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Madrid showcase

Spain displays long-hidden remnants of expelled Jewish community

More than 500 years after their expulsion, Spanish Jews and their holy books are the focus of a new exhibition

Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain in about 1469, the year of their marriage
Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain in about 1469, the year of their marriage

More than 500 years after their expulsion, Spanish Jews and their holy books are the focus of a new exhibition in Madrid.

Bibles of Spain: The Intersecting Lives of the Texts and Their Readers” opened Monday at the National Library of Spain, with early visitors including José Ignacio Wert, the country’s minister of education, culture and sport. Featuring 50 total pieces, 40 of them scripture and other writings, the show seeks “to make visible a legacy that’s little-known, owing to the Jews’ expulsion in 1492,” explains Hebrew scholar Javier del Barco in Madrid’s El Pais newspaper.

Running through May 13, “Bibles of Spain” is limited in scope because of the scale of Spanish Jewry’s destruction. Only a “score” of complete Jewish Bibles survived the centuries after the Inquisition, says del Barco — a small number even compared to those in other European countries.

Medieval Catholic hostility toward Spanish Jews comes through clearly in a wood carving included in the exhibition, a 13th century piece called “Allegory of the Synagogue” that depicts a blindfolded woman — a representation of her inability to “see the authentic, Catholic truth,” del Barco says.

Other artifacts reflect happier, more tolerant times, such as a Hebrew edition of “The Guide to the Perplexed,” first written in Arabic by medieval Jewish philosopher Maimonides — identified in El Pais as “a Cordoba native.”

Also on display is a 15th century Jewish Bible that somehow ended up getting used as protection in the trenches during the Spanish civil war. It sustained damage, but survived.

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