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SARAGOSSA (Sp. Zaragoza; Heb. סרקרסטה ,סרקסטה), city in Aragon, N.E. Spain; capital of the former kingdom of Aragon. Jews were already living in Saragossa during the late Roman and Visigothic periods, for which, however, details are not available.

Muslim Period

There was an important Jewish community in Saragossa during the period of Muslim rule. In addition to commerce, Jews were well represented in various industries, particularly cloth and leather, tanning, and shoe making. The community was apparently influential, as the acceptance of certain Jewish practices by Saragossa Christians elicited a reaction on the part of the Mozarabic priest Evantius in the eighth century (Migne, Patrologia Latina, vol. 88, 719–22). It is also believed that *Bodo, the Frankish priest, converted to Judaism in 838 in Saragossa. Jews served as advisers in the court of the tolerant Tajib dynasty during the 11th century, among them, Abu Ishaq Jekuthiel b. Isaac of the wealthy *Ibn Hasan family, killed in 1039. A cultural and intellectual center in the 11th century, Saragossa was the residence of the philologist Jonah *Ibn Janaḥ, the physician and philosopher Menahem ibn al-Fawal, the poets Levi b. Jacob *Ibn Altabban and Moses *Ibn Al-Takkana, the poet and linguist Joseph ibn Ḥisdai, the talmudist and dayyan *David b. Saadiah, and the philosopher *Baḥya b. Joseph ibn Paquda. E. Ashtor (see bibliography) estimates that the Jews constituted 6.3% of the total population of Saragossa (which was under 20,000) during the 11th century. Saragossa also had a Karaite community.

The Jewish Quarter

From the time of Muslim rule until the eve of the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492, the Jewish quarter in Saragossa continued to be situated within the city walls of the Roman period, in the southeastern section. It was formerly larger than during the final years of the Jewish settlement in Saragossa. The judería no longer exists. Its location was at the back of today's Ramiro I hotel, between the Seminar of San Carlos and Magdalena Place. There was "the enclosed" judería, and there was a second one, the new one, outside the Roman walls. The old Jewish quarter was surrounded by the Roman walls and an inner wall that separated it from the Christian districts. This quarter had six gates. It center was in today's Santo Dominguito street, which led to the Gate of the Judería. The fortress of the Jews, the slaughter-house, the Great Synagogue and the hospital were located there. In the fortress there was a prison for Jews and Muslims. As a result of the growth of the community, by the end of the 13th century a new Jewish quarter was established. This new quarter, situated to the south of the old one, between the Coso and San Miguel streets, has preserved its medieval features more or less. This quarter is known as Barrio Nuevo. The buildings of the community included a series of synagogues: the Great Synagogue (Mayor) in San Carlos place, the Small Synagogue (Menor), the Engravers' Synagogue (which appears to have been known as the Bikkur Ḥolim synagogue), the Synagogue of Cehán, the Synagogue of Bienvenist, and the Synagogue of Hevrat Talmud Torah. The only Jewish building that has remained is that of the Jewish Baths, found in Coso, nos 132–136. The community representatives were accustomed to meet in the Aljaferia fortress situated outside the city when they elected their leaders and officials. During the 14th century the king maintained a zoological garden in one of its wings, and the community was responsible for the feeding of the animals.

After the Christian Reconquest

When Saragossa was conquered by Alfonso I el Batallador in 1118, the Jews were granted various privileges. Alfonso had close relations with a Jew named Eleazar who lived in Saragossa and was employed in the service of the king. In the distribution of properties which followed the conquest, there is also mention of the alfaquim Benveniste and his family who received a vineyard in the outskirts of the city. When Alfonso VII of Castile occupied Saragossa for a short while (1134), he ratified the grants to the San Salvador Church in Saragossa previously made by Alfonso I of Aragon from the tithe and customs duties which were paid by the Moors and the Jews. In 1195 Alfonso II granted Maestre Jossep Aben Filca, his brother Rabi Asser, and their heirs after them, an annual income of 300 sólidos which was to be paid to them from the customs duties received from the Jews of Saragossa.

