revistas electrónicas de la Universidad de Granada

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Merchants and Jews in the Nasrid Kingdom of Granada.
A Look at the Business World at the
End of the Middle Ages

Adela Fábregas García


Any research on the links between the Nasrid Kingdom and international mercantile groups should take into consideration the Jewish community in the kingdom, an important issue that, surprisingly, has reveived little attention so far. Apart from the evidence provided by the Cairo Genizah documents, which inform us about the links between Jewish communities in the Southeast of the Iberian Peninsula (chiefly Almería) and international trade networks since the 12th century, the activity of these merchants in the Late Middle Ages has been largely ignored.

It is not for lack of evidence, however, that this issue remains largely unattended. Even a quick glance at the Nasrid archives reveals a dynamic and probably well-organised community. The aim of this paper is to underline the important role played by these communities in the mercantile structure of the west. To this end, I explore the example set by the Nasrid Kingdom, last Muslim enclave in the Iberian Peninsula, where the prominent Jewish community actively participated in the Late Medieval western mercantile networks.

Recent research has confirmed that foreign merchants in the Nasrid Kingdom were not only numerous, but also very active. These communities were officially endorsed and protected by the Nasrid state, and were to become a central economic asset for this small kingdom. The relationship between Nasrid Jews and foreign merchants, mostly Genoese, has long been recognised, but only in its general outline. Ongoing research on the recently found ledgers kept by Genoese merchants, however, is providing much more detailed information about the commercial techniques employed by Jews in their contacts with these foreign trading houses. One of these ledgers, written by Agostino Spinola in 1442, shows that he did business with up to eleven Jewish traders in the coast of Granada, especially in the city of Almuñécar.

These individuals are named, and the transactions carried out with Spinola are described. In most cases, they are but small transactions, but some important businessmen, such as Jacob Pirisi and Maimon Coin, appear buying northern European textiles brought in by the Genoese in greater quantities than the rest.

Coin was also a partner of the only permanent Jewish commercial partnership, established in 1434, if not earlier, by three members of the local Jewish community: Maimon Coin, Izac Safí and Aym Aben Xiec. This society also features in the ledgers kept by another major Genoese merchant, Francesco Spinola q. Pietri, who specialised in trading with Nasrid sugar and silk. Their transactions were stable and smooth, and their financial and legal standing was amply recognised; the trading house regularly handled large volumes of goods between Malaga and Almuñécar.

The above analysis allows us to draw some conclusions. First, we can confirm the links between the Jewish Nasrid communities and international trade groups. These links ranged from small transactions to long-standing partnerships that played a major role in the economic structure of the kingdom. On the other hand, their role as brokers with the main European networks is also apparent, either acting as middlemen or providing financial support. Their main role, however, was that of suppliers of such goods as sugar and silk, where the main interests of the Genoese merchants lay.

The Management of Historic Cemeteries in Modern Urban Planning: The Case of the Jewish Necropolis of Toledo

Arturo Ruiz Taboada


1. For just over ten years, we have been immersed in the controversy that accom-panies any exhumation of individuals belonging to Jewish communities in Europe. The debate about the suitability or otherwise of the excavation of human remains affected by the natural expansion of cities was generated years ago in Israel. On this issue some European administrations have tried, without much success, to establish a uniform procedure for the exhumation of human remains of any type.

Beyond any debate, it should not be forgotten that the purpose of any archaeological intervention is to learn about past societies through the study of their funeral records, without distinction of creed or religion. Therefore, we must not allow external interfe-rence to prevent the normal development of archaeological research.

The layout of the contemporary city makes it necessary to design an urban growth plan that contemplates the conservation and reintegration of its funerary spaces. In the management of a historical cemetery it does not help that these cemeteries are invisible beyond the gravestones of their surface. The general public is not interested in what they do not see, and they see even less when most of these gravestones have disappeared. Thus, it is essential to accompany any archaeological excavation with adequate dissemination of information and to actively involve the concerned community.

