THE JEWS of IBERIA
Prepared by Rabbi Wayne Allen, Ph.D.
There are two classics still available:
Yitzhak Baer’s A History of the Jews in Christian Spain is a two-volume comprehensive study that has held up well since its initial publication in 1993 and Shlomo Dov Goitein’s multivolume study of the Jews of the Mediterranean has been condensed into one volume by Jacob Lassner and published under the title A Mediterranean Society (2003). Goitein has been recognized as the pioneer authority about Jews in Muslim and Arab lands.
No list would be complete without mention of the dean of Islamic studies, Bernard Lewis. His 1996 book Cultures in Conflict is a masterful study of the complex relationship between Judaism, Christianity, and Islam on the Iberian Peninsula. A different, based on the concept of mutual toleration, is discussed in the 2007 book edited by Mann, Glick, and Dodds called Convivencia.
Continuing in the tradition of Baer and Goitein, Eliyahu Ashtor takes another look at The Jews of Moslem Spain in light of more recent scholarship in the field.
Respected historian Howard Morley Sachar also contributes to scholarship in the field with his 1995 book entitled Farewell Espana.
Two wistful, nostalgic accounts of the history of the Jews in Spain and Portugal were more recently published: Elmer Bendiner’s 1990 The Rise and Fall of Paradise and Maria Rosa Menocal’s 2003 Ornament of the World.
Hyam Maccoby has written fine English language study of the history of disputations, that is, staged debates between representatives of the Church and the Jewish community that rarely ended well for the Jews of Spain. It is published under the title Judaism on Trial (1993).
Celebrated novelist James Michener wrote one non-fiction book: Iberia. Published more than forty years ago, it appeared in paperback in 1984 and still remains in print. It is part travelogue, part history, and part diary but wholly a great read.
Just published in 2011 is Jews and Judaism in Gibraltar by Hephaestus Books.
Two post-1492 books are noteworthy: Cecil Roth’s 1946 History of the Marranos and Rabbi Marc Angel’s 1993 Voices in Exile: A Study in Sephardic Intellectual History.
For those who prefer a snapshot of history rather than a sweeping panorama, biography is the route to go. Fortunately, there are a number of excellent ones.
Two perspectives on one of the outstanding personalities of the era of the inquisition and exile, Don Isaac Abarbanel (or Abravanel) are offered by Benzion Netanyahu (father of Israel’s current prime minister) in his 1953 Don Isaac Abravanel and Professor Eric Lawee (York University) in his 2001 Isaac Abarabanel’s Stance Towards Tradition. The latter is a much harder read since it examines his Torah commentary in detail.
Two perspectives on a Jewish woman of influence who used her power to support and protect the exiles of Spain and Portugal are provided by Marianna Birnbaum in her 2003 book entitled The Long Journey of Gracia Mendes and by Cecil Roth in his classic Dona Gracia of the House of Nasi, originally published in 1962. Naomi Ragen fictionalized her story in The Ghost of Hannah Mendes.
The towering Jewish personality of the thirteenth century – and perhaps of all time – is Rabbi Moses ben Maimon. Abraham Jodhua Heschel’s posthumously published biography Maimonides is relatively short and accessible but also includes the opinion of a great modern Jewish philosopher on the pre-eminent Jewish philosopher.
A lesser known but influential Spanish Jew was Solomon ibn Gabirol. Raphael Loewe tells his story in his 1989 work Ibn Gabirol.
For an excellent and handy reference, click on to: