- The Account of Elijah Capsali
- The Account of Don Isaac Abravanel
- The Account of Solomon Ibn Verga
- The Vale of Tears, Joseph Hacohen
- When My Children Were Sent to the Lizards, Samuel Usque
by David Raphael pp. 13-17 Section I – The Minor Order of Elijah (Seder Eliyahu Zuta), quoted from Elijah Capsali (c. 1483-1555) (free download here)
In the year of 1492, in the Hebrew of Adar, the golden age that had been Spain came to an end. The king announced that the Jews were to be banished from his land, and had it not been for God's grace, all would have perished: men, women and children. It was in that month – the secular month of February – that the king sent out a proclamation to all the ministers, nobles and officials, that the Jews were to be banished from Spain, and that all had to leave the realm within three months from the 9th of Iyar, namely by no latter than the 9th of Av of that year.
And this was the text of the proclamation:
"We who rule by God's grace, Ferdinand and Isabella, rulers of Castile and Aragon, rulers of Leon and Murcia, rulers of Majorca and Sardinia, rulers of Granada and Navarra, etc.: The cries of the Marranos have come up to us, upon some of whom we have decreed burning and upon others to be imprisoned forever, for they have been found wayward in our religion, while some of those who have remained free of these punishments, have done so because they have repented their ways completely.
Yet the hands of the inquisitors are still stretched forth to investigate the evil of their deeds, and they cried out to us bitterly that it is the Jew who to this day have been the reason for their rebellion and their forsaking of the Christian religion, by teaching them their ways, their laws and their beliefs, as well as the laws of their feasts and festivals, and as long as Jews are to be found among them in Spain, it will be impossible for them to be complete and true Christians. We have therefore seen fit to totally banish the Jews from all places in our kingdom, even though they deserve a greater punishment than this for what they have done.
However, we have had mercy on them, and we are content to limit ourselves to this punishment. We therefore decree and command that every male and female, young and old, who is a Jew and who lives in our kingdom is to be banished and is to leave all those places where they live and to go outside the provinces of our kingdom to another land within the coming three months, starting with 1 May and ending on the last day of July. And whoever disobeys us and does not leave will be sentenced to death by hanging or to convert to Christianity. Whoever wishes to convert and become a Christian from this day on for the coming three months may remain in his home with all his possessions, his land and his movables, as before, and in addition will be exempt from any tax or servitude. So, too, will he be exempt from investigation by the inquisition for a period of ten years.
"We also decree that all judges, officers, advisors and leaders of the country or any official of any kind in every province and city is to look after the Jews, and any person of any rank who harms any Jew, either bodily or in his possessions through theft or robbery, whether within the city or outside it, is to be hanged immediately on a tree by the official or judge or leader of the city. In order to ensure this, we hereby decree that every official or judge in each province and each city is to place the royal seal, on the home of each Jew, wherever he lives. "And we decree and order every official and judge in every province and each city to send a crier in the markets and streets to announce this decree of ours, as well as in every Jewish community in every province and each city on the coming first day of May. And every official or judge or any other government employee who disobeys this order will be rebuked and punished as is seen fit."
The messengers went forth carrying the instructions throughout Spain, telling the Jews that if they converted to the cross, they would eat of the fat of the land, each under his vine and his fig tree, while those who would not convert would be forced to leave the country within three months.
When the Jews heard this, a great and anguished cry arose among them. And wherever the king's pronouncement was heard, the Jews went into mourning. For many Jews, this pronouncement arrived just before the festival of Passover, and they spent the first day of the festival dressed in sackcloth and ashes, and ate and drank nothing the entire day. Even those who did eat, did so with the bitterness of the bitter herbs in their mouths, for G-d had sent forth His angels against all the houses of Israel. Then the Jews went to the king's palace to cry for deliverance, but there was none to hear their plea.
It was during that time that Don Isaac Abravanel, Don Abram Seneor and the other elders of Israel came to plead to the king and queen to have the decree annulled, but they were ignored. On that day, Don Isaac Abravanel was given permission to speak and defend his people. There he stood, like a lion in wisdom and strength, and in the most eloquent language he addressed the king and queen. Don Abram Seneor, too, addressed the monarchs, and eventually all agreed not to pursue the matter any more.
Now that they saw that the decree was to be enforced, they all said to one another: "What will we gain by speaking, because the king is not listening? Happy is he who speaks to an ear that listens. Let us at least receive an extension of time, so as to make matters a little easier for us." But even on this the king refused to listen to them. He had evidently decided to destroy all the Jews, and hoped that by giving them so short a time they would not be able to leave the country.
