Interior of the Church of St. Maria la Blanca, Toledo, Formerly a Synagogue.(From a photograph.)Interior of "El Transito," Toledo, Formerly a Synagogue.(From a photograph.)

Metropolitan city of Gothic and Moorish Spain, and capital of Old Castile. Jews must have been established there as early as the sixth century; for the third Toledo Council (589) inserted in its canon provisions against the intermarriage of Jews and Christians, and against Jews holding public office or possessing Christian servants. The eighth Toledo Council (652) confirmed the anti-Jewish legislation of the laws of King Sisenand (Scherer, "Rechtsverhältnisse der Juden," pp. 22-25), while the ninth council (654) ordered baptized Jews to observe Christian as well as Jewish feasts (Aguirre, "Collectio Maxima Conciliorum Hispaniæ," ii. 567). Similarly in 681 the twelfth Toledo Council confirmed the Erwicz decrees against Jewish converts to Christianity (Aguirre, l.c. pp. 682-686), and in 693 the sixteenth Toledo Council confirmed the other anti-Jewish laws. It is not surprising, therefore, that the Jews are reported to have assisted the Arabs in the conquest of Toledo (715). During the Arabic period of the city's history little is known of the position of its Jews. Probably it was very advantageous, and the Jews doubtless thoroughly assimilated themselves with the general population in language and customs, inasmuch as the minutes of the congregation were kept in Arabic down to the end of the thirteenth century (Asher b. Jehiel, Responsa, No. 56; Solomon ben Adret, Responsa, iii. 427).

Several Jewish authors who wrote in Arabic were born and probably educated at Toledo, even after its conquest by the Christians, not to speak of Judah ha-Levi and Abraham ibn Ezra, who were born in Toledo but educated at Cordova. Other Jewish writers in Arabic were: Abraham ibn al-Fakhkhar the poet (b. in Toledo; d. there 1231 or 1239); Israel of Toledo (Zunz, "Z. G." pp. 427-428); Israel Israeli ben Joseph, who as late as the second half of the fourteenth century wrote on the ritual (idem, "Ritus", p. 30). It is not surprising, therefore, that Toledo should have been the center of European activity in translation from Arabic into Hebrew, Latin, and Castilian, as will be seen later.

When Alfonso X. took Toledo from the Arabs he recognized the position of the Jews by granting them full equality with the Christians; but friction soon arose between the members of the two faiths. Alfasi refers to persecutions in Toledo in 1090 (responsum No. 217); and there was a massacre of the Jews in 1108, in which Solomon ibn Farissol was murdered (Rios, "Hist." i. 189, 297). The equality of the Jews with the Christians was short-lived; for in 1118 a local decree was passed prohibiting any Jew, or any convert, from exercising jurisdiction over a Christian. It would appear that the "nasi," or chief justice, of the Toledo Jews, who is mentioned about this time, had previously had the right to hale Christians before his court. In 1147 Judah b. Joseph ibn Ezra, probably a relative of the poet and exegete, was nasi at Toledo, and at the same time court chamberlain. In the same year many Jewish exiles, driven out of Arabic Spain by the persecution of the Almohades, took refuge in Toledo. The Jews held important positions at court there, possibly owing to the influence of Fermosa, the Jewish mistress of Alfonso VIII. Thus Ḥayyuj Alfata became the royal physician. This favoritism appears to have led to a riot in Toledo in 1178, in which Fermosa was killed (Lindo, "History of the Jews of Spain and Portugal," p. 71). It is possible that at the same time Judah and Samuel Alnaqua suffered martyrdom (Zunz, "Z. G." p. 434).

At the beginning of the thirteenth century the Shushans, the Al-Fakhkhars, and the Alnaquas were among the chief Jewish families of Toledo, Samuel ibn Shushan being nasi about 1204. His son Joseph built a synagogue which attracted the attention of Abraham ben Nathan of Lunel ("Ha-Manhig," § 22), who settled in Toledo before 1205. During the troubles brought upon Castile by the men of "Ultrapuertos" in 1211-12 Toledo suffered a riot (Rios, l.c. pp. 347-349); and this appears to have brought the position of the Jews more closely to the attention of the authorities. In 1219 the Jewish inhabitants became more strictly subject to the jurisdiction of the Archbishop of Toledo, who imposed upon every Jew over twenty years old an annual poll-tax of one-sixth of a gold mark; and any dispute about age was to be settled by a jury of six elders (Jacobs, "Sources," No. 1265), who were probably supervised by the nasi, at that time Solomon ben Joseph ibn Shushan. In the same year papal authority also interfered with the affairs of the Toledo Jews, ordering them to pay tithes on houses bought by them from Christians, as otherwise the Church would be a considerable loser (Jacobs, l.c. No. 1273).

