Ordinance of the Jews of the Crown of Aragon, 1354 CE

Medieval Jewish communitities were self-governing entities, generally allowed by secular rulers to govern themselves according to Jewish law, within certain limits which varied over time and between kingdoms. Their autonomy vis a vis other communities was in principle absolute; Jewish political theory did not allow one community authority over another. When it came to decisions about taxation or disputes between members of the community, this autonomy was valued greatly. The drawbacks of autonomy became more obvious, however, in times of crisis, when the advantages of collective action on a larger scale became obvious. This ordinance or takkanah was the product of an increased sense of Jewish vulnerability in the years after the Black Death (1348). It attempted to draw together Jews from all of the communities of the Crown of Aragon to address shared problems, and propose collective solutions to them. The Crown of Aragon was a group of associated realms, governed separately by the same ruler: Catalonia, and the kingdoms of Aragon, Valencia and Majorca. The assembly which produced the ordinance was not entirely successful: it was attended only by delegates of Catalonia and Valencia (see below), and it failed to create an ongoing institutional framework for intercommunal efforts. It nonetheless provides important testimony of the problems perceived by Jews in the 1350s and the sorts of solutions which they envisioned, as well as the potential difficulties which they faced.

The text given here is partly a translation and partly a paraphrase by Louis Finkelstein, the modern editor of the text of the ordinance (takkanah). As he explains, "The Takkanah is written in the Mediaeval poetic-prose style with innumerable references to verses, rendering a translation into another language practically impossible." Be aware that text in quotation marks is a translation from the Hebrew original; the rest is Finkelstein's paraphrase. The notes are also Finkelstein's unless they are signed [ed.].


The introduction recites the woes that have befallen the Jewish people. "Many of faint heart, weak by nature" seeing the implements of torture were unable to withstand the trial and yielded their faith, "crossing over the bridge in their distress". Apparently some of them turned against their former brethren, "bending their bow, making ready their arrow" to shoot by their deadly defamations whomever they pleased. The people of Israel have thus come into hard times. Unless immediate action be taken danger would result to the whole community. It was their duty to take counsel and to save themselves and theirs before the evil fell. Already there were cases of murder and riot here and there, and no effective protest had been raised. If "the communities were made into a single union with a common treasury" they would be in a position to defend themselves, and to bring punishment on such as attacked them. Of what value would their money be to them if there lives were in danger? Since there was no leader taking upon himself the duty of protecting "the sheep of the Lord", the delegates has (sic) assembled at the call of the Jewish Community of Barcelona to take counsel in the critical situation.

It was evident that the matter could not be left to the individual communities to deal with separately, as singly they were far too weak for the task. The only means for saving themselves in the situation was to use their money power, and they feared that "if one community will not help the other, we will be unable to bring the money which is annually assessed against us to the treasury of the King" and that "we will appear ungrateful" in his eyes and the eyes of the princes. It was therefore necessary to perfect an organization which should be responsible for the funds. A commission would be appointed to wait on the King [Peter IV, 1336-87] in order to secure his assent to the formation of the union and the ordinance which were enacted by the council. The commission was to hold office for five years.

They were to strive to obtain from the King the following kindness:

1. That he should intercede with "the King of Nations, the Pope" [Innocent VI, 1352-62], either in writing or by sending "many and worthy ambassadors", so that he might grant the Jews the following:

a. A decree forbidding the masses of the Christians to fall upon the Jews whenever a natural visitation, such as a plague or famine, occurs. They should rather seek the favor of the Lord by good deeds of charity and kindness, and "not add transgression to their sins" by destroying the Jews whom, according to their own faith, it was their duty to protect.

b. A law among his Decretals forbidding the Christians to make attacks on the Jews because of alleged desecrations of the host.[*] Such a case had occurred shortly before at Seville. The alleged offender should be tried properly and punished if found guilty, but the Pope was to forbid under pain of excommunication any general attack on the Jews. Moreover he was to declare impossible the miracles that were usually alleged with regard to the desecration of the host, and which were relied upon to incite the mob to violence. He was to make clear "that any one who believes in all such things is a heretic against his own faith and laws, which command that they leave us a remnant in the land."
* Accusations in regard to the desecration of the host seem to have begun about the middle of the thirteenth century. The particular outbreak at Seville is not otherwise mentioned to my knowledge.

c. A decree forbidding the placing of the Jewish quarter in a state of siege about the time of Easter. He was to declare it a grievous sin to pain the Jews in any other way than that declared by law, namely that they should remain in their houses behind closed doors "on that day" [*].
* Jews were forbidden to show themselves on the streets on Good Friday. A church council held at Mayence, in 1259, forbade them to appear on the streets on that day under penalty of a fine of one mark. At another synod at Ashaffenburg, 1292, the Jews were forbidden to come near the doors of their houses or to look out of their windows under pain of a fine of one mark. Another synod held at Prague, 1347, commanded the Jews to keep away from the streets and remain in their homes.

