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Sfardic Jewry In Crisis

During the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, the largest and most influential Jewish communities are in Spain (Sfarad). Twenty-five percent of Spain and Portugal combined are Jewish. The population swells from the influx of Ashkenazic Jews who flee the persecutions elsewhere in Europe.

Jews of Islamic Spain are exclusively appointed ambassadors to Christian Europe. They are the only ones that both sides are comfortable dealing with. Thus, Jews are used to represent the enemy of Christian Europe.

As the Christians re-conquer Spain from the Moslems, the Jews who live there loose their rights.

The new rulers press for conversion, with a fanatical zeal. While Ashkenazic Jewry has always been taught that they are hated from birth by their neighbors, Sfardic Jewry has a tradition of tolerance and coexistence. They are not familiar with this new mode of confrontation and are caught off guard. Under great pressure and suffering, many lose their ties with Judaism. Those who defect come from all walks of life. Some are Rabbis who take many with them.

Many converts secretly practice Judaism. Spanish society calls them Maranos, or pigs. When the coast is clear some return openly to Judaism. They are hunted by the Inquisition, which advances the science of torture for the sake of religion. Those who return are not accepted by some of their Jewish brethren, who withstood the ordeal of faith. The Rabbis encourage forgiveness.

Sfardic Jewry is given the ultimatum: Convert or leave. The deadline is 1491. A one-year extension is granted

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