Details of Interior Ornamentation on Wall of "El Transito," Toledo.(From a photograph.)School of Translators Under Alfonso X. House of Samuel ha-Levi at Toledo, Fourteenth Century.(From a photograph.)

Under Alfonso X., the Wise, Toledo rose in importance as a center of Jewish activity in translation from the Arabic into Hebrew, and less often into Latin and Spanish. Similar activity had occurred previously; but the Jewish translators either were not born in Toledo (as Johannes Hispanensis, who only settled there, and Samuel ibn Tibbon) or flourished mainly elsewhere (as Judah ben Solomon ha-Kohen ibn Matḳah, who was born in Toledo, but passed the greater part of his life in Italy). However this may be, the number of Jewish translators increased under the patronage of the king. Don Zag ibn Sid was the chief compiler of the Alfonsine Tables; and Judah Moses Cohen also translated works on astronomy from Arabic into Spanish, as did Abraham of Toledo and Samuel ha-Levi Abulafia. In medicine Abraham Alfaquin was active, as were also Ḥayyim Israel and Judah Cohen. Todros ha-Levi was another translator of the same period and the same place. It is probable also that the Spanish translation of "Kalilah wa-Dimnah" was executed at Toledo about this time. It was likewise at this period (1260) that the Jews of Toledo obtained permission from Al-fonso to build the largest and most beautiful synagogue in Spain, though a bull of Innocent IV. expressly forbade the erection of any new synagogue, especially any building higher than or in any way superior to the surrounding churches or houses. After the expulsion this synagogue became the Church of St. Maria la Blanca; and it still (1905) survives as a national monument. Its numerous pillars and arches render it one of the most characteristic buildings of the Moorish type in Spain; and during the nineteenth century its ornamentation formed the model for numerous synagogues in other countries (see Synagogue Architecture).

The favorable condition of the Jews of Toledo during Alfonso's reign is indicated by the large proportion of the poll-tax for Castile paid by them in 1290—namely, 1,062,902 maravedis out of the total of 2,594,014, the amount of their "servicio" not being given for that year. In addition to this payment, they had to pay tribute to the archbishop in the following year (1291; Jacobs, l.c. No. 1282); and there are occasional indications of friction between the royal officers and the episcopal dignitaries as to the exact limitation of their taxation rights over the Jews.


It was toward the beginning of the fourteenth century (probably about 1305) that the Jews of Toledo, on the recommendation of Solomon ben Adret, chose as their spiritual leader Asher ben Jehiel (d. 1328), perhaps the greatest halakist of his time in Germany. His influence, like that of his two sons (Jacob, author of the "Ṭur," and Judah, who succeeded his father in 1328), was directed against the more rationalistic and philosophical tendencies of Jewish Spain; and the family of the Asherites, of which the pedigree given by Zunz ("Z. G." p. 422) is here reproduced, thenceforth ruled spiritual matters in Toledo. In the great controversy between the Maimonists and anti-Maimonists, the Jews of Toledo—e.g., Meïr ben Abraham, Jacob Crisp, Jonathan Ashkenazi, Samson b. Meïr, Meïr b. Joseph, and Solomon b. Moses Abudarham—supported the traditional side (Perles, "R. Salomo b. Abraham b. Adereth," 1863, pp. 10, 45, 48).

