Rosh Chodesh Tammuz in the year 5151 (June 6, 1391) marked a tragic turn in the history of Spanish Jewry in Christian Spain. On that day a wave of massacres swept the Jewish communities in Spain, which brought in their wake a century of violence and persecutions that culminated in the final Expulsion on Tisha b'Av of 5252 (1492).

The massacres of 1391, which became known in Jewish history as the pogroms of 5151, marked the beginning of the end of the Golden Age of Spanish jewry.

The bloody attacks against the Jews first broke out in Seville. They were instigated by a Jew-baiting priest Ferrand Martinez, who had begun a relentless campaign against the Jews as early as 1378. In public sermons, filled with hatred of the Jews, he called on all good Christians to destroy the 23 beautiful synagogues of the Jewish community of Seville, to lock up the Jews in a ghetto, to have no dealings with them, and to use every means to force them into accepting Christianity. He preached that it was no crime for Christians to murder and pillage the "unbelievers." He concentrated, especially, on the peasants and lower classes of Andalusia, urging them not to give peace to the Jewish neighbors.

Unrestrained by either the State or the Church, this rabble-rousing priest continued to sow the seeds of hatred among the Christian populace year after year. In 1390, after the death of the archbishop, Ferrand Martinez became the chief deacon and church administrator of the region. Now he continued his Jew-baiting with even greater vigor. In the same year King John the First of Castille died, leaving a juvenile Crown Prince to succeed him. The reins of state were taken over by a regent, and the government made no attempt to restrain the anti-Jewish campaign. When the storm broke loose, it was powerless to stem the tide.

Thus, a blood-thirsty mob fell on the Jewish quarter of Seville on that tragic day of Rosh Chodesh Tammuz and mercilessly killed every Jew who fell into their hands and refused to be baptized; many women and children were sold into slavery. A number of Jews, however, managed to escape.

From Seville the violence against the Jews spread to other towns in Andalusia, the southern province of Castille, and then swept northward to Burgos. Within three months most of the flourishing Jewish communities in all the Christian States of Spain - Castille, Aragon, Valencia, Catalonia, as well as the Balearic Islands-were destroyed.

One of the eye-witnesses to these massacres and atrocities was the famed Rabbi and scholar Hasdai Crescas, whose son was among the martyrs in Barcelona. In a heartrending letter which he sent to the Jewish communities of Avignon, France, several months after the massacres, Rabbi Hasdai recounts the terrible tragedy that had befallen the Jews of Spain. The pattern was invariably the same. A wild mob, roused by fanatical priests and monks, stormed into the Jewish quarter. They set fire to Jewish homes, shops and synagogues, giving the Jews one choice: conversion to Christianity or death. They killed mercilessly those who refused to be baptized. Many Jews chose to die as martyrs, al kiddush hashem; some saved themselves by outward conversion.

In Cordoba, where the attack followed closely after the destruction of the Jewish community in Seville, the only Jews that survived were those who had accepted forced baptism.

In Toledo, the city made famous by the great Rabbi Asher ben Yechiel (Rosh) and his son, Rabbi Yaakov (author of the Turim), the attack came on the fast day of the 17th of Tammuz. Rabbi Yehuda, a grandson of the Rosh, and his entire family, together with most of the Yeshiva students and communal leaders, met a violent death al kiddush Hashem. The great and beautiful synagogues of Toledo were either burned down or taken over by the Church. Here, too, there were many Anusim, forced converts.

The fate of the Jewish communities in Madrid, Cuenca, and other cities was the same. In some cities, such as Cuenca, members of the city council took part in the pillage. The bells of the churches pealed loudly, calling on all Christians to kill and rob the Jews.

The Jewish community in Burgos was not spared even though the government at nearby Segovia had issued a proclamation to prevent the massacre. A small number of Jews in Burgos found refuge in the local castle, but most of the Jews were forcibly baptized or died as martyrs.

After the massacres had taken their toll, the government of Castille imposed a monetary fine on various cities to reimburse the Crown for the losses it had sustained through the pogroms. The Crown regarded the Jews as its "property," and held the cities responsible for the loss of revenue which resulted from the destruction of the Jewish communities. It made no attempt, however, to capture and punish the instigators and perpetrators, among whom were many families of the Spanish nobility and Church dignitaries who shared in the loot. Besides, the Church considered it a great achievement to have forced so many prominent Jewish families into baptism.

