A guide of the Judería (Jewish quarter) of Tarazona
    By Miguel Angel Motis Dolader


         It is quite probable that in Tarazona, as happened in the towns of Huesca
         or Zaragoza, existed a small jewish community during the Visigothic era,
         and maybe even during the late Roman imperial period. This small
         community shored up under the Muslim rule (starting in the 8th century
         CE). Nevertheless, it was only after the conquest and incorporation of the
         city Tarazona to the kingdom of Aragón, that documents about this
         community multiply, a fact that can be considered as the result of the
         strengthening of Tarazona´s jewry and its final configuration.

         The city was conquered by King Alfonso I of Aragón, and in the year
         1123, the taxation on three religious communities of the town (Christian,
         Jewish and Muslim) was granted to the bishop, who thus became the
         propietor of the Jewish quarter, consisting of 20 houses and about 10

Judería Vieja. Plano MA. Motis


         The Jewish community gets more important during the so called "golden
         age" of the hispanic Jews (between 1213 and 1283), characterized by the
         rise of Jewish high authorities under the crown, a process that was
         initiated under the rule of King James I of Aragón (1213-1276), reaching
         its peak under King Peter (the Great, of Aragón, 1276-1285). During this
         period, the King´s Jewish civil servants were dedicated to financial
         issues, up to the point that the crown´s finances were fully under their

         Among the outstanding Jewish personalities of the time was Muça de
         Portella, who signing when most of the documents adopted the Muslim
         graphy Muça in favor of the hebraic name Moshe. In the first document
         found about him, dated the year 1273, he filled the office of Alcaide
         (Sheriff) and Bayle (King´s representative) of Tarazona´s Jewish quarter.
         Years later he moved to the Kingdom of Valencia (part of the Crown of
         Aragón), being Bayle of the towns of Morella, Onda, Peñíscola, Sagunto,
         Segorbe and Villareal, to return, between the years of 1276 and 1277, to
         his hometown, this time as Bayle and Merino (Judge) of Tarazona. He
         was in charge of the taxation and the control of the forts on the border
         with the neighbour kingdoms of Castille and Navarra, and also was a
         financial adviser to bishops and noblemen. In the year 1286, at the
         height of his influence in the royal court, the Cortes (Parliament)
         demanded, and obtained, from the king his destitution, to be murdered
         in unclear circumstances a few time later. His fortune was confiscated by
         King Alfonso II, who was in need of funds to finance his conquest of the
         island of Menorca, although a following agreement with the family saved
         their economic prosperity under one condition: leaving Tarazona and
         moving to the close city of Borja.

         Muça´s brother Ismael continued to be tax collector until 1289, as well as
         private administrator of Prince Don Pedro and Rab of the Jews in the
         Kingdom of Aragón under King James II. Although, due to their
         economic position, they could well have paid the whole tax contribution
         of the aljama (Jewish community) of Tarazona, the Portellas mantained
         a royal privilege consisting of paying only 1/5 of that amount. Only when
         they were deprived from all kind of political influence in the Kingdom
         did the Portellas move tho the neighbouring kingdom of Navarra.

Plano de la Judería de Tarazona. MA Motis


         The Jewish aljama of Tarazona appears as realengo (a kind of royal
         property) since the year 1271, together with 16 other Jewish communities
         in Aragón. As a royal property, these communities had to pay an average
         tax of (only) 3% on their incomes. In 1285, King Peter III mantained this
         rule. The first financial problems of Tarazona´s Jewry seem to appear by
         the end of the 13th. century, when the aljama was formed by 13 families.
         At that time, their ordinary taxes to the king (3000 sueldos) where
         partially condoned, while having to face also other institutional
         expenses. Nevertheless, Tarazona hosted an academy of translation,
         similar to those ones existing in Zaragoza, Huesca or Pamplona,
         although none of them, including Tarazona, reached the importance of
         the famous Academy of Toledo. These schools worked on the translation
         of arabic writings into latin. The academy also coincided with an
         important economic crisis, which also hit the Jewries of other aragonese
         towns like Ejea de los Caballeros and Uncastillo, as well as military
         unrest. During the so called "War of the two Pedros" (King Peter of
         Aragón and King Peter of Castille), in which the Castilians where only
         stopped at the doors of Daroca, Tarazona was conquered and
         reconquered by both parties several times. Between 1257 and 1260, the
         worst period of this war, the town, and consequently, the Jewish quarter
         too, was looted and almost completely destroyed to such level that, in
         1267, King Peter IV considered the possibility of erase it completely in
         order to avoid another capture by the Castilian and Navarrese troups.

