Social Networks in a Castilian Jewish Aljama and the Court Jews in the Fifteenth Century: A Preliminary Survey
By Javier CASTAÑO
En la España Medieval, No.20 (1987)
Introduction: This article offers a preliminary survey based mainly on archival material: This short survey is part of a project in progress on Castilian Jewish leadership at the middle of the fifteenth century (circa 1440-1475), a study that will integrate Castilian archival and narrative sources as well as Hebrew legal and homiletic ones.
Here, I try to present some new material and, by the way of example, to articulate the relationship of this Jewish elite with a specific local community. We know that «a work of synthesis does not venture where current scholarship has not gone. That is the case with this particular period in Jewish history, where almost everything has still to be done, either because we are ignorant of its main sociopolitical and intellectual trends, or because these trends have been totally misunderstood.
The generation studied here is complex to analyze, at least from a political point of view, when we take into account the struggles that completely fragmented Castilian political power after 1464 until at least 1480, sfruggles in which Jews were not absent. The other problems for the period I am studying are either a lack of documentaty evidence, or disparate sources, both Castilian and Hebrew.
The usual grim view of the lives of Iberian Jewries during the fifteenth century — as result of the riots of 1391, the implementation of the restrictive legislation of 1412 and the impact of the missionary efforts in the period 1391-1414, and the way these events foreshadow the tragic expulsions and conversions of the nineties— has to be challenged. Far from this perception, the fifteenth century is a period of transformation of communal and social structures and of adaptation to new challenges —one interrupted, it is true by a sudden and tragic end. However, it is a period that deserves to be studied by itself, and not as a sad afterward to an idealized and diffuse ‘golden age’.
For the more concrete part of my analysis here, which focuses on the relationship between royal court Jews and a local Jewish community, I make use of the notarial registers. These records, which are partially preserved in Madrid, present certain homogeneity. As far as local social and economic aspects of Castilian Jewry for the decades 1440 to 1470, there seems tobe no other Castilian town with similar sources of the same value. In addition. Madrid has during these decades a particular importance in Castilian politics, being one of the favourite seats of the royal court. One caution is needed though making use of this archival material, in order to avoid confusion: Castilian sources usually privilege the portrayal of Jews in their relationship with non-Jews, ignoring in most cases details about the inner political, social, or religious life of the community.