Friday, July 8, 2016

Spain 4

This morning, we headed for Girona (pronounced Dgee-RO-nah) -- the birthplace and major residence of Nachmanides -- Ramban -- a major figure in Jewish rabbinic history and a major figure in Jewish Spanish history.

Girona was a small city near what is today France. Population began to build in the middle of the 11th century on the Main Street (calle Mayor).  (In signs in Girona's Jewish museum, the neighborhood was referred to as "the Jewry" -- repeatedly.  A little peculiar in English; not sure if it has the same texture in Spanish or Castilian.  For some centuries, Jews and Christians lived in harmony -- but at the end of the medieval era a wall was built around the Jewish neighborhood, reducing its size somewhat, and Jews were prohibited from living beyond it.  

There are two synagogues documented in the 13th and 15th centuries, augmented by a mikveh as well as a school and hospital.

The Girona museum had a fairly large amount of Jewish sacred objects -- but most of them were from elsewhere, certainly of interest to non-Jewish visitors who would like to learn about Jewish life and culture, but not as much to Jews who are seeking to get a feeling for what life was like in Girona and what its artifacts were like.  

One that stood out -- a commemorative "gravestone" from the Girona synagogue, 14th century, found in 1888 in a house on a nearby street.  The white-ish letters on stone in clear legible Hebrew say, "Beit Yaakov (House of Jacob), come, let's walk toward the light of God.  Trust in God for all time, oh people, pour open your heart befor Him, for God is our refuge. Selah"

The stone seems clearly to be a DEDICATORY stone for the synagogue.  As far as relics from Jewish burial places, there are remnants of a number of gravestones from the local Jewish cemetery (located some distance away and long ago forgotten and/or repurposed, given the fact that the small to modest size Jewish community has been gone for over 500 years).  And one finds fragments of old gravestones involved in building materials in a few places, as well as at least one ancient mezuzah indentation in a current-day doorway.

The museum exhibit is quite extensive in terms of accounts of the Inquisition and the various ways in which Jews were humiliated in this process.

Back in Barcelona that afternoon, we had a lecture from Professor Eliezer Papo and a memorable concert that evening of the Soul of Sefarad.  I have now posted photos from the concert in a separate Blogpost -- Soul of Sefarad Concert!

Professor Papo's talk was "How and When the Crown of Torah Moved to Spain."  Alas, through technical error, my notes on that talk have disappeared. . . I would welcome someone commenting a more thorough account of his talk -- or e-mailing it to me at and I will re-post -- but he might go along with the simple summary "The question of where Jewish life is centered is determined by whether a place imports or exports rabbis."  Papo traced how it came to be that Spain became a place where there were yeshivot and where Jewish culture was exported elsewhere.

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