This article deals with the excavation and management of historical cemeteries in the context of the Iberian Peninsula, taking the case of Toledo as a reference.

2. Every cemetery has some characteristic that sets it apart from the rest. The choice of a permanent burial site is never accidental and always responds to a real need of the people and the moment. Throughout the Middle Ages we see different conceptions of the cemetery according to the religious community to which it belongs.

The Muslim world sees these spaces as meeting places, where the tombs are part of a landscape that connects directly with the world of the living. Thus, they are located on the outskirts of the city, although at a short distance from it, next to its gates and walls, flanking the access roads as if each of the cemeteries were another neighbourhood of the city.

The Christian world inherits from the Roman tradition, the burial outside the city limits, with preference for places not far from the walls in the shelter of public buildings or with some religious significance. As the medieval centuries passed, funeral practices moved to the interior of the cities, and the custom of burial inside churches or in parish cemeteries became widespread. From this moment on, burial outside the cities began to be relegated only to other religious communities, to converts or people with few economic resources.

Contrary to the Christian trend, Jewish communities often choose places further away from the city, in an attempt to find a place safe from the inevitable expansion of existing cemeteries and the urban centres themselves, in order to ensure the eternal rest of their dead.

To sum up, the location, the funeral architecture and the burial ritual are fundamental to the identification of the cemeteries at the field.

3. The boundaries of extramural cemeteries are usually natural, as they are delimited by a series of geographical elements such as streams, slopes and roads that serve as a reference. In some cases, these cemeteries are closed by purpose-built enclosures. In other cases, existing structures such as the city walls themselves are reused, or even pre-existing buildings such as Roman amphitheatres and circuses.

Over time, all these cemeteries tend to overlap, due to their natural expansion, with the consequent destruction of the oldest tombs. This generates true “cities of the dead”, a term that will become widespread from the 19th century onwards and will influence the interpretations made of the burial sites of different cultures, wrongly including them all in the same space. Furthermore, the growth of cities will cause the use of these spaces for new housing and services, which will cause them to fall into oblivion.

4. The problem of historical cemeteries in the context of contemporary urban management focuses on the importance given to them in the expansion plans of cities.

The 1960s marked the beginning of Spain’s economic development, which was the main cause of the expansion of most of the country’s urban centres. Most of the special plans that still guide the expansion of cities were created during this period. The second great transformation of this space comes from the real estate bubble of the 2000s, which caused the destruction of many of the burial spaces that had survived the previous

The cases of Ávila and Toledo are symptomatic and share many similarities in terms of the distribution of the old cemeteries outside the walls, and in terms of their management.

In Ávila we have two contrasting examples of the management and respectful treatment of human remains: the Mudejar necropolis of San Nicolás, of Muslim origin, and the Jewish cemetery in the area of La Encarnación. Although in both cases the urban plans proposed the archaeological excavation of the cemeteries and the exhumation of the bodies, the first case, of the Muslim rite, generated a controversy due to its invisibility, as it had not been designated by the authorities as a site of Cultural Interest (the highest level of protection according to Spanish legislation), while the second managed to attract the interest of the authorities and led to the creation of a small memorial that commemorates the site and highlights the importance of the Jewish presence in the city. The different management of the two cases has its roots in the different religious character of the burials. In the Jewish case, the pressure exerted on the authorities by the representatives of the Spanish Jewish communities gave it a prominence that other types of cemeteries usually lack.

The case of Toledo is similar to that of Avila. While the massive excavation of tombs in the city goes systematically unnoticed and any attempt to denounce it falls on deaf ears, such as the case of the construction of the Quixote Crea auditorium, the same does not occur when the tombs affected are Jewish.

5. The management of historic cemeteries is a complex issue and requires the involvement not only of archaeologists and historians, but also of public organisms that have relevant responsibility both for the conservation of historic sites and for urban planning. The visibility of these sites should be promoted by public authorities equally for all of them and should not depend on the pressure exerted by a particular community or pressure groups.

