I had lunch today in the old Jewish Mellah in Essaouira,  in a restaurant converted on the second  ( top ) floor of a former Talmud Torah,  or Jewish primary school.  On the ground floor the building had been converted into a Day Hospital for people suffering with Alzheimers Disease,  the first floor was now a creche and the top floor,  with a large terrace area,  was the children’s playground and the small restaurant.

The walls of the terrace had been painted with animals and symbols,  in common with many if not all schools I have seen in Morocco.  An old circular table where the intricate zellige tiles were crumbling was of interest and the three-legged chair beside it also attracted my attention,  as well as the symbolic drawings behind it.  Beside the play area the restaurant was light and airy,  with stunning views over the old Mellah city walls to the crashing surf of the Atlantic ocean.  It was a stormy day,  with gusting wind and heavy rain,  and the surging waves flew into the rocks and spray went everywhere.

Talmud Torah schools were conventionally for poor boys; no fees were paid.  It was unusual for girls to receive a free education so subsequently it was rare for girls to receive any education.  Boys started by learning the Hebrew alphabet, and then learnt spelling.  Following this they were taught Perasa, the beginning of the Bible, then the Nebiim and the Kitubim;   the Prophets and the written Law.  Designed only to provide basic education,  the primary school education stopped there, and those who wished to pursue further education were required to pay for the privilege.  However following this, the boys had some notion  of Jewish history;  they knew the Hebrew alphabet, but didn’t  know Hebrew. Their major language skills depended upon the locality where they lived.  If children lived close to ports then Spanish was the most common;  whereas in the other cities of the interior,  Arabic was spoken with a very distinctive accent.  They used their Hebrew alphabet to write in Hebrew characters and in Spanish or Arabic, depending on the language they spoke.

As I ate I saw that a large part of the dilapidated Mellah had recently been fenced off and large new signs and posters provided plans for its regeneration,  a decade or more since redevelopment had originally been mooted.  I had not been in this building before;  its views were spectacular.  I wondered how old it was and when it had been converted.  There was no information available.

Some photographs  of the terrace and restaurant follow below,  between paragraphs of an article providing a first hand and contemporaneous account of the expulsion of Jews,  following those from Andalucia in 1483,  from other parts of Spain in 1492 and their subsequent difficult journeys.

Taken from the Internet Jewish History Sourcebook, a collection of public domain and copy-permitted texts, it was written in Hebrew by an Italian Jew in 1495.


Jewish History Sourcebook:     The Expulsion from Spain, 1492 CE

In the spring of 1492, shortly after the Moors were driven out of Granada, Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain expelled all the Jews from their lands and thus, by a stroke of the pen, put an end to the largest and most distinguished Jewish settlement in Europe. The expulsion of this intelligent, cultured, and industrious class was prompted only in part by the greed of the king and the intensified nationalism of the people who had just brought the crusade against the Muslim Moors to a glorious close. The real motive was the religious zeal of the Church, the Queen, and the masses. The official reason given for driving out the Jews was that they encouraged the Marranos to persist in their Jewishness and thus would not allow them to become good Christians.

The following account gives a detailed and accurate picture of the expulsion and its immediate consequences for Spanish Jewry. It was written in Hebrew by an Italian Jew in April or May, 1495.



And in the year 5252 [1492], in the days of King Ferdinand, the Lord visited the remnant of his people a second time [the first Spanish visitation was in 1391], and exiled them. After the King had captured the city of Granada from the Moors, and it had surrendered to him on the 7th [2d] of January of the year just mentioned, he ordered the expulsion of all the Jews in all parts of his kingdom-in the kingdoms of Castile, Catalonia, Aragon, Galicia, Majorca, Minorca, the Basque provinces, the islands of Sardinia and Sicily, and the kingdom of Valencia. Even before that the Queen had expelled them from the kingdom of Andalusia [1483]

The King gave them three months’ time in which to leave. It ,was announced in public in every city on the first of May, which happened to be the 19th day of the Omer, and the term ended on the day before the 9th of Ab. [The forty-nine days between the second of Passover and Shabuot are called Omer days. The actual decree of expulsion was signed March 31 and announced the first of May, the 19th day of the Omer. The Jews were to leave during in May, June, and July and be out of the country by August I, the 8th of Ab.]


