Where could they go? Sardinia and Sicily, where Jews had lived for a thousand years past, were included with Spain in Ferdinand’s edict of expulsion; by 1493 the last Jew had left Palermo. At Naples thousands of the fugitives were welcomed by Ferrante I, by Dominican friars, and by the local Jewish community; but in 1540 Charles V decreed the expulsion of all Jews from Naples.
Genoa had long had a law limiting the entry of additional Jews. When Conversos arrived from Spain in 1492 they were not allowed to stay more than a few days. A Genoese historian described them as “cadaverous, emaciated specters with sunken eyes, differing from the dead only in retaining the power to move.”55 Many died of starvation; women bore dead infants; some parents sold their children to pay for transport from Genoa. A small number of the exiles were received into Ferrara, but were required to wear a yellow badge,56 perhaps as a precaution against the spread of disease.
Venice had long been a haven for the Jews. Efforts had been made to expel them (1395, 1487), but the Senate had protected them as important contributors to commerce and finance. A considerable part of the Venetian export trade was carried on by Jews, and they were active in the import of wool and silk from Spain, spices and pearls from India.57 For a long time they had, of their own choice, occupied the quarter named after them—the Giudecca. In 1516, after consultation with leading Jews, the Senate ordained that all Jews, except a few specially licensed, should live in a section of the city known as the Ghetto, apparently from a foundry (getto) existing there.58 The Senate ordered all Marranos or converted Jews to leave Venice; many Christian competitors urged the measure, some Christian merchants opposed it as threatening the loss of certain markets, especially in Islam, but Charles V threw his influence into the scale, and the expulsion decree was carried out.59 Soon, however, Jewish merchants crept back into Venice; exiles from Portugal replaced the expelled Marranos, and Portuguese became for a time the language of the Venetian Jews.
Many Iberian exiles were kindly received into Rome by Pope Alexander VI, and prospered under Julius II, Leo X, Clement VII, and Paul III. Clement allowed Marranos to practice Judaism freely, holding that they were not obligated by any compulsory baptism.60 In Ancona, the Adriatic port of the Papal States, where the Jews were a vital element in international trade, Clement established a haven for professing Jews, and guaranteed them against molestation. As to Paul III, “no pope,” said Cardinal Sadoleto, “has ever bestowed upon Christians so many honors, such privileges and concessions, as Paul has given to the Jews. They are not only assisted, but positively armed, with benefits and prerogatives.” 61 A bishop complained that Marranos entering Italy soon returned to the practice of Judaism, circumcising their baptized children almost “under the eye of the pope and the populace.” Under pressure of such criticism Paul re-established the Inquisition in Rome (1542), but he “took the part of the Marranos throughout his life.”62
His successors, caught in a reaction against the easy ways of the Renaissance, turned to a policy of making life uncomfortable for the Jews. Old canonical decrees were again enforced. Paul IV (1555–59) required every synagogue in the Papal States to contribute ten ducats ($250?) toward the maintenance of a House of Catechumens, where Jews were to be instructed in the Christian faith. He forbade the Jews to employ Christian servants or nurses, to take Christians as medical patients, to sell Christians anything but old clothes, or to have any avoidable intercourse with Christians. They were not to use any but the Christian calendar. All synagogues in Rome were destroyed but one. No Jew might own realty; those who had any were to sell it within six months; by this plan Christians were enabled to buy 500,000 crowns’ worth ($12,500,000) of Jewish property for a fifth of the actual value.63 All Jews remaining in Rome were now (1555) confined to a ghetto where 10,000 persons had to live within a square kilometer; several families occupied one room; and the low level of the quarter subjected it to the periodical overflow of the Tiber, making the region a plague-stricken swamp.64 The ghetto was surrounded by grim walls, whose gates were shut at midnight and opened at dawn, except on Sundays and Christian holydays, when they were closed all day. Outside the ghetto the Jews were compelled to wear a distinctive garb—the men a yellow hat, the women a yellow veil or badge. Similar ghettos were established in Florence and Siena, and, by papal edict, in Ancona and Bologna—where it was called “Inferno.” 65 Paul IV issued a secret order that all Marranos in Ancona should be cast into Inquisition prisons, and their goods confiscated. Twenty-four men and one woman were there burned alive as relapsed heretics (1556);66 and twenty-seven Jews were sent to the galleys for life.67 It was, for the Jews of Italy, a ghastly twilight to a golden age.
