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Catalan Jews

A Community That Has Existed Since the Middle Ages

Historically, the Catalan Jews are Jewish populations that date back to the 6th century as there is a tombstone with a Hebrew inscription and a Hebrew text dating from this period.

In fact, the earliest relic is a stone with trilingual, Latin, Greek and Hebrew, text, which said "Peace on Israel and on us and our children, Amen" and included a drawing of a seven-arm menorah. However, it isn't until the time of Charles the Bald in the 9th century that we find the first reference to a Jewish person named "Judà" or "Judacot", who was an emissary for the King in Barcelona.

The Jewish population grew over the following centuries and communities or Calls were established in Girona, Lleida, Cervera, Tortosa, Manresa, Tarragona, Perpinyà, Puigcerdà and Vilafranca del Penedès.



In some towns, there were two Calls. In Barcelona, for example, there was El Call Major or de la Volta and El Call de Sanaüja or de N'Àngela, and in Cervera El Call Antic, Vell or Sobirà and El Call Nou o Jussà.

There were also Jewish communities in Balaguer, Besalú and Castelló d'Empúries.

The Catalan Jews were considered the King's private property and consequently, were not subject to the nobles and the feudal system like the Christian population.

In this way, the King used the Jews to collect taxes and could oblige them to lend him money.

The Crown also favoured the existence of the Jews so that they could do jobs such as doctor or moneylender, which were considered unclean by Christians.

However, after the disturbances of 1391, whole Calls were destroyed and despite many attempts, the Jewish population in Barcelona never recovered.

Most of the Catalan Jews emigrated either to Aragon or to North Africa, which was why when the mass expulsion happened in 1492 there were very few Catalan-speaking Jews among the diaspora.

Jews in Catalonia were forced to identify themselves by wearing a distinctive badge.

Catalan Jews spoke mainly Catalan and only used Hebrew in religious ceremonies and texts which they wanted to be able to share with other Jewish communities.

Many of them also spoke Arabic and were often employed by the Catalan government as civil service although this practice was phased out after the restrictive laws of the Recognoverunt Proceres of 1283.

Throughout Europe, the Jews had their own legal institutions, which were often known as Alijamas although this name was more frequently applied to the Muslim legal structures.


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