About their number there is no agreement, but, after many inquiries, I found that the most generally accepted estimate is 50,000 families, or, as others say, 53,000- [This would be about 250,000 persons. Other estimates run from 100,000 to 800,000.] They had houses, fields, vineyards, and cattle, and most of them were artisans. At that time there existed many [Talmudic] academies in Spain, and at the head of the greatest of them were Rabbi Isaac Aboab in Guadalajara [probably the greatest Spanish rabbi of his day], Rabbi Isaac Veçudó in Leon, and Rabbi Jacob Habib in Salamanca [later author of a famous collection of the non-legal parts of the Talmud, the En Yaakob]. In the last named city there was a great expert in mathematics, and whenever there was any doubt on mathematical questions in the Christian academy of that city they referred them to him. His name was Abraham Zacuto. [This famous astronomer encouraged the expedition of Vasco da Gama.] . . .



In the course of the three months’ respite granted them they endeavoured to effect an arrangement permitting them to stay on in the country, and they felt confident of success. Their representatives were the rabbi, Don Abraham Seneor, the leader of the Spanish congregations, who was attended by a retinue on thirty mules, and Rabbi Meïr Melamed, who was secretary to the King, and Don Isaac Abravanel [1437-1508], who had fled to Castile from the King of Portugal, and then occupied an equally prominent position at the Spanish royal court. He, too, was later expelled, went to Naples, and was highly esteemed by the King of Naples. The aforementioned great rabbi, Rabbi Isaac of Leon, used to call this Don Abraham Seneor: “Soné Or” [“Hater of Light,” a Hebrew pun on Seneor], because he was a heretic, and the end proved that he was right, as he was converted to Christianity at the age of eighty, he and all his family, and Rabbi Meïr Melamed with him . [Seneor and his son-in-law, Meïr, were converted June 15, 1492; Ferdinand and Isabella were among the sponsors.] Don Abraham had arranged the nuptials between the King and the Queen. The Queen was the heiress to the throne, and the King one of the Spanish nobility. On account of this, Don Abraham was appointed leader of the Jews, but not with their consent.



The agreement permitting them to remain in the country on the payment of a large sum of money was almost completed when it was frustrated by the interference of a prior who was called the Prior of Santa Cruz. [Legend relates that Torquemada, Prior of the convent of Santa Cruz, thundered, with crucifix aloft, to the King and Queen: “Judas Iscariot sold his master for thirty pieces of silver. Your Highness would sell him anew for thirty thousand. Here he is, take him, and barter him away.”] Then the Queen gave an answer to the representatives of the Jews, similar to the saying of King Solomon [ProverbS 2 1: 1]: “The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord, as the rivers of water. God turneth it withersoever He will.” She said furthermore: “Do you believe that this comes upon you from us? The Lord hath put this thing into the heart of the king.” [Isabella says it is God’s will that the Jews be expelled.]


Then they saw that there was evil determined against them by the King, and they gave up the hope of remaining. But the time had become short, and they had to hasten their exodus from Spain. They sold their houses, their landed estates, and their cattle for very small prices, to save themselves. The King did not allow them to carry silver and gold out of his country, so that they were compelled to exchange their silver and gold for merchandise of cloths and skins and other things- [Ever since 1480 Jews and Gentiles were forbidden to export precious metal, the source of a nation’s wealth.]


One hundred and twenty thousand of them went to Portugal, according to a compact which a prominent man, Don Vidal bar Benveniste del Cavalleria, had made with the King of Portugal, and they paid one ducat for every soul, and the fourth part of all the merchandise they had carried thither; and he allowed them to stay in his country six months. This King acted much worse toward them than the King of Spain, and after the six months had elapsed he made slaves of all those that remained in his country, and banished seven hundred children to a remote island to settle it, and all of them died. Some say that there were double as many. Upon them the Scriptural word was fulfilled [Deuteronomy 28:32]: “Thy sons and thy daughters shall be given unto another people, etc” [all Spanish Jews, who were still in Portugal in 1493, were enslaved by King John (1481-1495). The children were sent to the isle of St. Thomas, off the coast of Africa.] He also ordered the congregation of Lisbon, his capital, not to raise their voice in their prayers, that the Lord might not hear their complaining about the violence that was done unto them.



