We Jews are the people of many books. There is one particular book on my shelves that I dip into from time to time, when I want to know what happened on a particular day in Jewish history: A Jewish Book of Days by the Anglo-Jewish historian Cecil Roth (Edward Goldston, London, 1931). Roth is probably best known for A History of the Jews in England (Clarendon press, Oxford, 1978), first published in 1941.
This year, the first day of Pesach is on 31st March. Looking up the date in A Jewish Book of Days, I came across a little-remembered fact: that the edict of expulsion of the Jews of Spain, was promulgated in Granada by the Christian monarchs, Ferdinand and Isabella on 31st March 1492 – four months before the actual expulsion came into effect on Tishah B’Av. Roth’s passage on the edict and its consequences, also reminded me that the expulsion extended to the Jews living in the whole of their dominion, including Sicily and Sardinia (pp.77-78).
In A Jewish Book of Days, Cecil Roth does not make any connection between events recorded for any particular day. So, for example, his passage for 1st March records the martyrdom of representatives of the Jewish community of Worms, Germany in 1349 (p. 54), and the one for 2nd March records the massacre of Jews in Paris in 1382 (p.54).
Nevertheless, reading through Roth’s March record, I discerned an interesting connection between the expulsion of the Jews of Spain and the passage for 25th March, which begins with the journey of a single individual, who set off from his home in Forli, Italy on 26th October 1486, bound for Jerusalem (p. 73).
Italian scholar, Obadiah di Bertinoro, famous for his commentary on the Mishnah, determined to end his days in eretz Yisrael, arrived in Jerusalem on 25th March 1488. According to Roth, Bertinoro’s arrival there ‘marked an epoch in the history of the Jewish community in the city and in the Holy Land as a whole, and may indeed be taken as the date of the birth of the modern Jewish settlement in Palestine.’ (p. 73).
Bertinoro became the spiritual head of the community. Roth writes: ‘He instituted in this capacity regular courses of study, founded a yeshiva for the study of the Law, brought charitable and benevolent institutions into existence, suppressed corruption in the community, and improved relations with the Moslem authorities. Thus, the ground was prepared for the vast increase in the Jewish population of the Holy Land which took place as a result of the expulsion from Spain a few years later.’ (Roth, pp. 73-74).
460 years after Bertinoro arrived in Jerusalem, the modern State of Israel was established on 14th May 1948. Another March date: Cecil Roth was born in London on 5th March 1899. He died in Jerusalem on 21st June 1970.