This Day in Jewish History

1066: Massacre in Granada, Spain

Caught in inter-tribal hostilities between Arab communities that had recently conquered southern Spain, Jews were victims of a violent pogrom.

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On December 30, 1066, the Jewish population of Granada, Spain, fell victim to a massacre by an angry Arab crowd -- with an estimated 4,000 killed. The pogrom followed the murder of Joseph Ibn Naghrela, the Jewish vizier to the Berber king of Andalusia.

Historians don't agree and can't offer many specifics on the catalyst for the violence, but it seems the Jews were caught in inter-tribal hostilities between the North African Arab and Berber communities that had recently conquered and colonized southern Spain.

Joseph Ibn Naghrela was the son of the legendary Shmuel Hanagid (993-c – 1056), rabbi, poet, grammarian and political sage, who in recognition of his rare talents (he began his professional life as a spice merchant), had been advanced to the position of assistant vizier to the Berber king Habbus al-Muzaffar. When Habbus died, in 1038, Shmuel arranged for the king’s older son, Badis, to succeed him, even though the royal court and other Jewish courtiers supported another son, Buluggin. In appreciation, Badis named Shmuel his vizier (“nagid,” roughly, in Hebrew).

When Shmuel died, his place as vizier was taken by his son Joseph. A near-contemporary Jewish historian, Abraham Ibn Daud, wrote of Joseph that, “Of all the good traits of his father, Joseph lacked but one. He was not humble….  He was proud to his own hurt, and the Berber princes were jealous of him.”

Another historian reported that Abu Ishaq, an Arab jurist who aspired to a position at the court, wrote a poem accusing Joseph and his fellow Jews of plotting against Badis with the intention of betraying him to a nearby rival, al-Mutasim. The king was not impressed by the charges, but they whipped up the sentiment of the populace of Granada against the city’s Jews.

In his book “The Jews of Islam,” Bernard Lewis quoted from Abu-Ishaq’s poem, in which he urged action against Granada’s Jews: “Do not consider it a breach of faith to kill them, the breach of faith would be to let them carry on. / They have violated our covenant with them, so how can you be held guilty against the violators? / How can they have any pact when we are obscure and they are prominent? / Now we are humble, beside them, as if we were wrong and they were right!

On December 30, 1066, which fell on the Sabbath, an angry Muslim crowd attacked the palace in Granada and grabbed Joseph, who had taken refuge there. They crucified him, and then proceeded to butcher other members of the Jewish community.