Seeing the destruction caused by the bloody pogroms against the Jews in Castille, the governments of the neighboring Christian States attempted to prevent such destruction in their domains. They called upon local city administrations to take measures to protect the Jews, but it was of no avail. Thus, it was, when a band of ruffians came from Castille to Valencia and called upon the local populace to join them in an attack upon the Jewish quarter. It happened that the king's younger brother, Don Martin, was then in this port city, about to embark for Sicily with his regiment. The mob also incited the soldiers to join them, then moved to the Jewish quarter, shouting, "The archdeacon (Martinez) is coming; death to the Jews, or baptism!" Some of them broke into the quarter, before the Jews managed to close the gates in an attempt to defend themselves. Now, the mob outside the gate began to shout that the Jews were murdering the Christians trapped in the Jewish quarter. Don Martin arrived at the gate, accompanied by city officials, and demanded that the Jews open the gate. This, the Jews refused to do, whereupon the mob, assisted by the soldiers, broke down the gate. In the massacre that followed, 250 Jews died. Many were forcibly baptized. Some found refuge in the homes of friendly Christian neighbors; some succeeded in escaping from the city, among them the famed Rabbi Yitzchak ben Shesheth (Ribash).

After the destruction of the Jewish quarter of Valencia, in the eastern province of Spain, the mob moved towards the Muslim quarter. However, the king's brother Don Martin, who was then in the city (as mentioned before), was determined to prevent a massacre of the Muslims, fearing reprisals against Christians in the Muslim states. He ordered his troops to capture one of the leaders of the mob, and had him hanged at the gates of the Muslim quarters, as a warning. Thus, the Arabs in the city were given the protection which was denied to the defenseless Jews.

The king of Aragon, who was then in Saragossa, dispatched a letter to his younger brother, sharply rebuking him for failing to protect the Jews of Valencia. In the same letter he ordered that the Jews who had saved themselves in the homes of friendly Christian neighborhoods, should be given shelter in more secure places in his kingdom. He also forbade the seizure of Jewish synagogues and their conversion into churches. However, all this royal concern for the Jews, prompted by fear of the loss of revenue, came too late. In any case, without the cooperation of the local municipalities, the king could do little to protect Jewish life and property, the pogroms spread to other cities, with the same pattern of massacres and forced mass conversions of Jews. An exception was the town of Murviedro, where the kings order was heeded, and the Jews found refuge in the local castle.

News of the destruction of the Jewish community of Valencia, which had taken place on the 5th day of Av, soon reached Barcelona. Here the city administration took steps to prevent a similar pogrom. The situation remained tense for the next few weeks, and came to a head when a ship landed in the harbor with fifty ruffians who had taken part in the massacre at Seville. These ruffians lost no time in calling upon the populace of Barcelona to join them in an attack on the Jewish quarter, bragging of their 'success' in Seville. On Shabbos, fourth of Elul, the attack broke loose. The attackers burned down the gates of the Jewish quarter and the mob fell on the defenseless Jews. During the whole day the mob killed and pillaged the Jews of Barcelona, leaving about one hundred dead. A similar number found refuge in the new fortress of the city. The city authorities finally captured the ruffians of Seville and condemned ten of them to hang. But the following day the mob stormed the prison, freed the condemned men and proceeded to storm the fortress. The Jews put up a desperate defense, but being virtually unarmed and greatly outnumbered, they were overpowered. Many Jews died al kiddush haShem, among them Hasdai's son. Some took their own lives, some threw themselves from the tower to their death.

The mob continued its bloody work for a whole week. The final toll was some Jewish martyrs; the rest of the Barcelonian Jews were spared only after they had been forcibly converted to Christianity. Very few managed to escape. Thus, the great Jewish community of Barcelona, made famous by such luminaries as Rabbi Shlomo ben Aderet (RaShBA), Rabbi Nissim Gerondi, and other great Rabbis and scholars, was totally destroyed.

The king received the news of the attack on the Jews of Barcelona three days after it bad started. The king resolved to go there at once, while the queen hastily dispatched a letter to the Bishop of Barcelona and the city authorities, requesting them to save the son of Rabbi Hasdai Crescas and his family, because of the invaluable services which Rabbi Hasdai had rendered to the crown and country. Unfortunately, the intervention came already after the destruction of the Jewish community of Barcelona.

The wave of pogroms continued to spread in Spain. It reached Gerona, where the famed Jewish community had produced many outstanding Talmudic scholars and rabbis, bearing the name Gerondi, after the city. Here the Rabbis led most of the Jews, who were now faced with the choice of death or conversion to Christianity, to prefer death al kiddush haShem. Few Jews of Gerona saved themselves by accepting Christianity even outwardly. A number of Jews found refuge in the fortress of the city. A year later, surviving Jews of Gerona returned and reestablished a community there.

A similar fate befell other Jewish communities in Catalonia, from Tortosa to Perpignan, where blood-thirsty mobs destroyed the flourishing communities. A small number of Jews found refuge in local castles or fortresses, many were brutally massacred, but most were forced into baptism. The number of forced converts kept swelling. Some converts, seeking to find favor in the eyes of the church, or to make a career for themselves, soon became fanatical Jew-baiters and missionaries. These renegades gave a lot of trouble to the surviving remnants of Spanish jewry.

