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TORTOSA, city in Tarragona provinces, N.E. Spain; it had one of the oldest Jewish communities in the Iberian Peninsula. A tombstone inscribed in three languages (Hebrew, Latin, and Greek) belonging to the first centuries of the Christian era (opinions conflict as to its exact date) attests the early existence of Jews in the city. The Jewish quarter was situated in the northern part of the town, now slightly north of the district known as Remolinos; the Jewish cemetery (from which only a few tombstones have survived) was situated to the east of the city wall. The existence of the quarter is commemorated by the names of such streets as Jerusalem Alley and Jerusalem Street.

Muslim Period

During the Muslim period many Tortosa Jews engaged in agriculture and in the flourishing maritime trade, maintaining commercial ties with Jews of Barcelona and southern France. The city was also a center of Jewish learning as is shown by 10th- and 11th-century responsa which indicate a high level of talmudic knowledge and devout religious observance. The poet, grammarian, and lexicographer *Menahem b. Jacob ibn Saruq (mid-10th century) was a native of Tortosa and returned to his birthplace after losing the patronage of *Ḥisdai Ibn Shaprut of Córdoba. Another native of Tortosa, the physician and geographer *Ibrahim b. Yaqub, Menahem's contemporary, was sent by Caliph al-Ḥakam II to travel and survey Western and Central Europe. The Hebrew liturgical poet Levi b. Isaac ibn Mar Saul lived in Tortosa in the early 11th century. Ashtor (see bibliography) estimates Tortosa's Jewish population in the 11th century at about 30 families.

Under Christian Rule

Ramon Berenguer IV, count of Barcelona, captured Tortosa from the Muslims in 1148. The treaty of capitulation was similar to that of *Tudela, but the article which prohibited the appointment of Jewish officials with rights of jurisdiction over Muslims was omitted. It appears that the Jewish community was destroyed during this war of conquest and Ramon Berenguer attempted to restore it. He set aside a plot of land between the coast and the R. Ebro, which was then fortified and surrounded with towers, on which 60 residential houses were built. Berenguer also granted the Jews vineyards and gardens which had formerly belonged to Muslims, so that the cultivation of these became the principal occupation of the Jews, in addition to crafts and maritime trade. He also promised land to any Jew who would settle in Tortosa, and Jews were exempted from the payment of taxes for four years. Even after this period, they were not required to do any "work, customary tasks or duties for the count or the other lords of the land, unless of their own free will." The ruler decreed that no Muslim should exercise authority over Jews; lawsuits between Jews and Christians were to be adjudicated under the privileges enjoyed by the community of Barcelona. These conditions were an exceptional opportunity for the development of the Jewish community.

However, the hopes which Berenguer had placed in the Jews did not materialize because of the division between the various lords of the town who challenged his authority over it and severely oppressed the Jewish population. In February 1181, Alfonso II of Aragon granted the Jews of Tortosa a privilege, with the consent of Raimundo de Moncada (who held the right of jurisdiction over the Jews of the town) according to which they were authorized to present one of the town's lords with a gift without incurring the obligation of giving gifts to the others. Pledges were not to be taken from them for their debts, they were not to be confined to their houses, and if they were condemned to imprisonment, they were to be detained in the fortress (see Rashba Solomon b. Abraham *Adret, Responsa, IV, 260). The sum which was paid in taxes in 1271 – 6,000 sólidos – testifies to the strength and wealth of the community. Tortosa and Alcañez then formed a single entity, for tax purposes.

Pedro III granted the Jews of Tortosa the right of sitting as judges in the local tribunals, though with a lower rank than the Christian judges. During the 13th century Jews were employed as bailiffs by the Moncada family and by the Templars.

At the beginning of the 14th century, the community of Tortosa addressed a complaint to James II against the moratorium on debts which he had granted to the Christian inhabitants of the town, claiming that oral promises that the debts owed to them would be repaid could not be relied upon.

