views updated May 08 2018


LEÓN , capital of the ancient kingdom of León, Spain. The community of León was one of the oldest in Christian Spain, outside Catalonia. The earliest sources date back to the tenth-century. The Jews engaged in real estate and commerce. The Jewish quarter apparently remained in the same location in the Santa Ana quarter from the beginnings of Jewish settlement. The 14th-century synagogue was situated in the Cal de Moros, now Calle de Misericordia. The Prado de los Judíos ("Meadow of the Jews") is on the site of the medieval cemetery. Various sources mention Jews in León who became converted to Christianity in the tenth century. One of the apostates, Habaz (or Navaz), bestowed all his property on the local monastery. From the 11th century information becomes more plentiful. A number of Jews resided in the citadel, and owned real estate, fields, gardens, and vineyards in the vicinity. Some engaged in moneylending and commerce. The status of the Jews was regularized by a fuero ("charter") granted in 1020. In the 11th century (1091) the Jews of León enjoyed special privileges as they were under royal jurisdiction. One concession was the right to have lawsuits with Christians heard by the king or one of the court clergy. When the issue was to be decided by duel, the Jew was entitled to appoint a champion. The charter was subsequently used as a model for the legislation applying to other communities in the kingdom of León. The cemetery of Puente Castro near León contains tombstones dating from the 11th century, including those of Jews from León.

According to Hebrew sources, there was a well-organized Jewish community in León that was the home of distinguished scholars. The Hebrew sources found in the Archivo Catedralicio de León reveal a high level of rabbinic learning there.

In the 13th century, despite a certain religious decline, the community was the home of some very important scholars, first and foremost *Moses de León, the famous kabbalist, and *Moses ben Shem Tov de León.

From the 13th century the rights of the Jewish community in León were progressively curtailed by a series of royal decrees. In 1260 Alfonso x fixed the rate of interest on loans. Sancho iv included León in a royal decree issued to *Palencia in 1286, providing that lawsuits between Jews were to be tried by Jewish judges and lawsuits between Christians by Christian judges so as to prevent the trial of mixed lawsuits by Jewish judges. In 1293 King Sancho acceded to a request by the Cortes in Valladolid that excluded Jews from taxfarming in León, and confirmed an order issued by Alfonso x prohibiting the Jews in León from acquiring real estate, etc. Ferdinand iv forbade the Jews in León to appear at his court. However, he permitted them to choose a judge for settling their disputes, a privilege for which they paid 400 maravedis to the municipality. In 1305 they concluded an agreement with the municipality that if the royal judges were not local residents, the Jews would be entitled to make recourse to a judge of their own choice. In 1313 the Infante Don Juan, in the name of Alfonso xi, confirmed that the regulations issued by the Cortes of Palencia also applied to León. The Jews throughout the kingdom of León were now compelled to wear the yellow *badge on their garments; no Jew could be released from paying taxes; and the evidence of a Jew could not be used against Christians. In 1332 Alfonso xi granted the inhabitants of León a general moratorium on Jewish loans and in 1365 Pedro ordered both Jews and Moors to pay the alcabal (indirect taxes) like the other residents in León.

The troubles experienced by Spanish Jewry in the 15th century also affected the Jews in León. The low tax paid by the community in 1439 shows that it had become impoverished: instead of 6,400 maravedis in old coin, they paid only 2,700 maravedis in silver. Its Jewish population was greatly reduced. At most there were some 150 Jewish families or about 500 Jews. On May 25, 1449, riots broke out and most of the Jewish quarter was pillaged. However, in this case the crown took action against the aggressors and ordered that they should be arrested and tried, and their property confiscated. In 1481 the Jews in León were ordered to leave the Jewish quarter, but in 1488 the crown agreed to allow them to enlarge it. The names of several Jewish taxfarmers from León are known from the second half of the 15th century. The Jews in León in this period, besides engaging in crafts, commerce, and agriculture, also sold goods in the mountain villages. Some of these merchants complained to the king that their clients had refused to pay for the goods. In the years preceding the expulsion León had a yeshivah headed by R. Isaac Besudo. After the decree of expulsion of 1492, the governor of León, John of Portugal, undertook to protect the Jews there in return for a payment of 3,000 maravedis but failed to honor the agreement and seized their property. Jewish property was also looted after the exiles had left, but some was restored to Jews who returned to León in 1493 and accepted baptism.


Baer, Spain, index; Baer, Urkunden, index; F. Castro and F. de Onís, Fueros Leoneses (1916); C. Sánchez Albornoz, Estampas de la vida en Leon hace mil años (1934); F. Cantera, Sinagogas Españolas (1955), 237; idem, in: Sefarad, 3 (1943), 329–58; Cantera-Millás, Inscripciones (1956), 5–25; Cantera-Burgos, in: Sefarad, 24 (1964), 3–11; Gonzales, in: Hispania, 3 (1943), 195ff.; J. Rodríguez Fernández, De Historia Leonesa (1961); idem, in: Archivos Leoneses, 2 (1947), 33–72; 2 (1948), 15–27, 29ff.; 4 (1950), 11–53; González Gallego, ibid., 21 (1967), 375–408; Suárez Fernández, Documentos, index. add. bibliography: J.A. Martín Fuertes and C. Álvarez Álvarez, Archivo Histórico Municipal de León; catálogo de los documentos, (1982), index.

