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The 1901 Jewish Encyclopedia
Under the Spaniards.
Capital of the former kingdom of Aragon. The city is situated on the Ebro, which is crossed by a long stone bridge constructed with the municipal fees received from the miḳweh during the two years beginning May 1, 1266. Jews resided in Saragossa at a very early time. By the tenth century they had formed a flourishing congregation, while the civil wars which raged under Sulaiman (1012) caused several Jewish scholars, including Ibn Janaḥ, Solomon ibn Gabirol, and Moses ibn Gikatilla, to go to Saragossa, where they were welcomed with hospitality. Like Samuelibn Nagdela in Granada, Jekuthiel ibn Ḥasan then occupied a high position under King Yaḥya ibn al-Mundhir, whom he served until he was killed at the same time as his sovereign. After several bloody struggles and vain attempts on the part of the kings of Aragon to take the city, it surrendered to them on Dec. 18, 1118. Alfonso I., "el Batallador," the conqueror of Saragossa, imitated the example of King Alfonso VI. of Castile, and granted several privileges to the Jews, who had enjoyed under the califs equal rights with the Saracens. James I. declared all the Jews of his empire to be his property, and placed them under the jurisdiction of a "bayle general." Among those who held this office was Judah or Jehudano de Cavallería, the richest and most respected Jew of Aragon, who was head bailiff of Saragossa, and even of the entire kingdom, for several decades. He was frequently consulted by the king, James I., in affairs of state, and in 1263 by the king's orders he equipped a fleet. The treasurers Abraym (Abraham) and Bondia (Yom-Ṭob) likewise lived in Saragossa, although no details are known regarding them.
In this city, as in all the towns of Spain, the Jews lived in a Juderia, which was surrounded by walls and provided with gates. The quarter was very large, bordering on the Coso, and extending from the Church of S. Gil to the Plaza de Magdalena, along the Calle de la Veronica, which is now called Barrionuevo. It thus included the following streets, which were mostly named according to the trades pursued by their inhabitants: La Cuchilleria (Cutlers' street), La Pelliceria (Tawers' street), Plateria (Goldsmiths' street), Teneria (Tanners' street), Freneria (Saddlers' street), Borzaria, and others, while, in accordance with a decree of Alfonso III., dated Nov. 5, 1288, Jewish cloth-dealers were permitted to sell their wares in the Picatoria, as far as the Corrigeria (Strap-Makers' street). The Juderia remained closed on Holy Thursday and on Good Friday; and, according to a resolution of the city council, passed April 14, 1442, the Jews were obliged to make an annual payment of 200 sueldos to the porter for opening and closing the gates (Act. de Ayuntamiento de Zaragoza de 1442; comp. "R. E. J." 28:117).
The aljama in Saragossa was very rich and populous; but the estimate of 5,000 families, even for the most flourishing period, is too high (Brüll's "Jahrb." 6:38). The Jews of the city carried on an active trade in their own manufactures as well as in cloth, silk, leather, cotton, flax, and other articles. James I. accorded them the privilege of manufacturing colored cloths; and in 1323 James II. conferred upon them the right to dye cotton, silk, and linen. They pursued a great variety of trades; among them were, as may be inferred from the street-names mentioned above, goldsmiths and cutlers, tawers and tanners, strap-makers and saddlers, who, in accordance with the strongly marked Aragonese custom, had gilds of their own, like the Christians. The fraternity ("confradia") of the shoemakers—who were then, as now, very numerous, the city having long been famous for its leather-factories—resolved by a statute, confirmed May 6, 1336, by King Pedro III., that every member, under penalty of one dinero to be paid into the society treasury (Almosina = ), should attend wedding and circumcision celebrations arranged by any of its members, visit on each Sabbath any member who had fallen sick, and, in case of death, go to his house, escort the body to the grave, and assemble in the house for prayer during the days of mourning. Each needy member who fell ill received two dineros daily from the treasury of the fraternity ("Coleccion de Documentos Inéditos de la Corona de Aragon," 131 et seq.; "Allg. Zeit. des Jud." 56:438). To encourage industry, the Jews were permitted, about 1330, to keep stores outside the Juderia; but this privilege was soon revoked.
