The two major centers of Jewish life in Spain are Madrid (4,500) and Barcelona (3,500), followed by Malaga, where a smaller number of Jews live. Other communities are found in Alicante, Cadiz, Marbella, Majorca, Torremolinos, and Valencia, Canary Islands, Oviedo, Seville. In Spanish North Africa, Jews reside in Ceuta and Melilla. The Jewish community of modern Spain is primarily based on waves of post-war migration from Morocco, from the Balkans, from other European countries, and, most recently (in the 1970s and 1980s), from Latin America.
The union of the two Spanish dynasties by the marriage of Isabella de Castilla to Fernando de Aragon started the process by which Catholic Spain was unified. To purify Christian Spain, the Inquisition was introduced in 1481. When in 1492, Muslims were driven out of Granada-their stronghold on the peninsula-the monarchs were moved to complete Spanish unity by expelling Spanish Jewry. By the end of July 1492, more than 100,000 Jews had fled Spain.
Years of persecution had taught Jews that they could be baptized and still practice Judaism in secret. These Conversos or New Christians were called marranos (swine) by the non-Jewish population. Tens of thousands were discovered and burned at the stake. After the Expulsion, some of these Conversos escaped to western Europe and Latin America, where they could revert to open practice of Judaism. A considerable number of Conversos married into the Spanish aristocracy.
Small numbers of Jews came to Spain in the 19th century, perhaps responding to the Spanish republic’s 1868 pledge to religious tolerance. The reconstituted community opened synagogues in Barcelona and Madrid in the first decades of the 20th century. Spanish neutrality in World War II allowed 25,600 Jews to use Spain as an escape route from the European theater of war. Furthermore, Spanish diplomats protected some 4,000 Jews in France and the Balkans. In 1944 Spain took part in the effort to rescue Hungarian Jewry by accepting 2,750 refugees. However, the vast majority of the Jews who took refuge in Spain later left for other countries because they were only offered transit rather than residency visas.
Under the Franco regime, Jewish communities in Madrid and Barcelona kept a low profile. In 1968, however, a new synagogue was opened in Madrid. To mark the event, the government officially repealed the 1492 expulsion edict. In 1992 King Juan Carlos also repealed-in a symbolic gesture-the expulsion order. In recent years, new synagogues have been constructed in Madrid and Barcelona and spaces converted in other Spanish cities.
The Federacion de Comunidades Israelitas de Espana, which unites the orthodox Spanish communities from different parts of the country, represents Jewish interests to the government. A sizable proportion of the community is affiliated to the synagogue-focused communal centers in Barcelona and Madrid, which, in turn, are linked to the Federacion. Barcelona also has a Reform and Chabad congregations, Madrid also has Mazorti and Chabad, Valencia also has Mazorti, Majorca and Malaga also have Chabad.
In the absence of laws restricting hate propagation or Holocaust denial, Spain serves as a publishing and distribution center for neo-Nazis and other extreme rightists. Indeed, Spain serves as a refuge for a number of Nazi war criminals and neo-Nazis convicted elsewhere of promoting racial hatred or historical revisionism.
The Latin American immigrants, who come from communities with a strong secular tradition, have formed organizations that bring Jews together for cultural and intellectual events. The Baruch Spinoza Center, and the magazine Raices (Roots) are initiatives of these secular-oriented Jews.
In Barcelona the Sephardi and Ashkenazi communities pray in separate synagogues in the same building on high holidays. Apart from the two major centers, synagogues operate in Alicante, , Malaga, Marbella, Melilla (North Africa), Seville, Torremolinos, and Valencia. Kosher food is provided at the Madrid communal center.
Jewish day schools exist in Barcelona, Madrid, and Malaga. Groups such as WIZO and B’nai B’rith are active in Spain.
A ‘ZAKHOR’ Center of Studies for the protection and transmission of Jewish Heritage was recently created in Barcelona.
Israel and Spain did not establish diplomatic ties until 1986, when Spain recognized the State of Israel. Prior to recognition, the Spanish Jewish community, through cultural friendship associations, provided an unofficial linkage between the two countries. Aliya: Since 1948, 1,412 Spanish Jews have emigrated to Israel.
Toledo features the Museo Sephardi (situated in the El Transito synagogue), the nearby Church of Santa Maria La Blanca (an ancient synagogue), and the former Jewish quarter. The synagogue of Maimonides can be visited in Cordoba. Most of these have long since been used as churches.
Former Jewish areas, the juderias, can be seen in, Avila, Barcelona, Besalu, Caceres, Calahorra, Córdoba, Estella, Gerona, Hervas, Jaén, León, Monforte de Lemos, Montblanc, Oviedo, Palma de Majorca, Plasencia, Rivadavia, Segovia, Tarazona, Tarragona Tortosa and Tudela.
The first Jews in the Canary Islands were Conversos. However, the foundation of the modern community was laid by immigrants from North Africa in the 1950s. There are several Jewish families in Tenerife and a synagogue in Gran Palma.
The Jewish community was reconstituted in 1971 after a hiatus of 536 years. Today there are about 300 Jews in Majorca, and the community maintains a synagogue.
Federacion de Comunidades Israelitas de Espana
Tel. 34 1 445 9843, Fax 34 1 445 9835
Tel. 34 917 82 9500, Fax 34 1 564 5974
Calle de la Santisima Trinidad 16, 28010, Madrid
La Rambla 79, 08002, Barcelona
For up to date information on Kosher restaurants and locations please see the Shamash Kosher Database