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As if the Jews had no Lord: Anti-Jewish Riots in Castile and Aragon, 1391

Benjamin GampelFilmed at Limmud Conference 2016

The most devastating attacks on the Jews of medieval Christian Europe took place in the kingdoms of Castile and Aragon during ten months from June 1391 to April 1392, and left a trail of deaths, forced conversions, and communal destruction.  Many were the motives for these assaults, and diverse were the participants. While the rioters’ success cannot be easily explained, the intervention of those who pledged to protect the Jews was ineffective.  While these rulers believed it their mandate to protect the Jews, they did not see the Jews’ safety as their highest priority.  Aragonese royal authorities, when they looked back over the months of riots, bitterly conceded that it appeared “as if the Jews had no lord.” That the safety of a minority people cannot be assured is not simply a banality of Jewish history, but a truth about the fate of all people and of all groups whose security is dependent on others.  However sincere the intentions of the majority society and the assurances of its leaders, to protect those who are reliant upon them, the security of a minority community is ultimately, for them, not a matter of paramount importance.

Benjamin Gampel, the Dina and Eli Field Family Chair in Jewish History at The Jewish Theological Seminary in New York, specializes in the history of the Jews of the medieval and early modern world. For his first book, The Last Jews on Iberian Soil, Dr. Gampel – who earned his doctorate from Columbia University, spent almost a year in Spain, researching in the local archives. He also has edited Crisis and Creativity in the Sephardic World. Dr. Gampel returned to the Spanish archives, and has just completed Anti-Jewish Riots in the Crown of Aragon and the Royal Response, 1391-1392, which treats the riots and forced conversions of 1391 in the Iberian peninsula. This book was awarded the 2016 National Jewish Book Council’s Nahum M. Sarna Memorial Award in Scholarship.

Truly an energetic scholar and teacher, Dr. Gampel is among a small group of educators dedicated to bringing the history of the Jews to a wide public audience.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License

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