The Spanish Expulsion - 500 Years

1500 years of Jewish life in Spain came to an end when the Jews were expelled from the country in 1492. Throughout those 15 centuries, under Roman, Moslem and later under Christian rule, Spanish Jewry cultivated a community life that is unparalleled for its cultural achievement in the history of the Jewish People. Hebrew grammar, Biblical exegesis, philosophy and Hebrew poetry flourished in Spain. Great poets and philosophers such as Rabbi Shlomo Ibn-Gabirol, Rabbi Yehuda Halevy and Rabbi Abraham Ibn-Ezra and great Rabbis such as Rabbi Isaac Alfassi and Rabbi Joseph Ibn-Migash inspired the various fields of Jewish learning.

The Jews made their livelihood by agriculture and commerce. Prominent Jewish figures served at court starting from Rabbi Hisdai Ibn-Shaprut in the 10th century and Rabbi Shmuel Hanaguid a century later. Later on, Jewish courtiers often served as representatives of the Jewish community, presenting the concerns of the Jews before the authorities, besides their many official duties, which sometimes included going on diplomatic missions on behalf of their rulers. The Book of the Zohar was composed by Rabbi Moshe de-Leon, and Jewish Mysticism reached a unique highpoint. Jewish scholars translated the philosophical works of the classical era, thereby creating a bridge with Western European culture. Starting from the 13th century, pressure from the Church introduced into Spain anti-Jewish attitudes and demands for anti-Jewish activities. Public debates were held on Judaism as opposed to Christianity. These pressures grew into waves of persecution and forced conversions, and reached a climax in the 1391 riots. These circumstances forced many Jews away from their religion and their people. Nevertheless, they never ceased seeking a way back.

Towards the end of the 15th century, a National Inquisition started operating in Castile, and eventually spread all over Spain. Its goal was to eradicate all hope of returning to Judaism that was still entertained by the forced converts to Christianity. From the Inquisition came the idea of banishing all Jews from the entire Kingdom, now unified under Ferdinand and Isabella. On March 31, 1492, in Granada, the two Monarchs signed the decree of banishment of the Jews from their United Kingdoms of Castile and Aragon. In three months they had to wind up their businesses, sell their property and decide on their destinations. The Jews expelled from Spain numbered about 200,000. Some left for neighboring Portugal and Navarre, others by sea for North Africa, Italy and the Orient, namely the Ottoman Empire and Eretz Israel. The Jews were forbidden to take with them gold, silver, minted coins and many other things. They had to leave behind magnificent synagogues that were either destroyed or turned into churches, and cemeteries that became grazing fields for cattle after the tombstones of their fathers were torn out. Material remains from the Spanish Jewry were but few.

On the stamps of this souvenir sheet are parts of the map drawn by the Jewish cartographer, Abraham Cresques from Palma, Majorca. The map symbolizes the wanderings of the Jews after the Expulsion from Spain. On the sheet there are also drawings depicting some of the occupations of the Jews of Spain: a writer-philosopher, a doctor and an engineer. These drawings are from the Museum ot the Diaspora in Tel-Aviv.

The Order of Expulsion, signed by Ferdinand and Isabella, the King and Queen of Spain appears on the left side. In the background is the Santa Maria La Blanca Synagogue. After the expulsion of the Jews, the Spaniards turned this synagogue into a church and a monastery.

On the right side of the Souvenir Sheet is a photograph of the statue of Maimonides - the great philosopher who epitomizes the illustrious achievements of the Jews of Spain. The statue is situated in Maimonides' Square in Cordoba, Spain.

On both sides of the Sheet are the national flag colors of Israel and Spain, symbolizing the relationship between the two countries which became much stronger following the establishment of diplomatic relations in 1986. The inscription on the Sheet 500 Years since the Expulsion of the Jews from Spain – is written in four languages: Hebrew, English, Spanish and Ladino.

Written by Prof. Haim Beinart (1917-2010), a well-known researcher of the Jews in Spain in the Middle Ages.

The souvenir sheet was issued in 1992 to mark 500 years since the expalsion of the Jews from Spain. Designer: A. Vanooijen.