It was then that the two sages whom we have mentioned decided to write their words down and to send them to Queen Isabella, for they thought that maybe by this means the queen might consent to their plea, so that they would live and not die. Thus Don Isaac Abravanel sent a letter to Queen Isabella, in which he chastised her mercilessly and showed no respect for her rank, "because he had poured out his soul unto death, and he was numbered with the transgressors" (Isa. 53:12). He then arranged to have the letter delivered to the queen while he fled for his life, knowing that he had incurred the death penalty for his action, for he had written that G-d would avenge the Jews from her and her household, and so on. He also reminded her that all those who had been bad to the Jews had ultimately perished.
Don Abram Seneor also wrote her a marvelous letter, in which he rebuked her for being ungrateful for everything he had done for her and had now banished him and his people from the country. These letters were given to the queen, and when she opened and read them, she became terrified because of what Don Isaac Abravanel had written, and sought to have him captured, but he had managed to flee and escape. All who read these letters agreed that they were masterpieces, and it is said that from the time that the monarchy had been instituted in Castile there had never been letters such as these. Yet these were of no avail, because the king's decree could not be annulled.
But there was worse to come. The enemies of the Jews approached the king and said to him: "Your majesty! How can you permit the Jews to leave the country with all their money and possessions? Your fathers amassed fortunes, and you are squandering them. You must do something about this." The king therefore told his officials, "Let us find a way to foil these people." Then a decree went forth from the king that every Jew who left the country had to leave some of his property to the crown in payment of any taxes that might be owed. Furthermore, the decree stated that the Jews had to leave their best land for just this purpose.
In those terrible days, if a Jew owed a non-Jew money, he would be beaten mercilessly until he paid, while if a non-Jew owed a Jew money and the Jew went to court to collect it, the judge would ignore the case – and even if there was a signed promissory note backing the Jew's claim. Then, once the Jew left the country, the note automatically became worthless.
In those awful days, thousands and even tens of thousands of Jews converted, and this even included some who were leaving or who had left the country, as they saw what a terrible fate awaited them in their travels. Even Don Abram Seneor and his [son]-in-law, Meir Melamed, among the greatest Jews in Spain, were also baptized, willingly or unwillingly, for I have heard it rumored that Queen Isabella had sworn that if Don Abram did not convert, she would wipe out all the communities, and that Don Abram did what he did in order to save the Jews, but not from his own heart. His [son]-in-law also followed him, because it was important for the queen to have the two convert, by whatever means necessary and that they continue to serve her until the day of her death. And on that day that these two were converted, their children and families followed suit, and they worshipped other gods.
Then King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella appointed the sons of Don Abram Seneor as judges and military officers, and they became prominent throughout Spain, being given lands over which they ruled, and all this for changing their religion.
by David Raphael pp. 52-54
Section III. Introduction to the Former Prophets
quoted from Don Isaac Abravanel (1437-1508)
... in the year of Mi-Zara Yisrael [Mi-Zara is 252 in gematria, i.e., the year 5252, or 1492 – translator], the king of Spain seized the entire kingdom of Granada and the great city of Granada, one with a large populace and an important city. Esau [the Spanish king], then said in his heart: "How can I repay G-d who has enabled me to emerge victorious in battle? How can I greet my Maker who gave this city into my hands, if not by having enter into His fold the nation which walks in darkness, the scattered lamb of Israel, and have the wayward daughter return to my faith? Failing that, I will send them forth to another land before me, so that they will no longer live in my land and will no longer be before my eyes."
He therefore issued a proclamation which stated: "I say to all the families of the house of Israel, that if you are baptized and pray and worship to the god of the other nations, you will eat of the best of the land as I do today, and you will dwell in the land and trade in it. However, if you refuse and rebel and do not wish to make mention of my god, you are to go out from the midst of my people, from the lands of Spain, Seville, Majorca and Sardinia which are under my rule, and within three months there is not to remain a single Jew in my realm!"
At the time I was in the king's court, I was exhausted from calling unto him until my throat became hoarse. I met with the King three times, begging him: "Save us, O king. Why do you do thus to your servants? Impose a large payment on us, one of gold and silver, and every Jew will give for his land." I called upon all my friends who were close to the king, asking them to intercede before him with all their might, so that the decree to destroy all the Jews might be rescinded. But he remained completely deaf to my entreaties and did not respond to my plea. All this time, it was the queen who stood behind him and hardened his resolve to carry out the decree. We labored, but were not granted that which we sought. I did not rest and did not remain silent and did not let up, but the decree remained.
