The Inevitable Converso Question
This question now screams out for notice at family level. We should look at it squarely and try to learn something, for the facts though well-hidden from us in Shepherds Bush and from our grandparents in Salonika too as matters never to be mentioned, - like the truth will out. On the other hand, I have absolutely no intention, nor even inclination, to go into it in philosophically, just as to the simple fact of there having been actual family conversos out there, - that is all.

We should openly accept the possibility that Benarduts were indeed amongst them. According to one source about 40-50% of Tarazona's Jews converted at the time of the Expulsion with many moving for temporary safety into nearby Navarre, (Tudela in particular no doubt). But conversion had been a well-established practice throughout the community for well over a century and particularly following upon the 1391 upheavals.

There was at least one Pomar in Tarazona from well before 1492 as evidenced in the Documents collated by Dolader and brought here, and we already have the case of the Tiberian Benardout who went under that name, although we do not know when he or his family converted nor, of course, do we know from exactly where in Spain he originally came. But in his case we have seen firm evidence of a converted Benardout, taking the name Pomar and returning to the fold in Istanbul some 50 years after the Expulsion.
Although most authors lay down that a majority of Spain's Jews still living after the riots of 1391indeed decided to convert, one source does state that this was still to a lesser degree at Tarazona than in neighbouring towns such as Daroca and Calatayud so that most conversions at Tarazona, in absolute numbers, may have been on the 1492 occasion.

If the 1391 "Troubles " have not received anything like the proper level of attention compared to that lavished upon those of a century later, here is a good reason to correct that imbalance for in the wake of the former the only choice for a Jew in Spain was fatal either way - "convert or die " - whereas in 1492 the option of a different life in a different land was a viable choice out of three. This was so at least for the middle and working class majority.
Nor should we forget that Jews have always assimilated quietly where-ever they be. Spanish Jewry's readiness was exploited by the Dons for national benefit and glory and do we not ourselves still take pride in that glory attained by ancestors in Medieval Spain ? Thus, the Conversos are a perfectly understandable reality of their time and most certainly not something to be ignored.

Motis devotes a dozen or so pages to general comment on the subject, concentrating, per the material before him, upon those who converted in the wake of the 1391 Troubles. It should be noted that Spanish law and policy always made a distinction between the groups, - to the distinct advantage of the pre-1391 conversos. He brings several names, some famous and no doubt all of them wealthy, but ours is not amongst them, - in Tarazona, that is.
I have come across one published Article in which the Pomar family are described as conversos living "within the diocese ", the diocese of Tarazona being very much larger than the city itself of course. This item refers to descendants of the convert Pomar family, (amongst other such families), as having been investigated by the local Inquisition over the 16th century, - after the Expulsion, - that local office having been set up only in 1484 in the Bishop's Palace at the head of the Juderia.

Just for the record, one should also mention that in a different publication covering The Five Cities in the 15th century Motis brings a lengthy enough list of family names to be found there together with matching converso ones adopted but ours is not to be found amongst them. The obvious question has not yet been tackled, - How extensive was the Benardut Family ? Not very by all accounts, for even today we know of only about 1,000 living Souls proud (assumedly) to bear the name !

Far more exciting is the piquant tale brought in detail from a different established authority (Meyerson, see below under Sources - at page 193), the case of David el Rau, a resident of the Morvedre Quarter of Valencia, which was a Jewish community living in "dangerous symbiosis " with the conversos spread around that great city, a mingling fought by the Court and providing much ammunition for the Inquisition-minded.

David was the maternal grandson of Salamo Abenardut, (d. 1401 - himself from Valencia ?), through his daughter Oro but she later produced an alternative heir by a new husband who took some precedence over our Hero, so that the common-enough family feud broke out concerning the inheritance, aided in this case by a possibly wicked maternal uncle, (this is beginning to sound awfully familiar), one Alatzar [El'azar] Abenardut from Teruel who had already helped himself, no doubt quite legally, to Oro's dowry.

In 1415, having seen any prospect of controlling the family fortune slip away, and as a survivor but still the relative loser of bitter family feuds and with the echo of the 1391 Troubles still resounding throughout the Kingdom, David succumbed to the entreaties of King Fernando I of Aragon and his Court and crossed over, - taking the name of Pere de Pomar.

I have come across an unverified web-site reference to a 16th century marriage between Maria de Pomar and a member of the "Aragon " family, (unverified since no source was quoted but might that reference not be to another Benardout - which is also rather familiar to my generation ?), she residing apparently in Majorca, but was unable to discover more.

There were Pomar families in Majorca then and later, regarded by all writers as having been conversos but, - and it is a big but, - the name itself was common enough in Aragon itself and from before, without its having had any connection whatsoever with the People of Israel, - nor after any conversions either.......it was simply a common name. So one must maintain care in all this.

