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HISPANO-JEWISH ONOMASTICS IN THE MIDDLE AGES.JEWISH POPULATION RECORDS FROM XVTH CENTURY CASTILE

Dr. Ricardo Muñoz Solla

ABSTRACT

Castilian Jews have been the most dominant community in the medieval Iberian kingdoms. Although in the last generation some important works have been published on the social, economic, intellectual and religious history of these communities, there are still many gaps. Some studies have shed light on the location and identification of juderías and aljamas, their ways of community organization and their legal status. The knowledge of Jewish literature, the linguistic environment and intellectual contacts with the Christian and Muslim population has also improved significantly. It can be said that a lot of documental evidence has been gathered on Hispano-Jewish medieval history, facilitating understanding of the process of exclusion vs. integration that took place over the centuries in the context of medieval Christian society, finally (after 1391) leading to the isolation and denial of this minority. The converso problem, the 1492 Expulsion and the development of new communities following the Sephardic Diaspora – first the ‘eastern’ and c. 1600 the ‘western’ one – were the most visible results. Furthermore, research on Sephardic genealogy has now become a pressing need for many Jews of Sephardic origin interested in reconnecting with their family roots or, following recent approval of the option by the Spanish Government, to gain Spanish citizenship.
Against this background, this research project aims to provide a new perspective on these phenomena through the edition, socio-historical approach and onomastic analysis of about ten Jewish population records (padrones) from the second half of the XVth century corresponding to the villages of Urueña (Valladolid), Saldaña (Palencia), Dueñas (Palencia), Medina de Pomar (Burgos) and Hita (Guadalajara). This type of records of Jewish population have seldom been studied by historians, Hebraists and genealogists, mainly due to the scarcity of well-preserved padrones, although the analysis of this material could prove highly interesting for several reasons. Most of these documents contain data on the Jewish population in these villages and their historical background. Together with an annotated edition of these unpublished sources and the comparative analysis of similar material from other Spanish and Israeli Archives, the onomastic study of the Jewish names and surnames that are registered in these tax records allows for a better understanding of the anthroponymic system used by Jews in Castile, including linguistic uses and etymological evolution. Likewise, mention must 2 also be made of the importance of these data in the study of Jewish migration, family kinships and Jewish genealogy in Sepharad.
Research regarding Sephardic Jewish onomastics before the 1492 Expulsion period has been considered a secondary task for a long time and remains quite a neglected topic. In order to fill this gap, this project aims to present unpublished material of exceptional importance for the study of Jewish names in Castile in the late XVth century. One of the greatest difficulties in the field of medieval Jewish anthroponomy is the scarcity of primary sources. The study of these formerly unpublished population records may contribute to enhance the onomasticon of Castilian Jews and clarify the main features of these sources. From a textual point of view, these population records, which contain many Jewish names, are rather different, although all of them were elaborated with the same purpose: tax collecting. In order to do that, it was essential to register the names of all Christians and Jews who were obliged to pay in the villages. Through the edition and analysis of these padrones we can learn the number of Jewish inhabitants and the relative demographic and economic importance of a Jewish community in a certain place during a given period of time. From a philological perspective, the Jewish population records to be edited can also provide the latest information about the anthroponymic system at the time and its possible evolution, which greatly contributes to the improvement of this discipline.
The objectives of this project are well defined. Broadly speaking, the project stems from two basic premises. On the one hand, it is aimed at reinvigorating medieval Jewish onomastics in Sepharad as an academic field of research. Although this project must be considered as a first step in future research, it is an attempt to reinforce the visibility of these studies within the field of Jewish studies, in general, and medieval Jewish History in Castile, in particular, the latter being the applicant’s field of expertise. On the other hand, it is important to adopt an interdisciplinary point of view and create a strong network with Israeli scholarly centres engaged in research in Jewish history and onomastics in medieval Spain.

Click here for the Final Report on this project.