Result of the Persecutions of 1391

The community of Tortosa suffered during the persecutions of the Jews in Spain in 1391. On July 24, John I wrote to the municipal council, requiring them not only to protect the Jews but also to rehabilitate the community. At the end of the month the Jews were still concealed in the fortress, but from the beginning of August they were taken away individually to the houses of the townsmen in order to be baptized, by force if necessary. Christian townsmen and Jewish apostates collaborated in these acts, the latter compelling the conversion of their wives, parents, and children. On August 14 disorders broke out against both the Jews and the municipal authorities who were accused of giving the Jews assistance and support. By arresting the instigator of the disorders, the municipal leaders succeeded in suppressing the riots; many Jews, however, abandoned their religion during these events. After more than a month (on Sept. 2), the king wrote to the municipal leaders of Tortosa requesting information concerning the heirless property of the Jews who had died as martyrs. In April 1392 he authorized the impoverished Jews who were then living in the fortress to remain there and ordered the bailiff to protect them. Turning his attention to the relations between Jews and *Conversos, the king issued a decree (Aug. 18, 1393) in which he prohibited Jews and Conversos to live in the same quarter, to eat or to pray together. Upon the instructions of the bishop, the Conversos were obliged to attend church, listen to missionary sermons, adhere to Christian observances, and immediately separate themselves from the Jews. The Jews were compelled to wear a distinctive *badge and garb, and sexual relations between Jews and Christians (obviously referring to Conversos) were punishable by burning at the stake. It nevertheless appears that toward the close of the century (1397) a number of laws favorable to both the Jews and the Moors of Tortosa were issued.

Disputation of Tortosa

In 1412 Tortosa became the focus of events which the Jews of Aragon regarded with trepidation, and that proved a turning point in their history, namely, the Disputation of Tortosa (see *Tortosa, Disputation of). The community of Tortosa itself was represented by the poet Solomon b. Reuben *Bonafed who gives a description of the tense atmosphere which pervaded throughout the kingdom in general, and in Tortosa in particular, during the disputation.

The disputation began on Feb. 7, 1413, and was continued, with interruptions until Nov. 1414.

In 1417 the community of Tortosa began to recover. Alfonso V exempted Jews who came to live there from payment of taxes for five years. There is also some information on the community from the reign of Ferdinand II, who in 1480 issued a decree in which he instructed the community of Tortosa on the procedure for electing community leaders, trustees, and *muqaddimūn. In October 1481 he issued further instructions concerning the swearing-in of officials, and also authorized the election of relatives (e.g., father, son, brothers, father-in-law and son-in-law) to serve in the community – a practice forbidden by the regulations of the Spanish communities. Ferdinand II ordered the election of Benveniste Barzilai as the leader of the community.

An indication of the atmosphere in Tortosa on the eve of the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492 can be deduced from the fine imposed on Abraham Toledano of Tortosa, who made a wager, with a number of Christians that the Catholic Monarchs would not capture Loja and Málaga from the Muslims. Tortosa, like neighboring Barcelona and Tarragona, was also a port of departure for Jewish refugees from Spain.


MUSLIM PERIOD: Ashtor, Korot, 1 (1960), 226–9; idem, in: Zion, 28 (1963), 48–49. CHRISTIAN PERIOD: Baer, Spain, index; Baer, Urkunden, 1 (1929), index; H.C. Lea, A History of the Inquisition of Spain, 1 (1906), 544; F. Carreras i Candi, Laljama de jueus de Tortosa (1928); Neuman, Spain, index; F. Vendrell, in: Sefarad, 10 (1950), 353ff., 362f.; D. Romano, ibid., 13 (1953), 79ff.; A. López de Meneses, in: Estudios de Edad Media de la Corona de Aragón, 6 (1952), 748–9; J.M. Font Rius, in: Cuadernos de Historia de España, 10 (1953), 124ff.; E. Bayerri y Bartomeu, Historia de Tortosa y su comarca, 4 (1954), 90ff.; F. Cantera, Sinagogas españolas (1955), 319f.; Cantera-Millás, Inscripciones, 267–77.

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