d. A limitation on the power of the Inquisition, declaring a Jew to be guilty of heresy only when he denies some tenet of his own faith, as for instance the existence of God, or the Divine origin of the Torah. But no Jew should be subject to the charge of heresy for supporting heretical views of a Christian which are in consonance with the Jewish faith. Indeed such a one might be subject to punishment by the secular power but was to be exempt from the Inquisition. If the Commissioners should find themselves unable to obtain this concession, they were to seek a decree ordering the Inquisition to furnish the accused Jew a statement of the charges against him, and the Jew was to be granted the right of Counsel [*] Ordinarily the Inquisition defended its denial of both elemental rights of an accused person by expressing the fear that if the accused should be a person of influence he might escape punishment if he were granted these rights, but since there could be no fear of that in the case of Jews, who were all without influence, it was patent injustice to deny them this right.
* To defend one accused by the Inquisition, was to make oneself liable to complicity in the dread crime of fautorship of heresy. Innocent III in a decretal embodied in the Canon law, had ordered advocates to lend no aid or counsel to heretics or to understate their case in litigation. Lea, History of the Inquisition. I, 444.

e. Furthermore "let them obtain the further declaration that if a Christian should desire to return a stolen thing which he robbed or took by violence from one of the children of Israel, he shall be obliged to return it to the Jew, either from hand to hand, or through the priests, but he shall not free himself from guilt by returning it to a creditor of the Jew."

"All that has been described above will have to be accomplished through our lord, the King, and his ambassadors, but since we know (best) what our needs are, for 'the heart knows its own bitterness' we have decided to send men of wisdom and understanding who will go thither and be in charge of the matter so that they may obtain for us the decrees necessary for the above-mentioned matters in so far as they can obtain them."

2. Furthermore we have decided that "the commissioners shall have power in regard to all the said matters, and all matters dependent on them or relevant to them, to choose intercessors and agents in any place or kingdom, and to strive to secure any sort of improvement at the hands of our Lord, the King, or any prince or ruler, or any person in the world."

3. Furthermore it was agreed that while it was impossible to carry out Jewish law, especially where it involved capital punishment, still it were well to "cleanse away every Malshin [*] and informer who will be found in any one of the cities or to pour out evil on him in accordance with his wickedness in the judgement of the Commissioners and to make him known as a Malshin and drive him forth. Provided however, that the defamation is in regard to a public matter, from which there may result, Heaven forbid, harm to all our people, but not if it is merely a private defamation from which no harm can result."
* A malshin was an informer [ed.]

Similarly the Communities were to have a common fund to oppose those inciting the popular to violence against them since "evil of this sort spreads"... But no notice was to be taken of merely private quarrels between individual Jews and Gentiles, if no public harm could result therefrom.

4. Furthermore the Commissioners were to strive to obtain a decision of the Cortes that if "anyone slay a Jew, or try to incite others to violence against them" he should not be given asylum in the territory of any of the nobles of princes, but each one must drive him forth from his land.

5. Whenever the nobles and princes would gather to form a Cortes, the Commissioners were to send their agents to guard the interests of the Communities, or the Commissioners themselves might attend them. This only applied to the Cortes of the whole kingdom.

6."Furthermore have we agreed that they should pursue this endeavor about the ruling of the Cortes for the five years (of their term)."

7. "Furthermore have we agreed that whereas the tax-collectors have of late gone beyond all bounds making sorrowful the souls of our brethren in the matter of their extortions and they have bound them in affliction and in iron, so that well-nigh unto death do they cry from their prisons, therefore have we agreed that the Commissioners should endeavor to obtain a decree from the King, forbidding his tax-collectors who rule over our people in the matter of taxes, to cause anyone bodily pain, except in the manner which the King and his ancestors have been in the habit of employing heretofore.

8. " Furthermore have we agreed that the Commissioners shall endeavor to obtain a decree from our lord, the King, that the Communities should not be compelled to pay any salary to the collectors of the tax or asignaciones since their pay used to come from the treasury of the King and not from the Communities.

9. " Furthermore they shall endeavor to beg the King to abolish the special tax for the Duke, for, although we are his, there is no need for this tax now. For it was originally made for the Viscount (of Avila?) at the request of the Communities, and at present there is no need of it.

10. "Furthermore they shall obtain a decree from our King, fortified by an oath, that he should not be able to levy any special tax on the Communities or on any individual Community from this day forth [*]. For when the Communities bring their money to the coffers of the King they find grace in his eyes and in the eves of his counsellors and princes; also if they are in poor condition our lord, the King, may be generous to them in accordance with his proper custom, which would not be the case if the taxes were assigned.
* A better translation might be "that he should not be able to assign the tax of the community." It was very common for creditors of the king to be repaid not in cash but with the right to receive specific revenues due to the king, including the taxes of the Jewish communities [ed.]

