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36 of 38 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "Basta mi nombre que es Abrabanel.", December 3, 2005
By 
Konrei "Everything I need is right here" (Boca Raton, Florida and Brooklyn, New York) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Jews of Spain: A History of the Sephardic Experience (Paperback)
THE JEWS OF SPAIN is an eminently readable and important survey history of the Ibero-Jewish experience from Biblical times. The Jews of Sepharad (Spain) are first mentioned in the Prophetic Book of Obadiah. From this beginning in antiquity, they can trace their history on Spanish soil right down to the present day.

Often abjured and ultimately expelled in 1492, the Sephardim nonetheless contributed much to the root stock of Spain and Portugal. One scholar estimates that 70% of all Spanish/Hispanic people today can trace their line back to some Jewish forebears, and in Portugal the percentage is an even more astounding 85%. Linguists are only now recognizing the strong Hebrew influence on the Spanish language (The honorific "Don" descends from The Hebrew word for Lord, "Adon").

Despite the institutional disabilities the Jews experienced as a minority in a land that was first Greco-Roman, then Christian, then Muslim, and finally again Christian, they prospered and thrived, becoming so much a part of the fabric of Spain that certain Spanish kings had themselves declared "King of the Three Religions" and had their tombs inscribed in Latin, Arabic and Hebrew. A Jewish "Golden Age" occurred under Muslim rule in the 1000s, when Jewish courtiers became noted poets, philosophers, cartographers, merchants, and even Prime Ministers. This pattern continued for a while under the Christian Reconquest, although increasing pressures were brought upon the Jews to convert. Nationwide pogroms in 1391 caused about half of Spanish Jewry to leave the fold, and again in 1492 most Jews chose conversion rather than exile from their beloved land. All told, about 300,000 Jewish people left Spain, scattering throughout the world.

The history of these post-1492 exiles is as fascinating as their history prior to that date. They established communities everywhere from Zion to California (although many kept the keys to their homes in Spain as precious heirlooms, vowing to return some day). A zealous minority remained behind in Spain, secretly practicing Jewish rites. For most of the Conversos, however, life became a terror as the Inquisition accused them of heresy, not necessarily because they practiced Judaism, but because they were of Jewish descent, adding the concept of race to the ancient prejudice of anti-Semitism.

The Jews of Spain form a goodly portion of modern Israel's population, and since the accession of King Juan Carlos, Sephardim have returned to Spain in increasing numbers, revivifying their ancient traditions: "It is enough that I am named Abrabanel."

As a survey, THE JEWS OF SPAIN touches only lightly on many subjects, but it is a compelling introduction to this portion of world history so long unremembered.
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32 of 34 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Winner of 1993 National Jewish Book Award:Sephardic Studies, October 5, 1996
By A Customer
This review is from: The Jews of Spain: A History of the Sephardic Experience (Paperback)
THE JEWS OF SPAIN - A History of the Sephardic Experience
Author: JANE S. GERBER
Catergory listing: History/Judaica

Winner of the 1993 National Jewish Book Award for Sephardic
Studies

An advanced and scholarly research on the history of the
Tribe of Judah, (House of David) to its present status.

"Jane S. Gerber is to be congratulated for her rare
achievement, a work of serious popularization that will be
welcomed by anyone interested in Jewish history and the
Sephardic experience. The Jews of Spain compresses a wealth
of information into one volume with authority,
intelligence, and lucidity. It deserves the widest possible
audience."
-- Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi - Salo Wittmayer Baron Professor
of Jewish History, Culture and Society, Columbia University

"This unusually valuable book fills a long neglected need:
a readable and highly accessible one-volume treatment of
Sephardic Jewry from their earliest origins until today."
-- Benjamin R. Gampel - Associate Professor of Jewish
History, The Jewish Theological Seminary of America

"Gerber has brought [a] scrupulous sense of scholarship to
The Jews of Spain...Her intelligent, gracefully written
history is a welcome volume for the general reader; it fill
an important historical vacuum."
-- Barbara Probst Solomon, The Washington Post

"...Stirring and riveting...a remarkable story of creative
adaptation, minority achievement, and survival."
-- Publisher's Weekly
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22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A refreshing, compact look at Sephardic history, February 12, 2006
This review is from: The Jews of Spain: A History of the Sephardic Experience (Paperback)
It has often been difficult for me to keep old textbooks. Oftentimes they're dry as toast and I can't wait to foist them off to the university bookstore again. However, I kept Gerber's book after my Spanish Jewry class ended. Simply put, it's a nice little treasure.