The taxes imposed upon the Saragossa Jews were very oppressive: besides the "cena," or so-called "Jews' tax," and the city assessments, they were obliged to pay to the king 3,000 sueldos yearly ("Col. de Documentos," 9:1. 185 et seq.), and to this sum were added extraordinary subsidies. In 1289 the Jews were compelled to advance James II. 12,000 sueldos for his campaign against Sicily, although until this sum was repaid they were to be exempt from all state taxes. When, in 1332, the aljama had become so reduced that it was unable to pay even the taxes, the subsidies were temporarily remitted (Jacobs, "Sources," Nos. 1011, 1059, 1163, 1176; Rios, "Hist." 2:159). The officials of the aljama, the rabbis, administrators, and assessors, were nominated (or confirmed) and protected by the king. Whenever he came to Saragossa and visited the Juderia, the aljama, or rather its rabbis and assistant rabbis, went to meet him in festive procession, bearing richly decorated Torah scrolls. It is related that once the aljama secretly resolved to render the customary homage, but with empty Torah cases. In 1420 this was reported to the king, Alfonso V., by a Jew who had been baptized, although he had been employed at the royal court even before conversion. Alfonso determined to punish the aljama for the deception. His design was frustrated, however, by a pious servant of the synagogue who hurriedly placed scrolls of the Law in all the cases. When the king, together with the informer and an armed retinue, visited the Juderia on the 17th of Shebaṭ, which was the following day, and the aljama came to meet him with the scrolls of the Law, he expressed a wish to see the Torah. To his surprise, all the scrolls were shown to him, whereupon the Jews were graciously dismissed, and the informer was executed as a calumniator. The 17th of Shebaṭ was thenceforth celebrated annually in Saragossa after the manner of the Purim festival (Brüll's "Jahrb." 6:38 et seq.).
The community owned several synagogues, although there is no evidence to support the statement that there were exactly twelve. The Great Synagogue, a magnificent structure situated near the Coso, consisted of three naves, the central one being higher than the other two, while the roof, supported by three columns, was ornamented with many gilded carvings. At the entrance was a large gate with six small doors on each side. In the interior ofthe building the walls were decorated with verses of the Psalms in large red and blue Hebrew letters ("Boletin Acad. Hist." 18:83 et seq.), and the Ark was a splendid piece of mosaic. The remaining synagogues were smaller in size. Whenever a member of the community was about to sell or give away a piece of property, it was customary to announce the fact in three synagogues on four successive Sabbaths, and to give notice that all claims upon the property must be presented within four weeks (Isaac b. Sheshet, Responsa, No. 388).
The community of Saragossa had not a good moral or religious reputation; and its licentiousness was censured by the grammarian Ibn Janaḥ and by the pessimistic poet Solomon ibn Gabirol as early as the eleventh century. Two centuries later the Jews of the city were much more severely condemned for godlessness, ignorance, sensuality, and immorality by the satirist Solomon Bonfed, a deposed rabbi of Saragossa ("Catalogue of the Michael Library," pp. 363 et seq., Hamburg, 1848). It is at least clear that this Jewish community formed a sharp contrast to that of Toledo. As early as the thirteenth century, according to the complaints of Baḥya b. Asher, a native of Saragossa, the most important religious commands were slightly regarded, and despite the existence of a Jewish school and a society of Talmudic scholars (Confradia de Estudios de los Judios; Jacobs, "Sources," No. 1177), the study of the Talmud was not pursued assiduously. The rich Jews of the city strove for the friendship of the Christians, married Christian women, and accepted Christian husbands for their daughters. In the controversy over the writings of Maimonides, the congregation of Saragossa and their leader, Don Baḥya ben Moses, physician in ordinary to King James I., were foremost among his defenders. The tendency of Saragossa was liberal; and its congregation was probably the only one in Spain in which the scroll of Esther was read to the women at Purim in Spanish, instead of in Hebrew—a fact which roused the indignation of Isaac b. Sheshet, a rabbi of the town, and of his teacher Nissim (Isaac b. Sheshet, c. Nos. 389, 390).
