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July 15: Abolishing the Inquisition

Lawrence Bush
July 14, 2016

ep003985_1The Spanish Inquisition was officially disbanded on this date in 1834 by a Royal Decree signed by the mother of the child-queen Isabella II. The Inquisition was originally established in Rome by Pope Innocent III (1198-1216); it condemned the Talmud in 1242, and burned thousands of volumes, then inaugurated the first mass burning of Jews at the stake in France in 1288. The Spanish Inquisition, however, became the most enduring and infamous tribunal. It was established in the Spanish empire in 1481 by Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castile, with the approval of Pope Sixtus IV, to pursue conversos (forced converts, both Jewish and Muslim) who were alleged to show signs of religious lapsing, as well as other heretics and political dissenters. The first grand inquisitor was Tomás de Torquemada, whose name became synonymous with fanaticism, torture and terror. Prior to the expulsion of Jews from Spain in 1492, the Inquisition had put on trial some 13,000 conversos and burned many hundreds. All told, more than 150,000 human beings are thought to have been arrested and brutalized by the Inquisition; scholarly estimates of those who were burned at the stake in public auto-da-fés (Acts of Faith) range from 3,000 to 32,000.

"In 1484 [Torquemada] promulgated 28 articles for the guidance of inquisitors, whose competence was extended to include not only crimes of heresy and apostasy but also sorcery, sodomy, polygamy, blasphemy, usury, and other offenses; torture was authorized in order to obtain evidence."—Encyclopedia Britannica

​​​​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.