Many of the exiled Spaniards went to Mohammedan countries, to Fez, Tlemçen, and the Berber provinces, under the King of Tunis. [These North African lands are across the Mediterranean from Spain.] On account of their large numbers the Moors did not allow them into their cities, and many of them died in the fields from hunger, thirst, and lack of everything. The lions and bears, which are numerous in this country, killed some of them while they lay starving outside of the cities. A Jew in the kingdom of Tlemçen, named Abraham, the viceroy who ruled the kingdom, made part of them come to this kingdom, and he spent a large amount of money to help them. The Jews of Northern Africa were very charitable toward them. A part of those who went to Northern Africa, as they found no rest and no place that would receive them, returned to Spain, and became converts, and through them the prophecy of Jeremiah was fulfilled [Lamentations 1:13]: “He hath spread a net for my feet, he hath turned me back.” For, originally, they had all fled for the sake of the unity of God; only a very few had become converts throughout all the boundaries of Spain; they did not spare their fortunes; yea, parents escaped without having regard to their children.


When the edict of expulsion became known in the other countries, vessels came from Genoa to the Spanish harbors to carry away the Jews. The crews of these vessels, too, acted maliciously and meanly toward the Jews, robbed them, and delivered some of them to the famous pirate of that time who was called the Corsair of Genoa. To those who escaped and arrived at Genoa the people of the city showed themselves merciless, and oppressed and robbed them, and the cruelty of their wicked hearts went so far that they took the infants from the mothers’ breasts.


Many ships with Jews, especially from Sicily, went to the city of Naples on the coast. The King of this country was friendly to the Jews, received them all, and was merciful towards them, and he helped them with money. The Jews that were at Naples supplied them with food as much as they could, and sent around to the other parts of Italy to collect money to sustain them. The Marranos in this city lent them money on pledges without interest; even the Dominican Brotherhood acted mercifully toward them. [The Dominican monks were normally bitterly opposed to Jews.] On account of their very large number, all this was not enough. Some of them died by famine, others sold their children to Christians to sustain their life. Finally, a plague broke out among them, spread to Naples, and very many of them died, so that the living wearied of burying the dead.


Part of the exiled Spaniards went over sea to Turkey. Some of them were thrown into the sea and drowned, but those who arrived, there the King of Turkey received kindly, as they were artisans. He lent them money and settled many of them on an island, and gave them fields and estates. [The Turks needed smiths and makers of munitions for the war against Christian Europe.]


A few of the exiles were dispersed in the countries of Italy, in the city of Ferrara, in the [papal] countries of Romagna, the March, and Patrimonium, and in Rome. . .


He who said unto His world, Enough, may He also say Enough unto our sufferings, and may He look down upon our impotence. May He turn again, and have compassion upon us, and hasten out salvation. Thus may it be Thy will!




Elbogen, pp. 80-86; Roth, pp. 218-232; Sachar, pp. 204-220.

Graetz, IV, pp. 334-356; Graetz-Rhine, IV, pp. 207-244; Margolis and Mary, pp. 440-476.

Abbott, G. F., Israel in Europe, pp. 141-166.

Milman, H. H., The History of the Jews, II, Book xxvi.

Prescott, W. H., History of the Reign of Ferdinand and Isabella the Catholic, 11, Part I, Chap. xvii: “Expulsion of the Jews from Spain.” An interesting. scholarly presentation.

JE, “Spain.”

Halper, B., Post-Biblical Hebrew Literature, “The Advantages of a Republic over a Monarchy,” 11, pp. 221-224. A brief discussion on political science by Isaac Abravanel.

Lindo, E. H., The History of the Jews of Spain and Portugal, pp. 277-280 contains the decree of expulsion. Comments on the expulsion by Isaac Abravanel, financial adviser to Isabella, may be found on p, 284. Another contemporary account occurs on p. 285.

Marx, A., “The Expulsion of the Jews from Spain,” JQR, 0. S., XX (1908), pp. 24off.; JQR, N. S., 11 (1911-1912), pp. 257-258. This is the complete account of which source No. 11 is an extract.


Jacob Marcus, The Jew in the Medieval World: A Sourcebook, 315-1791, (New York: JPS, 1938), 51-55
Later printings of this text (e.g. by Atheneum, 1969, 1972, 1978) do not indicate that the copyright was renewed)

This text is part of the Internet Jewish History Sourcebook. The Sourcebook is a collection of public domain and copy-permitted texts for introductory level classes in modern European and World history.

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© Paul Halsall, July 1998