The 1391 Balearic Shoah

“Balearic Isles”, Jewish Encyclopedia (New York: Funk & Wagnalls Company), Kike Isidore Singer, et al, eds. 1901–1906)

Jaime I (1213–76) of Aragon, who carried in his train Don Bachiel of Saragossa to act as interpreter, conquered Majorca on the last day of the year 1229, and annexed it to his kingdom. He gave the Jews a quarter in the neighborhood of his palace for their dwellings, granted protection to all Hebrews who wished to settle on the island, guaranteed them the rights of citizens, permitted them to adjudicate their own civil disputes, to kill cattle according to their ritual, and to draw up their wills and marriage contracts in Hebrew. Christians and Moors were forbidden, under severe penalties, to insult the Jews or to take earth and stones from their cemeteries; and the Jews were ordered to complain directly to the king of any act of injustice toward them on the part of the royal officials. They were allowed to charge 20 per cent interest on loans, but the amount of interest was not to exceed the capital.

In case a Jew practised usury, the community was not held responsible. The penalty for lending money on the wages of slaves hired out by their masters was loss of the capital. Jews could buy and hold houses, vineyards, and other property in Majorca as well as in any other part of the kingdom. They could not be compelled to lodge Christians in their homes: in fact, Christians were forbidden to dwell with Jews; and Jewish convicts were given separate cells in the prisons. If the slave of a Jew or Moor adopted Judaism or Mohammedanism, he had to be set free and was required to leave the island.

Jaime II (1291–1327) confirmed the Jews in all the privileges conferred on them by his predecessor: he also allowed them to build a synagogue in the new “Calle” (Jews’ quarter), and to own a cemetery. Unlike the Jews of Aragon, the Jews from the Balearic Isles were exempt from the duty of furnishing beds and bread to the royal family or to the governor. Moreover, they were not forced to pay the special taxes demanded of the Jews of Catalonia and Aragon.

The Jews of Majorca, Minorca, and Ibiza always formed one congregation. The Christian propaganda, here as well as elsewhere, grew ever stronger. Endeavors were made to convert Jews, and a similar theological controversy to that which occurred in Aragon took place in 1286.[1] Somewhat later, priests forced themselves into the Jewish quarter; a tumult arose, representative Jews made complaint (1305), and the clergy were absolutely forbidden to enter the Jewish quarter or the homes of Jews unless accompanied by a bailiff or an official of the governor. Fearing expulsion, the fate of their coreligionists in France (1306), the Jews of Majorca, after the death of the humane Jaime I., addressed themselves (1311) to the new king, Sancho I., with a request for protection; and he confirmed their privileges.

Evil times for the Jews in the Balearic Isles began with the Council of Vienne (1312), which prohibited all intercourse between Jew and Christian, and urged the clergy to the conversion of Jews. Nonetheless, the Jews of the islands converted to Judaism (1314) two Christians from Germany, who had been refused admission to Judaism by a number of Spanish rabbis, even by those of Gerona and Lerida. As soon as Bishop Villanova of Majorca heard of the conversion, he imposed a fine of 150,000 florins on the Jews. The king, besides, confiscated their books and all their personal property and real estate, and converted into a church their beautiful synagogue which had been scarcely completed. On payment of 95,000 florins they were granted immunity from further penalties, and they were allowed to build another synagogue in the place of that taken from them. To raise the enormous sum, the heads of the congregation placed (1315) a tax upon everything—on wine, meat, bread, whatever was bought and used, on their stock of merchandise, and even on new clothes. The tax was to be levied for ten years, and was sanctioned by a royal statute. At the same time a petition was addressed to the king, praying him to restore to the Jews all their former privileges, and to order that in the future no Jew should be forcibly baptized; that a Jew sentenced to death should be hanged, like a Christian, by the head and not by the feet; that the inquisitor should always examine a Jew in the presence of a bailiff or his representative; and that a Jew should be free to have an advocate. The Jews worked hard to pay the fine, and in 1328 the amount was cleared. The avaricious Sancho in his own interest granted them freedom to trade, and in 1318 gave them the assurance that neither they nor their descendants should be expelled from the Jewish quarter, which was surrounded with walls and provided with gates.

Jaime II, the nephew of Don Sancho, succeeded him, but was under the guardianship of his uncle Philip. At the beginning of his regency, Philip, in the king’s name, confirmed all the privileges of the Jews, and in 1325 bestowed on them the right of citizenship. He protected them from forcible baptism, and strictly forbade the baptism of their children against the parents’ will. Permission was granted them (1331) to build a new synagogue in their quarter, but it was not to be too elaborate. As one means of preventing the erection of a handsome building, Jaime collected all their money into the state treasury. Under Pedro IV (1336–87), who in 1344 united Majorca with the kingdom of Aragon, the Jews of the Balearic Isles lived unmolested, with all their rights safeguarded; but at the time of the hostile agitations against the Jews in Spain their peaceful condition likewise came to an end.

The greater the indebtedness of the Christians to the Jews, the more inimical became their attitude. As a result of this state of affairs, the governor of the islands forbade (1390) all Jews to carry weapons, even in their own quarter, or to leave their homes two hours after sunset without carrying a light. After the outbreaks in Valencia and Barcelona (1391), the governor had to interfere for the safety of the Jews’ quarter in Palma de Mallorca. On August 24, 1391, the long-dreaded calamity fell upon the community of Majorca. Jewish homes were sacked; and even the houses of Christians sheltering Jews in concealment were not spared. About 300 Jews were put to death, 800 saved themselves in the royal castle, and the rest underwent baptism. When Queen Violante was informed of the outrage, she condemned the inhabitants of the islands to pay a fine of 150,000 florins (or, according to some authorities, 104,000 florins). A year later (1392), however, Juan I granted full amnesty to all who had practised violence against the Jews or “the Calle,” because they had done it for the welfare of king and state; and he further declared all debts of the Christians to the Jews to be null and void.

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