Thoughts about the Golden Age of Jewish Life in Spain

When I grew up I had heard a lot about a supposedly good era for Jews, the “Golden Age of Spain”. This era existed between 700 to 1100 CE on the Iberian peninsula, after the Muslim conquest. 

Even today many books talk about this golden age of Spain as proof of almost modern-day levels of inter-faith respect and tolerance between Muslims, Jews and Christians.

In which ways is this correct, and in which ways is the era misunderstood?

Sephardic Jews Golden Age of Spain Books
Obviously artistic arrangement & screenshot by RK


Most historians do agree that in this age and region, Jews, Christians and Muslims worked, lived and traded together, and even intellectually sparred together without the persecutions that previously – and later – existed in Christian dominated nations.

We may note that by the latter end of this era, scholasticism developed. Scholasticism was an academic & religious harmonization of the Bible and religious traditions with philosophy, especially that of Aristotle, or Neoplatonism.  This term is used mostly for Christian scholars. Jewish and Muslims intellectuals often used the term philosophical rationalism.Among Jews, our famous scholastics included Saadia Gaon, Bahya Ibn Paḳuda, Gersonides, Abraham ibn Daud, Solomon ibn Gabirol (known as Avicebron) and Maimonides.

The map below shows the area of Muslim rule on the Iberian peninsula. Jews were accepted in society and Jewish religious, cultural, and economic life blossomed. This period is a subject of debate: there may have been several golden ages, interrupted by periods of oppression.

Al-Andalus and Christian kingdoms map Wikipedia Spain Portugal
From Califato de Córdoba,

Some scholars give the start of the Golden Age as 711–718, the Muslim conquest of Iberia….

The end is variously given as 1031, when the Caliphate of Cordoba ended – but I prefer the mid-12th century, when the Almohades invaded, because it is this longer period of time (around 750 CE to 1100 CE) when Muslim, Jewish and Christian rationalist philosophers were the dominant voice in the region,

2 answers:

The 12th Century Renaissance, running from about 1050-1175. Lays the groundwork for scholasticism and rationality.

– “La Convivencia (“the Coexistence”) , the period of Spanish history from the Muslim Umayyad conquest of Hispania in the early eighth century until the expulsion of the Jews in 1492. In the different Moorish Iberian kingdoms, it is widely claimed that the Muslims, Christians and Jews lived in relative peace.” – Wikipedia

Crazy how “The Golden Age of Spain” is a completely different era than “The Spanish Golden Age” …. that’s one of the reasons I was asking. Can it possibly be that Wikipedias names for these periods are both correct?

Zevi Chaim writes:

I suggest you read Kraemers biography, “Maimonides”, which he has compiled with the use of copious references to period literature, Jewish, Arabic, academic and traditional. In the chapter entitled “Convivencia and Violence”, he reminds us of the fallacy of those historians who claim that the Umayad period was a “golden age”.

Kraemer proposed that the “convivencia”, a term coined by historian Américi Castro connoting coexistence of different ethnic groups, religions and cultures in Islamic Spain, was limited mainly to “economic and cultural coexistence, accompanied by competition, mistrust, and hostility”.

Further, he claims that historians typically play down the periods of persecution and violent oppression throughout the era.

He reminds us that no Muslim teachers of the past claimed that Islam was tolerant, referencing how a Muslim jurist incited the caliph against Ibn Shaprut by accusing him of Blasphemy. “Jews and Christians”, writes Kraemer, “were never really assimilated into Hispano-Islamic culture and could never really feel truly comfortable and secure.”

A few chapters later he details how the young vizier, Joseph son of Shmuel ha-Nagid (Abu Ismail Ibn Naghrela), was murdered at the incitement of a Muslim jurist in Granada, while simultaneously hundreds of Jews were violently killed in a pogrom, shaking Andalusian Jewry to the core.

Expulsion of the Jews from Spain

(and then from other countries) – To be written

Expulsion of European Jews from Spain and other countries by Ecelan
Image by Ecelan, from Wikipedia, Expulsion of Jews from Spain


“The golden age of equal rights in Spain was a myth, and belief in it was a result, more than a cause, of Jewish sympathy for Islam. The myth was invented by Jews in nineteenth-century Europe as a reproach to Christians.” – Bernard Lewis

The “Golden Age” of Jewish-Muslim Relations: Myth and Reality. Mark R. Cohen

From Golden to Grim: Jewish Life in Muslim Spain – The complex political situation in Muslim Spain impacted Jewish social and cultural life there., by Howard Sachar

The Golden Age in Spain: How golden was it? – Institute for Jewish Ideas and Ideals

The Jews in Islamic Spain: Al Andalus, by S. Alfassa Marks

Tablet articles

Medieval Spain was no interfaith golden age, By Lyn Julius

Book great art

Journey Through the Wilshire Boulevard Temple Murals

Sephardic history


Merrimack Valley Havurah Coffeehouse Logo


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s