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Social Issues Of Today Essay

3767 words - 16 pages

“Conflict among Jews in medieval Catalonia: Samuel Gracia and the Jewish consumption of Christian Justice”
By Alexandra Guersonhh

In 1389, Samuel Gracia travelled close to 200 kilometres from Barcelona to Monzón, in the kingdom of Aragon, where the king was holding court. Samuel sought justice over a debt litigation that had been decided in his favour five years prior but still remained unresolved, the money unpaid. The earlier case had also been adjudicated by the royal court, one of a score of cases involving Samuel Gracia as plaintiff or defendant against fellow Jews in the royal courts of King Pere III (1336-1387) and Joan I (1387-1396) during the 1380s. Samuel Gracia was not ...view middle of the document...

Elka Klein’s masterful study of the Jews of Barcelona in the thirteenth century focuses on the power struggles of the Jewish elite, about whom the documentation of the period is more abundant. Both Klein and Yom Tov Assis describe the development of a Jewish autonomy upheld by the monarchy during the thirteenth century. For the fourteenth century, John Boswell, David Nirenberg, Elena Lourie and Mark Meyerson have explored the issue of minority use of Christian courts. Boswell found that an increasing number of conflict among Muslims were adjudicated by Christian officials in contradiction to Muslim law, leading him to conclude there was increasing Christian encroachment on Muslim autonomy. David Nirenberg, focusing on accusations of miscegenation, explored the way in which Muslims and Jews resorted to the courts rather than to violence to solve their problems and how lords benefited from it by using the courts as a system of “extraordinary taxation” in which “lords convicted their own subjects in order to extract money from them.” Finally, Elena Lourie explored the ways in which factions within Jewish communities used Christian courts in their conflicts. Since informing against a co-religionist (malshinut) in a Christian court could be considered a serious crime within the Jewish community, a Jew accusing another of a crime in a Christian court opened himself to an accusation of malshinut.
Samuel Gracia’s case both enhances and challenges these studies. He was not a gangster or mafiosi, as the Joan Sibili Lourie so vividly describes in her study. Through Samuel Gracia’s prolific and often masterful use of the courts, this paper will show how individual Jews used litigation in Christian courts not only to resolve conflicts but also as a weapon against their enemies. By working through various jurisdictions – e.g. local bailiff courts, the courts of king Pere, of his son Joan while still heir to the throne or as governor general – Samuel Gracia succeeded in prolonging the cases brought against him although not without a cost to himself. In all the cases against him, there was no accusation of violence or malshinut, or protests against infringement on Jewish autonomy. Samuel’s adversaries in the court seemed just as adept as he was on the use of the court to their benefit.

Samuel Gracia’s first appearance in the royal court of King Pere the Ceremonious was in the winter of 1383 as a defendant in a case brought against him by Salamon de Tolosa, from the small community of Castell de la Geltrú, 45 km south of Barcelona, near Sitges, over a longstanding case of debt. In 1381 the jurisperito of Vilafranca del Penedès had decided in favour of Salamon, awarding him possession of some of Samuel’s property, which by 1382 Samuel had still not paid prompting Salamon to request an order of execution from the jurisperito. Meanwhile, in June of 1382, Samuel Gracia went to Valencia to seek prince Joan’s intercession,...

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