As for the Jews, when they heard the decree they all mourned, and wherever the news of the king's word and order was heard, the Jews despaired, and all feared greatly, a fear unequaled since the exile of Judah from its land to a foreign land. Each said to the other, "Let us strengthen one another in our faith and the Torah of our G-d, against the enemy who blasphemes and wishes to destroy us. If he lets us live, we shall live, and if he kills us, we shall die, but we will not desecrate our covenant and we will not retreat. We will go in the ways of the L-rd our G-d." In the end there left, without strength, three hundred thousand people on foot, from the youngest to the oldest, all at one time, from all the provinces of the king, to wherever they were able to go. Their King went before them, G-d at their helm. Each pledged himself to G-d anew. Some went to Portugal and Navarre, which are close, but all they found were troubles and darkness, looting, starvation and pestilence. Some traveled through the perilous ocean, and here, too, G-d's hand was against them, and many were seized and sold as slaves, while many others drowned in the sea. Others again, were burned alive, as the ships on which they were traveling were engulfed by flames.
In the end, all suffered: some by the sword and some by captivity and some by disease, until but a few remained of the many. In the words of our fathers (Num. 17:28), "Behold we perish, we die, we all perish," may the name of the L-rd be blessed. I, too, chose the way of the sea, and I arrived here in the famed Naples, a city whose kings are merciful.
by David Raphael pp. 97-98
Section X: The Staff of Judah (Shevet Yehuda)
quoted from Solomon Ibn Verga (c. 1450-1520)
The Fifty-Second Conversion
I heard from various elders who left Spain that a certain ship was struck by an epidemic. The captain thereupon threw the people onto the land, in a place where there was no human settlement, and there most died of starvation. A few managed to find the strength to walk until they found a settlement.
One Jew, along with his wife and two sons, decided to walk, and as the wife was unaccustomed to the exertion, she fainted and died. The man then carried his two sons, until he and his two sons also fainted from hunger. When he awoke from his faint he saw that his two sons were dead. In his despair, he got to his feet and said: "L-rd of the Universe! You have done much to have me abandon my religion. I want you to know clearly that, in spite of the forces of Heaven, I am a Jew and I will remain a Jew, and whatever you have brought or will yet bring against me will be to no avail!" He then took some earth and buried his sons, and went on to look for a settlement.
The Jews did not wait for their own deaths, and each was occupied with his own distress, not noticing the distress of his fellow.
The Fifty-Third Conversion
Those who went to Fez endured a great deal from G-d, may He be blessed, and especially terrible hunger. The local inhabitants refused to allow them to enter the cities lest the price of food increase, and they were therefore forced to live in the fields and in tents. They grazed for grass but found none, because the climate was so dry that there was nothing, except for a few isolated clumps. A large number of them died there, and there was none to bury them. Those who remained alive simply did not have the strength because they, too, were starving. On the Sabbath, they would graze with their mouths, because one is forbidden to uproot anything with one's hands [on the Sabbath].
At that time, an event occurred, the like of which is unheard. An Arab came, and saw a beautiful young Jewish woman, and in front of her parents he violated her. About half an hour later he returned with a spear and stabbed the young woman through her belly. They said to him: "O cruel one! Why did you do this?" He answered: "I was afraid that she might become pregnant, and her child would be raised as a Jew." Hear and see! Has such a thing happened in the world, or did one hear of such?
There too a woman saw her son faint, and as she had nothing with which to feed him, she lifted a rock and threw it at his head, so that the child died. After that, she beat herself until she died.
by David Raphael pp. 108-110
Section XI: The Vale of Tears (Emek Habacha)
quoted from Joseph Hacohen (1496-1577)
Joseph Hacohen speaks:
The exile from France and the above named fatal and terrible banishment have prompted me to compose this book so that later generations of Israel may know how we have been afflicted in these countries and places. For, behold! new days have arrived! About six hundred family fathers migrated, in the Year of Exile, from Castile to Portugal with the consent of King Joao II, who had made a pact with them in consideration of a headtax of two guilders to be paid to him. He also promised to deliver ships to those who did not wish to remain in his country. With the aid of the ships, these Jews were to be allowed to go to whatever places their hearts desired.
