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Nahmanides Institute for Jewish Studies
The Institute, which bears the name of the illustrious Girona-born Rabbi Mossé ben Nahman, or Nahmanides (b. Girona 1194–d. Acre 1270), was created in 1997 with the aim of rehabilitating, studying and promoting the history of Girona's Jewish community. The aims of the Institute are pursued specifically through research and education and are complemented by the library, which allows free rights of access and consultation to its range of specialized material.
The Institute operates in two main areas: education and promotion. We operate academic and scientific programmes, including the holding of international conferences, lecture cycles, courses on cultural or historical themes, seminars intended for different professional groupings (such as those working in education or tourism), Hebrew language classes, workshops and activities for families and for children of all ages. We also participate in activities organized by other entities and institutions so as to publicize the Jewish history and culture of the city of Girona.
We undertake research and study projects relating to Jewish Girona, the reconstruction of family trees and lineages, and the history of Jewish women. We process information into databases available to all researchers and all those who are interested in these subjects. Finally, so as to make the results of our research and studies available to the public, we publish them in specialized books and journals both in Spain and overseas.
List of outstanding figures in the history of Judaism in Girona
Rahel (11th century)
Rahel was a Jewish woman who in 1040 sold in her own name a vineyard that she had inherited from her parents, situated outside the city walls near the abbey of Sant Daniel. She signed personally, in Hebrew, the deed for the sale of the land to Elies, a Christian. Since Rahel apparently knew how to read and write, a rare ability at the time, this enabled her to sign the deed of sale in her own hand. Most significant of all, however, is that Rahel acted on her own behalf and in her own name, and did not require male authorization to conduct a legal and legally recognized transaction concerning her own property. Hers is the oldest recorded signature in Hebrew in the city's history.
Azriel of Girona (12th century)
A cabbalist and philosopher, he was a very well-known member of the cabbalistic circle of Girona, and was both a direct disciple of Isaac the Blind and the philosophical master of Mossé ben Nahman. Spoke several languages. Noteworthy among his large number of writings is the Sa'ar ha-so'el, an intelligible explanation of the theory of the 10 Sefirot in the form of questions and answers following the rules of logic, intended as an initiation for beginners. Other writings include Commentaries on the Sefer Yesirah or Book of Creation, on the Aggadot of the Talmud, and on the daily Liturgy. In the latter case it can be noted as a curiosity that the work includes numerous Catalan terms written in Hebrew characters.
Messullam ben Selomoh de Piera (13th century)
A cabbalist, poet and philosopher. Also known as "Vides of Girona", he was a friend of Mossé ben Nahman and Azriel of Girona, and together with them was one of the leaders of the Jewish community in 13th century Girona. Formed part of the city's circle of cabbalists. He used poetry to express his philosophical ideas, and was against the philosophy of Maimonides. He wrote two poems dedicated to Mossé ben Nahman, whom he looked upon as a great sage and master.
Mossé ben Nahman (13th century)
A philosopher, cabbalist, talmudist, poet, physician and rabbi, he is the most important and outstanding figure in the Judaism of the Iberian peninsula in the 13th century, and was the greatest talmudic authority of his generation. Known to his contemporaries as "the Master of Girona" or "Ramban", he is referred to today as Nahmanides or as Bonastruc ça Porta.
Astruc, Mossé and Jucef Ravaya (13th century)
Members of one of the most powerful Jewish families in the history of Girona, they each held high office in the royal and local administration in the late 13th century. They had enormous influence both within the Jewish community and in the general administration of the kingdom. The father, Astruc Ravaya, was the King's Bailiff for Girona and district, having succeeded his son Jucef Ravaya in this post. His other son, Mossé Ravaya, was Bailiff-General of Catalonia, and as such signed the Royal Charter of Palamós in the name of the King in the late 13th century.
