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Ferdinand and Isabella order expulsion of Jews from Spain

This Day in World History

March 30, 1492

Ferdinand and Isabella order expulsion of Jews from Spain

On January 2, 1492, Ferdinand II, King of Aragon, and Isabella, Queen of Castile, completed La Reconquista (the Reconquest) — the Christian victory over Muslims in Spain — by forcing the surrender of Granada, the last Muslim stronghold. Less than two months later, they signed a decree that signaled the end of the toleration of another religious group within their lands. On March 30, they ordered that all of Spain’s Jews had to either convert to Christianity or leave the country. And those Jews had just four months to make their choices.

The Alhambra Decree (also known as the Edict of Expulsion).
Spain had some 200,000 Jews, many of them from families that had lived in Spain for centuries. Jews had been tolerated by both Christian and Muslim states over those years and had contributed much to Spanish culture and economic life. The Dominican monk Tomas de Torquemada, however, believed that allowing Jews and Muslims to live in Spain would corrupt Christian Spanish society. He had the ear of the royal family; he was Isabella’s confessor. As long as the Reconquest was unfinished, however, Ferdinand and Isabella resisted his arguments for expulsion. But when Granada fell, they enacted the policy he had long advocated.

Pressured by the looming deadline, thousands of Jews had to sell their property at low prices. Many fled to the Ottoman Empire, whose sultan openly invited them. Thousands moved to Portugal, where they were offered safe haven. That safety only lasted a few years, however. In 1497, Portugal’s King Manuel married Ferdinand and Isabella’s daughter. Part of the marriage agreement was their insistence that he, too, expel the Jews.

The Jews who left Iberia are called Sephardic Jews because Sefarad (סְפָרַד) is the word for Spain in Hebrew. Bitter over the expulsion, many Jews vowed never to live in Spain.

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