At 300 pages, this is a compact volume. I don't know how Gerber managed to include Roman-era Jewish origins on the Iberian peninsula to Jewish revival in the post-Holocaust era - but she does it, and it never feels like she had to cram anything in. Her writing is fluid (there's no literary jargon, no dry analysis, just tight and concise writing that's a pleasure to read). Moreover, her historical analyses touch on Jewish interactions with both the Muslim and the Christian worlds, from the former's invasion of Spain to its overthrow by Christian rulers and then Jewish persecution under the Inquisition.

In short, Gerber's book is informative and FUN. At the back, there is a map section and an enormous list of further reading, should the reader be interested in delving further into Sephardic history. Highly recommended.
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27 of 32 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Scholarly overview of the history of the Sephardic Jews, April 4, 2000
This review is from: The Jews of Spain: A History of the Sephardic Experience (Paperback)
With an outstanding narrative, Gerber has been able to compress the history of the Sephardic Jews from the early establishment in the Iberian Peninsula (around 200 BCE) to present date. This represents a wealth of information the author had to deal with, understanbly forced to narrow down on several topics. The reader will in fact have an amazing overview of the history of the Sephardic Jews in a single volume. Highly recommended to anyone interestd in the history of a people endowed with faith, courage, and determination to face adversities.
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15 of 18 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A refreshing look at a unique time and people, December 30, 1998
By 
Jbhmss007@aol.com (New York, New York) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Jews of Spain: A History of the Sephardic Experience (Paperback)
Gerber presents a piece that tells the story of the often neglected Sephardic Jew. In her piece, one can appreciate this group of jewry and realize their struggles and triumphants in a world that does not understsnd their purpose. Her treatment of the inquistion material in particular is breath taking and conjures up images of the modern inquistion across Europe that was the holocaust.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An ideal read on the history of the Sephardic Jews, June 3, 2007
By 
This review is from: The Jews of Spain: A History of the Sephardic Experience (Paperback)
I greatly enjoyed Jane Gerber's "The Jews of Spain, A History of the Sephardic Experience." The book provides a historical summary of the Sephardic Jews, starting from their origins in fifth century Spain under the Visigoths and Romans up until the effects of the Holocaust and the establishment of the state of Israel.

From my own perspective as an Ashkenazi Jew who is interested in culture more than religion, I have had a hard time figuring out exactly what "Sephardic" means. Traveling to Amsterdam and Newport, RI, I had seen big synagogues dedicated specifically as "Sephardic", I certainly knew the terms "Ashkenazi" and "Sephardic", but that was about it.

Honestly, I am still a little bit let down in that this book didn't delve more deeply into my question, what was the difference between the two groups?, though Gerber did do a great job of explaining the history behind the Sephards, who they were, where they came from, and how things stand now after the Holocaust and the effects of mass immigrations to Israel.

Given the above, the book provides a fantastic overview of 1500 years of history. I greatly appreciated reading about the era from 800 till 1600, during the "Golden Era" in Andalusian Spain under Muslim rule and the exile. I was also most interested in the Sephardic "situation" today. In both areas, the book was great. Clearly, information on every era of the Sephardic experience could fill a larger book, but Gerber sticks to the larger picture, liberally sprinkling primary source quotes and facts.

One criticism I have is that she idealizes the Sephardic experience under the rule of the Muslims, on one hand telling us how successful and well treated they were, yet on the other hand, we get hints that the Sephards were harassed, relatively uneducated, and living in deprivation. Another book I just started reading paints a much bleaker picture. Additionally, at least the paper back edition omits any biographical information on the author. Who's writing this book????

Regardless, in just under 300 pages of easy and informative reading, I think Gerber does a fine job and would recommend this book to anyone looking for an introductory book on the Sephardic Jews.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Important and informative, January 28, 2008
This review is from: The Jews of Spain: A History of the Sephardic Experience (Paperback)
Much has been written about the Jews of Spain and much of it idealizes the experience and pretends that Al-Andalus, or Islamic Spain was a utopia for Jews. Among these fantasy books are God's Crucible: Islam and the Making of Europe, 570-1215 and The Ornament of the World: How Muslims, Jews, and Christians Created a Culture of Tolerance in Medieval Spain. However this book, which is scholarly and informative gives a much deeper understanding. It is more than a history of the Sephardim of Spain, it is a history of the Sephardim and their 'experience'.

This amazing experience began in Spain under the Visigoths and early Islamic rulers between the 8th and 11th centuries. But then a great decline set in after the Almohad(Almohades) invasion. Around 1060 and after Jews began being persecuted by fanatical Islamic despots. Pogroms were unleashed and Jewish geniouses such as Maimonidies had to flee. Some Jews even fled to Christian Spain.