There is a contradiction in the sense that society adopts different attitudes in relation to the treatment of human remains depending on the cultures or religions from which they come. As we have seen, the case of the Jews can be considered special, since the Jewish tradition holds that their cemeteries are inviolable and that any attempt to manipulate or publicly display human remains is intolerable, on the understanding that there is no break between the present and the past.

The solution is to make people aware of the importance of this type of archaeological deposits. It is common to hear statements that minimize the historical importance of these remains under the premise that “they are only bones”. The fact that they are not visible does not mean that they are not interesting. A balance must be found between excavation and respect for religious beliefs. An example of the possibility of this balance can be found in the monuments erected to mark the Jewish cemeteries distributed throughout our territory. The appropriate dissemination of the results of studies and the creation of small on-site museums that commemorate the role of different cultures in the configuration of present-day society must be the rule rather than the exception in the treatment of historic cemeteries.

Finally, this management must be complemented by raising the awareness of public administrations so that they include the conservation of this type of space in urban plans. In addition, we must advocate the implementation of a single protocol that requires, among other things, the use of a common methodology to understand these places of burial in their context.

The Vocabularies of La escalera (Constantinople, 1888)

Aitor García Moreno


In the last decade, Sephardic lexicography has given rise to a special interest among researchers dedicated to Judeo-Spanish. Proof of this is that articles (Mancheva, 2014) and collective volumes (Busse & Studemund Halévy, 2011) of a general nature on the subject have been published, as well as studies (Mancheva, 2008, García Moreno, 2017a, and Álvarez López, 2017) and critical editions of dictionaries published by and for Sephardim. Likewise, other glossaries and vocabularies of lesser importance have been exhumed, such as the various jocular dictionaries published in the Judeo-Spanish humorous press of the early twentieth century (García Moreno, 2012; 2013a: 55-57, and 2017b) and the glossaries included in other Sephardic works, mainly of a pedagogical nature (García Moreno, 2013b, and Díaz-Mas & Madrid Álvarez-Piñer, 2014: 134-137).

The aim of this article is to present and describe the form and content of the vocabularies included in Rev. Alexander Thomson’s work, La escalera o Lecciones progresiṿas en la ciencia y literatura (“The Ladder or Progressive Lessons on Science and Literature”) (Constantinople, 1888), written in Judeo-Spanish. This work saw its first edition in Constantinople in 1853, under the title of La escalera a la anṿeźadura, con 71 grabados en leño (“The Ladder to Knowledge, with 71 woodcuts...”), and although the authorship of Thomson would not be made explicit until the second (enlarged) edition of Constantinople 1888, quoted above, a letter by Thomson himself dated in 1853 already gave good proof of this.

The work of the Rev. Alexander Thomson contains the most extensive example of monolingual lexicography in Judeo-Spanish known until that time, consisting of a long series of mini-glossaries throughout the text (122 in total), written both in Hebrew-aljamiado script and in Latin letters. In total, except for error or omission, we have counted 1272 lemma, of which, 985 are in Hebrew-aljamiado script and 287 in Latin letters. Beyond its extension, however, it stands out for being an unbeatable source of lexical forms of the specialty language in Judeo-Spanish.

These vocabularies are characterized by a) the etymological information that they often include, b) their encyclopaedism, and c) the recourse to the opposition definition that they exhibit. They seem to be inspired by previous pedagogical works such as Una mirada a los cielos (Constantinople, 1850), which already presents those same features in the glossaries it contains.

Considering, therefore, the relative lack of originality of the vocabularies of La escalera, it is only necessary to consider the question —which is still open— of whether the lexicographical merit could be in both cases the work of Alexander Thomson himself.

Sephardim in the Spanish Press: News in the Daily Newspaper Ahora (1930-1939)

Paris González-Albo Manglano


In this article we seek to analyse the treatment towards the Sephardic world in the newspaper Ahora, which was published daily in Madrid from December 16, 1930 to February 1939. The main objective is to understand the image intended to be transmitted to Spanish society about the Sephardim diasporic community through one of the most important mass media of the decade.