Pedro II continued to grant further personal privileges: in 1212, he granted to the Jew Alazrach, son of Abulfath Abenalazar, the members of his household and his heirs, a series of rights on their property; he exempted them from the reproof section which formed part of the text of the Jewish *oath, from the Jewish ban (ḥerem), and from the community's regulations. James I also adopted this policy of granting privileges to the distinguished Jewish families of Saragossa and thus favored the members of the *Alconstantini and de la *Cavallería families. Members of the Alconstantini family (Baḥya and Solomon) accompanied him as interpreters when he set out on his campaign to conquer the Balearic Isles and Valencia. Members of these families, as well as of the Benveniste family, gave their support to the counter-ban issued in 1232 by the communities of Huesca, Monzon, Calatayud, and Lérida against *Solomon b. Abraham of Montpellier and his colleagues because of their ban against those who studied the works of Maimonides and philosophy (see *Maimonidean Controversy).

One of the principal occupations of the Jews of Saragossa was garment making. The draperos held an important place in the community, coming directly after the personalities who had influence at court. Their shops were situated in the Jewish quarter and beyond, and they also employed Christians in spinning and weaving. They were followed in rank by craftsmen of every category: tailors, engravers, mantle-makers, furriers, goldsmiths, wool-cleaners, metal workers, blacksmiths, shoemakers, embroiderers, and cobblers, several of whom received special privileges in appreciation of their services to the crown. These craftsmen later organized their own benevolent societies. There were also landowners in the community who owned fields and vineyards outside the city, cultivated by daily workers and slaves. This occupational structure persisted until the expulsion.

The gap between the rich and the poor was very wide. The rich, including the francos who were exempt from contributing to the taxes paid by the community and were outside its jurisdiction, had full control of all communal affairs. The lower classes, composed of craftsmen, felt very oppressed. In 1263 they organized an opposition group called Kat ha-Ḥavurah (The People's Faction) and tried to obtain certain rights with the help of the king. This courageous act was the beginning of a social struggle that spread in the Kingdom of Aragon and caused constitutional reform in many communities. This did not always produce satisfactory results, and the members of the lower classes adopted a new method for ameliorating their position. They established many confraternities, ḥavurot in Hebrew, which tried to resolve their social, economic, educational, and medical problems that the establishment failed to solve. The leading confraternities were the Rodfei Zedek, Osei Hesed, Malbishe Arumim, Bikur Ḥolim, Shomrei Ḥolim, the confraternities of the craftsmen which included the shoemakers and the tanners, as well as religious groups that included Ashmoret ha-Boker, confraria fr Cefarim, and Talmud Torah.

James I granted additional privileges to the community, including rights of judicial autonomy; the *oath could be taken according to Jewish law; lawsuits between Jews and Christians could take place before a judge of the same religion as the defendant; Jewish prisoners were set free for the Sabbath. The history of the community during his reign was marked by the internal struggle for power between the de la Cavallería and Alconstantini families. Don Judah de la Cavallería, the bailiff of the city, became involved in a dispute with Solomon *Alconstantini. Don Judah remained in office until 1276 and died a short while later. Moses Alconstantini, the alfaquim of Pedro III, was appointed in his place. Don Moses was, however, unable to hold his position in Saragossa, and in 1277 became bailiff of Valencia. During the time of Don Judah the first *blood libel on Spanish soil was circulated in Saragossa (1250); the Jews were accused of the murder of a Christian child and the subsequent agitation reached a dangerous pitch. The community of Saragossa was among the largest in the kingdom, not of lesser size than those of Barcelona in Catalonia or Toledo in Castile, at times even surpassing them. The community administration, which was responsible to the crown for the payment of taxes, introduced internal systems of taxation. In addition to the direct tax, it levied an indirect tax on meat, wine, commercial transactions, loans, and real estate, a profit tax, a tax on dowries, and a tax on the daily wage of craftsmen (cf. Solomon b. Abraham Adret, Resp., pt. 5, nos. 279, 281).

In 1294 a rumor spread in Saragossa that some Jews had murdered a Christian child and extracted his heart and liver for magical purposes. The municipal authorities appointed an expert on magic to investigate the matter, while in the meantime the Jews succeeded in finding the "murdered" child in a neighboring city. King James II severely condemned the municipal authorities for the disaster which they had been about to bring upon the community.

