Revistes Catalanes amb Accés Obert (RACO)

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
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. Cresquess 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 Cresquess 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 rabbis 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 Cresquess
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.

Text complet: PDF