At the Bethlehem Public Library

Come learn about the Sephardic Jews of Spain in a presentation by noted speaker/researcher Geoffrey Brahmer at 5 p.m., September 27, in the Bethlehem Public Library. “A Golden Thread of History” is a power-point presentation that focuses on the Jewish experience in Spain from the Visigoths to the Spanish Inquisition in 1492.

A Golden Thread of History: The Sephardic Experience in Spain

A Golden Thread of History: TheSephardic Experience in Spain is an hour power-point presentation that focuses on the Jewish experience in Spain from the Visigoths to the Spanish Inquisition in 1492. The first written mention of Sephardic is mentioned in the Biblical Book of Obadiah. While it is possiblethat Jews first settled in the Iberian Peninsula with Phoenician traders as early as the 10 Century BCE, or perhaps, later as refugees with the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem to the Babylonians in the 6thcentury BCE, it is more likely that Jews moved into Iberia after the Destruction of the Second Temple during the Roman Empire in 70 CE. The first known historical evidence of Jews in the Iberian Peninsula is a gravestone, dated into the 3rdcentury CE, with a Hebrew name, Salomonula. 

Sephardic Jews lived in Spain for more than 1200 years. While living as a minority among their more powerful neighbors, they created a unique, multi-cultural perspective that incorporated influences from Judaic, Islamic and Christian cultures. Jews served as counselors and diplomats to both Islamic Caliphs and Christian Kings. They also existed in all classes, and they were merchants, traders, physicians, artisans, bankers, and farmers. In Spain, Jews introduced golden threads to the Iberian Peninsula. As some of the first goldsmiths in Spain, they introduced the use of gold in dress, illuminated manuscripts, and art. Jews were also transmitters of language, poetry,history, architecture, math, the sciences, music, medicine, and theology. The presentation will highlight some of important developments in the Golden Ages of Jews in Spain, including the work of Yehuda Ha-Levi (a poet born in Toledo) and Moses Maimonides (a physician/rabbi/philosopher born in Cordova)). Both of these men reflected upon what it meant to be Jews living in the Diaspora. From them, we discover some of the richest poetic and intellectual developments of Jews Spain, but we also see some of the earliest yearnings of Diaspora Jews for a homeland that they can call their own. 

Jewish Mysticism also evolved in Spain. Jewish mystics in Spain helped found and develop the Kabbalah. These mystics journeyed inside themselves to see and to discover the brokenness of their own souls (and that of the universe). The answered the call to be become healers and bearers of light in all the dark places of the cosmos.

Yet, all was not “golden” for Jews in Spain. As a minority, often only protected by Caliphs and Kings, Jews were always vulnerable to political, economic, social and religious changes taking place in society. These changes often lead to discrimination, segregation, loss of possessions, or even their very lives. This happens multiple times throughout the centuries, with both Visigoth and Muslim invaders, as well as under Christian feudal Lords, Kings and Queens, culminating in the Spanish Inquisition and in the final Jewish expulsion of Jews in Spain under King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella in 1492. Yet, in Spain, there is not one Jewish Diaspora, there are several.

The Spanish Inquisition is often forgotten by most people today. It should not be. For over a century, cycles of violence in Spain against Jews led to hundreds of thousands of forced conversions, massacres, and ultimately, the expulsion of all the Jews from Spain during the Jewish Holiday of Tisha B’av in 1492. A few days later Christopher Columbus sailed for the “New World.” On his ships, there were also several Jews. 

The Inquisition is a historical precursor of the Holocaust. In addition, what began with Jewish Christian converts would later expand to Jews, Muslims, Protestants, and many Catholic “heretics.” From the Inquisition derives modern methods of torture which will later be used by tyrants, and modern nations against political prisoners, including water torture. 

Yet, although Jews were expulsed from Spain, from their experience of suffering as a people, new understandings of art, history, music, liturgy, lamentation also emerge as part of the human experience in the world, and universe. In fact, the Jewish Diaspora, like all the Jewish Diasporas become a golden thread in the history of humanity. As the Zohar notes, from the broken shell of suffering humanity, new light can also explode, infiltrating all the dark places of both the soul and the evolving universe. This talk was developed in prayer, and in remembrance of the many Jewish victims before, during and after the Spanish Inquisition. In remembering them, may they teach us how to become better human beings in our own nations, times, and world. Tikon Olam!

Geoffrey Brahmer, M.Div., 30 Newman Way, Arlington, MA 02476, gbrahmer@gmail.com

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