However, the plague reigned in that year in Portugal, and it had also begun in Italy, where many died. After a short while, many expressed the desire to emigrate to the land of the Moslems and to Turkey. These demanded ships from the King, but he procrastinated with much double-talk. But when they remained persistent, he gave them ships and they began their voyage without harm and went on their way. En route, however, the mariners rose against them, tied them up with ropes, raped their wives before their eyes, and nobody came to their aid.
Thereafter they brought them to Africa, and then ejected them on a barren, empty, and unfertile land which seemed uninhabited. Their children asked for bread, but no one could give them anything, and their mothers lifted up their eyes toward Heaven in this fateful time. Those who dug the graves cried out to the mountains, "Oh cover us!" for many sank feint to the ground like dead; and they wished to forfeit their lives because of the heat of hunger.
But as they lifted up their eyes toward Heaven, some Arabs came upon them and stopped and waited to see if those people would face up to them. When they did, the Arabs reproached them and talked to them harshly because the Jews had come into their land without making a covenant with them beforehand. Then they made them into slaves and dragged them along behind. But these poor ones, eaten up by hunger, regarded this as fortunate and they praised G-d. Then the Jewish inhabitants of the country brought them out of bondage and presented them with clothing, food and drink out of pity. May G-d remember them forever.
After this became known in Portugal, the remaining Jews there became filled with fear and did not dare to emigrate. And in the second year after the Israelites had moved away from Castile, the King of Portugal inquired if more than the original six hundred family-fathers, with whom he had made his pact, had entered his country. When it was found that, in the haste, more than that number had come in, he had the excess arrested, declared them to be his slaves, and refused to accept ransom. Then was their life truly embittered.
His servants who plowed the sea with his ships, discovered an island which they named St. Thomas. Not only can large fish, called lagartos, be found there, but also snakes, toads, and basilisks. The King used to send common criminals there, and those who had been sentenced to death. There he sent the poor Jews, together with the criminals, and no one came to their aid. The mothers rose their voices with weeping when these barbarians tore the children from their laps, and the men tore out their beards because of their souls' grief in this time of terror. Many prostrated themselves before the King, saying, "Please, let us go into exile with them," but, like a deaf viper, he refused to listen and ignored them completely.
One woman, who clutched her child to her bosom, plunged into the sea because of her grief, and thus found their death. See and witness, if such a thing has ever occurred before! When they were on St. Thomas, some of them were swallowed up by the lagartos and others died of deprivation of all necessities. Only a handful were able to save themselves, and their parents mourned them for a long time.
The oldest son of King Joao, Don Alfonso, married the daughter of the Spanish King, Ferdinand, and he loved her much. But when he rode on his fleet-footed horse on that day of his rejoicing, G-d punished him, and he fell to the ground and died on the following day. His father mourned him. After a short while, King Joao also passed away, for he had been poisoned. And he left no heir for his kingdom. He was followed by Manoel who had been hostile toward him and had planned his perdition. After the course of five years, from the time the Israelites had emigrated from Castile, Manoel let it be known publicly in Lisbon and all the other cities of his realm that those who bore the name of Israelite, had either to leave the country or to accept a new religion; and any other Jew who was found there later on was to be killed.
Through this decree the Jewish Community in Lisbon was destroyed. In their great travail, the Jews decided to emigrate to serve their L-rd, the G-d of their forefathers. But when the King heard that, he ordered them to come to Lisbon, promising to provide ships for their departure. When they got there, they were cast into prison and were told, "Choose another religion and become like us, and if not, it will be done by force."
But they did not listen to the King's voice, and when he saw that he had no effect on them, he ordered all the young Jewish men up to twenty-five years of age to step forward from the circle of their parents. When they were surrounded, a loud and mournful cry went up; and, in the king's name, spurious promises were made to them, and they were asked to leave the Holy One of Israel. But when they paid no attention to him nor lent an ear to his impressive entreaties, they were grabbed by the arm or the hair of their beards or the curls of their heads, and then dragged to the church where they were sprinkled with baptismal water, given different names and handed over the authority of the country's populace. Thus they became converted.
Thereafter, one of the King's servants went to the aged and said to them, "Your youngsters and sons have already accepted a new religion: do as they have done so that ye may live." However, as they refused to listen to him, the King commanded that they be given neither bread nor water, and when, after three days of fasting, they still refused to listen to him, they were dragged to the church, mercilessly beaten – not even the faces of the very aged were spared – and then, forcibly baptized. Many refused even then and preferred to be killed.
