Benveniste, meaning "welcome" in Spanish, was the name of a prominent Jewish family that flourished in Spain for several centuries before the Expulsion of the Jews from Spain (in 1492). It was a widespread family, with branches in southern France and other countries. This family produced great scholars and influential statesmen who played an important role in Jewish life before the cruel Inquisition put an end to it.

Here we bring you the story of one member of this family, Don Joseph ben Ephraim Halevi Benveniste, who died in Toledo, Spain, in the year 1337.

In those days many Jews lived in the two Christian kingdoms of Castile and Aragon on the Iberian peninsula, which had been reconquered from the Arabs (Moors) of North Africa. The cities Barcelona, Valencia, Seville, Toledo, Cordoba and others had large Jewish populations and rich Jewish communities - rich not only in the ordinary sense, but also in Torah scholarship. The Benveniste family was one of the richest Jewish families.

The King of Castile was Alfonso XI (1325-1350). He had heard a great deal about a young Jew of excellent manners and high education, and with a great talent for music. The king invited Don Joseph to the palace and was very much impressed with him. Before long the king appointed him as his confidential Advisor and Minister of Finance. Don Joseph's position in the court made him the most influential person in the land, next to the king.

Don Joseph lived in royal fashion. He used to ride in a state carriage, with a retinue of fifty knights as his bodyguard.

The king also had another Jewish friend who served him as his astronomer and physician. His name was Samuel ibn Wakar. There was a certain rivalry between the two prominent Jews, and some of the courtiers were jealous of both Jewish favorites of the King.

II.

Among the office holders who served the Jewish Finance Minister was a young and capable Spaniard, Gonzalo Martinez. Benveniste introduced him to the king, and the king elevated him to a high position at court.

Gonzalo Martinez was very jealous of the power and influence which his benefactor and other Jews enjoyed, and began to plot their ruin. The opportunity presented itself when King Alfonso became involved in a war against the Moors. The treacherous Martinez went before the king and accused Don Joseph as well as Ibn Wakar of dishonesty and mismanagement of the country, and - like Haman - offered to buy from the king ten prominent Jews for 800 pounds of silver to replenish the king's treasury.

The king was in need of money to continue the war against the Moors. Without giving his Jewish friends a chance to defend themselves and prove their innocence, he agreed to sell both Benveniste and Ibn Wakar and eight additional prominent Jewish men to Martinez.

III.

Armed with the new powers he bought from the king, Martinez seized his benefactor and the other prominent Jews and put them in prison. Benveniste died in prison several years later (in 1337).

When the king heard of Benveniste's death, he ordered that his body be brought to Cordoba and that he be given a state funeral. Don Joseph was buried in the Jewish cemetery in Cordoba. His widow and children were granted a pardon by the king; they were freed from taxes and all claims against the family that Martinez had brought against the Jewish Finance Minister.

The king's physician and astronomer, Samuel ibn Wakar, also died in prison. Martinez had demanded a large sum of, ransom money for him and his two brothers whom he had imprisoned. However, having deprived them of all their wealth, the family could not raise the enormous sum of ransom money. Martinez refused to release the body of the Jewish physician, and only a year later the remains of Samuel ibn Wakar were delivered for burial.

The cruel Martinez was not yet satisfied with his victory over the Jewish leaders. He plotted a general, expulsion of the Jews of Castile, in order to confiscate all their possessions. He prepared a plan and only waited for the right moment to present it to the king.

In the meantime, the king found that he could not get along without a Jewish Advisor and Finance Minister, and he appointed Mosheh Abravalia to this position. The new Jewish Finance Minister won the confidence of many courtiers, and he soon found out about the terrible plot of Martinez against the Jews of Castile. Mosheh Abravalia sent word to all the Jewish communities in Castile about the danger, and urged all Jews to fast and pray to G‑d.

IV.

Gonzalo Martinez became ever more powerful. He amassed an enormous fortune, as everyone tried to buy his favor. Then a situation arose, for which Martinez had been waiting. The Moors made another attempt to invade Castile. The king appointed Martinez as Commander-in-Chief of the Spanish forces. Gonzalo defeated the Moors, and he was now certain that the king would be glad to reward him. This was the time to have the king carry out his plan of expelling the Jews from his land.

Mosheh Abravalia had been anxiously following the developments and Martinez's rise to power. He knew there was no time to lose. Secretly he called to his house the ministers and courtiers who, he knew, were unhappy with Martinez and feared him. They decided to go to the king and warn him that Martinez was planning to ruin the country by ordering the expulsion of the Jews, and that he had become so drunk with power that he was a personal danger to the king, probably plotting to assassinate him and take over the throne.

The king realized that he had, indeed, allowed Martinez too much power. He dispatched a secret armed detail to arrest Martinez, but the latter somehow learned of the mission, and with a number of followers escaped the trap. Martinez and his men took refuge in a castle. When the king sent a messenger to Gonzalo ordering him to surrender and throw himself on the king's mercy, Gonzalo simply had the king's messenger executed. This infuriated the king, and he ordered that the castle be set on fire and destroyed together with all its occupants. Then Gonzalo's men overpowered him and delivered him alive to the king.

The king ordered to have Gonzalo Martinez beheaded and burned.

Thus the Jews of Castile finally got rid of their ruthless enemy and were saved from the cruel decree he had plotted against them. They praised and thanked G‑d for their miraculous deliverance.