In the tax regulations of 1331, the community sought to reorganize both the internal taxation system and the methods of collecting the tax for which it was responsible to the king. Particularly important were the taxes levied on commercial transactions, real estate, and movable property, the sisa tax on meat and wine, and the methods of measuring and assessing which were introduced to prevent evasion. In 1333 Alfonso IV issued several edicts in favor of the community connected with the registration procedure for debts and pledges. Pedro IV also issued similar laws, but apparently the community administration, which also had the support of the government, did not succeed in overcoming the irregularities persisting in taxation, its assessment and collection. In 1335 the infante Pedro informed his father Alfonso IV of the degenerate condition of the community and the irregularities found in it. By then the community was almost ruined through the accumulation of debts and the loans which it was compelled to seek in order to pay the levies and fines which the state itself imposed with such frequency. In 1342, on the basis of a privilege granted by Pedro IV, the community of Saragossa proclaimed a ḥerem upon anyone who obtained a tax exemption or accepted a position in the community as rabbi, shoḥet, scribe, albedin, or emissary with the assistance of a royal privilege.

The *Black Death struck a severe blow at the community of Saragossa. Hardly one-fifth of its members survived. On Oct. 27, 1348, King Pedro instructed the procurador-general of Aragon and the other royal officials in Saragossa not to compel the community to pay taxes until the plague ceased and new arrangements for tax payment were agreed upon. Members of the de la Cavallería family, whose position had diminished after the death of Don Judah, once more gained the leadership in the community administration; subsequently they maintained their position until most of them converted to Christianity after the disputation of *Tortosa (see below).

The cultural and general progress of the community in the early 1360s was largely due to the de la Cavallería family. Don Vidal de la Cavallería, one of the kingdom's notables, leased the minting of gold coins in the kingdom in conjunction with a Christian of Saragossa, an agent of the king, and leased the taxes in collaboration with another Christian. He was versed in Jewish learning, and after his death in 1373 his wife Orovida continued to manage her husband's affairs. His brother, Solomon, was also active in his town and community. The most outstanding member of the family, however, was his son and the son-in-law of Vidal: Judah Benveniste de la Cavallería, who, from the late 1370s, was involved in many of the kingdom's affairs and carried on important commerce in Barcelona and other places. His house in Saragossa was a center of Hebrew culture and he signed state documents in Hebrew. Solomon and Benveniste maintained friendly relations with *Nissim b. Reuben Gerondi and apparently supported *Isaac b. Sheshet Perfet, who arrived in Saragossa in about 1372–73 and was active there for 13 years. The responsa left by Isaac b. Sheshet yield much information on the way of life of the Jews of Saragossa.

In the relations between the king and the community of Saragossa there was no change in the attitude of the crown. In 1363 Pedro IV imposed a levy of 5,000 livres in Jaca currency toward the expenses of the war against Castile. From the 1370s the administration of the community was dominated by Solomon Abnarrabi, one of the leading muqaddimūn. Apparently, the members of the de la Cavallería family had ceased to take an interest in communal affairs. In the early 1380s, complaints concerning the inefficient administration of the community were submitted to the king's treasurer. It was revealed that the debts of the community amounted to 200,000 sólidos, and the muqaddimūn were accused of having exempted their relatives from taxes and granting them benefits.

It was only from 1386 that the community began to repay its debts, and R. Ḥasdai *Crescas, who settled in Saragossa about that time, did much to liquidate the debts and improve the community's condition. In 1387 he was appointed supreme justice in the prosecution of informers throughout the kingdom. He became the leader of the Jews in the kingdom after the anti-Jewish persecutions of 1391.

Saragossa was spared from the persecutions of 1391 because of the presence of the king in the city, which he used as a summer residence. The king and queen did not leave the city until the end of October to punish the rioters. In April 1392, John I thanked the city leaders for protecting the community and encouraged them to maintain this policy.

Activities for the rehabilitation of the communities of the kingdom after the persecutions subsequently centered in Saragossa. Ḥasdai Crescas and Moses b. Samuel Abbas, who had moved from Tudela to Saragossa during the 1370s, devoted themselves to the welfare of their coreligionists. Following the massacres in the peninsula, Ḥasdai Crescas assumed the leadership of the communities and offered financial assistance to those who suffered in the massacres. Crescas made several journeys to Navarre, probably to suggest a haven to the Jews who had suffered from the persecutions. It may be that in this context we have to understand Crescas' famous letter to the community of Avignon.