Ronert Graves wrote an Article in 1957 on the Jews of Majorca where he tells of a convertee, under the name of Juan Antonio Pomar, a merchant, who was arrested and tried by the then very aggresive Inquisition in the early 1500's for "back-sliding ".......the accused duly reconciled with the Churtch, was sentenced to life-imprisonment and lost all his goods. - of course.

There are references too to members of the Pomar Family of Zaragoza, as "physians " and as Christians but having a naturally close connection and inter-action with the Jewish physicians of the area, - including, no doubt, those still using the Benardout name at the end of the 14th century. (See for example the Article : Medicos y Pacientes de las tres Religiones in Zaragoza in the 14th and at the beginning of the 15th centuries by Asuncion Blasco Martinez presented January 1988). One has to ask oneself if thos Pomars were not in fact conversos ? David de Rau converted in 1415 it will be remembered.

Presumably there is further evidence out there, but time, a great deal of time, would be needed to winkle it out.

Ironically, and what may be of particular interest here is that one of the Benardouts' first mentions in History refers to them when they were serving the Reconqueror of Aragon at the time they all lived in relative exile in Majorca. Clearly, there is also now room for viable research into the Family presence on the Balearics over the centuries.

So we do have at least two, possibly three, firmly established Benardut's adopting or having the same converso name of Pomar, - and surely that name was positively selected and maintained, was not just by accident or coincidence ?

Even though I take it as a given that converso names were adopted because they were so common anyhow in non-Jewish Spanish society, we might reasonably assume that all converting Benardut's adopted the same name of Pomar, thus tending to keep the break-away family together under its new guise. It's logical, even if logic is not enough for a definite determination. More research for the next generation.

As already hinted, review of quite a considerable amount of published historical material looking for specific converso references to Benardut's in Tarazona has produced only one possible, - per Protocol No.1489 brought above where Pomar was a witness although not described as being a resident of the Town. One valid source brings six definite converso names from Tarazona but not ours.

A substantial footnote to history has been found referring to a Benardout, taken from a "Question and Answer " paper filed with the Inquisition Files and often used by serious historians to make the point that some Jews knew how to resist conversion. One Judah Benardout from Calatayud in 1470 found himself put to such a test.

His meeting, though unofficial by all accounts, was with the infamous Anton de Santangel, [E. Marin Padilla, Relacion judeoconversa durante la segunda mitad del siglo XV en Aragon: Le Ley (Madrid 1986 p.140ff)].


Judah Benardout is described as a tradesman who had commercial dealings with Santangel. The conversation was private and not by way of Disputation between noted scholars, although our man held his own as to the total acceptance of Jesus as the Messiah. Private conversations about the imminent coming of the Messiah were rife in Jewish homes at that time. They all clearly sensed an appalling upheaval just over the horizon and had little choice, - even privately in matters of the spirit, - but to face the fears and the challenge of conversion.


The question in itself has garnered a place in history and is much quoted : "Benardout, why do you not become a Christian ? You are dejected, you are subjected, you are humiliated by any child. This is insufferable. This one throws stones at you. The other calls you a Jewish dog. If you turned Christian you would be honoured, you could be obeyed, you could get offices and a thousand honours ".


Comparing all this to the converso scandals and persecutions in neighbouring towns, far more common, towns where Benardouts also lived, one wonders if Tarazona itself did not enjoy a relatively protected existence, perhaps thanks to the Bishopric.

There are grounds for suggesting such Church protection because immediately after the re-conquest, ever since 1123, the ultimate beneficiary of all Tarazona's tax-collection had been the Bishop himself, thus perhaps providing a powerful buffer against most external and court-organised greed and chicanery.

And as we have seen, the three to four months of riots in 1391 also left the community relatively unscathed thanks to royal - and not also clerical ? - protection. Or possibly they were simply lucky - Tarazona was relatively small and I have found clear authority for the conclusion that " the larger the Community, the more they suffered ". It was mainly the major neighbouring communities, - Barcelona and Valencia, Palma de Majorca and Toledo - which suffered major destruction and death.

One could perhaps compare the Tarazona community's survival, even if the motives in Greece were more idealistic and less monetary, to the case of Volos, where during the Second World War the local Bishop saved that town's Jews from Nazi persecution by simply scattering them throughout Church properties in the hills till danger passed. History repeating itself ?

And from even another point of view, quite frankly, in political leadership terms the Benarduts of Tarazona do not seem to have been very high on any-one's list, - perhaps luckily. It is a family trait that, - the ability to pass unnoticed. We are but a footnote.
It is now to be hoped that Family members will gladly accept the fact that those who took to conversion did so with a will even if returning to the fold at a much later time, but how many left it and how many actually returned to Judaism ? - we still have no idea.
Feel free - I will always relate to what you say
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