The Jews of Spain: From Tragedy and Adversity to
Triumph and Greatness
48 Hours ago, on Thursday 3/31, historically conscious Jews commemorated the 524th anniversary of the royal edict/decree issued by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, which announced the expulsion of all Spanish Jews who refused to convert to Christianity.
The expulsion from Spain constitutes one of the worst and momentous calamities in some four millennia of Jewish history, second only, perhaps, in the last two millennia, to the destruction of the Second Temple (in the year 70 of the common era), and of course – to the Holocaust (1933-1945).
The expulsion from Spain was a devastating blow to the entire Jewish people. For centuries, Spain was the epicenter of Jewish spiritual, financial, cultural and scientific life. In historical terms, losing Spain was paramount and comparable, G-d forbid, to losing the North American Jewish community of today.
But with time, Spanish Jewry regrouped, and continued, as a distinguished global community, to achieve incalculable contributions to Judaism, and to the enhancement of human welfare as a whole.
A very partial list of Sephardic contributors and contributions to the world and to humanity, would include Baruch Spinoza – a foundational modern philosopher, the Sephardic Kabbalists of Tzefat – arguably the greatest and most profound spiritual and mystical innovators in Jewish history, Theodor Herzl – the political founder of political Zionism, and thereby also by implication the establishment of the modern State of Israel, and also – Haim Solomon – a wealthy Sephardic philanthropist and financier, who gave a fortunate to George Washington at a much critical historical hour, thereby enabling the United States to withstand the British offensive, survive, win its war of independence, and exist!
Now take a brief look at the Spain of today. Sadly, Spain has been struggling for decades with chronic and manifold economic hardships, including a staggering percentage of unemployment – some 20% of the population.
Compare that to the robust Israeli economy. With the vast majority of Israel’s resources being allocated to ensure its very political survival, Israel supersedes Spain in every pivotal and conceivable parameter – economically, technologically, academically, financially and medically.
Today, Spain wants its Jews back, and will readily grant citizenship to every Jew who can demonstrate and prove Spanish genealogical ancestry.
We did not merely survive the great calamity of 1492 and the expulsion from Spain. We thrived thereafter, and we continue to thrive and prosper on all levels, to this very day. Baruch Hashem.
We at the Sephardic Temple are entrusted with the scared privilege and the spiritual obligation, to maintain, preserve, and enhance these unique and profound historical, cultural and spiritual treasures of Spanish Jewry. This is our task, and this is our mission and raison d’etre.
For perpetuity and for posterity, and for generations to come, Amen.
Shabbat Shalom, warmly yours, in truth,
Rabbi Tal Sessler