A Brief History of Spain (6)

There is a third name by which the Iberian Peninsula has been known; Sepharad, the name given by the Jews.In the fifth century BC, one of the minor prophets of the bible, Obadiah, prophesying the structure of the new Israel when the Jews return to the Promised Land from exile, makes an interesting reference in verse 20. “...and the exiles from Jerusalem now in Sepharad will occupy the towns of the Negeb.” So before either the Christian or the Muslim religions existed, Jews were living in Sepharad, and continued to do so for more than a thousand years. Indeed, the territory gave rise to the name of one of the two main branches of Judaism in Europe, the Sephardim, descendants of the Jews of what is now known as Spain and Portugal; the other branch, the Ashkenazim, are the descendants of Jews of Germanic and Russian lands. Why do the Jews not feature more prominently in the history of Spain? Possibly because the Jews did not come as an invading army; they came as merchants and traders. They were also skilled craftsmen working in gold, silver, leather and fabrics, serving their wealthy neighbours. Later they became bankers and in the days of Al-Andalus, they were trusted by both Christians and Muslims as diplomats, ambassadors and negotiators. In addition, then as now, the Jews set great store by learning and so they also excelled as teachers, philosophers, doctors and translators. Jewish quarters thrived in the main cities of Al- Andalus, especially in Toledo, Córdoba, Sevilla and Granada. There were Jews who spoke the languages of the east, Arabic, Greek, Persian, Egyptian in addition to Hebrew, and there were Jews who spoke Latin as well as Hebrew. So, especially in Toledo, there were Jews translating the classical texts into Hebrew and other Jews translating the newly translated Hebrew texts into Latin, after which they could be, and were, disseminated widely across Christian Europe. They were the vital link between east and west.

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