The Jewish Enclaves



THE survival of the Jews through nineteen centuries of hardship and revenge is a somber strain in the history of ignorance, hatred, courage, and resilience. Deprived of their national home, forced to find shelter in ethnic pockets among unrelenting foes, subject at every turn to contumely and oppression, to sudden confiscation, expulsion, or massacre, holding no weapon of defense but patience, subtlety, desperate resolution, and religious faith, they lived through such adversities as no other people in history has borne; their will was never broken; and out of their poverty and grief they raised up poets and philosophers recalling the Hebrew legislators and prophets who had prepared the spiritual foundations of the Western world.

In Spain the extinction of the Jews was now apparently complete; they remained only as a hidden current in the Spanish blood. By 1595 a Spanish bishop could express satisfaction that converted Jews had been successfully assimilated by intermarriage, and that their descendants were now good Christians. 2 The Inquisition did not agree with him. In 1654 ten men were burned in Cuenca and twelve in Granada, in 1660 eighty-one were arrested in Seville, and seven burned, on the charge of secretly adhering to Jewish rites. 3

In Portugal, especially, many seeming converts (conversos, Marranos) continued to practice and transmit Judaism in the privacy of their homes; over a hundred of them, as relapsos, fell victims to the Inquisition between 1565 and 1595. 4 Despite all dangers of detection, crypto-Jews found precarious place in Portuguese life as writers, professors, merchants, financiers, even as monks and priests. The most prominent physicians were secret Jews; and at Lisbon the Mendes family developed one of the greatest banking firms in Europe.

After the absorption of Portugal into Spain (1580), the activity of the Portuguese Inquisition increased; in the next twenty years there were fifty autos-da-fé, with 162 condemnations to death, and 2,979 penitents. A Franciscan friar, Diogo da Assumçao, aged twenty-five, was burned at Lisbon (1603) after revealing his conversion to Judaism. 5 Many Marranos, finding the Portuguese Inquisition more ferocious than the Spanish, migrated to Spain. In 1604, by a bribe of 1,860,000 ducats paid to Philip III, and lesser bribes to his ministers, they persuaded the King to obtain from Pope Clement VIII a bull directing the Portuguese inquisitors to release all their Marrano prisoners with merely spiritual penances. In one day (January 16, 1605) 410 such victims were freed. But the efficacy of such bribes diminished with time, and soon after the death of Philip III (1621) the Portuguese Terror was renewed. In 1623 a hundred “New Christians” were arrested in the little town of Montemor o Novo. At Coimbra, the cultural center of the kingdom, there were 247 such arrests in 1626, 218 in 1629, 247 in 1631. In twenty years (1620–40) 230 Portuguese Jews were burned in person, 161 in effigy, having escaped; and 4,995 were “reconciled” with lesser penalties. 6 Risking life and abandoning property, thousands of Marranos fled from Portugal, as formerly from Spain, to all quarters of the world.

The great majority of the Sephardic exiles sought refuge in Islam, and formed or joined Jewish settlements in North Africa, Salonika, Cairo, Constantinople, Adrianople, Smyrna, Aleppo, and Iran. In these centers the Jews were subject to political and economic disabilities, but rarely to physical persecution. Jews rose to prominence not only as physicians but in affairs of state. Joseph Nassi, a Marrano, was a favorite of Selim II, and as Duke of Naxos (1566) he received the revenues of ten islands in the Aegean. 7 A German Jew, Solomon ben Nathan Ashkenazi, was Turkey’s ambassador to Vienna in 1571, and negotiated there the peace that for a time ended war with the Porte.

In Italy the fortunes of the Jews fluctuated with the needs and moods of dukes and popes. In Milan and Naples, ruled by Spain, life was almost impossible for them; in 1669 an explicit decree expelled them from all Spanish possessions. In Pisa and Livorno (Leghorn) the Tuscan grand dukes gave them nearly complete liberty, being anxious to develop the commerce of these free ports. A charter granted in 1593 to merchants in these cities was in effect an invitation to Marranos: “We desire that . . . no Inquisition, Visitation, Denunciation, or Accusal shall be made against you or your families, even though, during the past, they may have lived outside our dominions in the guise of Christians, or with the name of being such.” 8 The plan succeeded; Livorno flourished; and the Jewish community there, exceeded in number only by those in Rome and Venice, became famous for its culture as well as its wealth.