A handful of Jewish refugees slipped into France and England despite the excluding laws. Nearly all Germany was closed to them. Many went to Antwerp, but only a few were allowed to stay more than a month. Diogo Mendes, a Portuguese Marrano, established at Antwerp, ranch of the bank that his family had founded in Lisbon. By 1532 he was so successful that the Antwerp Council arrested him and fifteen others on a charge of practicing Judaism. Henry VIII, who employed Mendes as a financial agent, intervened, and the thirteen were released on payment of a heavy fine—the “final cause” of many such arrests. Other Jews passed on to Amsterdam, where they would prosper after the liberation of Holland from Spain (1589).
Those fugitives who sought asylum in regions of Islam not directly controlled by the Turkish sultan fared little better than in Christendom. Jews trying to land at Oran, Algiers, and Bugia were shot at by Moors, and several were killed. Forbidden to enter the cities, they built an impromptu ghetto of huts put together from scraps of lumber; one hut caught fire, and the entire settlement, including many Jews, was consumed. Those who went to Fez found the gates closed against them. They squatted in the fields and lived on herbs and roots. Mothers killed their infants rather than let them die of starvation; parents sold their children for a little bread; pestilence carried off hundreds of children and adults. Pirates raided the camp and stole children to sell them as slaves.68Murderers ripped open the bodies of Jews to find jewels they were believed to have swallowed.69 After all these sufferings the survivors, with incredible courage, and under endless disabilities, developed new Jewish communities in Moorish North Africa. At Algiers, Simon Duran II repeatedly risked his life to protect the exiles and to organize them into some security. At Fez, Jakob Berab became the most famous Talmudist of his time.
Under the Mameluk and Ottoman sultans the Spanish refugees found humane acceptance in Cairo, and soon rose to leadership of the Jewish community. Selim I abolished the old office of Nagid or prince, by which one rabbi had appointed all rabbis, and had controlled all Jewish affairs, in Egypt; thereafter each Jewish community was to choose its own rabbi and manage its own internal concerns. The new rabbi of Cairo, David ibn abi-Zimra, a Spanish immigrant, ended the Seleucid method of chronology which the Jews of Asia and Africa were using, and persuaded them to adopt (as the Jews of Europe had done in the eleventh century) a calendar that reckoned by the year since creation (anno mundi), tentatively fixed as 3761 B.C.
Wherever the Sephardic or Iberian Jews went they acquired cultural—often political—leadership over the native Jews. In Salonika they became, and remained till 1918, a numerical majority of the population, so that non-Spanish Jews who came to live there had to learn Spanish. Under this Jewish hegemony Salonika was for a time the most flourishing commercial center in the Eastern Mediterranean.
Sultan Bajazet II welcomed Jewish exiles to Turkey, for they brought with them precisely those skills in handicrafts, trade, and medicine which were least developed among the Turks. Said Bajazet of Ferdinand the Catholic: “You call Ferdinand a wise king, who has made his country poor and enriched ours?”70 Like all non-Moslems in Islam, the Jews were subject to a poll or head tax, but this exempted them from military service. Most of the Turkish Jews remained poor, but many rose to wealth and influence. Soon nearly all physicians in Constantinople were Jews. Suleiman so favored his Jewish physician that he freed him and his family from all taxation. Jews rose to such prominence as diplomats under Suleiman that Christian ambassadors had to court these Jews as an approach to the Sultan. Suleiman was shocked by the oppression of the Ancona Jews under Paul IV, and remonstrated against it to the Pope (March 9, 1556); he demanded the release of such Ancona Jews as were subjects of Turkey, and they were freed.71 Gracia Mendesia, of the Mendes banking family, after practicing philanthropy, and suffering insult and injury, in Antwerp, Ferrara, and Venice, finally found peace in Istanbul.
The Holy Land, under Turkish rule, received again the people that had first made it holy. As Jerusalem was sacred to Christians and Moslems as well as to Jews, only a limited number of Hebrews was allowed to live there. But at Safed, in Upper Galilee, the Jews grew so rapidly in number and cultural prestige that Jakob Berab tried to establish a Sanhedrin there as a ruling congress for all Jewry. It was a bold conception, but the Jews were too divided in space, language, and ways to permit such a unification of rule. Nevertheless, in Jewish prayers throughout Islam and Christendom, Yahveh was supplicated to “gather the dispersed .... from the four corners of the earth”; and at Yom Kippur and Passover the Jews everywhere joined in the hope that sustained them through all tragedies: “Next year we shall be in Jerusalem.”72