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Treachery in Toledo: The tribe that opened its gates to the invading Muslim army

Toledo, in Spain, though a medium-sized city these days in the country, played an important role in the history of both Spain, as well as the Iberian peninsula. Also known as the “City of the Three Cultures” for the cultural influences of Christians, Muslims and Jews reflected in its history, the city tries to blink its eyes to tourists from this last group. Nonetheless, it’s precisely because of the history of the Jewish people inside the city’s gates that it became such a controversial chapter for the city’s natives.

711 AD, a Muslim army invaded Iberia led by Tariq ibn Ziyad, serving the Arab governor Musa ibn Nusayr, at Guadalete they swiftly defeated Roderick (Luthariq) the Visigoth King and then marched northward to the Visigoth capital of Toledo. Both Latin and Arabic chroniclers record that the Jews of the city “opened the gates of Toledo” to Tariq, who conquered the city. With more cities to take Tariq left Toledo and entrusted its protection to a garrison of Jewish soldiers, whom had risen up against the Catholic Visigoths and opened the city’s gates.

A similar trend was observed in other cities of Visigothic Hispania, when Tariq’s master, Musa ibn Nusayr, arrived in Iberia with a large Arab force he seized Seville and like Tariq before him, he entrusted the city to its Jewish inhabitants until his return. This gutless show of treachery is very conveniently omitted in most history books, and when it is present, it is toned down by revisionist historians as it can be seen quoted in English Wikipedia’s page about the history of Jews in Spain, for example.

The capture of Toledo was symbolic and irreparable in many ways, since the king was chosen in or around Toledo, by nobles based in Toledo, and had to be anointed king by the bishop of Toledo in a church in Toledo, when Tariq captured Toledo and executed the Visigothic nobles, having already killed the King, there was no way for the Visigoths to select a legitimate king (Collins, Roger (1989). Arab Conquest of Spain. Blackwell. p. 42.)

The remaining Christian and Visigothic forces had to retreat for the mountainous far north of Spain in Asturias, where the Reconquista (reconquering) of the Peninsula would commence. This open act of treachery would pay off to the Jewish inhabitants of the city who in the meanwhile benefited immensely from their new Muslim overlords. North African Jewish immigrants and immigrants from the Middle East bolstered the Jewish population and made Muslim Spain probably the biggest centre of contemporary Jews.

It would pass almost 4 centuries, more precisely 374 years for the city to return to the hands of the native inhabitants of the peninsula, captured on May 6th, 1085 by Alfonso VI of Castile.

After the Reconquista of the city, 4 centuries onward, in the 1480s, the Catholic Monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella have had enough and decided to expulse the very own people who opened the doors of the Spanish capital, 700 years before. Some of the reasons given by Ferdinand were that “because when a serious and detestable crime is committed by a college or university [i.e.: a corporation and a community], it is a reason for such a college or university to be dissolved and annihilated, and the minors for the elders and the ones for the others punished and that those who pervert the good and honest living of cities and towns and by contagion can harm others to be expelled,” among others.

In the 21st century, however, with the phenomenon of liberalism, the Jews are back, both to Spain and the iconic city. Both Spain and Portugal, hungry for the shekels provided by rich Israeli tourists and Jewish Americans are increasingly bating their eyes to these communities. The streets are decorated with Jewish symbols all over the city, despite the former Jewish quarters being only in a small area of Toledo. Portugal too has fallen for the same trend and opened a ‘Jewries’ route that stretches from the North to South.

The most controversial laws regarding these communities, however, is the new Jewish citizenship law, which grants back citizenship to all Jews expelled from either Spain or Portugal 500 years ago. Despite these communities having no longer any connection to the countries in question more than 5 centuries ago, both Spain and Portugal are giving away citizenship away for historic guilt. In 2019 more than 130 thousand Jews have requested for Spanish citizenship and 30 thousand for the Portuguese one. Will they defend their new countries as much as they defend Israel? That answer will be for you to respond, but as many like to say, history tends to repeat itself.

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