From the coastal provinces of eastern Spain, the pogroms leaped across the narrow stretch of sea to the Balearic Islands. News of the bloody massacres in the provinces of Valencia and Catalonia reached the islands of Majorca and Minorca at the beginning of the month of Av. The local Christian populace began to prepare for similar attacks on their defenseless Jewish neighbors. The governor of the Balearic Islands sought to forestall the pogroms by declaring that the Jews are under the protection of the king. At the same time he advised Jews living in rural areas to evacuate to greater safety in the capital, Majorca. But, again, these efforts of the governor proved feeble in the face of the wave of hatred and religious bigotry, which roused the mobs to bloodshed and pillage.

On Rosh Chodesh Elul the pogrom against the Jews of Majorca erupted with fury. Three hundred Jews met death for the Sanctification of G‑d's Name, while eight hundred souls managed to save themselves in the fortress. A number of Jews escaped in boats to the nearest North African coast. Many more Jews could have saved themselves by way of the sea, but for the governor who, fearing to lose many rich and capable Jewish merchants, tied up all ships in the harbor, promising the Jews protection. However, since many government officials were themselves involved in the pillage, the Jews remained unprotected. Peasants from the surrounding country, roused by their priests and monks, stormed into the city, crying "death or baptism for the Jews!" In desperation, many Jews accepted baptism.

The "holy war" which the Christian church of Spain declared against the Jews, came also to Aragon. However, King Juan showed more determination to protect his Jews, knowing what a loss of revenue it would be for the crown treasury if the Jewish communities were destroyed. From Saragossa he issued orders to protect the Jews, but the Jews knew how little they could count on such protection. Even in Saragossa, despite the king's presence there, the Jews lived in mortal fear. Nevertheless, by comparison with the other Christian states of Spain, the Jews of Aragon suffered little more than mortal fear. There were attacks and victims, but by and large the Jewish communities of Aragon were spared.

One of the famous scholars of those days, Rabbi Yitzchak ben Moshe Halevi Duran (known as the Efodi, after his work Maaseh Efod on Hebrew grammar, and author of other important works), who, together with Rabbi Hasdai Crescas, courageously and selflessly defended the Jewish faith, observed that the Jewish communities of Aragon had been spared in the merit of the G‑d-fearing Jews who used to rise early in the morning to recite Tehillim.

In the course of three months of that tragic year-Tammuz, Av and Elul-virtually all Jewish communities of Christian Spain were destroyed, with the exception of Aragon. Countless Jews were massacred or left homeless, and even greater numbers were forced into accepting Christianity as the only escape from physical destruction.

The Christian kings of Spain lacked the power, but more truthfully - the will power, to stop the wave of hatred and massacres which had been fostered by the church. And after the holocaust they were more concerned to ensure their share of the loot than to punish the guilty. Even the "good" Juan took energetic steps to claim his due, ordering his governors and officials in the towns and townlets of Catalonia and Valencia to register all Jewish property, whose owners had been massacred and especially those who left no heirs. Relatives of Jews who bad been driven to take their own lives, were not recognized as rightful heirs. All this property was declared as belonging to the crown. Even synagogues and other institutions, including scrolls of Torah and valuable adornments, as well as books and libraries, were seized for the crown. Some of them the king donated to the church or church dignitaries. The king imposed light monetary fines on municipalities who participated in the pogroms, but in most cases city and state officials were cleared of all charges, and some were even praised for their "prompt action" in preventing more serious consequences...

King Juan I planned to have the Jewish communities of Barcelona and Valencia rehabilitated. He authorized Rabbi Hasdai Crescas to raise funds among Jewish communities in Aragon to help reestablish the destroyed communities in the said cities. But the local municipalities resisted this attempt, and the succeeding kings, Martin and Alfonso V simply banned the reestablishment of Jewish communities in those cities. In the smaller towns, Jews found it somewhat easier to begin communal life again, since the local authorities realized that the Jews are useful for the economy and development of trade and industry.

In spite of all difficulties and hindrances, and often disregarding his personal situation, Rabbi Hasdai Crescas labored untiringly to rehabilitate Jewish life in Spain. From Saragossa, which was now the main center of Jewish life, he carried on his dedicated work, instituting ordinances and directives to bring some order in the terrible upheaval that had befallen the Jews of Spain. But Spanish Jewry never recovered from the holocaust of the year 5151 (1391). New clouds appeared in the already darkened sky of Spanish Jewry, which finally led to the expulsion of the Jews from Christian Spain a century later, on the 9th of Av, 5252 (1492).