In 1396, with the consent of the government, Ḥasdai Crescas instituted regulations for the community of Saragossa. They show a pronounced tendency to strengthen the authority of the muqaddimūn and enable them to impose their decisions without undue delays. As early as 1399 the queen, however, found it necessary to accept the complaints of the community and change these regulations. According to the decisions of Ḥasdai Crescas, the treasurer was appointed from among the four muqaddimūn, while the funds of the community were supervised by one of them, and could not pass from his keeping. The queen allocated an annual sum of 8,000 sólidos to defray outstanding debts, while Ḥasdai Crescas had set no limits to the amounts which could be collected. The queen clearly intended to minimize the authoritative tendencies of his regulations, while maintaining the community in an orderly state. Ḥasdai Crescas died in 1410, Benveniste de la Cavallería in 1411, but worthy successors of these two personalities were still available. The rabbinical position of Ḥasdai Crescas was taken over by *Merahiah b. Isaac ha-Levi (en Ferrer Saladin), who was assisted by *Mattathias ha-Yiẓhari and Moses Abbas, leaders of former days.


MUSLIM PERIOD: Ashtor, Korot, 1 (1966), 51, 218–22; 2 (1966), 153f., 160–5; idem, in: Zion, 28 (1963), 42; Torres-Balbas, in: Al-Andalus, 19 (1954), 191–2; 21 (1956), 172–90; J. Bosch Vilá, in: Cuadernos de historia, 10–11 (1960), 7–67. CHRISTIAN PERIOD: Baer, Spain; Baer, Urkunden; Baer, Studien; idem, in: Devir, 2 (1924), 310ff.; Beinart, in: Sefunot, 5 (1961), 77–134; B. Dinur, ibid., 32 (1967), 161–74; M. Serrano y Sanz, Orígenes de la dominacíon española en Améríca, 1 (1918); F. Vendrell Gallostra, in: Sefarad, 3 (1943), 115–54; F. Cantera, ibid., 7 (1947), 147–51; L. Piles Ros, ibid., 10 (1950), 75ff.; R. del Arco, ibid., 14 (1954), 79–98; J. Cabezudo Astrain, ibid., 372–84; 15 (1955), 103–36; 16 (1956), 136–47; 20 (1960), 407–17; F. Vendrell de Millás, ibid., 326–51; 24 (1964), 81–106; F. Cantera, Sinagogas españolas (1955), 353–66; A. López de Meneses in: Estudios de Edad Media de la Corona de Aragón, 6 (1956), 48, 49, 102, 103, 141; A. Huici Miranda, ibid., 7 (1962), 7–32; G. Tilander, Documento desconocido de la aljama de Zaragoza del año 1331 (1958); M. Gual Camarena, in: Hispania, 82 (1961), 189–231; J. Madurell-Marimón, ibid., 84 (1961), 495–548; H.C. Lea, A History of the Inquisition of Spain (1904), index. ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: A. Canellas, in: Boletín municipal de Zaragoza, 37 (1974), 85–97; J.L. Lacave, in: Sefarad, 35 (1975), 3–35; M.P. Gay Molíns, in: Cuadernos de historia, 31–32 (1978), 141–81; idem, in: La ciudad de Zaragoza en la Corona de Aragón (1984), 335–42; Y. Assis, in: Proceedings of the 7th World Congress of Jewish Studies, (1981), vol. 4, 37–7 (Hebrew section); idem, in: H. Beinart (ed.), The Sephardi Legacy (1992), 318–45; D. Romano, in: La ciudad de Zaragoza en la Corona de Aragón (1984), 507–19; E. Gutwirth, in: Sefarad, 45 (1985), 23–53; A. Blasco Martínez, in: Minorités et marginaux en France méridionale et dans la péninsule ibérique (VIIIe–XVIIIe siècles) (1986), 177–202; idem, in: Aragón en la edad media, 7 (1988), 81–96; idem, in: Michael, 11 (1989), 99–120; idem, in: Sefarad, 49 (1989), 227–36; 50 (1990), 3–46; 265–88; idem, La judería de Zaragoza en el siglo XIV (1988); idem, Aragón en la edad media, 8 (1989), 113–31; idem, in: Anuario de estudios medievales 19 (1989), 113–31; M.A. Motis Dolader, La expulsión de los judíos de Zaragoza, (1985); idem, in: Minorités et marginaux en France méridionale et dans la péninsule ibérique (VIIe–XVIIIe siècles), (1986), 385–412; idem, in: Proceedings of the 9th World Congress of Jewish Studies, (1986), Division B, vol. 1, 121–28; idem, in: Aragón en la edad media, 6 (1987), 247–62; idem, in: Aragón en la edad media, 7 (1988), 97–155; J. Lomba Fuentes, La filosofía judía en Zaragoza, (1988).

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.