The Venetian Senate, fearing the relationships of the Jews with Turkey, repeatedly expelled them, and repeatedly allowed them to return as a valuable element not only in commerce and finance but in industry; Jewish enterprises in Venice employed four thousand Christian workingmen. 9 German and Oriental, as well as Sephardic, Jews settled there, and the Senate protected them from the Inquisition. They lived nearly all in the Giudecca, or Jewish quarter, but were not confined to it; this “ghetto” included many rich families, fine homes, and a luxuriously furnished synagogue built in 1584, and rebuilt in 1655 under the supervision of the famous architect Baldassare Longhena. The six thousand Jews of Venice had the highest cultural level of any Jewish community in this age.

At Ferrara a colony of Marranos from Portugal settled about 1560, but it was dispersed in 1581 by order of the Pope, who acted under pressure by the Portuguese Inquisition. In Mantua the Gonzaga dukes protected the Jews, but periodically mulcted them with contributions and “loans”; and in 1610 all Mantuan Jews were compelled to reside in a walled ghetto whose gates were locked at sunset and opened at dawn. 10 When plague came to Mantua the Jews were accused of having brought it in; and when, in the War of the Mantuan Succession, the troops of the Emperor took the city, they sacked the ghetto thoroughly, appropriated 800,000 scudi in jewels and money, and ordered the Jews to leave Mantua within three days with only such property as they could carry. 11

In Rome, where previously the papacy had usually protected the Jews, the popes after 1565, with the exception of Sixtus V, issued a long succession of hostile decrees. Pius V (1566) commanded all Catholic powers to enforce to the full the canonical restrictions and disabilities of the Jews. They were hereafter to be confined to ghettos physically closed off from the Christian population; they were to wear a distinctive badge or garb; they were to be excluded from the ownership of land; and they were not to have more than one synagogue in any city. In 1569, in a bull accusing them of usury, procuring, witchcraft, and magic arts, Pius V directed that all Jews be expelled from the Papal States, except from the cities of Ancona and Rome. 12 Gregory XIII (1581) forbade the Christian employment of Jewish physicians, ordered the confiscation of Hebrew books, and (1584) renewed the compulsion laid upon the Jews to hear sermons aimed at their conversion. Sixtus V ended the persecution for a time. He opened the ghetto (1586), allowed the Jews to reside anywhere in the Papal States, dispensed them from wearing a distinctive mark or dress, permitted them to print the Talmud and other Hebrew literature, granted them full freedom of worship, and bade the Christians treat the Jews and their synagogueswith humane respect. 13 But this Christian pontificate was brief. Clement VIII renewed the edict of expulsion (1593). By 1640 nearly all the Jews of Italy were living in ghettos; when stepping outside these they were to wear some badge of their tribe; they were excluded from agriculture and the guilds. Montaigne, touring Rome in 1581, described how the Jews, on their Sabbath, were required to send sixty of their youths to the Church of Sant’ Angelo in Pescheria to hear exhortations to conversion. 14John Evelyn saw such a ceremony in Rome (January 7, 1645), and observed that “a conversion is very rare.” Many of the less pleasant characteristics of the Jews in body and character were the result of long confinement, humiliation, and poverty.

In France the Jews were theoretically subject to all the restrictions called for by Pius V; actually their importance in industry, commerce, and finance earned them a tacit toleration. In one of his ordinances Colbert emphasized the benefits accruing to Marseilles from the mercantile enterprises of the Jews. 15 Marrano refugees established themselves in Bordeaux and Bayonne, and contributed so much to the economic life of southwestern France that they were allowed to practice their Judaic rituals with less and less concealment. When an army of mercenaries invaded Bordeaux in 1675, the town council feared that the exodus of frightened Jews would cripple the prosperity of the city; without them, reported a sous-intendant, “the trade of Bordeaux and of the whole province would be inevitably ruined.” 16 Louis XIV took the Jewish community at Metz under his protection; when local magistrates tortured to death (1670) a Jew accused of ritual child murder, the King condemned the execution as judicial slaughter, and ordered that henceforth criminal charges against Jews were to be brought before the royal Council. 17 Toward the end of Louis’ reign, when the War of the Spanish Succession had brought the French government close to bankruptcy, Samuel Bernard, a Jewish financier, put his fortune at the King’s disposal; and the proud monarch was grateful for the aid of “the greatest banker in Europe.” 18

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