Jewish women and apostasy in the medieval Crown of Aragon, c. 1300-1391

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On the basis of unpublished records from the diocesan archives of Barcelona and Girona, this essay explores why Jewish women converted to Christianity, what their alternatives were, and what happened following their baptisms in the environs of the Crown of Aragon during the century prior to the massacres and forced conversions of 1391. It suggests that Jewish women apostatized under two general sets of circumstances. Some went over to Christianity with their husbands or fathers, while others chose baptism in order to assert control over their individual fates, in defiance of communal norms. Among the latter group, some converted for love, and at least one woman threatened to apostatize in the hope of escaping an abusive husband. Following baptism, apostates often endured poverty and, when suspected of judaizing, they were prosecuted by ecclesiastical officials. The alternatives to baptism that all of these women contemplated, however, were also harsh. In examining how some medieval women negotiated the competing demands of their identities as daughters, wives, mothers, lovers, and Jews, this study also brings to light legal conundra to which apostasy gave rise and illustrates how varied and risky apostasy was in Iberia during the decades prior to 1391. Transcriptions of four documents follow the essay.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)7-32
Number of pages26
JournalJewish History
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 2010

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Cultural Studies
  • History


  • Apostasy
  • Conversion
  • Iberia
  • Marriage
  • Middle ages
  • Sepharad
  • Women


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