The unknown life of Jews in Spain before 1492

CSIC GUINZE
Hebrew scripts from XVth century found on a account book cover

Who were and how did the Jews who were expelled from Spain live? Little we know, much was lost with the expulsion decreed in 1492 by Kings Católicos. By the end of the fifteenth century all the states of the Iberian peninsula had forbidden Judaism. Nevertheless the trace of Sefarad, the Jewish Spain, still is conserved in archives and libraries.

It is not much, in the Middle Ages the paper was scarce and the parchment was expensive. The majority of documents belonging to Jewish families were recycled with another function. “The Jews kept relevant documentation, but their records, personal and community, disappeared because it did not make sense to keep documents that had lost their value, as happened with the royal privileges or, in the case of conversion, the marriage contracts. All this material was either destroyed or recycled, “explains CSIC researcher Javier Castaño, from the Institute of Languages ​​and Cultures of the Mediterranean and the Middle East.

To shed light on the history, life and culture of Hispanic Jews, the CSIC has been charged with seeking, restoring and analyzing hundreds of documents produced prior to the expulsion decrees. The project is called Guinzé Sefarad and focuses on civil documents such as marriage contracts, last wills, letters, tax payrolls, property inventories.

The treasure of the Sephardim who left Spain
Castaño explains that in Germany and Italy many documents have been recovered from medieval Jewish communities. But they are texts of a literary nature, which do not allow us to reconstruct the daily life of Jewish communities. Spanish researchers now try to reconstruct this aspect in a virtual way, with fragments and documents taken from different sources. The ketubbot, the marriage contracts, offer a wealth of information about people’s traits, their family networks and levels of wealth, since, among other details, they give details about the amount of dowries and arras, and contain occasionally a description of movable and immovable property.

Most of the documents available to investigators for the elaboration of a history of the Jews have until now been written by individuals outside the community, primarily Christians. Guinzé Sefarad will allow a vision from within since the documents and fragments recovered have been elaborated by the Jewish community itself.

 

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