LEÓN


LEÓN
LEÓN, capital of the ancient kingdom of León, Spain. The community of León was one of the oldest in Christian Spain, outside Catalonia. The earliest sources date back to the tenth-century. The Jews engaged in real estate and commerce. The Jewish quarter apparently remained in the same location in the Santa Ana quarter from the beginnings of Jewish settlement. The 14th-century synagogue was situated in the Cal de Moros, now Calle de Misericordia. The Prado de los Judíos ("Meadow of the Jews") is on the site of the medieval cemetery. Various sources mention Jews in León who became converted to Christianity in the tenth century. One of the apostates, Habaz (or Navaz), bestowed all his property on the local monastery. From the 11th century information becomes more plentiful. A number of Jews resided in the citadel, and owned real estate, fields, gardens, and vineyards in the vicinity. Some engaged in moneylending and commerce. The status of the Jews was regularized by a fuero ("charter") granted in 1020. In the 11th century (1091) the Jews of León enjoyed special privileges as they were under royal jurisdiction. One concession was the right to have lawsuits with Christians heard by the king or one of the court clergy. When the issue was to be decided by duel, the Jew was entitled to appoint a champion. The charter was subsequently used as a model for the legislation applying to other communities in the kingdom of León. The cemetery of Puente Castro near León contains tombstones dating from the 11th century, including those of Jews from León. According to Hebrew sources, there was a well-organized Jewish community in León that was the home of distinguished scholars. The Hebrew sources found in the Archivo Catedralicio de León reveal a high level of rabbinic learning there. In the 13th century, despite a certain religious decline, the community was the home of some very important scholars, first and foremost Moses de León , the famous kabbalist, and Moses ben Shem Tov de León . From the 13th century the rights of the Jewish community in León were progressively curtailed by a series of royal decrees. In 1260 Alfonso X fixed the rate of interest on loans. Sancho IV included León in a royal decree issued to palencia in 1286, providing that lawsuits between Jews were to be tried by Jewish judges and lawsuits between Christians by Christian judges so as to prevent the trial of mixed lawsuits by Jewish judges. In 1293 King Sancho acceded to a request by the Cortes in Valladolid that excluded Jews from taxfarming in León, and confirmed an order issued by Alfonso X prohibiting the Jews in León from acquiring real estate, etc. Ferdinand IV forbade the Jews in León to appear at his court. However, he permitted them to choose a judge for settling their disputes, a privilege for which they paid 400 maravedis to the municipality. In 1305 they concluded an agreement with the municipality that if the royal judges were not local residents, the Jews would be entitled to make recourse to a judge of their own choice. In 1313 the Infante Don Juan, in the name of Alfonso XI, confirmed that the regulations issued by the Cortes of Palencia also applied to León. The Jews throughout the kingdom of León were now compelled to wear the yellow badge on their garments; no Jew could be released from paying taxes; and the evidence of a Jew could not be used against Christians. In 1332 Alfonso XI granted the inhabitants of León a general moratorium on Jewish loans and in 1365 Pedro ordered both Jews and Moors to pay the alcabal (indirect taxes) like the other residents in León. The troubles experienced by Spanish Jewry in the 15th century also affected the Jews in León. The low tax paid by the community in 1439 shows that it had become impoverished: instead of 6,400 maravedis in old coin, they paid only 2,700 maravedis in silver. Its Jewish population was greatly reduced. At most there were some 150 Jewish families or about 500 Jews. On May 25, 1449, riots broke out and most of the Jewish quarter was pillaged. However, in this case the crown took action against the aggressors and ordered that they should be arrested and tried, and their property confiscated. In 1481 the Jews in León were ordered to leave the Jewish quarter, but in 1488 the crown agreed to allow them to enlarge it. The names of several Jewish taxfarmers from León are known from the second half of the 15th century. The Jews in León in this period, besides engaging in crafts, commerce, and agriculture, also sold goods in the mountain villages. Some of these merchants complained to the king that their clients had refused to pay for the goods. In the years preceding the expulsion León had a yeshivah headed by R. Isaac Besudo. After the decree of expulsion of 1492, the governor of León, John of Portugal, undertook to protect the Jews there in return for a payment of 3,000 maravedis but failed to honor the agreement and seized their property. Jewish property was also looted after the exiles had left, but some was restored to Jews who returned to León in 1493 and accepted baptism. -BIBLIOGRAPHY: Baer, Spain, index; Baer, Urkunden, index; F. Castro and F. de Onís, Fueros Leoneses (1916); C. Sánchez Albornoz, Estampas de la vida en Leon hace mil años (1934); F. Cantera, Sinagogas Españolas (1955), 237; idem, in: Sefarad, 3 (1943), 329–58; Cantera-Millás, Inscripciones (1956), 5–25; Cantera-Burgos, in: Sefarad, 24 (1964), 3–11; Gonzales, in: Hispania, 3 (1943), 195ff.; J. Rodríguez Fernández, De Historia Leonesa (1961); idem, in: Archivos Leoneses, 2 (1947), 33–72; 2 (1948), 15–27, 29ff.; 4 (1950), 11–53; González Gallego, ibid., 21 (1967), 375–408; Suárez Fernández, Documentos, index. ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: J.A. Martín Fuertes and C. Álvarez   Álvarez, Archivo Histórico Municipal de León; catálogo de los documentos, (1982), index. (Haim Beinart)

Encyclopedia Judaica. 1971.

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