One man wrapped his son in a prayer-shawl and exhorted them to sanctify the Name of the Holy One of Israel, whereupon one died after the other, and he himself after them. Another man killed his dear wife, and then plunged the sword into his body so that he died. Those who wished to bury the dead, were murdered by the Christians with pikes. Many plunged themselves into graves just to remain faithful, and many jumped through fences and out of windows, and their corpses were thrown into the sea by the Christians in the presence of all the other Israelites. This was done to intimidate their hearts so that they would no longer persist in their obstinacy. Later on they were continuously defamed, ridiculed and daily falsehoods were testified against them in order to destroy them and to usurp their possessions. And they became weary of living. The monks also conceived evil things against them and created a bad name for them in the eyes of the populace, saying, "When pestilence, war and famine come to your land, it will happen solely because of the greed of those who cling in their hearts to Judaism."
by David Raphael pp. 140-141
Section XVII: Consolation for the Tribulations of Israel
quoted from Samuel Usque (16th Century)
PORTUGAL – YEAR 5253 
WHEN MY CHILDREN WERE SENT TO THE LIZARDS
This dreadful tempest was soon followed by the lash of an even rougher storm. The Portuguese king, eager to find some logical excuse to vex me, called for an investigation to see if the number of my people who had entered his kingdom exceeded the stipulated six hundred families. Since the haste with which my children had left Castile did not allow time for a census, or for anyone to wait and see if there was sufficient number, they found that they had exceeded the number.
The king claimed the excess as his captives and slaves; he could thus vex the Jews at will and carry out his evil designs against them. Their willingness to redeem themselves for the price at which the rest had entered, or a higher price, proved of no avail.
To my misfortune, the island of Sao Thome had recently been discovered. It was inhabited by lizards, snakes and other venomous reptiles, and was devoid of rational beings. Here the king exiled condemned criminals, and he decided to include among them the innocent children of these Jews. Their parents had seemingly been condemned by G-d's sentence.
When the luckless hour arrived for this barbarity to be inflicted, mothers scratched their faces in grief as their babies, less than three years old, were taken from their arms. Honored elders tore their beards when the fruit of their bodies was snatched before their eyes. The fated children raised their piercing cries to heaven as they were mercilessly torn from their beloved parents at such a tender age.
Several women threw themselves at the king's feet, begging for permission to accompany their children; but not even this moved the king's pity. One mother, distraught by this horrible unexampled cruelty, lifted her baby in her arms, and paying no heed to its cries, threw herself from the ship into the heaving sea, and drowned embracing her only child.
Thus those innocent souls were removed from their parents' sweet tenderness by such inhumanities and delivered into the power of merciless enemies. O brothers, who could describe to you the hidden and visible anguish which cloaked all my children – the sighs, the tears, the bloody and febrile groans which were heard in all their houses; for there are no words of consolation to relieve a pain so great, though each one had good reason to hope for consolation.
This monstrous cruelty would have induced many people to take their own lives before the time allotted them by G-d's will, if others would not have suffered by their absence. But husbands feared their beloved wives would be widowed and alone among enemies, while wives were restrained by the hope of seeing their children again.
Finally, when those innocent children arrived at the wilderness of Sao Thome, which was to be their grave, they were thrown ashore and merciless left there. Almost all were swallowed up by the huge lizards on the island, and the remainder, who escaped these reptiles, wasted away from hunger and abandonment. Only a few were miraculously spared that dreadful misfortune.
O L-rd, whose power encompasses the dominion of the entire universe, how shall I fortify my heart and soul with patience so that the great force and onslaught of such tribulations does not shatter it? Consider that "You have oppressed us and broken us in a land of dragons, and have covered us with a shadow of death," as my son David had once foreseen and lamented (Ps. 44:20).
In addition to the misfortunes in England, your threats against me were again executed here: "Your children shall be delivered to other peoples, and when your eyes see this they shall continually shed tears, and you shall have no strength to be able to bear it" (Deut. 28:32). "Because I shall set the teeth of beasts against them and the fury of serpents against the people" (Deut. 32:34). "And at this time I shall not hear when you call Me and are afflicted" (Jer. 11:11).
Therefore "gird yourself with sackcloth, O daughter of My people, and wallow in ashes. Make your mourning, as for an only son, and a most bitter lamentation" (Jer. 6:26). Now since I have suffered such harsh punishments from Your anger, help me now, O L-rd, and delay not