Originally published at: https://jewishoriginal.com/disputation-of-tortosa-1413/
On This Day in Jewish History: February 7, 1413
On this day, 1413, the Disputation of Tortosa begins, forcing Jews living in Catalonia to convert to Christianity. The dispute was initiated by Christian convert Geronimo de Santa Fe and was supported by Antipope Benedict XIII, for whom Santa Fe worked as a physician. While the Disputation, like previous ones, was disguised as a formal debate, the Jewish invitees could not refuse to participate. Additionally, Jews were threatened whenever they raised an argument against charges by their Christian opponents, separating this event from its predecessors.
The proximity of Judaism to Christianity had long inspired missionaries to convert Jews to what they deemed the only “right” religion. Geronimo de Santa Fe, among other Catalonian Jews, had fallen victim to conversion in the early 15th century – a time when religious persecution was heightening in western Europe. With a list of theocratic topics to dispute the Jews on and the support of the antipope, who enjoyed discussing religion, Santa Fe invited representatives from various Jewish communities to take part in the Disputation which would begin on this day. In practice, the Disputation of Tortosa favored the Christian side. The Rabbinic scholars who participated, including Profiat Duran and Yosef Albo, were often spoken over and never given the last word in an argument. The primary discussion explored the status of the Messiah, whom Santa Fe argued had already come according to the Jews’ own midrash, the Dagger of Faith. For this reason, the head of the Dominican Order proclaimed the Christians to be winners after two weeks. Other points made by Santa Fe and his colleagues about the words of the Talmud were claimed by the Jews to have been based on forged texts. The Jews were never granted permission to view the documents that their counterparts referred to.
The Disputation of Tortosa did not end after the in-person conference, however. Because the Jews were accused of altering their words and beliefs frequently the Pope deemed it wise to continue the debate as a written exchange. Until April of 1414, this exchange continued to cover the Messiah. It wasn’t until then that the conversation shifted to what the Talmud states about Christianity. At this point, the Jewish participants realized how little their arguments would be taken seriously, and therefore chose to put a stop to the Disputation. By December of 1414, a formal end was designated. In the absence of the Jewish leaders who participated, many of their communities had been seriously harmed. Conversions continued, as did religious persecution.
Once the Disputation concluded, Antipope Benedict XIII demanded that the Talmud be censored. In May of 1415, studying the Talmud was forbidden altogether by the Pope. This was only the beginning of a series of blows on Spanish Jewry, who were subject to the Inquisition just 60 years later.
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