Les activitats de Hasday Cresques en pro de la reconstrucció de les comunitats jueves arran dels avalots de 1391


  • Yom Tov Assis


The riots which broke out in Seville on 4th June, 1391 as a result of the vitriolic anti-Jewish propaganda spread by Ferrand Martínez, the archdeacon of Ecija, ripped through the kingdoms of Castile and Aragon, wreaking havoc among the Jewish communities there. Many Jews were killed and numerous others were forced to be baptised, yet others fled to places of safety, including North Africa.

In July, 1391 the rioters attacked the Jews of Valencia, leaving no community standing save that of Morvedre. The Jews of Majorca suffered a similar fate. The month of August brought the end of the Jewish community of Barcelona, one which was to disappear for ever. Those Jews who survived but failed to find refuge were forced to begin a new life as Christians, that is, as converted Jews or conversos.

Although numerous details concerning these events are known to us from many sources and various archives, the most reliable overall picture is gained from the letter dated 19th October, 1391 that was sent by Hasday Cresques, at that time a rabbi living in Saragossa, to the Jewish community in Avignon. The massacres of 1391 were the first tragic sign of a growing tendency towards the eradication of the Jews in western Europe, a mood which, having begun in England in 1290 and spread to France in 1306, was soon to flare up in the Christian kingdoms of the Iberian peninsula. Many Jews realized that it was the beginning of the end. It was both logical and inevitable that, despairing of a future in Spanish territory but spurred on by their Messianic dreams, they should depart for the land of Israel, the longed-for homeland of all Jews throughout the ages.

We have some fascinating accounts of how the emigration of the Jews of Castile led them through Aragon to the coastal ports of Catalonia and Valencia. The Aragonese and Castilian Jews set out with letters of recommendation from the community in Saragossa, where Cresques was a rabbi.

We know from various documents that the emigration from Castile was a popular movement, led by ordinary country people who were driven by a powerful Messianic zeal; the route by which they arrived at the ports of Barcelona or Valencia passed through Saragossa. The tireless activity of the Jewish community of Saragossa on behalf of those who wished to immigrate to Israel continued for some five years. After carefully weighing up their prospects of becoming established in the land of Israel, Hasday Cresques embarked on the search for safer political solutions that would enable the Jews to cope with adversities such as the persecutions of 1391. The letter that Cresques sent to the community in Avignon describes the sequence of events in minute detail. Recent research has proved the accuracy of his account. A man of shrewd political judgement, Hasday Cresques was able to grasp the significance of the events which had taken their toll on the Jews of western Europe, while in the territory governed by the head of the Church, Jews continued to live in safety, albeit in a position of inferiority. Cresques=s letter might well have been part of a daring groundplan to find a safe territory where the Aragonese Jews could take refuge in advance of the trouble that was brewing. However, when Cardinal Pedro de Luna ascended to the papacy in 1394 under the name of Benedict XIII, Cresques was foiled in his attempt to carry out his plan.

As already observed, Jews living in the small kingdom of Navarre went virtually unharmed at the time of the persecutions. Charles II and particularly Charles III (1387-1425) had striven to attract Jewish emigrants from Castile and encourage them to settle in Navarre, although their endeavours bore little fruit until the massacres of 1391. After the massacres, conditions were ripe for a renewed effort to welcome Jews into the kingdom, and it is logical to suppose that it was at that time that Jews from neighbouring territories were encouraged to move to Navarre.

In 1401 Hasday Cresques visited Navarre. Charles III and Cresques had a great interest in common. The king was willing to pay all the expenses incurred by Cresques on his journey, while for his part, Cresques was manifestly enthusiastic regarding the project.

The most likely plan, which must have been the reason for Cresques's journey, was the orderly emigration of the Jews of Aragon to Navarre, a seemingly safe territory at the time. Ten years after Hasday Cresques visited Navarre, shortly before the rabbi's death, Jewish emigrants from Aragon paid the king the considerable sum of 900 florins in exchange for permission to settle in Tudela. They fled Aragon as a result of the unrest and outbreaks of violence following the death of the king. In all probability, therefore, Hasday Cresques's visit was an eminently political mission whose purpose was to take stock of the situation and pave the way for the Aragonese Jews' resettlement in Navarre.


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