The newspaper Ahora was defined by the relevance that it usually gave to the graphic elements, with a big amount of images in its different sections. It hired a significant number of correspondents, with one in each Spanish province and others located in some of the main international cities, such as New York, Paris or London. The paper was based on a centrist ideology, completely opposed to any extremist tendency.

In its almost ten years of history, the newspaper dealt with the Sephardim in a total of 29 pieces, including news, reports, articles and some other mention in humour sections. All of them were published during peaceful years, and no allusions are found to this community between 1936 and 1939 —the period of the Spanish Civil War.

Among the news, some were related to the political activity of the country, and highlighted the approach of some of the government members, e.g. Fernando de los Ríos, to the Sephardim. There were also news focusing on their possible return to Spain, or the proposed bill aimed at the handing over of Córdoba’s synagogue to the community itself.

Furthermore, the newspaper informed about the 800th anniversary of the birth of Maimónides, celebrated in March 1935, reporting on the numerous activities that were organised to commemorate this event both in Spain and abroad. Ahora highlighted the connection between Maimónides and Spain, also pointing out the need to repatriate the remains of the philosopher from Tiberias —where his tomb was and still is today— to Córdoba, his home town.

Nonetheless, these were not the only pieces concerned with Sephardim. They were also mentioned in some news related to lectures in which they were the main topic or the main audience belonged to the community. Besides, they were the focus in a report of the Yom Kippur celebration in France, or in another piece that summarised the petition from a group of Sephardic students in the Spanish Protectorate of Morocco that claimed the Literature Nobel Prize for Miguel de Unamuno.

The reports were the essential piece of information regarding the Sephardim, and most of them were located abroad, with two exceptions: a general one about Judaism, written by Pío Baroja, and another one about the synagogue in Córdoba. The rest of the reports stressed the idea of this group being in the diaspora, with texts describing their lives in Northern Africa, the Balkans, the Holy Land or England.

In particular, it was the correspondent in London, Luis de Baeza, who was more concerned about the topic, with a total of four reports. One of them, illustrated with photographs, showed the life of the Sephardim of London, and it stressed the relation between this group and Spain, a place that they missed. Some similar ideas are also found in the reports from the Balkan area or Palestine, which also attempted to establish a common portrait of these individuals and the peninsula. The most highlighted features were both physical and psychological, the variety of differences with other Jewish groups (with special attention to Ashkenazim) or the concept of a rejection of Zionism by the Sephardim, who would have their Promised Land in Spain and not in Eretz Israel.

All in all, the newspaper Ahora projected the idea of the Sephardim being more similar to a Spanish individual, thus detaching them from Judaism.

Edition and Study of the last Sephardic Version known of the Ma‘asé Yehudit. Izmir (1904, 1905 and 1913)

Pilar Romeu Ferré

Editorial Tirocinio

The present contribution aims to introduce the critical edition of the fifth and last Sephardic known version of the Ma‘asé Yehudit (‘Judith story’). It was published for the first time in Izmir, in the periodical El Meseret in 1904. It appears to have been translated to Judeo-Spanish (and printed in Rashi Script) from a Hebrew text, not yet identified, that follows the textual tradition from the Vulgata. It constitutes the only Sephardic version following this textual tradition. Two more editions follow this tradition and are based on the text of El Meseret: the booklets Yehudit o la bula ĵuíca. Relevado del Meseret del 5665 (‘Judith or the Jewish Lady. From the Meseret of 5665’) [Izmir, 1905] and El cuento del nes de Ḥanuká ĵuntos la historia de la bula ĵuíca (‘The story of the Miracle of Hanukah together with the story of the Jewish Lady’) [Izmir: Efrayim Melamed 5673 (1913)].

