Plaza de los Fueros de Tudela

posted 18 Jul 2017, 20:52 by Lodzer Shabbat-Bulletin

Where in the world is Rabbi Eli?


Plaza de los Fueros de Tudela, Navarre

I may look like I am the first Jew in the ancient kingdom of Navarre. Ever. In truth, Jewish history here goes back more than one thousand years.

When the Spaniards captured Tudela from the Muslims in the early 12th c, they inherited a large number of Jews with the city. Those Jews were worried about their future (surprise, surprise!), and only the ample liberties and promises granted by King Alfonso the Warrior made them change their mind.

As a result, the Jewish community of Tudela was both traditionally autonomous and wealthy. Many a great scholar spent his youth here, including arguably Ibn Ezra, and inarguably, the kabbalist Abulafia.

One great philosopher, poet, and Talmudist born here was Rabbi Yehudah ha-Levy, who was never shy to dilute his pious hymns with love poetry and even drinking songs. Over 20 years after the conquest of Spain Yehudah ha-Levy, who lived intermittently in Christian and Muslim cities, sailed finally for Israel. We don't know much about his further biography except that he did reach the Holy Land, and died that same summer. Legend has it however that he was trampled to death by an Arab horseman just as he was reaching the gates of Jerusalem.

Perhaps even more interesting material awaits an enthusiastic biographer looking at the story of Benjamin of Tudela, the inexhaustible historian, poet, and traveler. Our knowledge of Jewish life in the lands of the Crown could have been significantly poorer be it not for his nearly maniacal tendency to write elaborate entries on every Jewish community he visited, from Zaragoza in Aragon to Greece, Syria, and Lebanon. He clearly stayed in the Jewish communities, and scrupulously inquired after their size, history and customs. Benjamin's journey lasted 8 full years, ending in 1173 upon his return to Spain, and is described in detail in his Masa'ot, The Itinerary of Benjamin of Tudela.

In all likelihood, the main reason for the journey to begin with was commercial. Yes, here's another Jew who traveled for a living. Hold the presses! That was quite a "Where in the world is Benjamin Tudela" to read. Even today's historians sometimes rely heavily, occasionally solely, upon his testimonies.

The Jewish community prospered here all the way to the expulsion from Navarre in 1498. The main synagogue was rebuilt and enlarged in 1401.

For our incoming groups, this relic of the old Jewish days will become a gate to the Basque Lands on the way from Barcelona through Zaragoza.

Next time, see you who-knows-where.