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Isaac Abrabanel (1437-1508) was a statesman, philosopher, and biblical scholar. He was one of the many Jews expelled from Spain in 1492. Abrabanel he served many kings. He was the treasurer of King Alfonso of Portugal, a member of the royal court of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, and an adviser to the royal court of Naples. His experience gave him a special insight into political, governmental, and economic problems.
Here are his ideas on the advantages of a democracy over a monarchy.

Whether a king is a necessity; needed for the people, or it is possible to exist without him. The philosophers think that the service rendered by the king to the people in the political organization is the same as the relation of the heart to the body. Now, if the investigators think that a kingdom must be based on three things (firstly, unity; secondly, continuity; thirdly, absolute power), then their conclusion as to the need and necessity of a monarch is not valid. For it is not impracticable that a people should have many leaders, united, agreeing, and concurring in one counsel, to decide administrative and judicial matters. Then, why should not their administration be for one year, or for three years, like the years of an employee or less than that?

When the turn for other judges and officers comes, they will arise in their stead, and investigate whether the first ones have not failed in their trust, and he whom they condemn shall make good the wrong he committed. Then again, why should not their power be limited and regulated according to the laws and statutes? A common-sense principle tells us that when one man disagrees with the majority, the law is according to the majority. It is more likely that one man should trespass, through his folly or strong temptations or anger, than that many men taking counsel should transgress. For if one them turns aside from the right path, the others will protest against him. Moreover, since their administration is temporary, and they must render account after a short while, the fear of man will be upon them.

See the countries where the administration is in the hands of kings, and you will observe their abominations and corruptions, every one of them does that which is right in his own eyes; for the earth is filled with wickedness through them. On the other hand, we see this day many countries where the administration is in the hands of judges; temporary rulers are elected there, and over them is a chief against whom there is no rising up; they choose that which is right by definite regulations; they rule over the people, and decide concerning matters appertaining to war.

This was written by an anonymous Italian Jew who witnessed the suffering of his people.

In the Year 1492 during the reign of Ferdinand, God again punished the remnant of the Jewish people. By having them expelled from Spain Ferdinand had wrested the city of Granada from the Moslems on January 7th (actually January 2nd) and soon thereafter ordered all Jews to be deported from Castile, Catalonia, Aragon, Galicia, Majorca, Minorca, the Basque provinces, Valencia and Andalusia, and the islands of Sardinia and Sicilia. The king gave them three months' time to leave the country. On May 1 st the edict was read in every city (the nineteenth day of the Omer and expired one day before Tishah be-Av).. . . I would estimate that around 50,000 families were affected. They owned homes, land, vineyards, and cattle. The majority, however, were artisans. There were many yeshivot in Spain, and some of the heads were Rabbi Isaac Aboab in Guadalajara, Rabbi Isaac Bezodo in Leon, and Rabbi Jacob Habib in Salamanca. In the latter city lived the great mathematician, Abraham Zacuto, whose advice was sought on all mathematical problems that could not be solved by the Christian scholars.

During the three months left to them the Jews tried everything in their power to reverse the decree. Their leaders were: Rabbi Don Abraham Senior, the head of the Spanish communities, who always traveled with a train of thirty mules; Rabbi Meir Hamelamud, the king's secretary; and Don Isaac Abrabanel , who had escaped from the Portuguese king, and was appointed to the same post in the Spanish court .... Don Isaac Abrabanel was later exiled to Naples where he was held in high esteem by the king of Naples . . . . Isaac Abrabanel used to call Don Abraham Senior "Soneh-Or" ("Hater of Light:' a pun on Senior) because he was an epicurus (heretic). He was correct, for at the age of eighty, Senior and his whole family (except his brother Samuel) were converted.
Don Abraham had arranged the match between the king and the queen.... Because of this, he had been appointed rabbi of the Spanish Jews, but without their consent. An agreement was almost reached that the Jews would pay an enormous amount of money and be permitted to stay, but it was thwarted by an official (Torquemada) who reminded the queen of the story of the cross. The queen then gave an answer, similar to the saying of King Solomon (Proverbs 21:1), . . . adding, "Do you believe, that this was brought on you by us? It is God who controls the king's heart."

The Jews realized then that the king was out to harm them and they abandoned all hope.... There was little time left, and ... they sold their homes, their land, and their cattle for paltry sums. As the king did not allow the export of gold or silver, they had to convert their money to textiles, furs, and other articles. One hundred and twenty thousand persons left for Portugal, following an agreement between the king of Portugal and a ... certain Don Vidal bar Benevenesti del Cavallaria .. . . The Jews had to pay one ducat for each per- son admitted, and one quarter of their goods in order to stay six months.... After the six months had elapsed, he (the king) enslaved them all and deported seven hundred children to the island of St. Thomas where they perished.... And so it came to pass, as it is said, "Your sons and daughters will be given to another people" (Deuteronomy 28:32).
Many of the exiles went to Muslim countries, to Fez and to the Berber provinces, which were under the rule of the king of Tunis. The Muslims did not admit the Jews to their cities, and many died of starvation, many were devoured by lions and bears while lying exhausted on the outskirts of the cities. A Jew of Tlemcen named Abraham, who was viceroy to the king, admitted many of the exiles into the country, spending a fortune on their behalf. The Jews of North Africa were very helpful. But many of the exiles, finding no place that would receive them, returned to Spain and embraced Christianity. . . Because they had fled to glorify God's name, only a small number were converted.

When the edict became known in other countries, ships arrived from Genoa to transfer the Jews. The sailors on these ships behaved atrociously towards them, robbing them and delivering most of them to the notorious pirate called the "Corsair of Genoa?' Those who managed to escape to Genoa were mercilessly mistreated by the populace, who went so far as to tear children from their mothers' breasts, and to convert them.

Many boatloads of Jews from Sicily arrived in Naples. The king of Naples was friendly to the Jews, behaved merci- fully, and gave them financial assistance. The Jews of Naples provided the sufferers with good as much as they could, and dispatched messengers throughout Italy to collect money to sustain them. The Marranos in the city lent them money with- out interest. Even the Dominicans showed human sympathy. But all this was not sufficient to keep them alive. Many died of starvation, others sold their children to Christians to keep them alive. Finally, a plague spread among them, and many died, and those who remained alive were too tired to bury their dead.

to settle on an island where they received land and homes. A few of the exiles settled in the various cities of Italy. Alexander Marx


1. Why was the expulsion of the Jews a damaging event in Spanish history?

2. How did the expulsion help other countries?

3. What motivated the king and queen to drive out the Jews?

4. What happened to the Jews who converted and remained in Spain?

Some of the exiles sailed to Turkey. Many of them were thrown overboard and drowned, but those who managed to reach Turkey were warmly received by the sultan because they were artisans. He lent them money, which enabled them.

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