GERONA


GERONA (Catalan, Girona; Lat. Gerunda; Heb. גירונא), city in Catalonia, northeastern Spain. The Jewish community of Gerona was the second largest in Catalonia, probably dating back to the end of the ninth century. The importance of the community was due to its numerical strength, and no less to its religious and cultural achievements. Houses in the Jewish quarter are mentioned in documents from the mid-tenth century. Jews who owned land in Gerona and its surroundings had to pay a tithe to the Church. In 1160 they were permitted to lease shops built outside the city walls. Remains of the public baths and tombstones have been preserved. In the 13th century the community reached its peak from a demographic point of view, with 1,000 people. Jews began to take part in the administration in the 13th century. Noteworthy were the baile (bailiff) Bondia Gracián, *Benveniste de Porta, and Astruc *Ravaya and his son Joseph, both members of the court of Pedro III of Aragon. They served as administrative officers and their signatures in Hebrew appear on numerous documents. Solomon b. Abraham *Adret cooperated with them in the Jewish communal leadership. About 1271 the communities of Gerona and *Besalú, which formed a joint collecta, or tax administrative unit, paid a total of 20,000 sólidos, approximately half the sum paid by the community of *Barcelona. In the 13th century the priests of the local cathedral chapter instituted the custom of casting stones on the Jewish quarter from the cathedral tower at Easter, sometimes causing much damage. In 1278 Pedro III threatened to hold the bishop responsible for such actions. At Easter 1331 rioters broke into the Jewish quarter. In 1285 the Jews in Gerona took part in its defense against the French; they suffered when the latter occupied the city, and again when it was recaptured by Pedro III. From the end of the 13th century Jews were forced out of their positions in the local administration, as well as from various economic activities: no further mention is made of Jewish landowners cultivating their own land, and some Jews of Gerona settled in other cities under royal protection. Nevertheless, the Gerona community absorbed Jews expelled from France in 1306.

In 1258 James I of Aragon empowered the Jews in Gerona and nearby Besalú to appoint five persons to punish tax offenders. In 1279 Pedro III granted Benedict Jonah of Gerona and Solomon b. Abraham Adret sole jurisdiction over the community. In 1341 certain notables from Barcelona drafted regulations for the Gerona community concerning the election of trustees, auditors, "criers" (makhrizim), and a dual council with 26 members in one section and 16 members in the other. The community was dominated by an oligarchy, which in 1386 was torn by a violent quarrel resulting in the intervention of the authorities. In April 1391 the community of Gerona was given a new constitution, specifying the names of 23 persons entitled to serve on the council, some for life and others for a three-year term. The council was to appoint magistrates (borerim), trustees, and a salaried treasurer and tax collector. The latter had to be chosen from among the lesser taxpayers, and relatives of trustees were not eligible for the post. In 1459 John II provided for the election by lot of a treasurer, trustees, two magistrates, and two tax assessors.

During the 1391 persecutions the majority of the Jews of Gerona chose martyrdom. A few were converted to Christianity, mainly merchants and artisans. Some Jews found refuge in the citadel and others managed to escape to *Perpignan. The community had already been reconstituted by 1392. The Jews of Gerona were compelled to send two representatives to the disputation of *Tortosa, which resulted in an intensified tendency to conversion as well as increased attacks on Jews. However, the city authorities and King Ferdinand took action to protect the Jews in Gerona (1413–14). In 1415 the king ordered that the synagogue in Calle San Lorenzo, and the adjoining public bath, should be restored to the Jews. The synagogue was partly destroyed during the civil war in 1462–72.

The decline of the Gerona community continued throughout the 15th century. In 1431 the last treasurer (gabbai) of the charitable trust (hekdesh) became converted; Alfonso V ordered him to remain in office and to distribute the money at his disposal to both Christian and Jewish poor, but mainly to the Christians as the majority of the Jews had become converted. In 1442 the area of the Jewish quarter was reduced. A reflection of the state of affairs in the community in 1470 is the will of the widow of one Solomon Shalom, expressing the desire that her Jewish son and Christian daughter should live in peace and unity. In 1486 the Jews were prohibited from owning shops with windows and doors facing the main street. When the edict of expulsion of the Jews from Spain was issued in 1492, there was a small community in Gerona. Most of its members went into exile. The remains of the synagogue were sold for ten florins to a canon of the cathedral and the remaining property owned by Jews to the municipal notary and other citizens.

