The phenomenon of mass conversion in Spain (1391) and the creation of new communities of forced converts (anusim) created an urgent need for the consolidation and reinforcement of the communities’ Jewish identity. A complex language of conversion had to be developed in order to create an updated lexicon responding to the unprecedented demands of the new socio-religious discourse. The not-yet-mature identities of the new groups of conversos inspired the new Hebrew language of conversion. At the same time, this new language was actually an ideological attempt to shape new religious boundaries. One of the main characteristics was the development of literary forms to distinguish the good, still-Jewish anusim from the bad conversos. Professional Jewish scribes valued the Hebrew Bible above all and, using its expressions and allegories, developed a code that could be fully deciphered by scholars from the same intellectual milieu. Reading these verbal codes today demands careful evaluation and meticulous comparison between the biblical context and the circumstances in the Spanish kingdoms in the aftermath of 1391.
Hazut Qashah (Grievous Vision) is one of a number of studies on the Hebrew Bible by the fifteenth-century Jewish intellectual Isaac Nathan of Arles. This peculiar Hebrew text is composed of a list of thirteen questions about the book of Job without answers. An analysis of this work on the backdrop of Christian and Jewish scholasticism along with possible Eastern precedents such as Masaʾail, demonstrates its literary innovation, which is derived not from the questions it poses, but rather, from the author’s willingness to acknowledge that the Bible had failed to provide adequate answers to them. Some of the questions were liable to provoke skepticism and raise doubts, but in contrast to the corpus of critical and heretical Jewish literature, Nathan had no interest in destroying the foundations of Judaism by attacking the biblical infrastructure. The significance and power of Hazut Qashah does not issue from any theological insights, but from its novel format. There is no similar medieval text, be it Jewish or Christian, which presents a set of theological problems without offering any corresponding explanations. As such, living with an open question—the existential solution presented in Hazut Qashah—becomes just one more facet of Nathan’s own rich intellectual project.
This article examines, and publishes in an annex, a letter written by Yom Tov ben Hannah of Montalbán. This letter describes how the seventy Jews of Pamiers were forced to raise money to ransom their lives. Henri Gross presumed that it was count Gaston III of Foix (d. 1391), who had tried to extort money from the Jewish community. A re-examination suggests that the imprisonment of the Jews of Pamiers occurred after the promulgation of the edict of expulsion from France (1394), and represented a final attempt by count Mathieu of Foix, to extort money before the Jews’ departure.