ט״ו במרחשון ה׳תש״פ (November 13, 2019) In the Footsteps of the Spanish Inquisition
From the diary of Rabbi Howard Morrison
October 28, 2019
Today our tour of Barcelona for our Beth Emeth Bais Yehuda Synagogue Jewish Heritage Tour began…
Twenty eight of us visited famous areas of general and Jewish interest. In terms of Jewish awareness, we visited a small square which had Hebrew names engraved on some of the stones in the wall. Presumably, this was once a Jewish cemetery in the Middle Ages. We paused and recited Kaddish there. Around the corner, we stood where the Ramban, Nachmanides, was forced into a disputation with Christian theologians in the year 1263. These were part of an anti-Jewish agenda at the time. We stood in many areas which go back to the time of the Inqisition. Perhaps the most uplifting part of the afternoon was entering a small synagogue, one of five in the immediate area, from the medieval period. Today it is a museum and is used occasionally for services and lifecycle occasions. We were given an explanation and enabled those who wished to daven Mincha there.
It was in the synagogue when we learned that members of our shul, Bernie Schwartz and Riva Schwartz, became grandparents today to a granddaughter. In the evening, we had dinner and visited with members of the Atid congregation, a liberal/progressive synagogue from the point of view of the Barcelona Jewish community. It was a busy and meaningful first day coming right off the plane.
We will all sleep well tonight.
October 29, 2019
The Jewish highlight of our second day was the morning spent in Besalu. This was a major Jewish community in the 12th-14th centuries. There, on an actual synagogue floor, now outdoors facing nature, we davened the Rosh Chodesh morning service as a group. For 45 minutes of prayer, we brought a 13th century synagogue back to life. Our guide, Betsalel, revived a custom of sounding the shofar on this last day of Tishrei, one last time, linking the end of the month to how it began on Rosh Hashanah.
We visited a medieval mikvah adjacent to the synagogue. Annually, a Jewish cultural fair takes place in Besalu to keep the history of this Jewish community alive. One of the souvenir stores is called “the Mezuzah shop” and contains a few Jewish trinkets at the entrance.
During the afternoon, we saw highlights of Barcelona, including the famous Sagrada Familia. In the evening, we had dinner and met members of the local JCC.
Tomorrow, we fly early to Granada.
It was another great day.
October 30, 2019
Our third day took us via the airport from Barcelona to Granada. For centuries, there was vibrant Jewish life here. Some date the origins of Jews in Granada to the second Temple period. Others date Jewish origins here to the first Temple period, though there is no supporting evidence.
For centuries under Moslem rule, medieval Jewry was relatively comfortable in Granada. When Christian rule took over in early 1492, the situation changed dramatically for Jews and conversos.
Today, we visited La Alhambra, the spatial palace of Ferdinand and Isabella. We stood in the room where the edict to expel the Jews took place on Tisha B’Av, August 2, 1492. We learned how the wealthy rabbi Don Issac Abrabanel offered huge sums of money to refute the edict, but his efforts were not successful. Today, there are almost no Jews in Granada.
The day following the expulsion edict, August 3, 1492, Columbus set sail for America. Sephardic Jewry in Spain had been the largest concentration of Jews in one sector of the globe. Soon enough, American Jewry would be the single largest Jewish concentration in the world.
Tonight, we are off to see flamenco dancers. A fun end to an overwhelming and fulfilling day.