After 1492 and the expulsion of the Jews by the Catholic kings Ferdinand and Isabella the Sephardim wandered throughout the Islamic world and Christina Europe. The found homes in Amsterdam, the new world and the Ottoman empire where their Ladino language lives on to this day. The Sephardim that converted to Christianity were brutally persecuted in the inquistion, but their descendants to this day live throughout the Latin world.

A fascinating book.

Seth J. Frantzman
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Good History on the Spanish Jews and their Expulsion from their Homes, April 14, 2013
By 
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This review is from: The Jews of Spain: A History of the Sephardic Experience (Paperback)
Very interesting book on the expulsion of the Jews from Spain. Great background, interesting facts and speculation about Christopher Columbus and a great story. This is a great history and true story of a group of people expelled from their homes. This book is from Amazon.com.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Terrific book about the "Golden Age" of Spanish Jewry, March 5, 2013
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This review is from: The Jews of Spain: A History of the Sephardic Experience (Paperback)
Gerber's book is well-written, knowledgeable, easy to read, and informative. She takes us through the history of the Jews from the Roman Empire up to modern times. She speaks with knowlege of how the life of the Jews, and the state of the Jewish community, changed as they came under the control of various rulers: the early Christians (Visigoths), the Muslims, the later Christians, and eventually the Inquisition. She discusses Jewish writings from the period of the Golden Age, in the areas of religious thought, philosophy, and poetry. All in all, this one is a "keeper."
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars La Ley de Moises es mi Ley., April 29, 2012
This review is from: The Jews of Spain: A History of the Sephardic Experience (Paperback)
JEWS OF SPAIN: A HISTORY OF THE SEPHARDIC EXPERIENCE (1992) is Jane Gerber's magnum opus overview of the Jews of Spain. Truly living up to its title - and few books really do nowadays - Gerber manages to cover the entire ground of history from Roman times in Iberia to the post WWII experience.

A wonderful area Gerber addresses is the subject of Sephardim in the Caribbean; a major pet peeve I have is her dogged insistence in using the word "marrano", which in my family was always forbidden. "Marrano" means "filthy pig", and wishing will not make it otherwise. It's a far cry from a term like "Chicano" or "Latino" (the latter being the cognomen my ancestors preferred).

There is also slop in Gerber's scholarship; it isn't the compact and well-fitted chronological flow which Gerber does better than almost anyone, but the glaring errors. I give you one: Gerber calls Francis Salvador "perhaps the first Jew" to be a casualty of the American Revolution. In fact, Francis Salvador of South Carolina WAS THE FIRST CASUALTY OF THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION. That he was a Jew adds to his memory; Gerber is almost insulting in her carelessness.

Another point is the drive-by treatment given to Rabbi Menasseh ben Israel (which after all she must give to everyone here). While she merely mentions Rabbi Menasseh was Spinoza's teacher, she fails to mention two important things: his real name was Manuel Diaz and he is the rabbi who excommunicated Spinoza. For me, in any case, such omissions are unforgivable.

Aside from this, I cannot kick the book too hard. It is a favorite of mine, it certainly addresses the Sephardic 'story' as thoroughly as it can in well under 360 pages. Gerber herself apologizes about the lack of deep scholarship and hopes no misunderstandings will occur; I find it refreshing for an author to represent such honesty.

At the end of the day no one can be without this book as a general history. While Gerber decided to lean very lightly on American history (there is barely any at all) it is, as I stated, exactly what the title promises. And the Sephardic odyssey is one the entire planet should know - and alas, few people could even tell you what "Sephardic" means.

Get this book and rectify that problem. And if I may offer a few additional materials: for an American Jewish history book that satisfies even the deepest thirst I suggest Scharfman's The First Rabbi: Origins of Conflict Between Orthodox and Reform : Jewish Polemic Warfare in Pre-Civil War America : A Biographical History.

For a great documentary that has to do with the Ten Lost Tribes but addresses Sephardim, get Simcha Jacobovici's Quest For The Lost Tribes which tells an overarching, hidden Jewish history.

If you feel adventurous and querulous, get Professor Shlomo Sand's The Invention of the Jewish People - make sure you don't go purple or swallow your own tongue when you read this book! (See my reviews of all.)
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The Jews of Spain: A History of the Sephardic Experience
The Jews of Spain: A History of the Sephardic Experience by Jane S. Gerber (Paperback - January 31, 1994)
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