What did the Spanish Inquisition demonstrate about the Jewish people's preferred relationship with the non-Jewish world? Did Jews respond by attempting greater assimilation, or by physical separation?
The “Jewish people” are no more homogenous than are Christians or Muslims. As with those latter religions, within Judaism are a number of different groups separated by levels of orthodoxy, by the cultures of the regions in which they resided, and by individual concerns with regard to physical survival. Consequently, any discussion of how Jews responded to the major periods of persecution like the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, the pogroms of Eastern Europe, and other such periods needs to take into account the disparate approaches to adversity demonstrated by various categories of “Jews.”
Because of the history of anti-Semitism, which predates the birth of Jesus, Jews have confronted the challenge of living their lives in peace through two main approaches. One approach, assimilation, enabled some Jews to live in peace, but often at the expense of the freedom to practice their religious traditions, for example, observance of the Jewish Sabbath. Assimilation, in environments in which anti-Semitism was prevalent, was no panacea, though. Jews who assimilated and prospered were routinely accused of attempting to burrow their way into Christian society for nefarious purposes. Many Orthodox Jews, or Hasidim, believe so fervently in the fundamental tenets of the religion as presented in the Old Testament chose, and continue to do so, to live separate from the rest of society, establishing their own communities where they are isolated from their own version of “non-believers,” which includes less-orthodox Jews.
The Spanish Inquisition, however, with its attendant expulsion of Jews from Spain, did instill in many Jews a deeper sense of isolation from the Christian world. Jewish communities that were established in regions like Poland, Belorus, Ukraine and other Eastern European areas were kept distinctly separate from Christian communities, both for the protection of the Jewish inhabitants, and so that they could practice their religion in peace. Physical separation, however, was no panacea, either. With disturbing regularity, Christian attacks on Jewish villages and neighborhoods under whatever false pretense non-Jewish community and political leaders could conjure up resulted in more Jewish suffering. The birth and growth of the Zionist movement in Eastern and Central Europe in the late 19th Century was the direct outgrowth of these centuries of persecution in Christian and Muslim countries.
In 1492, the same year that Spain sent Columbus sailing the ocean blue, an edict was issued basically telling the Jews in Spain to convert to Catholicism, flee Spain, or suffer death. As the horrors of the Spanish Inquisition became apparent, Jews relocated to other areas in western and central Europe forming tight knit communities.
With the oncoming of the Industrial Revolution in the Renaissance era, the need for stable monetary systems to aide in trade became crucial; however, the Pope viewed simony, the lending of money for a fee as sinful. Given that the Jews were not members of the Christian faith, they were allowed to take up positions as money managers and bankers. Although the Jewish people continued to suffer persecution and discrimination, their roles as financial managers allowed a certain sector of the Jewish population to become among the wealthiest in Europe. In the late 19th Century the Zionist Movement began and was supported by many of the wealthiest Jews to achieve the establishment of a homeland for the Jewish people. In the 400 years between the Commercial Revolution and WWII, the Jews had become the richest sector of European society.
When Adolf Hitler became Chancellor of Germany in 1933, he immediately began a course for garnering as much of the Jewish wealth as possible, leading up to the Holocaust and the victimization of the European Jewry.