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Passover begins at sundown tonight. I’m going to make several posts about it, but I came across a very interesting Passover post on this English progressive blog – Pickled Politics. It provides a little bit of Jewish/Anglo history.
Passover begins today, and lasts for a week. The most important Jewish festival, it commemorates the Jewish Exodus from Egypt which freed them from slavery. Jews have a long connection with England, albeit one that was interrupted when Edward I expelled them in 1290, forcing a few thousand Jews to leave England. Officially they were not allowed to return until 1655; however a small Jewish community was in existence before this date.
After the crushing of the Muslim kingdom of Granada in 1492, the rulers of Portugal and Spain turned their attention to the Jews, who had previously been tolerated in return for their money. Spain ordered the expulsion of all Jews who refused to convert to Christianity in 1492, whilst Portugal did the same in 1497. Many Jews converted in order to stay in the Iberian peninsula, and a number continued to practice Judaism in private. This made them the favoured target of the Spanish Inquisition, who were not allowed to target infidels (i.e. non-Christians), but were permitted to arrest and torture heretics or those who had relapsed into their old, non-Christian faith. When the Portuguese Inquisition was established in 1535, it began to persecute these Judeo-Christians too, leading to a small community of about 70 Jews fleeing to London and establishing themselves there in 1540. They were known as Sephardi Jews (‘Sephardi’ being the medieval Hebrew word for ‘Spanish’), yet were from Portugal.
Despite the absence of an Inquisition (thanks to our Anglo-Saxon-Scandinavian legal system), Jews who had converted to Christianity then relapsed could be executed, and in 1542 a number of them were arrested (though I do not think that nay were executed). Some left England after this, while a number were released after lobbying by the Spanish ambassador and the Queen of Portugal, as the latter needed the Jews to carry on the pepper trade. By Elizabeth I’s time (c.1558), the Jewish community in London number around one hundred, and a few noted doctors had emerged as well as the usual merchants. One, Dr. Lopes, rose to a position in the royal household, but was executed in 1594 after being wrongly accused of plotting to poison Elizabeth.
My kid just woke up. I’ll finish this later.
From the headlines: “Al Qaeda in Iraq is planning suicide attacks against Iraqis in Baghdad “in the near future,” the U.S. military warned Friday.”
I sense a Pulitzer in the making!