communal officials. In addition to more formal negotiations of communal rights, the practice of securing royal protection as well as personal exemptions and favors through bribery was always part of the relationship between the Jews and their Christian sovereigns. The point here is not to gauge the “true” attitudes and behavior of Christian society with regard to the Jews, nor to argue that Jews weathered difficult periods with equanimity.
The rise of Converso society in the fifteenth century further eroded Jewish participation in civil service and trade. Still, this was not the biggest hurdle that the New Christians posed to their Jewish neighbors. It was the suspected role of Iberian Jews in “Judaizing” the converts and their descendants that sealed the fate of medieval Europe’s last great Jewish community. During the fifteenth century, the crowns of Castile and Aragon vigorously yet ineffectively attempted to achieve the same goals of separation that had failed for nearly two centuries.