The aljama in Saragossa had several famous rabbis and preachers, among them, according to a generally accepted but unsupported view, Baḥya b. Joseph, author of the "Ḥobot ha-Lebabot," and the equally noted preacher Baḥya ben Asher, who wrote, two hundred years later, a valuable commentary on the Pentateuch. A highly respected rabbi was Azariah ibn Jacob (1313-28), described as "Excelentissimo de la Juderia de Zaragoza." Like Solomon ibn Jacob (1297-1301)—his brother, if not his father—he was a physician, and, like him also, enjoyed special privileges from the king, having an assistant by royal permission ("Arch. de la Corona de Aragon," reg. 477, fol. 147; 860, fol. 60). Aaron b. Joseph ha-Levi was a rabbi in Saragossa at the same time as Azariah. In the last third of the fourteenth century the office was held by the easy-going and indulgent Joseph b. David, as well as by Isaac ben Sheshet and the celebrated Ḥasdai Crescas. Rabbi Zerahiah ha-Levi, with the learned Vidal Benveniste and R. Mattathias ha-Yiẓḥari, represented the congregation at the disputation in Tortosa. Jewish physicians were numerous in Saragossa, where several members of the Benveniste family lived. Nathaniel ibn Almoli was a resident of the city at the same time as the Solomon ibn Jacob mentioned above; and a few decades later Samuel Alazar, physician in ordinary to the king ("fisico de su magestad"), was especially favored, as were other members of his family ("Arch. de la Corona de Aragon," reg. 860, fol. 20; 861, fol. 213; 863, fol. 205), to which belonged Don Ezra of Saragossa, a personal acquaintance of Isaac b. Sheshet (Isaac b. Sheshet, c. Nos. 215, 388).
Massacre of 1391.
The year 1391 marks a crisis in the history of the community of Saragossa as well as in the fortunes of the Spanish Jews in general, and the congregation soon sank into comparative insignificance in size and importance. In consequence of the persecutions and subsequently of the sermons of Vicente Ferrer its richest members renounced Judaism. Then came the plague, which raged in 1429, 1448, and the following years, and carried off many Jews. Saragossa was filled with Maranos, who were the richest inhabitants of the town, owning the most beautiful houses at the "Mercado" (the market-place), holding the highest offices, and occupying the most important positions. They were the bitterest opponents of the introduction of the Inquisition; and hundreds of them fell as victims of the tribunal during the first years of its activity. On June 30, 1486, Juan de Esperandeu, who owned houses and large tanneries on the Coso, together with Manuel de Almazan and other coreligionists of Saragossa, was publicly burned at the stake. On the first visit of the king and queen to the capital of Aragon, which took place a few weeks later, the aljama of the city presented them with twelve cows decorated with rich ornaments, an equal number of wethers, a silver table-service (carried by twelve Jews), and two silver dishes, one bearing a precious goblet and the other a goblet filled with castellanos, each castellano having the value of 480 maravedis.
The decree of banishment was scarcely promulgated when the city council of Saragossa pressed a claim for 4,000 sueldos against the aljama. The Jews sold their looms, their manufactures, and other goods at a great loss, and left the town. The main street of the Juderia was given the name "Barrionuevo" some weeks later, while the Great Synagogue served for a time as a warehouse, until the Jesuits enlarged it in 1560, and dedicated it as a church. It was torn down, however, fifteen years later, and on its site was erected a church which is still standing and is the largest in Saragossa.
- Rios, Hist. 1. 225 et seq., 386, 396; 2:155,296; 3:71 et seq., 259 et seq., 292;
- Tourtoulon, Jacme I. le Conquérant, Roi d'Aragon, 2:376 et seq., Montpellier, 1867;
- Jacobs, Sources, s.;
- Boletin Acad. Hist. 18:83 et. seq., 32:89 et seq.;
- R. E. J. 28:115 et seq.
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Singer, Isidore, Ph.D, Projector and Managing Editor. Entry for 'Saragossa'. 1901 The Jewish Encyclopedia. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/tje/s/saragossa.html. 1901.
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