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Published by (October, 1999)

Erna Paris. The End of Days: A Story of Tolerance, Tyranny, and the
Expulsion of the Jews from Spain.  Amherst: Prometheus Books,
1995. 327 pp. Illustrations, notes, bibliography, and index.
$29.95 (paper), ISBN 1-5739-2017-7.

Reviewed for H-Antisemitism by Bernd Rother,
Bundeskanzler-Willy-Brandt -Stiftung, Berlin

Good Moors, Bad Catholics

Erna Paris tells us the history of Jewish life, in what later became
Spain, from the Moorish invasion in 711 until the expulsion of 1492.  She
includes an "Afterword" on the fate of the Conversos, who had converted
from Judaism to Catholicism, and an "Epilogue" comparing medieval Spain
with nineteenth and twentieth-century France and Germany.  The author's
special interest is in explaining why Iberian society moved from a
tolerant and multicultural society under the Moors--as she says--to one of
the most intolerant in Europe, expelling the Jews and establishing the
Inquisition which persecuted many Conversos.

_The End of Days_ is based on the careful study of most scholarly works
that have been written the history of the Jews in medieval Spain. In
Paris' bibliography we find nearly all the relevant names:  for example,
Baer, Beinart, Kamen, Amador de los Rios, Caro Baroja etc.  The book is
full of vivid descriptions of historic events, made more vivid by the
author's skillful use of quotations from contemporary documents placed in
the mouths of various protagonists.  She shows how a journalistic style
can go hand in hand with scholarly diligence.

Paris begins with the anti-Jewish riots in most parts of the Iberian
Peninsula in 1391, and then goes back in time.  A brief overview of Jewish
life under the Moors is followed by short chapters on the Christian part
of the peninsula after 711 and in the fourteenth century.  The book's
center of gravity lies in the hundred years between the pogroms of 1391
and the expulsion of 1492.

She then describes the wave of conversions which started in 1391, the
persecution of Jews and, later, of conversos, the creation of a national
Spanish inquisition, and finally the origins of the infamous decree of
expulsion in 1492.  The author argues that the turning-point marking the
end of tolerance and "multiculturalism" came in the mid-fourteenth
century.  She suggests several reasons for this change, starting with
foreign, that is, French influence.  "French fanaticism" is given great
weight, repeatedly, but it is never explained why Christian Spaniards were
so susceptible to this fanaticism (pp. 59-60, 74, 84, 115).  A second
reason, according to Paris, was the prominent role of Jews in tax
collection (p. 74). Third, she mentions "the centuries-long campaign of
the medieval Catholic Church to destroy religious pluralism in Spain" (p.
157).  It could succeed because the monarchy, traditionally "bound to
defend the Jewish minority" in the fifteenth century "declined to
challenge the usurping power of the Church" (p. 114).  A fourth reason is
presented as a general axiom:  "economic and political instability
historically nurture racism" (p. 124).

The fifth argument is that the Spanish kings strove for national unity
which presumed religious uniformity (pp. 239, 245, 267).  As a sixth
reason, she invokes "natural disasters,"  occurring before both the 1391
pogroms and the 1492 expulsion (p. 239).  Lastly, Paris argues, Christian
society had tried to assimilate the Jews through conversion, but this had
not altered the "cultural and economic patterns" of the Conversos" (p.
268).  None of these arguments is without merit;  they could well
contribute to the understanding of accelerating discrimination,
culminating in the expulsion of the Jews.  The problem is that Paris does
not form the individual points into a systematic, logically cohering,
historical explanation.

Contradictory formulations are common.  Regarding the lower strata of
Iberian society, for example, Paris states:  "The Visigoth ideal of
religious exclusion had spread from the clergy to the population at large"
on page 90.  But on page 94, we read, "at street level, multireligious
Spain was not dead yet."  Similarly, some pages later, Paris deals with
the Purity of Blood Statutes against the Conversos, in uncertain fashion
(p. 128):  "In the daily life of towns and villages, ordinary Jews, Moors,
Christians, and new Christians maintained relatively cordial relations,"
but then we are soon informed:  "Blood purity became a powerful weapon in
the hands of the overtaxed peasantry and town proletariat" (p. 132).

The book is good when it describes.  The notable lack of theory would not
necessarily disqualify it as a valuable introduction to Spanish-Jewish
history for the general reader.  But there are serious problems with even
this limited function.  The book is full of anachronistic concepts and
terms that are not capable of describing the real situation.  This is the
most striking flaw of the book, in my opinion.  The author, however, is
untroubled:  "I have,"  she writes, "also used contemporary terminology
such as multiculturalism, racism, pogrom, etc. to describe conditions and
events that occurred before any of these words were voiced" (p. 22).  She
declines to discuss the legitimacy, or even the advantages and drawbacks
of doing so.  The results can be disconcerting:  Spain after the
establishment of the Inquisition was "Europe's first fascist state" (p.
167); the Jews of fifth-century Hispania enjoyed "equal rights" (p. 36);
"laissez-faire policies of the Muslims" (p. 53);  Tariq the Moor's "legacy
of tolerance"  (p. 133); the Reconquest was a "struggle between two
nations, one multireligious and liberal, the other exclusive and
profoundly conservative" (p. 40).

Erna Paris draws an ahistorical picture of a liberal, tolerant Muslim
Spain and contrasts it with an intolerant Christian Spain.  What she
neglects is the fact that both societies had epochs of more or less
religious freedom, but anything like the religious tolerance we know from
Western democracies never existed in medieval societies.  For Muslims as
for Christians (and also for Jews) the "other religions" were scorned and,
if possible, their adherents degraded.  Such a lack of appreciation for
historical perspective does not contribute to our understanding of the
medieval world, its values and behaviors.  Paris describes the Iberian
Peninsula between 711 and 1492 as if it were something like a
twentieth-century society, only five hundred to a thousand years
premature.  The Epilogue's attempt to compare medieval Spain and modern
Germany can, on so weak a foundation, produce only superficial parallels
and distortions.  The book, elegantly written though it is, helps us to
understand neither Spanish-Jewish history nor the Holocaust.

     Copyright (c) 1999 by H-Net, all rights reserved.  This work
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Document compiled by Dr S D Stein
Last update 14/01/00
S D Stein

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