         Tarazona was finally reconstructed with great effort, the first orders to
         resettle new Jewish families in the town dating back to the year 1270,
         although the bulk of new (Jewish) inmigration did not reach the
         communty until 20 or 30 years later. Inmediately after the reconstruction,
         during the eighties of the 13th. century, the renowned medicus Rabbi of
         Tudela (Navarra) Shem Tov b. Isaac Shaprut, who in 1375 participated, in
         Pamplona, in a famous (religious) polemy with cardinal Pedro de Luna,
         the future Pope Benedictus XIII, settled in Tarazona.

         Anti-Jewish rioting taking place at that time in various places both in
         Castille and Aragón did not reach the city of Tarazona. Tarazona´s Jewry
         could feel safe, not only thanks to the protection of the authorities, who
         needed their financial support after years of war and epidemies, and the
         following reconstruction, but also because of the economic interaction
         between the three communties, Christian, Jewish and Muslim, during
         these postwar years. In fact , in the year 1291, the "Capítulos de Guarda
         de la Judería"("Agreements on the administration of the Jewish quarter")
         where signed. This contract established that, for the amount of 200
         sueldos, the township guaranteed the protection of persons and
         properties of Tarazona´s Jewry, as well as their privileges and the
         presumption of inocence in their favor in judicial cases. During the 14th.
         century, Tarazona´s Jewry counted about 200 - 250 members (an
         estimated 10% of the city´s total population). For the end of the century,
         we can account in documents some 108 people, 55 of them adult males.
         On these facts, a total population of 225 to 275 people can be nowadays
         be esteemed for the Judería in Tarazona.

         Contrary to what happened in the nearby towns of Daroca and
         Calatayud, no massive and forced convertions to Christianism happened
         in Tarazona after the (religious) dispute of Tarragona
         (1414-1415). After the dispute, Aragón´s crown prince, later King Alfons V,
         took the aljama of Tarazona under his personal protection, a fact that
         permitted Tarazona´s Jewry to escape from the general decline of Jewry
         in the Kingdom of Aragón. These protectionist measures in favor of the
         Jews of Tarazona, which also included flexible fiscal decrees in their
         favour, continued under Alfons´succesor, King John II.
         By midst of the 15th. century, and because of the high demographic
         pressure taking place at that time, the Judería Nueva, or " new Jewish
         quarter" was established, enlarged by 1/3 for a community, now of about
         400 to 450 people.

         This climate of tolerance was to be abruptly halted with the
         establishment of the "Santo Oficio", or Inquisition, from which Tarazona
         had to obtain, after the city of Teruel, its own district court. This
         inquisitorial court started to work in 1284 and lasted until the death of
         King Ferdinand II, in the 16th. century, when the accused by the
         Inquisition were to be judged in Zaragoza. There were some renowned
         Jewish families who convertited to Christianism during this time: the
         Santa Fé, the Santangel and part of the Chunchillo family. In March 13th.
         1492, a royal decree of the Catholic Kings (King Ferdinand II of Aragón
         and Isabella of Castilla) finally expelled the Jewry from Castille and
         Aragón, and almost all Jewish families of Tarazona who decided not to
         convertite fled and established themselves in the aljamas of nearby
         kingdom of Navarra, with which they had had intense familiar and
         business relations before,like the one of Tudela (as did Juce Orabuena,
         the medicus Simuel Azamel and others), Cascante (Rabbi Sento
         Amariello). It is difficult to establish a cuantification, but we can esteem
         today that between 40 and 50% of Tarazona´s Jewry decided to
         convertite after the expulsion decree. In fact, newly baptized families
         continued to return to their homes in the until the year 1499.

                 1.The Judería (Jewish quarter)

                   The buildings that remain today are posterior to the
                   reconstruction of Tarazona at the end of the 14th. century,
                   after the great war with Castille. In fact, two different
                   quarters can be distinguished: the Judería Vieja, or old
                   quarter, and the Judería Nueva, that is, the extension of the
                   old Jewish quarter in the 15th. century. After the expulsion
                   in 1492, all this habitat received the new name of "barrio
                   nuevo" (new quarter), as happened in Zaragoza, Huesca,
                   Daroca or Calatayud.

                   a) Limits of the quarter

                   The old Jewish quarter lyes under the Zuda fortress, a
                   symbol first of the Muslim power first, and later of the
                   Christian rule. Its space limited with Tarazona´s barbican,
                   the Selcos-gutter, the market and the Puerta del Burgo
                   (Burgo Gateway). In their today´s names, you´ll find the old
                   old Jewish quarter while walking through the Juderia-,Rúa
                   Alta-, Rúa Baja- and Aires Streets, with not more than 50
                   houses. In medieval times, the Jewish quarter could only be
                   entered through certain gateways, or puertas: the Puerta de
                   la Plaza Nueva in todays Plaza de España , the Porticiella ,
                   a gate in the Rúa Baja Street, and the Zuda gate in the Rúa
                   Alta street.

