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FAREWELL ESPA•A by Howard M. Sachar

FAREWELL ESPA•A

The World of the Sephardim Remembered

By Howard M. Sachar

Pub Date: Oct. 11th, 1994
ISBN: 0-679-40960-2
Publisher: Knopf

 An engaging, if sometimes spotty, history of the Jews who resided in the Iberian Peninsula until their expulsion from Spain in 1492 and from Portugal in 1497. A distinguished scholar and author of many books on modern Jewish history (A History of the Jews in America, 1992), Sachar has done little, if any, original research here, but he nicely synthesizes secondary sources. He shows how the late medieval Convivencia--the period of Jewish-Islamic mutual tolerance and cultural cross-fertilization--gave way to the nationwide pogroms of 1391, in which 30,000 Jews were killed (4,000 in Seville alone). Following this violence, the Inquisition that began in the late 15th century, and the expulsions, Sephardic Jews spread throughout the Mediterranean littoral and the Ottoman Empire, as well as to Holland, England, the Western Hemisphere (in the 16th and 17th centuries, the Inquisition's long arm pursued conversos--crypto- Jews who professed to be practicing Christians--to such places as Lima and Mexico City), and beyond. In almost every country where they settled, the Sephardim incorporated their pride in and yearning for Spain in a distinctive Jewish language, Ladino. Sachar's strengths include succinct and informative discussions of Sephardic communal and intellectual history, his excellent unfolding of the Inquisition's complex history, and his many colorful anecdotes of the Sephardic ``rich and famous.'' However, his coverage of the middle class and poor, of Sephardic women, and of the early modern period (16501850) is weak and, occasionally, embarrassingly clichÇd (he claims that ``by the eighteenth century, the Jews of Italy had become superstitious, neurotic, timorous''). Finally, he ``takes a stab'' at discussing the contemporary Sephardic communities of Israel and France (but not, puzzlingly, of the US, where about 200,000 Sephardim live), but this too is so brief as to be greatly inadequate. A more detailed and comprehensive history of Sephardic Jewry waits to be written. For now, Farewell Espa§a provides a quick introduction that, if a little light in terms of scholarship, contains a fluid and often fascinating narrative.