11. "Since the heralds of our lord, the King, demand redemption money from any Jew whom they meet walking innocently, and if he is unable to redeem himself they cast him 'with thrust on thrust' 'and with the garment they strip also the mantle', therefore we have agreed that the commissioners should obtain and acquire a decree from our lord, the King, similar to the former rule which a few individuals sought and obtained from him now two years past, but which matter was never carried out because they were unable to supply the redemption money.

12. "Furthermore we have agreed that they should seek to alleviate from the communities the burden of the expense of the beds (or the staffs) [*] which the courtiers of the King make and demand from us, since it is a heavy burden upon us and there is no gain to the King in hurting us and wasting our money.
* This refers to cena, the obligation to provide housing for the royal court, an obligation from which many Jewish communities had already sought exemptions [ed.].

13. " Furthermore have we decided to obtain a decree from our lord, the King, promising that he will not appoint any Comisares (special investigators) to examine any matter relating to Jews. That can be left to the Ordinares (ordinary judges). For the Jews are weak and it is unnecessary to put them in the hands of a hard master; and also in that way (by appointing special investigators) the expenses increase without any gain for the King while the Jews grow poorer. The appointment of the Comisares should only be made at the request of the chosen Commission.

14."Furthermore they shall endeavor to obtain a decree from the King that no investigation shall be made merely at the request of the Fiscal (treasurer or financial agent), unless there is a claimant in the matter, that is to say a Clamador legitimo. And even if originally there was a true complainant and he then withdrew the complaint or-the demand, the Fiscal shall have no right to pursue him in order to. make him pay because of the fine. So also the Fiscal shall not be able to prevent the Ordinares (from carrying out their wish), if they desire to arbitrate the matter, or if they wish to forego it completely in their kindness."

15. The Commissioners shall furthermore obtain a decree that the Scribes and the court-heralds should not be permitted to act as Counsellors in any matter of quarrel or contention or in any complaint which one man has against another. They should act only as is befitting their office and profession.

16. "Furthermore have we agreed to ask our lord, the King, to compel each community of those taking part in this synod to pay the share which is assigned to it in accordance with the division which is made between us.
They shall be compelled to pay these expenses in the same manner they are compelled to pay the taxes of the King, whether by punishment of body or property, or by excommunication or ban. The said compulsion is to be executed at the order of the Commissioners and with their agreement and at the expense of the Community which should refuse to pay its portion.

17. "Since not all the communities have joined us till this day, some of them in their letters making it clear that the work is pleasing to them, and that they are ready to come up and take counsel with us, nevertheless did not come at the designated time, perhaps because of unavoidable accidents; while the leaders of others have informed us that the work is proper in their eyes but they did not succeed in joining us in one federation; while we need to co-operate in regard to some generally useful matters, and it is not fit that we should spend money and that they should get their share of the benefit sitting comfortably in their homes and not giving their share of the expenditure; therefore have we decreed that in regard to all those decrees and customs and ways which the Commissioners will obtain, from which any improvement will come to those Communities (which are not represented), the Commissioners shall obtain a decree from our lord, the King, compelling also the unrepresented Communities to pay their share of the expenses of such affairs in accordance with the advantage which accrues to them in the eyes of the Commissioners.

18. "Furthermore have we agreed that we should obtain a decree from our lord the King, that if any member of any of the Communities whether of those who are taking part in this synod or of those who are not, shall in the view of the Commissioners be guilty of attempting to nullify anything that was undertaken in common or to nullify or lessen the power of the Commissioners or any of the Takkanot or Decisions upon which we have agreed, all the Communities shall be obliged to separate themselves from him and to punish him and to conduct themselves toward him with all the severity and in the manner in which the Commissioners will agree and of which they will notify them. And in this way they shall be able to raise all the expenses which seem necessary to them for the expenses of the Communities who are combining.

19. "Moreover since the matter of the said confederation which the Communities have taken to their hearts and decided to form for their common safety, can only succeed through the impeccable character of the Commissioners, therefore have we agreed that no person shall attempt to obtain a letter from our lord, the King, giving him a place and a name among these Commissioners, or in any of the said matters. Nor shall one be permitted to make any other endeavor within the five years or after them, if they should agree to prolong the time, under pain of fine and excommunication, and that all the Communities shall separate themselves from him, and shall deal with him as they do with a Malshin or an informer.

20. "The Commissioners will continue to work in accordance with the power that is given them to disburse the funds of the communities, even after the expiration of their term in accordance with the way in which they incur them in the work during their term.