Bonafilla (13th century)
A member of the Ravaya family, one of the most important and powerful families in 13th century Jewish Girona. She was a businesswoman who negotiated sales and loaned money against the payment of interest, all in her own name and at her own risk. In April 1288, she was accused of fraud before the ecclesiastical courts by a Christian resident of La Bisbal. Judged by the Bishop of Girona, she had her sentence commuted after paying bail to the value of 260 sous in the coinage of Barcelona.
Jacob ben David Bonjorn (14th century)
A scientist and physician. The son of Ester Caravida and David Bonjorn de Barri. Court physician and astronomer to King Peter IV "the Ceremonious", he calculated astronomical tables commissioned to him by the King in 1361. He lived in Girona and Perpignan.
Ester (14th century)
The daughter of Astruc Caravida, a powerful Jew of illustrious lineage, and of Bonadona. Her parents arranged her marriage to David Bonjorn de Barri. During her marriage she lived in Perpignan. Her husband was apparently a bad-tempered individual who treated her so badly that she repeatedly asked him for a divorce. The royal astronomer, however, refused to give her the necessary document of repudiation or to return her dowry. In order to gain her freedom and recover her personal and family assets, Ester caused her husband's books and tools to disappear from his study. She thus provoked him to repudiate her, since only the husband could request and grant a divorce. She then returned to Girona and had to struggle for a long time more to recover her dowry, which the husband refused to return. For this reason she named a lawyer to represent her. It would seem that she finally succeeded in obtaining the full return of the assets that had been given as her dowry.
Nissim ben Roven Girondi (14th century)
A Talmudist, physician, jurist and rabbi (i.e., spiritual leader) of the Jewish community of Saragossa in the 14th century. Originating from a family from Cordoba, he was born and trained in Girona, although he lived almost all his later life in Barcelona, where he was a spiritual master and leader and directed the Talmudic school created by the Grand Rabbi Shlomo ben Aderet, a disciple of Nahmanides. He was known for his rationalist opinions, contrary to the mystical currents of the Cabbala. He wrote a commentary on the Halakot of Yishaq al-Fasi, Sermons, and a very important work, Responsum, used as an instrument of consultation by numerous communities all over the world.
Blanca (15th century)
A Jewish woman who had converted to Christianity and was the widow of the convert Bernat Falcó, the Falcó family being one of the most powerful families in the Jewish and convert community in the Girona of the 14th and 15th centuries. Blanca made her will in 1437, before a Christian notary. Nothing in her will indicates her Jewish ancestry, and she shows herself as a devout Christian and a lady of the Girona middle class of her day. A reference, however, to her son David, who is Jewish, and to the inheritance that she leaves him in her will provide irrefutable proof of her own Jewish past. She was a woman who was rich and influential, and she divided her inheritance between her children: three sons (two of whom were converts and one who was a Jew) and two daughters, who were both converts and married to converts in Perpignan and Castelló d'Empúries.
Astruc Abraham des Portal (15th century)
A Jewish doctor, married to Na Bonadona, a Jewess from Girona, and owner of a House in the call (Jewish quarter) in 1492. As a result of the Decree of Expulsion, he sold the property for 60 pounds, and most probably left Girona with his family at the end of the summer of that fateful year. He was a descendant from a lineage of Jewish doctors whose presence in the region of Girona is documented since the 1320s (the first to be mentioned in a document being Mossé Abraham des Portal, who practiced as a doctor in Girona and Besalú in 1324), and who could look back on five generations dedicated to the medical arts.
» Feliu, Eduard. La cultura hebraico-catalana. Barcelona, 1992.
» Planas Marcé, Sílvia. Filles de Sara, dones jueves de la Girona medieval. Girona, 2002.
» Romano, David. Els jueus de Girona als segles XII-XIII. Simposi Mossé ben Nahman i el seu temps, Girona, 1995.
» Sáenz-Badillos, Ángel; Targarona, Judit. Diccionario de autores judíos. Sefarad s. XI-XV . Córdoba, 1988.