Anti-Jewish Legislative Discourse in Castile

Sunday, January 9, 2011: 9:10 AM
Room 111 (Hynes Convention Center)
Maya Soifer Irish , Rice University
In the influential paradigm of medieval Spanish “multiculturalism,” Jewish and Muslim minorities living under Christian rule occupy symmetrical and essentially equivalent positions in the tripartite configuration described by scholars as convivencia or “coexistence” of three cultures.  Yet Elena Lourie pointed out a number of years ago that Jews and Muslims (mudejars) in the Crown of Aragón experienced Christian power in vastly different ways.  Muslims served as soldiers in Christian armies and they were also the only religious minority whose members’ enslavement and sale were permitted by Christian rulers.  On the other hand, the Jews were much more likely than Muslims to engage in moneylending, and to become victims of large-scale attacks at the hands of Christians.  Lourie attributes these variations to the differences in the internal structure of Jewish and Muslim communities.  On the surface, this explanation seems satisfactory.  Royal power subjected both groups to very similar conditions.  From the legal standpoint, Jews and Muslims were considered part of the royal treasury, and in return for payment of special taxes, were allowed to practice their own faith under royal protection.  However, these similarities in the treatment of non-Christians, which have prompted a number of scholars to draw parallels with the Islamic dhimma system, remained largely theoretical.  In practice, Castilian and Aragonese monarchs pursued policies that encouraged differentiation in the roles played by Jews and Muslims in Christian society.  The paper will show that in their treatment of the Jews, the kings of Spain followed northern European examples, promoting Jewish moneylending and reaping financial benefits from direct taxation of Jewish communities.  Consequently, the Jews’ status in Aragon and Castile showed more uniformity than that of the mudejar minority, whose relations with the royal power depended less on financial considerations than on the local political and military contingencies.