                   Initially, the urban expansion of the Jewish quarter in the
                   15th. century, wasn´t closed as the old quarter. We can find
                   this new quarter in the Cuesta de Arcedianos Street, its
                   main axis, around the Santa María Square (formerly called
                   of the new Judería) reaching on one side the Queiles River,
                   from which it was protected by a barbincane. Following the
                   testimonies of convertite Jews of that time, there were held
                   solemn events of Tarazona´s Jewry in nowadays Santa
                   Maria Street, presided by a Rabbi carrying the Torah-scrolls,
                   like the funeral obsequies for King John II or the celebration
                   of the coronation of King Ferdinand II, as well as certain
                   own religious celebrations like easter or sukkot. The
                   separation of this new quarter from the Christian quarter
                   was established through a gate located at the end of the
                   Madorrán Street, which had a system of double closing, and
                   another entry at one side of Santa Maria Square, near to
                   what today is the so called Molino del Cubo.

                   b) Sacred places:
                   In every Jewish quarter, certain places related to specific
                   religious practices can be found: synagogues, ritual baths
                   (Mikves) and cementeries, as well as other necessary
                   equipments for the communities needs, influenced by
                   religious rules: bakeries (remember the bread with no yeast
                   for easter) or the butcheries (macellum), in which kosher
                   meat was sold.

                   Documents related to a (Christian) pastoral visit to the
                   aljama establish the existence of two synagogues in
                   Tarazona - they actually do mention "duas sinagogas
                   ebreorum". Documents later in time do distinguish between
                   the "Sinagoga Mayor " or "Sinagoga de la Aljama" from the
                   "Sinagoga Menor" (or minor synagogue).

                   Concerning the first one, the bishop of Tarazona permitted
                   its reconstruction in september 8th. 1371, considering its
                   ruined condition after the war, during which it was looted
                   and set to fire by the Castilian troops. The synagogue was a
                   meeting place for the community, difering in this from the
                   conception of a church by the Christian religion. Syanogues
                   were (and are) dedicated not only to religious practices, but
                   also to community activities, as place of reunion of the
                   Jewry ("ubi congregetur", as mentions the Bishop in his
                   documents). These synagogues had a very simple
                   architectonical conception: just one nave, orientated
                   towards Jerusalem, with a wooden roof , being the entrance
                   through a patio, called azara.

                   This synagogue could held about 100 persons. Following
                   documents of the time, it counted with two Sefer Torah, with
                   silvered and goldened Keter. Both of them were to be
                   confiscated by King Ferdinand II shortly before the
                   expulsion in 1492, in order to satisfy the Aljama´s taxation.

                   The synagoge also had a guildroom, as well a special room
                   for women (sinagoga de mulleres), who were separated
                   from men by a tribune, The major synagoge, neighbouring
                   the Rabbi´s house, was reconditioned sevedral times during
                   the 15th. century. The documents we know today about this
                   place are very unclear, but it seems that the synagogue may
                   have stood on the the place where today the "Casa de
                   Becquer" is situated, in the Rúa Alta Street.

                   On the other hand, documentary mentions of the "sinagoga
                   menor" are quite sporadic. An analogue "minor" synagogue
                   in Calatayud measured 40 x 30 (medieval) feet, so we can
                   suppose Tarazona´s one also being very small. There have
                   appeared no documents concerning the Mikve in both cases
                   - in Sepharad, a documentary proof exits only about a Mikve
                   in Lérida. The Mikve, or ritual bath, related to purification
                   practices, concerning e.g. menstruating women, had a
                   completely different purpose as public baths, of roman and
                   later, Muslim tradition, with hygienic purposes, which could
                   be used by members of the three communities. A Mikvé
                   needed constant clear water, taken from a nearby source. In
                   the case of Tarazona, we suppose the Mikvé was situated
                   near to the Selcos-gutter. It could well have been a
                   souterrain dependency of the major synagogue (but with
                   separate entrance), as well as a completely different close
                   building. Only future archaeological excavations will put
                   light to this point.

                   In the case of Tarazona´s Jewry, religious practices also
                   influenced the ubication of the cementery, which always
                   had to be situated out of town (extramuros), because it
                   transmitted impurities. Each tomb occupied about 2 square

                   The cementery stood where today´s old "Fosforera" factory
                   and the "Convento del Carmen" are to be found, between
                   today´s Caldenoguea Street and the Camino de Mataperros,
                   on a slight promontory limiting with the Almeora Square,
                   near to gates of Carrera de la Cervera and Era, in the (rural)
                   district of Losilla. It was a property of the aljama, enclosed
                   and surrounded by vinyards. The tombs were orientated
                   towards Eretz Israel.