[Haim Beinart]


views updated Jun 27 2018


LEON , family name of European and U.S. notables whose progenitors fled the Iberian Peninsula during the Inquisition. The name derives from the kingdom of Leon, Spain. Early in the 1500s, the Marrano pedro de leon tried to escape the Spanish inquisitors by moving with his family to the West Indian island of Hispaniola. However, he was apprehended and in 1515 brought back to Seville for trial. Others were more fortunate and the name Leon appears in the records of Ancona, Jerusalem, Hamburg, Salonika, London, Venice, Jamaica, Surinam, Amsterdam, and the United States. isaac ben eliezer de leon of Spain, who is best known for his Megillat Esther (Venice, 1592), a commentary to Maimonides' Sefer ha-Mitzvot, spent most of his life in Ancona, Italy. He is also the author of a responsum dated 1545 that appeared in Rome. In Greece, the liturgical poet abraham de leon composed "El Ram al Kol Tehillah," a dirge on the capture of Rhodes by the Turks in 1522, which was included in the Bakkashot published about 1545 at Constantinople. (The poem is numbered 4042 in Davidson, Oẓar, vol. 1, 1924.) joseph de leon served as rabbi in Jerusalem c. 1588. At Hamburg, the ḥakham of the Portuguese congregation from 1615 to 1656 was judah Ḥayyim leon. About 1632, in Salonika, then under Turkish dominion, the rosh yeshivah was isaac de leon.

At London's Spanish-Portuguese synagogue, the assistant to the haham from 1685 to 1707 was abraham judah leon. The rabbi of Venice in about 1695 was joseph de leon. jacob de leon and jacob rodriguez de leon resided in Jamaica in 1698. Among the leaders of Surinam's Portuguese Jewish community during the 1780s was moses p. de leon, coauthor of a history of his community, Essai historique sur la colonie de Surinam avec l'histoire de la Nation Juive Portugaise et Allemande y établie (1788), subsequently published also in Dutch (Amsterdam, 1791).

A number of men bearing the name Leon appeared in Amsterdam. In the mid-1600s meir de leon translated Solomon ibn Verga's Shevet Yehudah into Spanish (La Vara de Judá, Amsterdam, 1640). The leading figure of Amsterdam's Keter Torah yeshivah was samuel de leon. Requests for decisions on matters of Jewish law addressed to the yeshivah were generally referred to him; his responsa were published at Hamburg in 1679. Fleeing from the Inquisition in 1685, the Marrano manuel de leon, who was born in Leiria, Portugal, arrived in Amsterdam, where he remained until his death in 1712. He produced Spanish and Portuguese verse, published in Brussels (1688), in The Hague (1691), and in Amsterdam (1712). The ḥakham of Amsterdam's Gemilut Ḥasadim fund was elijah de leon, who was also coeditor of the Bible printed in 1661 by Joseph *Athias.

There were numerous Leons in colonial America. Joseph Rosenbloom's A Biographical Dictionary of Early American Jews, Colonial Times through 1800 (1960) lists 38, many of them descendants of Abraham de Leon (b. 1702), who settled in Savannah, Georgia, in 1733. The name was prominent in New York City during the 1850s. moses leon was among the leaders of New York's Hebrew Benevolent Society and morris j. leon was active in the Young Men's Benevolent and Fuel Association; the ḥazzan of the Bnai Israel synagogue in 1854 was joshua de leon.


Roth, Marranos, 274, 294; H.B. Grinstein, Rise of the Jewish Community of New York 16541860 (1945), 552–4.


views updated May 29 2018


León, the second city of Nicaragua and the traditional center of liberal political groups. León was first established on the western shores of Lake Managua in 1524. It was moved a few miles to the west to its present site in 1610 as the result of an eruption of nearby Momotombo volcano. During the colonial period, it shared leadership of the country with the rival city of Granada but was the provincial capital within the captaincy general of Guatemala. León's cathedral is the largest in Central America. The present structure, designed by the prominent colonial architect Diego de Porres, was completed in 1780. Built of cut stone, it withstood repeated earthquakes. On occasion it has served as a fortress. Rubén Dário (1867–1916), Nicaragua's most beloved poet, spent much of his early life in León. He is buried within the cathedral under a statue of a lion, and his home has been converted into a museum. The city has grown in recent years, but not as rapidly as Managua. León is estimated to have a population of 174,051 (2005).

See alsoDarío, Rubén .


Alfonso Arguello, Historia de León Viejo (1969).

Additional Bibliography

Arellano, Jorge Eduardo. León de Nicaragua: Tradiciones y valores de la Atenas centroamericana. Managua: Fondo Cultural CIRA, 2002–.

Tünnermann Bernheim, Carlos, and Denis Torres P. León Viejo y otros escritos. Managua: Universidad Politécnica de Nicaragua, 1997.

Werner, Patrick S. Epoca temprana de León Viejo: Una historia de la primera capital de Nicaragua. Managua: Asdi: Instituto Nicaragüense de Cultura, 2000.

                                     David L. Jickling


views updated May 17 2018

León City in w Nicaragua, its second-largest city. It was founded near Lake Managua in 1524. In 1610, a severe earthquake forced the city's reconstruction on its present site. It served as the nation's capital until 1858. In 1821, when Nicaragua gained independence from Spain, a bitter rivalry between León and Granada led to civil war. León was the scene of bitter fighting between Sandinista guerrillas and government forces in the late 1970s. Industries: food processing, leather goods, cigars, cotton. Pop. (1995) 123,865.


views updated Jun 08 2018

León City in nw Spain; capital of León province. A military camp in Roman times, it was occupied by the Moors in the 8th century. Recaptured in 882 by Alfonso III of Asturias, it was capital of the medieval kingdom of Asturias and León until 1230. Industries: leather, cotton, textiles, iron, glass, pottery, tourism. Pop. (2001 est.) 137,384.