In the middle of the fourteenth century there rose into prominence in Toledo, Samuel ha-Levi Abulafia, who appears to have acted as a kind of treasurer and general adviser to Pedro the Cruel. It was on his advice that the king established Maria de Padilla, his mistress, at Toledo; and in the struggles between Pedro and his brother Henry de Trastamara this fact was cited by the adherents of the latter as an explanation of their opposition to Samuel Abulafia. On May 7, 1355, an attack was made on the "alcana," or smaller Jewry, of Toledo by Henry de Trastamara, in which no fewer than 1,200 Jews were killed or wounded (Rios, l.c. ii. 224). Notwithstanding this, Samuel Abulafia's influence and riches grew apace; and, in addition to a magnificent private mansion, he obtained permission to build another synagogue, inscriptions in which still recall his munificence. After the expulsion the synagogue was turned into a church and became known as "El Transito"; but in the year 1888 it was converted into a national monument, and the interior decorations, which are in the finest Moorish style, were cleansed and restored. While not presenting so striking an interior as St. Maria la Blanca, the friezes on the walls and the interior lighting by narrow windows near the roof make it remarkable, and have led to imitation in many modern synagogues (see Synagogue Architecture). In the very year (1360) in which the synagogue was built Samuel Abulafia lost his influence with Pedro and was seized and forced to leave Toledo.

Old Juderia of Toledo, from the Plaza de Barrio Narevo.(From a photograph by Dr. William Popper.)

Notwithstanding the influence of the Asherites, the increasing stringency of the Castilian laws against the Jews and the great inducements held outto them to accept baptism led to a large number of conversions, either forced or voluntary, at Toledo. The converts ("conversos") were freed from the anti-Jewish legislation of the Cortes, and had at the same time relations with and support from their former brethren in faith; and their political and social influence was increased. This condition of things was strongly opposed by the ecclesiastics of Toledo; and the complaints and bickerings between the two parties led to a violent outbreak against the conversos, lasting three weeks (July 19 to Aug. 9, 1367), during which no fewer than 1,600 houses were burned and a considerable number of conversos lost their lives (Rios, l.c. iii. 149; for the details see Jew. Encyc. viii. 319, s.v. Maranos). Notwithstanding, or perhaps in consequence of, this, a tribute of no less than 20,000 doubloons was extorted from the Jews of Toledo by the king (June 6,1369). Friction continued to exist between the ecclesiastical authorities and the Jews. Thus a quarrel arose between the monastery of St. Ursula and the Toledo aljama with regard to certain rights connected with the Jewish abattoirs (Jacobs, l.c. No. 1291). Nevertheless, Archbishop Pedro, on May 17, 1388, appointed his own physician, Ḥayyim, as judge of the Jews throughout the whole archbishopric during the absence of Rabbi Don Zulema al-Fakhkhar (Rios, l.c. p. 257). The king, however, claimed the right of confirmation for this office (Jacobs, l.c. No. 1294).

In the terrible massacres of 1391, induced by the violent exhortations of Vicente Ferrer, the city was the scene of one of the most appalling outbreaks. Hitherto the nobles of Toledo had on the whole done their part in protecting the Jews; but when the agitation reached that city (Aug. 5) they were found among the most violent in the onslaught on the larger Jewry. This had resisted the attacks of Henry II.; but it was now entered by the rioters at different gates, almost all the Jews being put to death, and their houses and synagogues sacked. Many of the latter edifices were torn down. Among the victims of the riots were Chief Rabbi Judah b. Asher and Israel b. Joseph Alnaqua. Four years later, inhabitants of the neighboring villages of Carlo and Santa were summoned before the Archbishop of Toledo to account for their action on the day of the riots (ib. No. 1317).

This was practically the ruin of the Toledo Jewry. Only a few years later Henry III. threatened the Jews with slavery if they did not pay all their taxes (ib. No. 1300); and the next year John II. withdrew civil jurisdiction from them and entrusted it to the alcaldes. Ferrer visited the city for a fortnight in May, 1411, with the result that, as stated above, the synagogue was turned into the Church of St. Maria la Blanca. In truth, the majority of the survivors of the massacre of 1391 had saved their lives by becoming converted; so that very few true believers still remained in the city, and the history for the following century deals mainly with the conversos. These were deprived in 1419 of all opportunity to hold public office (ib. No. 1264); and on June 15, 1449, thirteen of them were turned out of office as "suspects in faith," among them being members of the Lunez, Lopez, Gonzalez, Herrera, and Cota families, afterward distinguished among the Maranos, whose very name is supposed to have originated in Toledo at this time (Rios, l.c. iii. 123). The conversos did not yield their positions without a struggle. There was even another riot in 1467, in which they appear to have got the better of their oppressors; for in the same year they were forbidden to bear arms thenceforth, and in the following year their exclusion from public office was confirmed by Ferdinand IV. (Jacobs, l.c. No. 1322).

