Page 52 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 3

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a c o b
i n k i n
Joseph Albo, Spanish preacher, physician and philosopher, the
five hundredth anniversary of whose death is synonymous with the
severest affliction that ever befell his people, lived in a period not
unlike our own. The Golden Age of the Jews in Spain had long
since passed, and what followed was a torrent of frenzied oppres-
sion and persecution, projecting shadows of a still gloomier future.
He could not have been more than eleven years old when the
Spanish sky — for three hundred years and more bright with
Jewish achievement in science, philosophy and scholarship —
suddenly darkened. The classical land of Jewish culture and
enlightenment, home of poets, thinkers, statesmen and gram-
marians, became almost over night an inferno of death, destruction,
and annihilation. A proud and cultured people, cherishing a
tradition virtually unequaled in its long history, was plunged into
the depths of degradation. Their spiritual and intellectual wealth,
accumulated through centuries of creative enthusiastic labor, was
suddenly swept away like so much straw in a storm.
Those were persecutions of 1391, when fanatic priests and
flagellant monks, incited by the notorious Ferrand Martinez,
rode roughshod through the Jewish habitations in Castile and
Aragon, pillaging and massacring without pity or mercy, offering
baptism as the only alternative. Terrorized by the prospects of
death and torture, thousands saved their lives by embracing the
cross. At best, it was only a partial triumph that the Church had
scored, for at heart the hapless victims remained Jews. Secretly
their devotion was to the synagogue even to the point of observing
Jewish customs and practices. I t was from among these pathetic
forced converts that the romantic group of Marranos arose —
romantic although an aura of tragedy hovers about their story.
When the fury subsided and the losses could be counted, it was
found that fifty thousand Jews had lost their lives in the horrible
ordeal, with fully twice that many who had gone over to the
regnant faith. But even worse than these losses was the spiritual
and intellectual apathy that overtook the Jews of Spain. Their
pride was humbled, their spirit crushed, their life forever darkened.
They could no longer rouse themselves to the career of leadership
which had been their glory for almost half a millenium. Of what
use were to them the tools of science and scholarship now that
their very survival was trembling in the balance? A people
struggling for mere physical existence had need of other things —
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