A comprehensive history of the Sephardic Jews, from first- century Spain to recent developments in Syria. Gerber (director of the Institute for Sephardic Studies at the CUNY Graduate Center) portrays the ancient Jewish community of Spain as a cultural and economic powerhouse that thrived under the Visigothic Germans and the subsequent 800 years of Moslem rule. It was only after the Catholic Reconquista, Gerber explains, that the forcibly baptised kin of Spanish Jewry's courtiers, physicians, poets, and financiers were relegated to the flames of the Inquisition. Before detailing the frenzied deliberations (including the input of Columbus and his many Sephardic associates) that preceded the 1492 edict of expulsion, Gerber presents a chapter- long illustration of the literary and philosophical fruits of the Sephardic Golden Era. There, the author is objective enough to criticize the faults of her subjects, from Maimonides to Spinoza, and she goes on to devote half of her text to the community's post- Iberian branches, from the Near East to the New World. One of many uncelebrated Sephardim to be found here is Rabbi Yehuda Alkalai, whose activism stirred the grandfather of Theodore Herzl, founder of modern Zionism. Gerber adds many little-known facts about WW II's effects on Sephardim in the Levant, and she concludes with a discussion of Israel's current Sephardim. A generous bibliography and useful appendices, charts, and notes close the book. A lively, much-needed history of a vital but overshadowed community.
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