A Baronial Aljama: The Jews Of Empúries In The Thirteenth Century

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Jewish History


The county of Empuries in Catalonia provides an historical laboratory in which to examine the formation of a small Jewish community (aljama) in an independent baronial enclave. While most studies have assumed that Iberian Jews were directly dependent on the king, the ancient dynasty that ruled the county effectively insulated Jews from royal power during the thirteenth century, when the first communal institutions took shape. In 1238 Count Pong Hug III of Empuries issued an extensive privilege, edited here for the first time, to the Jews in his territory to extend his protection, attract immigrants, and create the outlines for autonomous institutions. The grant in fact preceded the better-known royal charters that structured Jewish communal institutions in Barcelona and other major towns in Catalonia. Because the Jews of Empuries were not caught up in the expanding structures of royal administration, they were also not subject to heavy fiscal burdens and remained unengaged with the local baronial court. Left relatively undisturbed at first by the fiscal demands of their lord, the Jews of Empuries adapted to a provincial, rural environment in the thirteenth century and created a community distinct in its structure and internal social tensions from the aljames in the large towns.