21. "Furthermore have we agreed to obtain a decree from our lord, the King, or from his appointees, to establish all the said provisions, and that he should fine the one who transgresses them such a fine as he may think fit.

22. "Furthermore we explain that wherever it is directed in this document that the Commissioners obtain a decree or decrees from our lord, the King, they have the option of obtaining the decree in person or through others as they may see fit.

23. "Furthermore have we decreed that the Commissioners who will take action in all the above-mentioned matters and who will have power in regard to all these matters in accordance with the provision made, that is to say in regard to all matters which are of general importance to all the Communities, shall be (chosen) in the following manner: two for the Communities of Catalonia, two for the Communities of Aragon, one for the Communities of Valencia and one for the Communities of the isle of Majorca, if they will agree to this; and that the two delegates for Catalonia shall be those on whom the Communities uniting on this decision have agreed, namely En Crescas Solomon and anyone whom he choose to act with him; the one from Valencia shall be Don Judah Eleazar, or anyone whom he shall choose in his stead; and for the other kingdoms those upon whom they will agree in their choice.

24. "Moreover since the Communities of Aragon have not yet joined, therefore have we agreed that the two Commissioners from Catalonia or others acting for them shall have power to admit them and to come to an agreement with them regarding all the conditions and ways which appear proper for joining with them, whether in regard to the division of the expenses, as to the manner of sharing it among ourselves, or in regard to the choosing of men who will endeavor to carry out the purpose of the said union, or their manner of action or the power which is given to them, and in general, in regard to everything that will appear to them necessary for the completion of the said union; and all that they agree upon with them shall be established and accepted on us and upon all who join with us.

25. "Furthermore have we agreed that all the Commissioners shall be obliged to look after and to strive to carry out the duty of their office and everything which is placed on them; and they may not lighten their burden but they shall be obliged to strive and to act in accordance with the intentions of the Communities which have entrusted to them under oath all the work of protecting their gathering and their affairs.

26. "Furthermore have we agreed that if it should happen that the Commissioners or any one of them should be unable to look after the affairs which have been placed on them, they may appoint others in their place and then the power of the proxies shall be like that of the principals in that matter or in any special matters which they shall agree to leave in their hands.

27. "Furthermore have we agreed that everyone of the Communities which are hereby uniting, shall issue a herem -- in such a formula as the Commissioners will decide upon -- a herem upon themselves and upon all the Communities which are hereby uniting, and upon all who will join them, to act in accordance with all the customs, ordinances and ways which the representatives of the Communities have agreed upon and have written in a document signed by them, and with whatever the said Commissioners may choose, by the authority which is given them by the said representatives of the Communities, and whoever transgresses these ordinances knowingly shall be declared excommunicate and anathema in all the Holy Communities until the Commissioners who carry out the duties of their office free him. Besides all these detailed matters in which power and authority have been given to the Commissioners in accordance with what has been described above, we have furthermore agreed that if they think that the Communities require something through which a general gain may be derived, they shall have the power and the right to strive to obtain a decree or decrees which may be needed for the purpose.

28. "Furthermore have we agreed that wherever power has been granted the Commissioners they may incur whatever expenditures they may deem necessary for these things, and the Communities who unite on this shall be obliged to pay their portion of whatever they have spent in accordance with the division among them.

29. "Furthermore have we agreed that the Commissioners shall be obliged to give an account of their receipts and expenditures only to their several kingdoms, that is to say, the representatives of Catalonia shall report to the Communities of Catalonia and those of Aragon to the people of Aragon in accordance with what they agree among themselves, similarly for Valencia and Majorca.

30. "Furthermore have we agreed that we shall strive with all our power to obtain a decree from our lord, the King, to permit the Jews who live under his government to remove from the places belonging to the King to those under the knights or wherever they may choose, just as this right was given them of yore and that he should set at naught the decree which is in existence at the present day.

"To all the said decrees and all the said matters have we, the undersigned, agreed and we have taken it upon ourselves to execute all the documents in this regard which will be necessary after we have obtained permission from our lord, the King, but we have written all this merely as a record of proceedings. which took place in the month of Tebet of the year 5115 of the Creation.

We have written and signed this we Moses and Crescas by the authority given us for this in a document executed by the notary, En Marco Castanero on the twenty-fifth of September of the year 1354, Common Era, and I, Judah, by the authority conferred upon me by a document, executed by the notary, Guillem Berndt de Ximo, on the first day of September, 1354, Common Era. And all is firm and established."

Moses Nathan Haii
Crescas Solomon
Judah Eleazar


Louis Finkelstein, Jewish Self-government in the Middle Ages (New York: JTS, 1924), pp. 336-47

© Scanned and annotated by Elka Klein, Fordham University

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