Today in World History: July 31st

On this day in 1492, the year Columbus discovered America and following the end of the Reconquista and the unification of Spain, Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand expelled all Jewish citizens, in accordance with the Alhambra decree. As the Jewish population in the Iberian Peninsula was very pronounced, with their immigration as early as the 9th century A.D. to the Muslim cities in the Southern part of the peninsula, they posed a problem to the Spanish monarchy. As conditions grew harsher and harsher for the Jewish population, they began converting to Christianity. However, the Papacy and the local clergy grew irritated over these converts, leading to increasingly violent acts of antisemitism. Moreover, many of these converts were still privately practicing Judaism, their sole reason for conversion to preserve their businesses and rights. Eventually, and not unlike the other major European powers at the time, the Spanish monarchy decided to expel all Jewish citizens from Spain, forbidding their return. Many of these newly expelled citizens settled down in the Netherlands, the Ottoman Empire, and Poland. This expulsion would be followed by five more across Europe. It would only be in the 20th century when Spain began reconciliation with the Jewish population, leading memorial services on the 500th anniversary of the expulsion and in 2014, an offer for all Jews who were able to prove Spanish lineage, a Spanish passport. The edict was revoked in 1962, but by then, as many as 800,000 Sephardi Jews were expelled, losing all their land and wealth.

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