Plano cementerio judía MA Motis


                   c) Administration: the Aljama

                   The Jewish Aljama was composed by the heads of the
                   households., It had a certain degree of sovereignty, by
                   being enabled to issue decrees (ordenanzas) affecting
                   every-day-life of the Jewry.

                   As an example, one of these decrees, dated in the year1
                   285, prohibited its members the use of garments in
                   pastel-colours, as a sign of austerity.

                   The internal organisation of the aljama, the first documents
                   about it dating back to the 14th. century- based on three
                   main collegial institutions: the Assembly, the Council, and
                   the Adelantados or Muqdamim, to which certain civil
                   servants were attached, like the Clavario, in charge of
                   collecting the taxes of the Jewry and the accountance of the
                   Aljama, the judiciary Albedí , as well as Rabbis, the Shama,

                   In a royal decree, issued in 1420 by Queen Mary of Aragón
                   (called Takkanah or "Regimiento de los Oficiales"), and in
                   view of the diminishing Jewish population of Tarazona after
                   war, epidemics and other calamities, the council was
                   ordered to be composed by 9 people, in representation of
                   the three social strata of every society: " 3 (members) of the
                   upper class, 3 of the middle class and 3 of the lower one".

                   The mandate of the council was annual, and commenced
                   the day of Saint Michael, being each new councelor being
                   designated by his predecessor. The council had only
                   consultive functions, except in the case of taxation of the
                   Jewry, where it had executive powers. The Aljama also had
                   its own financial ressources in order to guarantee certain
                   basic social services to its members. Following a legislation
                   dated in 1383, these own resources where provided by a tax
                   on bread, meat and wine called Sisa, as well as a tax on
                   every household (Cabezaje), an income tax (Brazaje). The
                   aljama also issued credits, at an interest rate between 8 and

                   The Adelantados (judges) had to know the talmud
                   legislation and to be honest men. They used to be three
                   (although during certain periods of time there were only two
                   of them), and were in charge of internal litigations of the
                   Jewry, to be judged according to the rabbinical dispositions.
                   They had to vigilate the compliance of the religious
                   preceptions and supervised the hospital of the community,
                   as well as the charity.


              In rural areas the cultivation of vineyards (77%) predominated,
              followed by the cultivation of cereal and vegetables for textile
              purposes (13%) and, at a certain distance, the growing of olives. In
              years of heavy drought, like in 1492, the olive groves produced the
              minimal quantity of 25 arrobas of olive-oil.
              In the 15th. century predominated the small propietor (with only
              one field to cultivate), while about 10% of Jews are propietors of
              three or more fields (like Abraham Orabuena, Cahadias Abroixar
              or Yucé Orabuena).

              Richness, like in Calatayud, was distributed in a very unequal way
              in Tarazona: e.d., Yucé Orabuena had 1/5 of all agricultural land
              in his hands.

              Among the absent propietors (living in town) predominates a
              system called alcabala, which consisted in renting the fields under
              different conditions as the used by Christian propietors, being the
              profitability three times higher.

              Jewish artisans produced mainly textile and leather products.
              Some of the medieval guilds, like the ones of tanners and weavers
              of Tarazona at that time are multiconfessional, reflecting the
              market share of each group of artisans: 60% of its members are
             Christian, 10 % are Muslims and the rest, 30%, Jews.

Distribución de las heredades de judios en la vega de Tarazona .1492.MA Motis


              Tarazonas Jewry also had a very strong and active mercantile
              class , mainly commercing with low quality textiles for the rural
              area and leather products, with the rest of Aragón, Castille and
              Navarra, through a net of agents and even branch offices. Among
              these merchants, who also acted as bankers, detached Hosua
              Ezquerra, Levi Pamplonés and the Avemonder borthers, Yento and
              Açach. As in the case of the city of Barbastro, the Jewish horse
              merchants or Bestias also were of great importance in Tarazona,
              for they controlled the horse market, essential for the transport of
              merchandises at that time.

              Banking was only excercised by a small minority in the Aljama,
              and credits generally related to the coyuntural needs of the
              farmers or artisans. In the second half of the 14th. century, only
              12% of all credits were superior to the amount of 200 sueldos, and
              60% of them even didn´t reach the amount of 100 sueldos. The fact
              that most credits (9 out of ten) had to be repaid after nine months
              underlines the above mentioned coyuntural character. But these
              credits of subsistence were heavily exposed to the debtor´s
              insolvence or to periods of economic crisis, so they were subject to
              constant royal moratories and condonations. Consequently, each
              time when minimal political instability or rioting appeared, even
              in neighbouring countries, like in Castille in 1391, Jewish bankers
              greatly reduced their lending activities.


   Association of Friends of theJewish Culture of Tarazona  "Moshe de Portella"