Asherites at Toledo.

The few writers whose birth or activity connects them with Toledo after 1391 are mainly converts, as Martin of Toledo, the mathematician; Juan de España and Rodrigo Cota, the poets; and Alfonso de Spina, the controversialist, who was the first to suggest the expulsion of the Jews. A further indication of the low condition to which the Jews of Toledo had fallen is the fact that they were able to pay only 2,600 maravedis for their servicio to the archbishop (1474). Though freed from taxes uponinheritance throughout Castile, at Toledo the Jews had to pay on succeeding to the property of their fathers.

Introduction of the Inquisition.

Though the Inquisition was first introduced at Seville, in Jan. 6, 1481, the largest number of autos da fé in Spain during the existence of the Jews there were held at Toledo. In 1484 many Jews were reconciled by the Inquisition (ib. No. 1260). An auto da fé was held on Dec. 10, 1486, at which no fewer than 1,640 were absolved or reconciled, and others on Jan. 15, March 15, and May 7 in the following year, when 822 were reconciled. In 1488 two autos were held, on May 24 and July 30, respectively, at the former of which 21, and at the latter 16, Jews were burned, 400 others being punished later. The tragedy of La Guardia was immediately connected with the Jewry of Toledo; and a representation of the punishment of the victims is still extant in one of the cloisters of the cathedral. The affair is said to have had a determining influence in connection with the expulsion which took place two years later.

Rabbis and Scholars.

Toledo was practically the center of the Spanish Jewry in Christian Spain. Besides the writers already mentioned, both Judah ha-Levi and Abraham ibn Ezra were born at Toledo, though both left it early for Cordova; Abraham ibn Daud was a Toledan; Judah al-Ḥarizi was born and passed most of his life in the city. Among the payyeṭanim of Toledo may be mentioned Joseph b. Israel, Jacob b. Eleazar, and Mar Isaac b. Jacob. Of secular poets may be mentioned Judah ibn Shabbethai and Jehiel b. Asher. Besides, the astronomer Israel Israeli the Younger deserves notice, as well as Joseph Naḥmias and Abraham ibn Ẓarẓal, though the last-named was more of an astrologer, Toledo being a center for the magic arts generally. It is said that Michael Scott learned his magic from a Toledo Jew named Andreas, who translated works on magic from the Arabic. Judah ibn Balaam the grammarian, Judah ben Shabbethai the satirist, and the cabalists Shem-Ṭob ben Jacob, Joseph ibn Waḳḳar, and Joseph ben Judah lived there; and Jonah Gerondi, Todros Abulafia, Moses Narboni, Solomon Ẓarfati, and Azariah ben Joseph (Bonafos Astruc) were among the visitors to the city. After the arrival of Asher b. Jehiel, Toledo was distinguished as a center of Talmudic study also. Jeroham b. Meshullam lived there, as did Aaron ben Joseph ha-Levi Toledo (for a short time about 1291); Menahem b. Aaron was an authority on the ritual there about 1374; Samuel Sevillo and Joshua Levi b. Joseph learned the Talmud at Toledo; Meïr Cohen, the casuist, lived there, and Isaac, the father of Joseph Caro, was born there; while the name of the first printer in Portugal, Eleazar Toledo, indicates his connection with the Spanish city.

At one time the whole of the southwest portion of the city was inhabited by Jews, and there were two Jewish quarters—the Alcana, or smaller Jewry, and the Juderia itself, in which both the still extant synagogues were located. The Jewish quarters were surrounded by a wall after the Catholic monarchs at the Cortes of Toledo in 1480 had ordered that all Jews should be separated into special "barrios."

Tombstones of the old Toledo Jewry are still in existence; and the inscriptions on them have been published by Luzzatto under the title "Abne Zikkaron."

"El Transito," Formerly a Synagogue.(From a photograph by Dr. William Popper.)
  • Zunz, Z. G. pp. 404-441;
  • Jacobs, Sources, pp. 69-78, 209, 210, 248b;
  • Rios, Toledo Pintoresca, Toledo, 1848.
E. C. J.