“I am the man who felt the stab of pain. I left behind the table that was spread for me. I, who was a prince among my brothers, live now in an inn for travelers. I left my family. I forsook my house. There, with my sons and daughters, the sweet, dear children whom I brought up on my knees, I left also my soul. My heart and my eyes will dwell with them forever.”
Thus wrote Rabi Moshe ben Nachman Girondi, better known to us as the Ramban, after he was banished from the Catalan town where he was born and rose to prominence: Girona.
While the Ramban is Girona’s most famous Jewish resident, he was not the only important rav to emerge from the town’s narrow streets and secluded courtyards. During the Middle Ages Girona was a vibrant center of both traditional Torah learning and Kabbalah, earning it the title of a “Mother City in Israel.”
When the Ramban left Girona in 1267, the city was at the height of its glory. Located along a trade route that connected the rest of Iberia with Europe, the city was an important economic and cultural center in Catalonia, a self-governing principality located in northeastern Spain.
Girona’s Jewish community was already considered an ancient one by the Ramban’s time. Although no one really knows when Jews first arrived in the Iberian Peninsula, according to one legend they established trading outposts during the time of Shlomo HaMelech. The first written mention of a Jewish presence in Girona is a 10thcentury legal document, which relates that in the year 890 some 25 Jewish families living in Catalonia sold property to a Catalan nobleman and were compensated by being relocated to Girona.
Girona’s first shul followed soon after. Its location is curious because it was situated between a church and a palace, suggesting the Jewish community had relatively good relations with both church and civil authorities. Those good relations with the church would begin to sour by the late 1200s. On Easter, for example, clergy and students would climb to the top of the recently built Cathedral’s bell tower and hurl stones down into the Jewish Quarter, which was literally just a stone’s throw away.
Read the rest of the story at The Jewish Press.