The visit last week to Madrid of the American Jewish Committee, which included being received by both King Felipe VI and the Spanish Prime Minister, Pedro Sanchez, highlighted a long relationship between Spain and the Jewish people that stretches back to antiquity.
The Prime Minister said that he honours “with pride” Spain’s Jewish heritage” and stressed that “in recent years, Spain has intensified its work to strengthen these deep ties with the Jewish world”
The Spanish Government has also “adapted and implemented legislation to grant Spanish citizenship to Sephardic Jews, who can regain their rightful place in Spain”
.@AJCGlobal presented King Felipe VI with the Gesher Award today in Madrid.
The Award recognizes HM's role in strengthening relations between Spain & Latin America, highlighting the Spanish law that conferred Spanish nationality to descendants of Sephardic Jews.@AJCLatino https://t.co/VOZDj1fmcj
— Embassy of Spain USA (@SpainInTheUSA) July 6, 2022
The Jewish presence in Spain can be traced to the Roman Empire with the earliest archaeological evidence of a 2nd-century gravestone found in Mérida in the province of Extremedura.
Large numbers of Jews also came in the wake of the Islamic conquest of the Iberian Peninsula in the early 8th century.
The community initially flourished and Jews were prominent in many areas of life including agriculture, science, teaching, and the arts.
However, with growing intolerance following the Almoravid and Almohad invasions, many Jews fled to the Christian Iberian kingdoms to the north including Castille.
Although initially welcomed under the protection of the crown, anti-semitic edicts and mob violence became a feature of medieval life for most Jews.
The most serious being the 1391 pogroms, which saw widespread attacks and massacres of Jews throughout Christian lands and became a turning-point in their history.
Over the following century persecution of the Jews became increasingly severe, leading to the Edict of Toledo in 1480 which ordered Jews to be segregated in ghettos and the 1484 Expulsion from Andalucía.
The fall of the last Moorish caliphate of Granada in 1492 led to the Edict of Alhambra which ordered all remaining Jews in the kingdom to covert to the catholic faith or be expelled.
The majority of those that were expelled left destitute as they were unable to take gold or silver and had to sell their properties for a fraction of their worth.
Many of the Jews – known as Sephardi which was the Hebrew name for Spain – left to neighbouring Portugal before they too were expelled in 1497.
The rest settled where they could in the Mediterranean basin including Italy, North Africa, and the Ottoman Empire.
They brought their culture and language – known as Ladino – a Judaeo-Spanish language, which flourished until the establishment of modern Hebrew following the foundation of the state of Israel in 1948 but which is still spoken.
In 2015 the Spanish Parliament passed a law allowing Sephardi descendants to claim the right of Spanish citizenship.
In 2017 Ladino was recognised by the Royal Spanish Academy.