In the year 1290, the last of the 16,000 Jews expelled by King Edward I left England. King Edward had banned usury and forced Jews over the age of seven to wear an identifying badge. Some Jews managed to remain in England by hiding their religious identity, but thousands were forced to leave. (Years earlier, King Henry III had forced Jews to pay half the value of their property in taxes, and ordered Jewish worship in synagogue to be held quietly so that Christians would not have to hear it.) Following the expulsion, Jews would not return to England for 350 years, when the policy was reversed by Oliver Cromwell in 1655.
In 1483, Tomas de Torquemada was appointed as “Grand Inquisitor of the Spanish Inquisition.” Jews of Spain had been forced to convert to Christianity, and the Inquisition was designed to uncover those who were continuing to practice their Judaism in secret (called Conversos or Marranos). Those who never confessed were burned at the stake; those who did confess were strangled first. Torquemada believed that as long as the Jews remained in Spain, they might influence the tens of thousands of Jews who had converted to Christianity. It was on his recommendation that the remainder of the Jewish community — 200,000 people — was expelled from Spain in 1492. An estimated 32,000 were burned at the stake, and Torquemada’s name became a byword for cruelty and fanaticism in the service of religion. The order of expulsion was not officially voided by the government of Spain until 1968.
In 1975, Israel signed the Sinai disengagement pact with Egypt. The agreement called for Israel to withdraw from the Sinai passes captured in the 1973 Yom Kippur War, leaving them as a demilitarized zone monitored by American and United Nations observers. Israel had previously withdrawn from the Sinai in 1956, and would eventually withdraw permanently in 1982 following the Camp David agreement between Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin.
In 1948, the first census taken by the State of Israel placed the population at 780,000 — 91% Jewish and 9% Arab. A vigorous influx of Jews would arrive the next few years, when 750,000 Jewish refugees fled from Arab countries. Subsequently, Israel has witnessed the dramatic homecoming of Jews from Ethiopia, the former Soviet Union, and dozens of other lands. As of 2013, the population of Israel stands at 8 million, of which 20% is Arab.
Yahrtzeit of Rabbi Meir Shapiro of Lublin (1887-1933), the founder and driving force behind the Daf Yomi, a program of daily Talmud study. Today, tens of thousands of Jews study the “daily daf,” and every seven-and-a-half years a “siyum” (completion) of the Talmud is held with large celebrations in Madison Square Garden and other locations worldwide. Rabbi Shapiro represented the Jews in the Polish Senate, and he built the grand Chachmei Lublin Yeshiva in Poland, a building which remains standing till today. Sadly, Rabbi Shapiro passed away at the young age of 46. His remains were later re-interred to a cemetery in Jerusalem.
Yahrtzeit of Rabbeinu Yona of Gerona (1180-1263). Rabbeinu Yona was an outspoken critic of Maimonides’ writings, particularly “Guide for the Perplexed.” The governmental authorities later used this as a pretext to burn piles of Maimonides’ books and copies of the Talmud. Rabbeinu Yona took this tragedy as a sign of heavenly rebuke against him; as a way to repair the damage, he undertook to write his famous work Shaarei Teshuva (Gates of Repentance), a Jewish system of introspection and self-improvement.
Yahrtzeit of Rabbi Asher ben Yechiel (1250-1327), one of the greatest Talmudic commentators of all time. He is popularly known as the “Rosh,” an acronym of his name. He lived at the time of the medieval Crusades, and in fear of being captured, fled from Germany to Spain. The classic “Shulchan Aruch” (Code of Jewish Law) gives great weight to the Rosh’s opinions. He was the father of eight sons, one of whom wrote a groundbreaking work of Jewish law, “The Tur.”