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Exile from Spain

Lawrence Bush
March 30, 2018

On this date in 1492, Isabella and Ferdinand, the monarchs who had joined their kingdoms of Castile and Aragon through marriage in 1469, issued the Alhambra Decree, ordering Jews of the Spanish peninsula to convert to Catholicism or leave the country by July 31st. Jews had generally thrived there under Muslim rule for six centuries, until the Christian reconquest of Spain in the 14th century. More than 50,000 Jews avoided leaving Spain by converting, but then faced investigation and persecution by the Inquisition, which had been intensely active in Spain since 1480. Estimates of how many Jews left under the expulsion order vary from 130,000 to well over half a million, with many fleeing to Portugal — where they were forcibly converted or expelled in 1496. The Alhambra Decree was a turning point in Jewish history that led to Jewish migrations to the Netherlands, England, North Africa and, ultimately, the Americas.

“Jews increase in continuing their evil and wicked purpose [of converting Christians] wherever they live and congregate, and so . . . there will not be any place where they further offend our holy faith . . .” —The Alhambra Decree

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.