Jewish Presence in the 

Iberian Peninsula

Most historians believe, Jews came to the Iberian Peninsula with the Phoenicians and later the Roman Legions, possibly as merchants and purveyors with a third wave of arrivals after the destruction of the second temple in 70 C.E. The first tangible evidence of a Jewish presence in Spain is found in the grave of a young Jewish girl named Salomonulla from the 3rd century C.E. found in Adra, Spain

On the other hand, legends prevalent among Spanish Jews suggested that Jews first came to Iberia after the destruction of the Temple in the6th century B.C.E. while others date their arrival with Phoenician merchants in the 10th century B.C.E., during the King Solomon era. Participating in the surrounding Spaniards' love of lineage some Spanish Jewish families (such as Ibn Daoud, Shaltiel, Abrabanel, etc.) claim direct descent from King David. Bolsteringtheir claims are the prophecies of Obadiah who uses the name "Sfarad" for the land that Jews exiled from Jerusalem would live in. Others claim that Tarshis of the bible was probably ancient Tartessus, a district of Southern Spain whose principal city was Gades (Cadiz).

The late Profs. Cecil Roth makes the point that more Jews lived in Spain than in all the countries of Europe combined. Historians have calculated that in the12th century C.E. Sephardim made up 90% of all the world's Jewry, though that percentage declined rapidly after that with the Ashkenazi population explosion. However, unlike Jews in Europe who lived mainly in large towns, Jews in Spain were found in both towns and tiny villages among the peasants

Chaim Raphael points out that Starting with Abraham in Babylon (Iraq), through Joseph and Moses in Egypt, the kingdoms of Israel and Judea, back to Babylon, then Spain and the Mediterranean, most Jewish history until the last few centuries has been largely the history of the Jews of middle-eastern and Mediterranean culture, the culture we associate today with Sephardi Jews. Through these centuries and till the 17th century C.E., Sephardim were the bulk of Jewry and the main centres of Judaism. In the recent 3 - 4 centuries European Jewry exploded into prominence, both in culture and population, and Sephardi Jews, like their host countries, went into a cultural decline that is only recently beginning to reverse itself.


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