At the height of its prosperity the Gerona community was a center of learning and produced celebrated scholars, many of whom are known by the cognomen "Gerondi," i.e., originating from Gerona: their Italian descendants called themselves *Ghirondi. The primary importance of Gerona in Jewish history is that it became the first center of kabbalistic studies in the Iberian Peninsula. Due to its proximity to Provence, Gerona came under the influence of the Provençal mystics, headed by Isaac the Blind. The center in Gerona came into being at the beginning of the 13th century. The kabbalists of Gerona were instrumental in spreading the Kabbalah among the general public. Ezra ben Solomon, Azriel ben Menaḥem, Meshullam ben Solomon da Piera, Jacob ben Sheshet, and Abraham ha-Ḥazzan were the leading members of the Gerona circle of mystics. Kabbalists of a different school from Gerona were the cousins *Naḥmanides and *Jonah Gerondi. Both of them, but particularly Jonah Gerondi, were involved in the polemics on Maimonides that split the Jews of Provence and Spain in 1232. In the 1230s Gerona was one of the centers of the movement opposing the teachings of *Maimonides. Naḥmanides wrote an account of the disputation of *Barcelona for the bishop of Gerona. Naḥmanides also had connections with their Ḥavurah Kedoshah ("Sacred Association"), which had a decisive influence on the development of Kabbalah. Other noteworthy personalities included Zeraḥiah ha-Levi *Gerondi, who left Gerona while a youth; Jonah Gerondi the Younger (active 1270s); the physician Abraham de Castlar; *Nissim b. Reuben Gerondi (mid-14th century); David Bonjorn, a native of Perpignan (lived in Gerona at the end of the 14th century); Abraham b. Isaac ha-Levi, a distinguished communal leader (14th century); and in the 15th century, Bonastruc Desmaestre and Bonjudah Yehasel ha-Kaslari, both of whom took part in the Tortosa disputation.

The Jewish quarter or call of Gerona is one of the best preserved in the Iberian Peninsula. Despite the changes that the quarter has undergone since the Middle Ages, it still has part of the original streets, buildings, and remains of its Jewish past. The Jewish quarter and its synagogues make one of the best studies in the entire region. Prior to the 13th century the Jews lived in houses that belonged to the cathedral. These houses were in what is now known as the Plaza de los Apóstoles. In the 13th century the call consisted of Força Street, extending from one end of the street up to the building of the Pía Almoina, and from the old city wall, between the street Força and Ballesteríes, reaching the streets Lluis Batle and Oliva I Prat. Made of stones, in several buildings within the medieval call one can still see the slots for the mezuzah. The earliest synagogue which existed until the beginning of the 13th century was in the Plaza de los Apóstoles, at the corner of the Cathedral and the Bishop's Palace. Another synagogue, which was in Força Street, was closed down in 1415 by the order of Benedict XIII, because it was claimed that it had been previously a church. (This was probably true.) In 1416 King Alfonso V ordered the return of the synagogue to the Jews. Under Juan II the synagogue was in ruins and remained so until the Expulsion. The third synagogue continued to function until 1492. While there is no absolute certainty, it is possible that this synagogue was at No 10 Força Street, which is today included in the Bonastruc Ça Porta or Nahmanides Center. Most of the tombstones found in the Jewish cemetery are displayed today in this center, where there is also a museum. The entrance to the center is in Sant Llorençstreet. The Jewish cemetery was on the hill called, as in Barcelona, Montjuich (The Jews' Mountain).

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

Baer, Spain, index; Baer, Urkunden, index; J. Girbal, Los Judíos de Gerona (1870); G. Scholem, Reshit ha-Kabbalah (1948), 127–61; A. Masiá de Ros, Gerona en la guerra civil en tiempo de Juan II (1943); Prats and Millás-Vallicrosa, in: Sefarad, 5 (1945), 131ff.; 12 (1952), 297–335; Angeles, ibid., 13 (1953), 287–309; Gallarty, ibid., 19 (1959), 301–20; Prats, ibid., 21 (1961), 48–57; Casanovas, ibid., 23 (1963), 22–25; 25 (1965), 49–58; J. Marqués Casanovas, in: Anales del Instituto de Estudios Gerundenses [= AIEG], 22 (1974–5), 1–21; idem, in: AIEG, 25:1 (1979–80), 283–98; idem, in: Actes, Jornades d'història dels jueus a Catalunya [= Actes] (1990), 225–35; J.M. Madurell Marimón, in: AIEG, 22 (1974–5), 23–49; S. Sobrequés Vidal, Societat I estructura política de la Girona medieval (1975), 139–86 (on the Jews of Gerona); J. Ventura Subirats, in: Cuadernos de Historia Económica de Cataluña, 14 (1976), 79–131; E. Mirambell Belloç, in: AIEG, 24 (1978), 5–18; idem, in: Actes (1990), 237–44; J. Calzada i Oliveras, in: Annals de l'Institut d'Estudis Gironins, 25:1 (1979–80), 375–93; R. Alberch i Fugueras and J. Nadal i Farreras, Bibliografia històrica, vol. 1 (1982), 169–72; E. Cortés, in: Revista Catalana de Teología, 7 (1982), 1–56; 9 (1984), 83–101; 10 (1985), 31–52; J. Marqués Casanovas, Casals de Girona, 4 (1984); C. Guilleré, Diner, poder I societat (1984), index; J. Riera i Sans, in: L'Avenç, 81 (April 1985), 62–64; idem, in: Actes (1990), 161–73; R. Alberch i Fugueras and N.G. Aragó, Els jueus a les terres gironines (1985); J. Peranau, in: Arxiu de Textos Catalans Antics, 4 (1985), 435–44; D. Romano (ed.), Per a una història de la Girona jueva, 2 vols. (1988); J. Casanovas, in: Calls, 3 (1988–9), 35–44.

[Haim Beinart]


Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.