The other four versions follow other traditions, mostly based on the anonymous mystic work in four parts about laws and customs of Judaism Hemdat yamim (‘The Best of the Days’) [Izmir: Yonah Ashkenazi and David Hazan, 1731-1732]. Also, ʿOse fele (‘The Miracle Worker’) from Yosef Shabbetay Farhi (ca. 1802-1882), in three parts (Livorno 1845), has played an important role, as well as some midrashim and even the Greek versions.

The first one (Version 1) appeared in the booklet Luah arez (Ct 8,9 ‘Cedar board’), published by Nisim ben Yonah Ashkenazi in Constantinople in 1758.

The second one (Version 2) is by Yitzhak Magriso in the commentary to the biblical book of Numbers: Meʿam loʿez Bamidbar [Constantinople: Reuben and Nissim Ashkenazi, 1764], which is followed by another five editions: Meʿam loʿez Bamidbar [Salonica: [w.i.], 1815], Meʿam loʿez Bamidbar [Livorno: Defus Nahman Saʿdon, 1823], Meʿam loʿez Bamidbar [Salonica: Saʿadi Halevi, 1866], Meʿam loʿez Bamidbar [Izmir: Ben Tziyon Binyamin Roditi, 1867] and the booklet Nes Hanukah (‘Miracle of Hanukah’) ([Izmir: [w.i.], 1880]. This second block of editions points at Hemdat yamim as a source and include at the end “Dinim de Ḥanuká” (‘Rules of Hanukah’).

The third version (Version 3) started with the Sefer Shaʿare Kodesh (‘Book Gates of Holiness’) [Salonica: Mordechai Nahman and David Yisraelica, 1800], and is followed by another five editions: Nes grande y temerośo de la hermośa Yehudit y Meguilat Antiojos (‘Great and Fearful Miracle from the Beautiful Yehudit and the Scroll of Antiochus’) [Constantinople: Yitzhak de Castro, 1824]; Tefilat Hahodesh (‘Prayers of the Month’) [Salonica: Daniel Faraggi, 1848]; Sefer hayashar (‘Book of the Right’) [Salonica: Hebrat Etz hahayim, 1879]; Nes vafele (‘Miracle and Prodigy’) [Salonica: Etz Hayim 1880]; and Este libro es el muevo ʿabodat hašaná nombrado Quehilat Yaʿacob (‘This is the New Ritual for the Year Called Congregation of Jacob’) [Belgrade: Shemuel Horovitz, 1904].

The fourth group (Version 4) is composed by two editions from Izmir: Nes Hanukah (‘Miracle of Hanukah’) [Izmir: Yitzhak Shemuel de Segura, 1870], and Sefer Nes Hanukah (‘Book Miracle of Hanukah’) [Izmir: Abraham Pontremoli and Yaʿacob Poli, 1876]. This version is different in many ways from the previous ones. Despite being the shortest, it is the one that contains the biggest number of quotations and terminology in Hebrew, which in the previous versions were translated into Ladino or Judeo-Spanish. It opens with a long preamble, which the rest of versions lack, and adds at the end an abbreviated version from the “Dinim de Ḥanuká” according to the Shulhan ʿarukh (‘Table Set’), from the Rabbi Yosef Caro (16th century).

The fifth group (Version 5) is composed by the three editions that are critically edited now. Even though they are printed in Izmir too, they have no relation to the previous two.

Only the first of these five Sephardic versions (originally printed in Rashi Script), Luah arez, has recently been published in a critical edition by Pilar Romeu Ferré [Estudio y edición de una versión sefardí aljamiada del Maʿasé Yehudit, Sefarad 78,1 (2018), p. 149-200]. We offer now the critical edition of the fifth and last version.

The ultimate aim of our work is to publish all the versions with a comparative study that can shed definitive light on the Sephardic versions of this apocryphal book that constitutes an important milestone for Judaism and for the feast of Hanukkah together with the Scroll of Antiochus and the Maccabees books.


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