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Part of Jewish history
|History · Timeline · Resources|
The Alhambra Decree (also known as the Edict of Expulsion) was an edict issued on 31 March 1492 by the joint Catholic Monarchs of Spain (Isabella I of Castile and Ferdinand II of Aragon) ordering the expulsion of Jews from the Kingdoms of Castile and Aragon (not from the Kingdom of Navarre) and its territories and possessions by 31 July of that year.
Beginning in the 8th century, Muslims had occupied and settled most of the Iberian Peninsula. Jews, who had lived in these regions since Roman times, were considered "People of the Book" and given special status and often thrived under Muslim rule. The tolerance of the Muslim Moorish rulers of al-Andalus attracted Jewish immigration, and Jewish enclaves in Muslim Iberian cities flourished as places of learning and commerce. Progressively, however, living conditions for Jews in al-Andalus became harsher, especially after the fall of the Muslim Umayyad Caliphate.
The Reconquista, the gradual reconquest of Islamic Iberia by the Catholic kingdoms, was justified by a powerful religious motivation: Iberia was being reclaimed for Christendom following the fall of the Visigothic Kingdom to the Umayyad Caliphate centuries before. By the 14th century, most of the Iberian Peninsula, present day Spain and Portugal, had been regained from the Moors.
Overt hostility against Jews became more pronounced, finding expression in brutal episodes of violence and oppression. Thousands of Jews sought to escape these attacks by converting to Catholicism; they were commonly called conversos, New Christians, or marranos. At first these conversions seemed an effective solution to the cultural conflict: many converso families met with social and commercial success. But eventually their success made these new Catholics unpopular with some of the clergy of the Church and royal hierarchies.
These suspicions on the part of Christians were only heightened by the fact that some of the coerced conversions were undoubtedly insincere. Some, but not all, conversos had understandably chosen to salvage their social and commercial prestige by the only option open to them – baptism and embrace of Christianity – while privately adhering to their Jewish practice and faith. These secret practitioners are commonly referred to as crypto-Jews or marranos.
The existence of crypto-Jews was a provocation for secular and ecclesiastical leaders who were already hostile toward Spain's Jewry. The uncertainty over the sincerity of Jewish converts added fuel to the fire of antisemitism in 15th-century Spain.
From the 13th to the 16th centuries many European countries expelled the Jews from their territory on at least 15 occasions, with Spain being preceded by England, France and German lands, among many others, and succeeded by at least five more expulsions. So Spain does not provide any exception to a tragic history of the life of Jews among Christian nations.
The hostility toward Jews was brought to a climax by "the Catholic Monarchs" – Ferdinand II and Isabella I, whose marriage in 1469 formed a personal union of the crowns of Aragon and Castile, with coordinated policies between their distinct kingdoms.
Ferdinand and Isabella took seriously the reports that some crypto-Jews were not only privately practicing their former faith, but were secretly trying to draw other conversos back into the Jewish fold. In 1478, Ferdinand and Isabella made formal application to Rome for a tribunal of the Inquisition in Castile to investigate these and other suspicions. In 1487, King Ferdinand established the Spanish Inquisition in Aragon. It is not known how many had not truly converted, had lapsed from their new Christianity, or were attempting to persuade others to revert.
The independent Islamic Emirate of Granada had been a tributary state to Castile since 1238. In 1491, in preparation for an imminent transition to Castilian territory, the Treaty of Granada was signed by Emir Muhammad XII and the Queen of Castile, protecting the religious freedoms of the Jews and Muslims there. In 1492, Ferdinand and Isabella completed the Catholic Reconquista of the Iberian Peninsula from Islamic al-Andalus by victory in the Battle of Granada. In acquiring the city of Granada a large Jewish and Muslim population came under her rule. Soon Isabella and Ferdinand chose to replace the Treaty of Granada's Jewish protection terms with the Alhambra Decree's Inquisitional Castilian and Aragonite persecution.
The king and queen issued the Alhambra Decree less than three months after the surrender of Granada. In it, Jews were accused of trying "to subvert their holy Catholic faith and trying to draw faithful Christians away from their beliefs." These measures were not new in Europe.
Some Jews were even only given four months and ordered to convert to Christianity or leave the country. Under the edict, Jews were promised royal "protection and security" for the effective three-month window before the deadline. They were permitted to take their belongings with them – except "gold or silver or minted money".
The punishment for any Jew who did not convert or leave by the deadline was death without trial. The punishment for a non-Jew who sheltered or hid Jews was the confiscation of all belongings and hereditary privileges.
The Spanish Jews who chose to leave Spain dispersed throughout the region of North Africa known as the Maghreb. They also fled to south-eastern Europe where they were granted safety and formed flourishing local Jewish communities, the largest being those of Salonica, Istanbul and Sarajevo. In those regions, they often intermingled with the already existing Mizrachi (Middle Eastern Jewish) communities.
Scholars disagree about how many Jews left Spain as a result of the decree; the numbers vary between 130,000 and 800,000. Many (likely more than half) went to Portugal, where they eluded persecution for only a few years (see Portuguese Inquisition). The Jewish community in Portugal (perhaps then some 10% of that country's population ) were then declared Christians by Royal decree unless they left, but since their departure was severely hindered by the King (who needed their expertise for Portugal's overseas enterprises), the vast majority was forced to stay as nominal Christians. 
Other Spanish Jews (estimates range between 50,000 and 70,000) chose to avoid expulsion by conversion to Christianity. However, their conversion did not protect them from ecclesiastical hostility after the Spanish Inquisition came into full effect; persecution and expulsion were common. Many of these "New Christians" were eventually forced to either leave the countries or intermarry with the local populace by the dual Inquisitions of Portugal and Spain. Many settled in North Africa, Latin America  or elsewhere in Europe, most notably the Netherlands (see Sephardic Jews in the Netherlands).
However, recent[when?] Y chromosome DNA testing conducted by the University of Leicester and the Pompeu Fabra University has indicated that around 20% of Spanish men today have direct patrilineal descent from Sephardic Jews. The result is in contradiction  or not replicated in all the body of genetic studies done in Iberia and conflicts with mainstream historiography (denies Neolithic, Roman, Greek, Phoenician, Germanic, Alani, Slavic, Arab and other contributions to modern Iberians) and has been questioned by the authors themselves  and by Stephen Oppenheimer.
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