The Sephardic Frontier: The Reconquista and the Jewish Community in Medieval Iberia

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No subject looms larger over the historical landscape of medieval Spain than that of the reconquista, the rapid expansion of the power of the Christian kingdoms into the Muslim-populated lands of southern Iberia, which created a broad frontier zone that for two centuries remained a region of warfare and peril. Drawing on a large fund of unpublished material in royal, ecclesiastical, and municipal archives as well as rabbinic literature, Jonathan Ray reveals a society that transcended religious boundaries. The result was a wave of Jewish settlements marked by a high degree of openness, mobility, and interaction with both Christians and Muslims.

About the Author:
Jonathan Ray is the Samuel Eig Assistant Professor of Jewish Studies in the Theology Department at Georgetown University

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"Ray examines the early development of Jewish communities in the various peninsular kingdoms during the transition from Muslim to Christian rule. He contends that the social, political, and economic factors of the frontier during the second half of the thirteenth century helped to create Jewish communities characterized by a high degree of fluidity. . . . Insightful and engaging."—Booklist (15 February 2006)

"Using rabbinic sources and unpublished archives, Jonathan Ray brings Jewish settlement of the southern Iberian peninsula into clearer focus. . . . This interesting and lively book challenges the image of medieval Spanish and Portuguese society as invariably corporate and religious in its organization. The high medieval Iberian frontier, at least, was a place where the quest of individuals and families for financial and social opportunity took precedence over loyalty to rigidly defined confessional groups."—Jessica A. Coope, American Historical Review (June 2007)

"The Sephardic Frontier is a new and convincing account of the Sephardic Jews and the Spanish Reconquest. The Jews are here regarded not as beleaguered communities responding to a Christian onslaught, but rather as participants in the expansion: as immigrants, land-holders, entrepreneurs, and pioneers. Jonathan Ray employs many common themes of medieval Spanish history such as the frontier, cultural exchange, and the coexistence of religious communities. These are seen in a new way, however, as the Jews emerge as individuals, not as a confessional group, individuals with a range of opportunities and challenges brought about by the expansion of the Christian kingdoms. This allows historians to look beyond generalizations about a Golden Age of Spanish toleration followed by persecution and to regard the Jewish experience as more dynamic and individual."—Paul Freedman, Yale University

"The Sephardic Frontier is a pioneering book on an age of pioneers, vividly explaining how the Jews of Spain and Portugal found a space for themselves on the expanding frontiers of the Christian kingdoms, under the leadership of dynamic individuals and in the face of increasing interference by the Crown."—David Abulafia, University of Cambridge

"Jonathan Ray's The Sephardic Frontier is an ambitious and very important reconsideration of the establishment of Jewish settlements and the sociopolitical experience of the Jewish communities in southern Iberia during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. By focusing on the critical notion of frontier in both the geographical and social sense Ray effectively bridges the historiography of the Jews with the historiography of their neighbors and offers the reader a compelling, complex picture of the richness of Sephardic history and society during a critical period in peninsular history."—Ross Brann, Cornell University

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Product Details

Meet the Author

Jonathan Ray is the Samuel Eig Associate Professor of Jewish Studies in the Theology Department at Georgetown University.

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Table of Contents

1 The migration of Jewish settlers to the frontier 15
2 Jewish landownership 36
3 Moneylending and beyond : the Jews in the economic life of the frontier 55
4 Royal authority and the legal status of Iberian Jewry 75
5 Jewish communal organization and authority 98
6 Communal tensions and the question of Jewish autonomy 131
7 Maintenance of social boundaries on the Iberian frontier 145
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